Bioeconomy is a hot topic in a lot of debates that concern how Finland will develop new strengths for its economy and society. However, very little is still understood about what types of ethical questions it may provoke as our societies start more vigorously embrace the concept. Thus, in the BioEcoJust project we shall dive deep into understanding the moral aspects of emerging bioeconomy scheme for the next hundred years, and even further. Project is funded by the Academy of Finland.

The Bioeconomy is proposed to be the next significant wave of social and economic development transformation. Bioeconomy is a term used to refer to the production and use of different bio-based techniques and materials, as well as business models that seek to replace fossil fuel and materials as the core of modern economies, that is currently proposed as a key solution to the pressing environmental concerns, like the climate change. It also promises to create employment for rural areas and produce economic growth by creating new high value-added products and services.

The shift to the bioeconomy will require a number of active decisions by individuals, businesses and political decision makers. Certain choices will promote the transition, while others may make it less likely to occur. Also, as with all large-scale transformations, there are central ethical issues leading to adopting a bioeconomy, and choices to be made about the form in which it would be implemented.

In the BioEcoJust project, our research team comprising of futures researchers and morality philosophers who will anticipate the decisions that have to do with the transformation to a bioeconomy. We will explore the nature and potential outcomes of these decisions: who are the key actors making the decisions, what kinds of factors may affect their decisions, and what are the causal responsibilities attached to these decisions. We will also look into past transformations and identify patterns that can be utilised in informing on decisions regarding future transformations. An important aspect of the work is to make private and public decision-makers aware of the long-term repercussions attached to decisions made today, and to discuss the responsibilities and choices that will need to be confronted.

In the project, scenarios will be prepared for relatively near futures (year 2025) and then also scenarios reaching as far into the future as the year 2125. Methods used for the work include the Delphi method, applied here in order to better understand the possibilities for advanced biotechnologies and their potential impacts on society. We will assemble a series of futures workshops in order to explore debates about the acceptability of different solutions and ethical dimensions linked to this decision-making. The results are valuable for their potential to generate further insightful discussion around the topics, from both the general public and the key decision-makers. To ensure that the ideas produced in the project are disseminated we will organise academic meetings, general lectures, and panels and seminars with political decision-makers.

The long time span of the study, combined with a focus on the ethical dimensions of technological decision making, place this research at the core of futures studies. Investigating ethical dilemmas of the future will necessarily draw attention to the need to consider multiple possibilities. It will force us to clarify our expectations about the impacts of our decisions, and question the projected technological trajectories. Black swans will also need to be considered, that could disrupt any development assumed to be given. Yet, the most important aspect in discussing long-range futures is that the impacts of any decision made about future technologies will often be both deeply ethical and also divisive. Bioeconomy represents new challenges, and it brings up new issues that we as decision-makers need to be ready to face.

One thing is sure: the more nearer 2020 and beyond comes, the more the challenge and the opportunity of bioeconomy will haunt us.

Finland Futures Research Centre
Markku Wilenius
Sofi Kurki
Amos Taylor

Photo: Elina Vainio