Ed Driscoll

Re-Engineering Humans: An Old Solution to Climate Change

It’s no coincidence that global warming took off as an issue just as the Soviet Union fell; it’s top-down centralized government’s last best hope of controlling the masses. And like other forms of totalitarian worldviews, it doubles as a religion as well, as Czech President Vaclav Klaus noted late last year:

“I’m convinced that after years of studying the phenomenon, global warming is not the real issue of temperature,” said Klaus, an economist by training. “That is the issue of a new ideology or a new religion. A religion of climate change or a religion of global warming. This is a religion which tells us that the people are responsible for the current, very small increase in temperatures. And they should be punished.”

Of course, it’s no fun for totalitarians unless they can punish people en masse. An article at Live Science titled, “Engineering Humans: A New Solution to Climate Change?” should leave all but the truest believers of “global warming/climate change/climate chaos/whatever it’s called this week” more than a little terrified:

So far, conventional solutions to global warming — new government policies and changes in individual behavior — haven’t delivered. And more radical options, such as pumping sulfur into the atmosphere to counteract warming, pose a great deal of risk.

There may be another route to avoid the potentially disastrous effects of climate change: We can deliberately alter ourselves, three researchers suggest.

Human engineering, as they call it, poses less danger than altering our planet through geoengineering, and it could augment changes to personal behavior or policies to mitigate climate change, they write in an article to be published in the journal Ethics, Policy and the Environment.

“We are serious philosophers, but we might not be entirely serious that people should be doing this,” said Anders Sandberg, one of the authors and an ethicist at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. “What we are arguing is we should be taking a look at this, at the very least.”

Their suggestions

In their article, they put forward a series of suggestions, intended as examples of the sorts of human engineering measures that people could voluntarily adopt. These include:

-Induce intolerance to red meat (think lactose intolerance), since livestock farming accounts for a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions.

-Make humans smaller to reduce the amount of energy we each need to consume. This could be done by selecting smaller embryos through preimplantation genetic diagnosis, a technique already in use to screen for genetic diseases. “Human engineering could therefore give people the choice between having a greater number of smaller children or a smaller number of larger children,” they write.

-Reduce birthrates by making people smarter, since higher cognitive ability appears linked to lower birthrates. This could be achieved through a variety of means, including better schooling, electrical stimulation of the brain and drugs designed to improve cognitive ability, they propose.

-Treat people with hormones, such as oxytocin, to make us more altruistic and empathetic. As a result, people would be more willing to act as a group and more sensitive to the suffering of animals and other people caused by climate change.

Given the nostalgie de la boue propensities of some of the zaniest of environmentalism’s true believers (read: biggest hypocrites), let’s hope they can build in the Old Spice gene as well.

At the Online Library of Law and Liberty, Jeffrey Bossert Clark pushes back against the concept, in an essay titled “Re-making Man by Choice and Decree:”

A few days ago, the Drudge Report brought me to a link that I thought for a time simply had to be an early April Fool’s Day joke, but is instead dead serious: How Engineering the Human Body Could Combat Climate Change.  In this article, Atlantic correspondent Ross Andersen ably interviews S. Matthew Liao, a professor of philosophy and bioethics at New York University.  Liao and his philosopher co-authors have a forthcoming paper in the journal Ethics, Policy & Environment that proposes genetic engineering and other “biomedical modifications” of body function for the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That’s obviously crazy, but it illustrates the absurd lengths to which eco-fanatics will go in the quixotic quest to fix the weather.

Let’s begin with Liao’s defense of his “modest proposal.”  In response to this question, “[s]ome critics are likely to see these techniques as inappropriately interfering with human nature.  What do you say to them?” Liao responded that it’s no different than “giving women epidurals when they’re giving birth,” since that also interferes with human nature.  I think my wife, who requested an epidural when giving birth to our oldest son, would beg to differ.  Liao is clearly proposing prescriptions that are more radical than epidurals — a lot more radical.  By the end of this blog post, you’ll see what I mean.

Don’t worry, says Liao, the reason you get twitchy when you hear that the human race should be re-engineered in some respect is that you “generally worry about interfering for the wrong reasons.  But because we believe that mitigating climate change can help a great many people, we see human engineering in this context as an ethical endeavor, and so that objection may not apply.”  Ah. Until Liao ‘splained things, I failed to see that global warming provides a good reason for changing the human body—even while letting parents genetically select for blue eyes, athleticism, high IQ, or good looks in their future children are all bad reasons for genetic engineering in humans (though Liao never actually explains what an ill-motivated “bad” biomedical modification would be).

