Weeks ago, I attended this talk on energy as a living thing, held at the New School. The conversation was enlightening, but no one addressed the possible applications of biotechnology—such as engineered algae. That aside, the event is worth watching, and I still invite readers to cross these various perspectives with the biotechnological one, that the problem of clean energy may be solvable via an engineered plant, algae, microbe, or other living organism.
Also, the pressing question of how we limit “life” is very interestingly explored here, in a way that reminds me instantly of Cyclonopedia: Is oil alive? When we say “alive,” we imply certain attributes; when we speak of “desire,” too, we imply needs/drives and means for fulfillment. But abstracting these concepts only slightly challenges traditional notions, and we see that, in a metaphorical but important way, the entire system of energy production and consumption on earth is alive.
This is nothing new; Bataille started with the sun (moving to algae, to plants, to us) nearly a century ago, writing eloquently of the problem of our overall calorie-base in The Accursed Share and other books.
What is new is the pressing nature of the dilemma. What is also new is our necessary embrace of ad hoc solutions (making a fracked-apart, mutant-dead planet).
Personally, I see engineered algae as part of another potentially viable ad hoc solution, and one that is quite literally living energy.
The Windup Girl quickly and movingly explores some of these questions, showing us a possible future in which the alive-ness of energy of visible to all—populated by bioengineered factory elephants, plant-punk bamboo coils, and superalgae.
Yes, it’s a Rube Goldberg-ian, purely fictive solution to a very real problem, but it’s convincing in part because it feels so alien, so new: We know we aren’t headed toward corn-based energy base, but we may very well be moving toward an at least partially algae-based one. I like thinking about that future and its peculiar challenges.