BBC, July 2014
But what if instead of trying to fix the world, we fixed ourselves? That’s the question posed by Matthew Liao, director of the Bioethics Programme at New York University, and his colleagues. “We tried to think outside the box,” says Liao. “What hasn’t been suggested with respect to addressing climate change?”
The answer they landed on is human engineering: the biomedical modification of human beings to reduce their impact on the environment. The associate professor suggests that by changing our underlying biology – altering our size or diet, for instance – we could create greener humans.
While these researchers are not seriously proposing that we embark on a worldwide programme of invasively modifying human beings, it serves as an interesting thought experiment that could offer a new perspective on the impact we each have on the planet. “We’re not suggesting that we should mandate these ideas, but it would be good to make them options for people,” says Liao.
It wouldn’t be the first time that biological control has been used to limit the ecological impact of a society. China’s controversial ‘one-child’ policy was implemented in 1979 to alleviate pressures on the environment, among other reasons. And the tiny Pacific island of Tikopia was made famous by anthropologist Raymond Firth in 1936 when he reported that its inhabitants followed a strict code of birth control to prevent the population straining the island’s limited resources. Undesirable as these efforts may sound to some ears today, Liao suggests that we could go further in the quest to be more environmentally-friendly humans.