13 March 2012

The Atlantic: “How Engineering the Human Body Could Combat Climate Change”

A new paper to be published in Ethics, Policy & Environment proposes a series of biomedical modifications that could help humans, themselves, consume less.
Some of the proposed modifications are simple and noninvasive. For instance, many people wish to give up meat for ecological reasons, but lack the willpower to do so on their own. The paper suggests that such individuals could take a pill that would trigger mild nausea upon the ingestion of meat, which would then lead to a lasting aversion to meat-eating. Other techniques are bound to be more controversial. For instance, the paper suggests that parents could make use of genetic engineering or hormone therapy in order to birth smaller, less resource-intensive children. Ross Andersen

This idea is just wrong on so many levels! I’m not even going to get into the ethical issues. I’m not an expert, but most of the technologies mentioned in the paper don’t seem ready for mass adoption on a planetary scale. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume they are, let’s also assume that the entire child-bearing population of the world will voluntarily submit to these limitations (which, of course, isn’t going to happen, for a countless number or reasons, from cultural to status – “I’m rich/a celebrity, so you must make an exception for me!”) and that the world economy can handle the massive cost of these interventions (IVF for roughly 130 million new babies yearly for a rate of 10,000 USD is definitely not cheap and that’s not even counting the cost to set up the necessary infrastructure in developing counties, to train doctors, etc.), let’s assume that all these unlikely events fall perfectly into place, what will we achieve? We will start making a dent in global warming after a couple of decades, when this hypothetical “energy-efficient” generation will reach adulthood, by which time the global warming will be well under way!

Now that’s what I call a solution…

Update: A thorough follow-up in The Guardian and some online reactions:

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