Craig Venter’s IPO

Craig Venter’s IPO doesn’t exist, in fact. But this eight-page story in New York Times Magazine is full of such adulation for the man that it seems most lilkely a build-up for an investment offering. Perhaps Dr. Venter is seeking private investors, and needed a boost in visibility. (It’s unfortunate that Facebook has soured the public notion of investment, but private investors will be much less affected.)

In any event, the piece is interesting, even if it contains some undignified lines that still annoy me to read:”He is thinking of a bug that could live in a factory and gobble exhaust and fart fresh air.”

Venter is working on synthetic life. He plans to tackle the world’s problems using this as a tool, from farming to oil production to what is commonly seen as an excess in CO2. (I think this last notion is particularly misguided, as about 1/7th of our current food crop comes from that “excess” of CO2, which we’d instantly lose if we magically went back to pre-industrial CO2 levels.)

The piece is lavish in its praise, but has the side-effect of making Venter seem like a high-risk investment, intent on seeking danger for its spur to his thinking.

Along the way, I was reminded of a short story I wrote, “Greenspace,” about a near future in which we had “conquered” the “excess CO2” by launching a process to reduce it — which worked too well. (I am not opposed to Venter’s work, but I’m aware of the caution required.) The notions and organisms described in the article show (inadvertently) exactly how such a story could come about. That “solution” to the “excess CO2” would bring about the end of most plant and animal life on the planet. Including us, of course.

If our technology has advanced enough by then — perhaps a century from now or less — we might build giant spaceships intent on saving the last humans. But by this time, a planet full of trash won’t matter. The air would no longer support life, because we finally conquered CO2.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle