Human Engineering: Greener Little People

Fragment of Photo by David Stefanoff

Fragment of the photo by David Stefanoff

Dr. Matthew Liao, director of the Bioethics Program at New York University and his colleagues suggest that to create greener humans of the future, today’s off-green humans might have to tinker a bit with our underlying biology. “We’re not suggesting that we should mandate these ideas, but it would be good to make them options for people.”

[…] 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 behavioral and market solutions succeed in mitigating climate change. 


One strategy would be to reduce our resource use. We all heard at one time or another that greenhouse effect is caused — among other things (or sins) of humanity by livestock farming. 18%, actually, and growing with every cow. So if only that same human-folks ate less meat…

корова“We can artificially induce intolerance to red meat by stimulating the immune system against common bovine proteins,” Dr. Liao says. Perhaps, something akin to a nicotine patch that makes you dislike red meat.

Speaking of which, there is  evidence that people bitten by the lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum, found throughout the eastern, southeastern and south-central states, often develop allergies to red meat and forced to become vegetarians.  

Then there is a size of a human physique. “Reducing height by 15cm would mean a reduction in mass of around 25%,” says Liao. Although there’s a social stigma against being short, Liao counters that there are benefits too. Smaller people tend to live longer, “and you can fit in airplanes better!”  But seriously, it’s that’s a quarter less of human flesh to feed, water, haul around…  theIncredibleShrinkingMan

In 2013, artist Arne Hendricks  concluded that the ideal human height with minimal impact on environment is 50cm (19.685 inches). The idea won the Future Concepts category at the Dutch Design Awards. Coming from the country where the people’s height and the sea level have a tendency to go up, it must’ve been both ironic and flattering.  theIncredibleShrinkingMan

Human growth has become a synonym for our Western welfare society, but is it sustainable in the long term? With The Incredible Shrinking Man, Arne Hendriks investigates what the impact on the world would be if people would only be 50 cm tall. More people would fit on the same surface, and could manage with less food, that’s for sure. (Researching the implications of downsizing the human species to better fit the earth.)

Another thrilling proposition for protecting the environment — and heightening the role of humans in this noble process exponentially — comes from Japanese artist Ai Hasegawa. It promises to be easy and fun…  although somewhat removed from today (in time) and from common sense (in brain space). Hasegawa has suggested that women might one day be perfectly willing to become surrogate mothers for rare species, such as sharks, dolphin, or pandas. The image below came from Ms. Hasegawa site. Oy!deliverAShark

Humans are genetically predisposed to raise children as a way of passing on their genes to the next generation. For some, the struggle to raise a child in decent conditions is becoming harder due to gross overpopulation and an increasingly strained global environment.

Well, then… I have to think about this one some more. Greener is better  for the environment, of course. Riding chickens instead of horses might be an unexpected fun, but giving birth to a panda to have less people and more pandas…

Yes, I know, I’m primitive, not forward-thinking person of 5’3″. I understand that in a long run — very long run, I hope — modifying our biology might prove easier than trying to modify the climate. Living with the worst effects of climate change, my descendants  (average height humans, I dare hope) might be more willing to embrace the idea of birthing sharks, mandating growth-suppressing hormones and other biomedical modifications affecting their descendants. I’m glad I won’t see them riding chickens.



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