And now they have figured the Final Solution for climate change. Bioengineering people. Yes: so say academic philosophers Matt Liao of NYU, and Anders Sandberg and Rebecca Roache from Oxford in their forthcoming peer reviewed “Human Engineering and Climate Change” in the journal Ethics, Policy and the Environment.
They call their program Means to Escape Nasty Global Eruptions of Lurid Energy, or MENGELE for short. No, I’m kidding. That one was already taken. They’re still searching for a good name, and I’m sure they would welcome suggestions.
Just what sort of bioengineering do our researchers have in mind? Several, in fact. Let’s look at the list.
1. Pharmacological meat intolerance Our crew doesn’t like that people eat meat, because meat comes from animals, and meat-bearing animals are often flatulent. And then there is the energy expended bringing meat to market: bringing grains and vegetables is, of course, cost free, even though people must eat an increased weight of these comestibles to equal the energy in meat.
While reducing the consumption of red meat can be achieved through social, cultural means, people often lack the motivation or willpower to give up eating red meat even if they wish they could…Eating something that makes us feel nauseous can trigger long-lasting food aversion. While eating red meat with added emetic (a substance that induces vomiting) could be used as an aversion conditioning, anyone not strongly committed to giving up red meat is unlikely to be attracted to this option.
Perhaps there are other ways so that a human body is “primed to react” to ingesting meat, “and henceforth eating ‘eco-unfriendly’ food would induce unpleasant experiences.” They suggest using “‘meat’ patches” like nicotine patches. It sounds like they’d make them in the shape of the animals they don’t want you to eat. It would make for some imaginative policing to ensure citizens are wearing their meat patches.
2. Making humans smaller This one is easy: smaller people eat less than larger people. Now they don’t actually say this—the words “soylent green” do not appear in the paper—but it is a reasonable inference from this premise that fewer people eat less than more people.
Height is determined partly by genetic factors and partly through diet and stressors. While the genetic control is polygenetic, with many genes contributing a small amount to overall height, the growth process itself is largely controlled by the hormone somatotropin (human growth hormone)…
While genetic modifications to control height are likely to be quite complex and beyond our current capacities, it nevertheless seems possible now to use [preimplantation genetic diagnosis] to select shorter children.
In other words, if the baby is too big, abort it and try again for smaller one. Or just shoot up the womb with certain drugs or “nutrients that either reduce the expression of paternally imprinted genes, or increase the expression of maternally imprinted genes.” Girl genes, see, make smaller babies than boy genes.
What if a set of parents manages to slip one past the goalie and pushes out a large child? The authors advocate injecting it with somatostatin, an anti-growth hormone. This way to the Injection Center, fella.
3. Lowering birth-rates through cognitive enhancement Did you know that there is “strong evidence that birth-rates are negatively correlated with adequate access to education for women”? Some kind of smart pill would thus let women figure that having kids is stupid.
4. Pharmacological enhancement of altruism and empathy The first two words of this method are enough to encourage one to take to the hills with a shotgun, but let’s press on.
Many environmental problems are the result of collective action problems, according to which individuals do not cooperate for the common good…If people were generally more willing to act as a group, and could be confident that others would do the same, we may be able to enjoy the sort of benefits that arise only when large numbers of people act together…
Also, many environmental problems seem to be exacerbated by—or perhaps even result from—a lack of appreciation of the value of other life forms and nature itself…
Hold it! They are talking about appreciation of the value of life forms? Good grief!
“There is evidence that higher empathy levels correlate with stronger environmental behaviors and attitudes” so increasing empathy is just the thing. “Indeed, test subjects given the prosocial hormone oxytocin were more willing to share money with strangers.” And let’s don’t forget that once a “noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor increased social engagement and cooperation with a reduction in self-focus during a mixed motive game.” How about juicing our old friend, the amygdala (as seen through the fMRI)? We could do that, too.
The authors don’t say how these chemicals should make their way into human bodies. Regular injections would of course take too long, so it would have to be pills The problem with pills, though, is that not everybody would take them. Even with threatening random blood testing, and jail time for scoffers, too many people would not ingest their Daily Mandated Dosages. Has to be the water supply then. Works for fluoride, so why not for oxytocin and SSRIs?
Now, families may “be permitted” to have two children, but this should not be seen as restrictive. Indeed, the authors say it is “liberty-enhancing.” How? Well, human engineering gives “people the choice between having a greater number of smaller children or a smaller number of larger children [emphasis added].” It can’t be bad if there is choice.
I don’t want you going away believing the authors think bioengineering is all beer and skittles. They are aware that there are risks. For example, using somatostatin increases the chance of gallstones. But as serious as that risk is, it “should be balanced against the risks associated with taking inadequate action to combat climate change.”
People should also not be frightened of bioengineering because it is newfangled. “On the whole then, with respect to safety, it seems that we should judge human engineering solutions on a case by case basis, and not rule all of them out tout court.”
Yes, “ethical concerns” will be raised. But because we are now “offering pain relief to women in labor” we should be able to drug people to make them shorter. And the “selection of a smaller child through [drugs], for
example, involves no more interference with nature than the standard IVF process.”
And darn it, drugging people just is “an ethical endeavor” because “mitigating climate change can promote the well-being of many people and animals that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change.” Let’s don’t forget that even now “a great many parents…are willing to give Ritalin to their healthy children so that they can concentrate and perform better at school.” Sure “making children smaller” will be “controversial” but “it is worth reminding ourselves” that “existing solutions for mitigating climate change are likely to fall short of their intended goals.”
No scientist worth his salt is afeared of supposing his theory is false. So the authors know that some will say, “who in their right mind would choose to make their children smaller?” and they admit that “It may turn out to be the case that human engineering is not the best way of tackling climate change.” But to say that ignores “the
widely-recognised fact that climate change remains a serious problem today and we do not currently know which solutions will be the most effective.”
They know their ideas are “prima facie outlandish.” But they “wish to highlight that examining intuitively absurd or apparently drastic ideas can be an important learning experience.” And don’t you dare forget that “History is replete with examples of issues or ideas which, whilst widely supported or even invaluable now, were ridiculed and dismissed when they were first proposed.”
Someday, then, mandatory meat patches will seem just as sane as not allowing undesirables to live.
Update Turns out Liao is pals with the appalling Julian Savulescu whom we have met so often. Liao is also author of the forthcoming “Parental Love Pills: Some Ethical Considerations.” What most depresses is that these folks all have cushy positions, whereas yours truly struggles month to month.
Update This is now picking up steam, being vetted in the press elsewhere; hence my moving it up.
Thanks to reader Will Hickie for suggesting this topic.