martes, enero 22, 2008

Biofuels, BP-Berkeley, and the New Ecological Imperialism
by Hannah Holleman and Rebecca Clausen

In February 2007, BP announced plans with the University of California (UC) at Berkeley, in partnership with the University of Illinois and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to lead the largest academic-industry research alliance in U.S. history. The $50 million-a-year bone that BP will throw to Berkeley will create the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), primarily focusing its research on biotechnology to produce biofuels. "In launching this visionary institute, BP is creating a new model for university-industry collaboration," said Beth Burnside, UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Research (quoted in Sanders 2007). In light of the historic record of capitalist accumulation, this "new model" for university-industry collaboration looks like old wine in a new bottle: appropriate a social good (public university), privatize the property (intellectual development), and commodify the output (energy-intensive products). And in this instance, BP has recruited a public institution to be its profit-making subsidiary.

Appropriating Academia

This is not the first time UC Berkeley fed at the corporate trough, and as government expenditures for social goods continue to decline relatively, it is likely that it won't be the last. Berkeley entered into a research deal with the seed giant Novartis ten years ago, after which an external review of the UCB-Novartis interaction recommended avoiding such partnerships (Altieri and Holt-Gimenez 2007). Nevertheless, on November 15, 2007, BP, the UC Berkeley, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced the signing of a controversial ten-year pact forming the Energy Biosciences Institute. The current deal with BP is ten times larger than the Novartis deal.

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