Philosopher: Genetically engineer humans to stop climate change

There have been many proposals floated to combat climate change but this has to be the freakiest. Gizmodo reports that in 2012 a philosopher named Matthew Liao and some of his colleagues published a paper that suggested changing human biology to combat climate change. Gizmodo points out:

The first proposal we cover is night vision — the idea that we could genetically engineer humans to have more rods so we could better see at night, and thus reduce our dependence on electric lights. The problem here is that there are only so many spots for rods and cones in our eyeballs, and our particular balance of the two is a tradeoff. Humans are day creatures, so they have more cone cells. Animals like cats are night creatures, so they have more rods. So during the day, humans can actually see motion about 10 to 12 times better than a cat. And many experts think that cats don’t see the same number of colors we do, although they’re divided over whether cats see in mostly blues and grays, or whether they see more like dogs where everything is less saturated. So if we want night vision, we might have to compromise some of our day vision to get it.

Another modification that Liao proposed was an induced allergy to meat, to help people reduce their consumption of animals. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States 14.5% of all greenhouse gas pollution comes from livestock. So the idea here is to make people allergic to eating meat. The problem is that there’s no real way to control the severity of the allergy, and the two proteins that Liao talks about targeting (BSA and alpha-gal) are both found in all kinds of places like milk, eggs, dogs, cats and pork. People allergic to alpha-gal seem to be able to eat poultry and fish, but if they were to eat pork or lamb or beef the allergic reaction includes everything from hives to gastrointestinal upset, to anaphylactic shock. Not something most people would want to sign up for.

Next we talk about breeding people to be shorter, something Liao says could reduce our carbon footprint. Smaller people require less energy and use fewer resources, Liao argues. But selecting for height genetically would be a nightmare, according to the most recent paper that Maxmen found there are 697 genes involved in height. Since there’s not a good way to select for height genetically, another method Liao talks about in his paper is using treatments that cause babies to be born light — to have a low “birth weight.” But that comes with a set of very real dangers to the baby, and few mothers would opt to take that risk. Not to mention set their kid up for society’s bias against people (particularly men) who are shorter.

But what about less physical ways of decreasing someone’s impact on the climate? The next method Liao talks about is using cognitive enhancement to decrease the number of babies each person has. He proposes giving people access to things like Ritalin and Modafinil to increase their cognitive ability because there are some links between cognitive ability and having fewer children. The problem is that some of the most robust connections between those two are caused by unequal access to education, healthcare and economic opportunity. Giving someone Modafinil won’t give them access to an education or a place to live or access to contraception.


In fairness, Mr. Liao is only proposing this and does not call for people to be forced to accept his ideas. I would not be surprised in some ways if this idea catches on with environmentalists since most consider humans to be a cancer on the face of the Earth. This is not eugenics but we have experienced this before and the results were awful. Though I am not convinced human activity is the cause of global warming, even if we were we can adapt and survive like we have found millions of years. However, like the saying does, those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.