A new paper by Matthew Liao, professor of philosophy and bioethics at New York University, is suggesting that mankind consider human engineering to combat climate change, such as genetically engineering smaller and “less resource-intensive” children and regulating family size according to fixed allocations of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Atlantic is reporting that Liao’s paper, to be published in Ethics, Policy & Environment, makes many creative suggestions on how to reverse alleged global warming, some of which are bound to create controversy.
For instance, Liao suggests genetically engineering humans to make them smaller.
“One of the things that we noticed is that human ecological footprints are partly correlated with size. Each kilogram of body mass requires a certain amount of food and nutrients and so, other things being equal, the larger person is the more food and energy they are going to soak up over the course of a lifetime,” Laio said during an interview with Ross Anderson of The Atlantic.
Less tissue requires lower energy and nutrient needs, he said. “And so size reduction could be one way to reduce a person’s ecological footprint.”
Smaller people are also better for the environment because cars use more gas to transport heavier people; more fabric is needed to clothe bigger people; heavier people wear out shoes, carpets and furniture at a faster rate than smaller people, etc.
This genetic modification could take place either through the use of hormone treatments, or through preimplantation genetic diagnosis, a technique already in use in fertility clinics which involves selecting which embryos to implant based on certain characteristics.
Instead of combating climate change by adopting one-child family planning policies like China, Liao suggests a more “liberating” way of handling family size.
” . . . (W)hat we really care about is some kind of fixed allocation of greenhouse gas emissions per family,” he said. “If that’s the case, given certain fixed allocations of greenhouse gas emissions, human engineering could give families the choice between two medium sized children, or three small sized children. From our perspective that would be more liberty enhancing than a policy that says ‘you can only have one or two children’.”
For example, this approach would allow a family who wants a really good basketball player to use human engineering to have one really large child while keeping the others small.
Other suggestions include proposing new drugs that could be used to enhance a person’s sense of empathy and altruism to make them more sympathetic toward the environment – in effect, engineering them to have certain beliefs.
Inserting beliefs into people is problematic, Liao claims, and says his research team is not recommending this. “What we have in mind has more to do with weakness of will.”
He uses as an example a man who knows he should send a check to a charity, but doesn’t do it out of weakness of will. “But if we increase my empathetic capacities with drugs, then maybe I might overcome my weakness of will and write that check,” he says.
Another drug being suggested in the paper is one that will induce nausea anytime a person eats meat in order to create an aversion to meat-eating. Liao said the reason for this suggestion is that “livestock farming accounts for as much as 51 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions” which is why reducing the demand for meat, would result in smaller herds and, therefore, less greenhouse emissions.
The paper also proposes genetically engineering cat-like eyes in humans which would help the environment because it would reduce the need for so much lighting.
Liao emphasized the voluntary nature of all of his proposed modifications, insisting that neither he nor his co-authors, Anders Sandberg and Rebecca Roache of Oxford, approve of any coercive human engineering and favor modifications borne of individual choices, not technocratic mandates.
However, Liao does say that the belief that man should not interfere with human nature is “too strong.”
“For instance, giving women epidurals when they’re giving birth is in some sense interfering with human nature, but it’s generally welcomed. Also, when people worry about interfering with human nature, they generally worry about interfering for the wrong reasons,” he said.
“But because we believe that mitigating climate change can help a great many people, we see human engineering in this context as an ethical endeavor, and so that objection may not apply.”
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