Engineering Humans to Fight Climate Change

ImageIf there were pills on the market that claimed to help fight climate change, would you take them? How far will you go?

Buying our way out of climate change, by continually upgrading advanced technologies – even if it is for the purpose of green consumption – will only get us so far.  We currently have about seven billion people on Earth, and that number keeps on rising. Electricity and transportation aside, humans have a huge ecological footprint which has a major impact on climate. So, while we are cutting our consumption in other areas, how do we reduce the carbon footprint of our own bodies? Engineer humans to use less.

S. Matthew Liao, a philosophy and bioethics professor at New York University co-authored a paper entitled Human Engineering and Climate Change, which was published in Ethics, Policy and the Environment. Liao laid out straightforward plans, ranging from using pharmacological behaviour modification to create an aversion to meat in people, to using gene therapy to create smaller, less resource-intensive children. The majority of the proposed solutions are very controversial. Liao states in his interview with The Atlantic that as radical as his ideas are, “they favor modifications borne of individual choices, not technocratic mandates.”

ImageThere were many proposed modifications made, for example, taking a pill to stop you from eating meat and using gene therapy to give birth to smaller babies. Meat is very resource-intensive, and helping people to quit eating it, with the simple solution of taking a “vegetarian pill” does not seem to pose too much of an ethical problem. But personally, when we get to the topic of gene therapy, not for the purpose of curing a disease, but to shrink people so they can physically use less – I find this completely absurd and extremely unethical.


Liao also suggests that giving people “cat eyes” would be a fabulous way to prevent wasting energy on lighting. Liao states, “We figure that if everyone had cat eyes, you wouldn’t need so much lighting.” As cool and impressive as that sounds, Liao recognizes that currently scientists have no idea how to engineer humans with cat eyes.

Personally, I think that all of this sounds pretty amazing and very technologically advanced, and it shows how far Liao is willing to go, in order to find a creative solution to the serious issue of climate change. Liao’s work truly deserves attention. The paper poses the question: At what point does securing the planet’s future – thus securing our own future – require measures drastic enough to include altering our own biology? Now that we are at the point of engineering our way out of the impacts of climate change, maybe it is time that we engineer ourselves to be more energy-efficient as well. Just some food for thought.



About melzig93

Hello, my name is Melissa! I am a first year student at the University of Guelph studying Microbiology. I am a member of the Cool Heads for a Hot Planet: Canada and Climate Change first year seminar course. I am interested in climate change because it currently and will continue to effect everything and everyone globally. I am very interested in the effects of climate change on animals as I hope to attend veterinary college after completing my undergraduate degree. I hope you enjoy my blogs! :)
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