Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Engineering humans: the solution to Global Warming?

Ah, Global Warming...

Today is March 14th.  It is technically still winter.  Here in Chicago, it was 80 degrees and sunny.

This Saturday is St. Patrick's Day.  Typically, the weather is befitting that of the Emerald Isle: cool, overcast, maybe with a little rain.  The forecast for this year is 75 degrees and sunny.

But Global Warming is a myth, right?
Right.  And The Kardashians will be forming the next think tank on Middle East policy.

I hate warm weather but more than that, I loathe the idea of what Global Warming will do to the world.  True, we've already started to do a few things to at least try to get us headed in the right direction, such as hybrid cars, longer lasting lightbulbs, and attempts at new environmental policy.  All well and good, but those will only go so far.  Now, one scholar is posing a most controversial solution: change humans.

S. Matthew Liao is a professor of Philosophy and Bioethics at N.Y.U.  He recently published a paper that proposes modifying humans to consume less.  I first read of it in this interview in The Atlantic.
The response to this paper is predictable, that is if the comments on the page are any indication.  Dismayed teabaggers and fundies crying out about Hitler's eugenics program and the like, deeply terrified of anything even remotely transhuman.  But that is a post for another time.  Now, I would like to take a look at what Professor Liao suggests to combat Global Warming.

One method would be to genetically design humans to be smaller.  Smaller-sized people use fewer resources.  It's a fact.  We eat less, we don't wear out clothes as quickly, it takes less fuel to move us, etc.  Another suggestion is to provide medications to help people go vegetarian.  "The patch" for meat eaters, if you will.  This would be strictly voluntary but I wouldn't mind having one of these around.  I've been wanting to go vegetarian but my addiction to things like steak is quite strong.  My desire to switch is based in multiple reasons.  I hate eating things that have faces and mothers.  I don't believe that I can be taken seriously when I advocate for animal rights until I stop eating meat.  Not only that, I hate eating what has obviously been genetically modified and pumped full of pink slime.  This pill or patch that Liao speaks of would induce a strong sense of nausea in someone if they attempted to eat meat. 

What does this have to do with anything?  It has been estimated that raising livestock accounts for 51% of greenhouse emissions.  That is to say nothing of the amount of deforestation that occurs in order to gain grazing land.  A drop in these kinds of greenhouse emissions would go a long way to combat the problem...if we act soon enough, that is to say.

Another one of Liao's more "out there" prospects would be to give people cat eyes.  If we had eyes like cats, we would need less light in order to see.  Less light equals less electrical use.  Less electrical use means lower power plant emissions.  Kinda cool, but as I said, still a bit "out there."  He also suggests pills that would enhance people's sense of empathy and altruism, giving us an inclination to work together for the whole and not the one.

I can't resist.  Here is what Professor Liao has to say about the cries of "Frankenstein!" from certain precincts:

"Well, first, I would say that the view that you shouldn't interfere with human nature at all 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. 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."

You tell 'em.  If anything, what he proposes is far more ethical in my opinion than China's "one child limit" or the two child limit proposed recently by British physicians.  That is not to say that I totally agree with Liao and his proposals.  Not by a long shot. 
Why would I want cat eyes when I could get cybernetic ones?  How are we going to convince people to start genetically engineering their kids to be smaller?  What does it say about us that we need pills in order to make us consider others and the world we live in?  A lot of this doesn't wash.

That said, I'm glad that someone is at least putting forth solutions and seeing the problem for what it is.  While the ideas are necessarily great ones, at least Liao is pushing the dialogue ahead.  At least someone is taking innovative approaches to the problem.  In the meantime however, I will keep the fan on here, sleep with the window open, and be annoyed by the intolerable hip-hop coming out of teenagers' cars. 

And it's only March.

By the by, if you object to the idea of Global there are apparently many who do...and you wish to leave a comment, please keep in mind my comments policy.  Otherwise, you are subject to removal.

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