The authors comment that -
Anthropogenic climate change is arguably one of the biggest problems that confront us today. There is ample evidence that climate change is likely to affect adversely many aspects of life for all people around the world, and that existing solutions such as geoengineering might be too risky and ordinary behavioural and market solutions might not be sufficient to mitigate climate change. In this paper, we consider a new kind of solution to climate change, what we call human engineering, which involves biomedical modifications of humans so that they can mitigate and/or adapt to climate change. We argue that human engineering is potentially less risky than geoengineering and that it could help behavioural and market solutions succeed in mitigating climate change. We also consider some possible ethical concerns regarding human engineering such as its safety, the implications of human engineering for our children and for the society, and we argue that these concerns can be addressed. Our upshot is that human engineering deserves further consideration in the debate about climate change. ...In responding to suggestions that between that 18% and 51% of the world’s greenhouse emissions (in CO2 equivalents) come from livestock farming - a higher share than from transport - the authors suggest that reducing the consumption of ‘red meat’ could have "significant environmental benefits". How to reduce what another author dubs the 'dead cow economy'?
To be clear, we shall not argue that human engineering ought to be adopted; such a claim would require far more exposition and argument than we have space for here. Our central aim here is to show that human engineering deserves consideration alongside other solutions in the debate about how to solve the problem of climate change. Also, as we envisage it, human engineering would be a voluntary activity – possibly supported by incentives such as tax breaks or sponsored health care – rather than a coerced, mandatory activity.
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. Human engineering could help here. 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. A more realistic option might be to induce mild intolerance (akin, e.g., to milk intolerance) to these kinds of meat. While meat intolerance is normally uncommon (Aparicio et al. 2005), in principle, it could be induced by stimulating the immune system against common bovine proteins. The immune system would then become primed to react to such proteins, and henceforth eating ‘eco-unfriendly’ food would induce unpleasant experiences. Even if the effects do not last a lifetime, the learning effect is likely to persist for a long time. A potentially safe and practical way of delivering such intolerance may be to produce ‘meat’ patches – akin to nicotine patches. We can produce patches for those animals that contribute the most to greenhouse gas emissions and encourage people to use such patches.The carbon footprint could be reduced by making people smaller, using techniques such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis, hormone treatment and manipulation of genes to reduce birthweight. Aha! Next comes a comment that "another possible human engineering solution is to use cognition enhancements to achieve lower birth rates", ie the notion that smarter people have fewer kids. "Cognition enhancements may help increase the ability of people to educate themselves (Sandberg and Bostrom 2006), which would then affect fertility, and indirectly climate change", accompanied by "Pharmacological enhancement of altruism and empathy". From there it's on to the comment that -
human engineering could be liberty-enhancing when used alongside behavioural and market solutions. For example, given a certain fixed allocation per family of greenhouse gas emissions, each family may only be permitted to have two children, as Guillebaud and Hayes have proposed. However, if we were able to scale the size of human beings, then given the same fixed allocation of greenhouse gas emissions, some families may be able to have more than two children. Human engineering could therefore give people the choice between having a greater number of smaller children or a smaller number of larger children.The authors note that -
the most obvious objection to our suggestion that human engineering solutions should be considered is: it’s a preposterous idea! In particular, who in their right mind would choose to make their children smaller? We are well aware that our proposal to encourage having smaller, but environmentally-friendlier human beings is prima facie outlandish, and we have made no attempt to avoid provoking this response. There is a good reason for this, namely, we wish to highlight that examining intuitively absurd or apparently drastic ideas can be an important learning experience, and that failing to do so could result in our missing out on opportunities to address important, often urgent, issues. 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. ... The lesson here is that, whilst we may often be good at judging which ideas are unworthy of pursuing, we are nevertheless sometimes vulnerable to dismissing useful and valuable ideas.Using that mindset the authors would presumably embrace use of genetic modification (or merely patches) to inhibit a liking for alcohol, tobacco, narcotics and fast food.
The suggestion that we make our children smaller for the sake of the planet is the most controversial of the solutions described here. The reason that many people responded negatively to this idea seems not to be that they were doubtful of its effect on climate change if implemented, but that they doubt many people could be persuaded to implement it. There is something to this belief: in our society, being tall is viewed as being advantageous. Studies show that women find taller men more attractive than shorter men (Kurzban and Weeden 2005), and that taller people enjoy greater career success (Judge and Cable 2004). Given this, it seems plausible that people will not want to make themselves or their children shorter.
In response to this, we can note, first, that the fact that a particular human engineering solution may not appeal to some people is not a reason to avoid making such a solution available. Many things that are freely available in society appeal to a limited few and are given a wide berth by everyone else. Consider, for example, tattoos, bungee jumping, and running marathons. In the case of particular human engineering solutions with limited appeal, all other things being equal, it seems that it is better that these solutions are available and used by only a few than that they are unavailable to all.
Second, what may be unappealing today may not be so tomorrow. This could be because people’s attitudes about what is appealing can and do change, especially if there are ethical reasons for a particular type of intervention. ... Finally, we should note that whilst it is tempting to focus on the most provocative examples of human engineering solutions – which, in this case, also happen to be the least appealing – it is not the case that human engineering is synonymous with lack of appeal. As we mentioned earlier, one way to reduce size and therefore carbon footprints is to reduce height. But another way to reduce size is to reduce weight, which would presumably be less controversial. In general, there is no reason why it should not be possible to develop human engineering solutions that, as well as helping to fight climate change, are also highly appealing to individuals. Indeed, cognitive enhancements and pharmacological means of resisting meat are likely to appeal to many people, since improved cognition and the health benefits of vegetarianism are goods in themselves.
Interesting ideas but not, I suspect, going to gain much traction outside the academic seminar.