Re-engineering the human species 7

The human species is wrong for this world. Those of us – we special few who bear the heavy knowledge of human inadequacy and who know what is good for the world – might have to come to the conclusion that humankind must be eliminated altogether. But before we take drastic final action to rid the planet of the human plague, we will try our utmost to improve the species: adapt it, trim it, re-shape it physically and mentally; change its habits, its desires, its appetites and ambitions, its needs, its abilities; transform it, using the very minimum of the material it’s made of as a base on which to build what we judge an earth-suitable ratiocinating species should be.

Three members of our panel, Matthew Liao of the University of New York, professor of Philosophy and the young hybrid ecumenical discipline Bioethics [Ecumenical: from Greek oikoumene = the inhabited earth], and Anders Sandberg and Rebecca Roache of Oxford,  have published a paper on how human beings may be experimentally re-engineered in a last-ditch effort to solve the paramount problem of CLIMATE CHANGE.  

Liao gave an interview to the Atlantic – with the consent of the rest of us, we hasten to confirm. The full report of it may be read here.

Greatly excited that we can at last hint at what we, the “Doom Panel” as we  jokingly call ourselves, are contemplating in our closed meetings, we select a few highlights to whet your curiosity.

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.

Here is why we think “human engineering could be the most ethical and effective solution to global climate change”.

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. There are also other, less obvious ways in which larger people consume more energy than smaller people – for example a car uses more fuel per mile to carry a heavier person, more fabric is needed to clothe larger people, and heavier people wear out shoes, carpets and furniture at a quicker rate than lighter people, and so on. And so size 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.

There are “various ways humans could be engineered to be smaller”, Liao explains:

You might try to do it through a technique called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, which is already used in IVF settings in fertility clinics today. In this scenario you’d be looking to select which embryos to implant based on height.

Another way to affect height is to use a hormone treatment to trigger the closing of the epiphyseal plate earlier than normal …  In fact hormone treatments are already used for height reduction in overly tall children.

A final way you could do this is by way of gene imprinting, by influencing the competition between maternal and paternal genes, where there is a height disparity between the mother and father. You could have drugs that reduce or increase the expression of paternal or maternal genes in order to affect birth height. …

The paper “also [discusses] the pharmacological enhancement of empathy and altruism, because empathy and altruism tend to be highly correlated with positive attitudes toward the environment”.

(What is most wanted is empathy with and altruism towards the earth, don’t forget. Always remember it is the earth that matters, not the people on it.)

What we have in mind has more to do with weakness of will. For example, I might know that I ought to send a check to Oxfam, but because of a weakness of will I might never write that check. But if we increase my empathetic capacities with drugs, then maybe I might overcome my weakness of will and write that check.

In giving this example, Liao is putting himself hypothetically on your level. Writing checks for Oxfam is the sort of thing your will should be used for. Leave the greater vision to us.

Some of you are probably mumbling about liberty. We know that you continue to be concerned about that grand old chimera, and we have not ignored your attachment to the idea.

The authors of the paper “suggest that some human engineering solutions may actually be liberty enhancing”:

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.

You could order Child by the pound, you see.

Don’t think of it as an entirely new definition of freedom – notice that you will still have choice: two medium sized children, OR three small sized children, OR one hulking great basketball player.

Embarras de richesses!  

And that’s not the only way the new techniques will be “liberty enhancing”:

Liao: I would return to the weakness of will consideration. If you crave steak, and that craving prevents you from making a decision you otherwise want to make, in some sense your inability to control yourself is a limit on the will, or a limit on your liberty. A meat patch would allow you to truly decide whether you want to have that steak or not, and that could be quite liberty enhancing.

In any case, liberty is not a major issue. Speaking for the whole panel, Liao stresses –

We believe that mitigating climate change can help a great many people, [so] we see human engineering in this context as an ethical endeavor. 

He also touches on another point, a particularly sensitive one perhaps, that has to be made: the human species is guilty of harming the planet, and must be made to pay for what it has done:

We [humanity as a whole] caused anthropogenic climate change, and so perhaps we ought to bear some of the costs required to address it.

But having said that, we also want to make this attractive to people—we don’t want this to be a zero sum game where it’s just a cost that we have to bear. Many of the solutions we propose might actually be quite desirable to people, PARTICULARLY THE MEAT PATCH. 

Ah, yes. We knew that would entice you. Only have patience, and it will come to you just as soon as we can get it out in sufficient quantities for world-wide distribution. And that depends only on when the US government can raise the necessary taxes.

And maybe – just maybe – if you all give up eating meat, have very few very small children (if you must have any at all), become truly empathetic to the earth, and show willing to sacrifice yourselves for it’s welfare to the extent we tell you is needed, we may allow some of you to continue existing. For a while at least. No guarantees.