How Bioengineered Humans Could Solve Climate ChangeS

Most solutions to climate change require radical changes in the way we live. That's why a small community of academics is starting to propose a different approach, one that involves bioengineering humans so that they need fewer resources. It's radical, controversial—and might just work.

Imagine a race of humans that were smaller so consumed less energy; had eyes like cats so they had to rely less on artificial lighting; or were even given drugs to modify their behavior and make them meat haters. It sounds like some kind of sick, twisted dystopia—but it also sounds like a future that uses less energy and produces fewer emissions.

In fact, it's exactly the future that NYU professor S. Matthew Liao thinks we should aspire to. Admittedly, it raises a torturous set of philosophical and ethical questions—but that's OK, because Liao is a professor of bioethics. Speaking to the Atlantic, Liao says:

"[S]ize reduction could be one way to reduce a person's ecological footprint. For instance if you reduce the average U.S. height by just 15cm, you could reduce body mass by 21% for men and 25% for women, with a corresponding reduction in metabolic rates by some 15% to 18%, because less tissue means lower energy and nutrient needs...

"It's been suggested that, given the seriousness of climate change, we ought to adopt something like China's one child policy. There was a group of doctors in Britain who recently advocated a two-child maximum. But at the end of the day those are crude prescriptions—-what we really care about is some kind of fixed allocation of greenhouse gas emissions per family. 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." A family might want a really good basketball player, and so they could use human engineering to have one really large child. "

Like I said, these ideas are radical and very, very controversial. And, uh, will never, ever happen. But there is something oddly tantalizing about the idea of changing our needs rather than our consumption. If you want to read more about the idea, Liao has just published a new paper in Ethics, Policy, and the Environment, or you can read an interview with him on the Atlantic website. [Atlantic; Image: Shutterstock]