If “trust us, we come in peace” doesn’t work for you, consider Liao’s second line of defense:  Your body must be re-made so as to pay for your past sins.  “Andersen:  Taking a look at this from the perspective of deep ecology — is there something to be said for the idea that because climate change is human caused, that humans ought to be the ones that change to mitigate it — that somehow we ought to be bear the cost to fix this?  Liao:  That was actually one of the ideas that motivated us to write this paper, the idea that we cause anthropogenic climate change, and so perhaps we ought to be bear some of the costs required to address it.”  In short, just when you thought hair shirts and self-flagellation were so 1270 A.D., Liao and company are proposing genetic modification as sin expiation — a kind of self-mortification of the bodies of current and future generations.

It’s more than a little ironic that the article at the top of this is titled “Engineering Humans: A New Solution to Climate Change,” since the concept, like many of the elements that make up …oh, call it Liberal Fascism, for want of a better phrase, is itself is nearly a century old.

Genetically engineering the New Man is invariably the goal of each new totalitarian society; in 1980’s The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler pondered if one was needed in today’s era, before running down the earlier Nazi and Soviet attempts to build one. (Since Toffler’s book is inexcusably not yet on Kindle, this passage was OCRed from my dead tree version, apologies if a word is missing or misspelled):

As a novel civilization erupts into our everyday lives we are left wondering whether we, too, are obsolete. With so many of habits, values, routines, and responses called into question, it is hardly surprising if we sometimes feel like people of the past, relics of Second Wave civilization. But if some of us are indeed anachronisms, are there also people of the future among us — anticipatory citizens, as it were, of the Third Wave civilization to come? Once we look past the decay and disintegration around us, can we see emerging outlines of the personality of the future — the coming, so speak, of a “new man”?

If so, it would not be the first time un homme nouveu was supposedly detected on the horizon. In a brilliant essay, André Reszler, director of the Center for European Culture, has described earlier attempts to forecast the coming of a new type of human being. At the end of the eighteenth century there was, for example, the “American Adam” — man born anew in North America, supposedly without the vices and weaknesses of the European. In the middle of the twentieth century, the new man was supposed to appear in Hitler’s Germany. Nazism, wrote Hermann Rauschning, “is more than a religion; it is the will to create the superman.” This sturdy “Aryan” would be part peasant, part warrior, part God. “I have seen the new man,” Hitler once confided to Rauschning. “He is intrepid and cruel. I stood in fear before him.”

The image of a new man (few ever speak of a “new woman,” except as an afterthought) also haunted the Communists. The Soviets speak of the coming of “Socialist Man.” But it was Trotsky who rhapsodized most vividly about the future human. “Man will become incomparably stronger, wiser and more perceptive. His body will become more harmonious, his movements more rhythmical, his voice more melodious. His ways of life will acquire a powerfully dramatic quality. The average man will attain the level of an Aristotle, of a Goethe, of a Marx.”

As recently as a decade or two ago, Frantz Fanon heralded the coming of yet another new man who would have a “new mind.” Che Guevara saw his ideal man of the future as having a richer interior life. Each image is different.

Yet Reszler persuasively points out that behind most of these of the “new man” there lurks that familiar old fellow, the Noble Savage, a mythic creature endowed with all sorts of qualities civilization has supposedly corrupted or worn away. Reszler properly questions this romanticization of the primitive, reminding that regimes which set out consciously to foster a “new man” usually brought totalitarian havoc in their wake.

It would be foolish, therefore, to herald yet once more the birth of a “new man” (unless, now that the genetic engineers are at work, we mean that in a frightening, strictly biological sense). The idea suggests a prototype, a single ideal model that the entire civilization strains to emulate. And in a society moving rapidly toward de-massification, nothing is more unlikely.

In his post yesterday in the context of ObamaCare, Andrew Klavan explored “How Nice People Crush Freedom:”

In other words, there’s always a good reason to take your freedom away — your health, the poor, your evil opinions, the lousy way you raise your kids — and never a reason to preserve freedom except the love of freedom itself. Thus, so often, the people destroying the American way of life are actually nice people who just want to help.

As C.S. Lewis observed:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

Conscience? I’m sure we can genetically extricate that…

Related: At the Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson on “Declaring War on Newborns — The disgrace of medical ethics.”

Join the conversation as a VIP Member