Politics & Policy

NYU Professor Wants to Make Humans Greener

Professor Matthew Liao thinks that we can combat climate change through modification of humans.

A New York University professor has a revolutionary idea for combating global warming: making ourselves greener.

Matthew Liao, director of NYU’s bioethics program, thinks that human engineering is a possible solution to global warming, and he lays out his ideas in a new paper. While previous environmental efforts have been focused on reducing the carbon emissions that are said to be causing global warming, Liao says we should look to changing ourselves.

“We tried to think outside the box,” Liao told BBC News. “What hasn’t been suggested with respect to addressing climate change?”

One of his ideas is to artificially induce intolerance to red meat. If people dislike the taste, Liao says, there will be reduced demand for meat and therefore a reduced environmental impact, as 18 percent of greenhouse emissions come from livestock farming. The paper suggests people take a pill that would trigger nausea if they ingest meat, which would lead to a long-term aversion to meat.

Liao explained in an interview with The Atlantic that he and his colleagues have also “toyed with the idea” of a patch, similar to a nicotine patch, which will make its user sick if he or she tries to eat a juicy burger. He argues that such a patch would be “liberty enhancing.”

“If you crave steak, and that craving prevents you from making a decision you otherwise want to make, in some sense your inability to control yourself is a limit on the will, or a limit on your liberty,” he told The Atlantic. “A meat patch would allow you to truly decide whether you want to have that steak or not, and that could be quite liberty enhancing.”

Another one of Liao’s ideas is shrinking ourselves, which he says will reduce our environmental footprint.“Reducing height by 15cm would mean a reduction in mass of around 25 percent,” he explained, which means that “less” of you has to be transported and fed. He added, “You can fit in airplanes better!”

The professor elaborated to The Atlantic that this shrinking could be done via a technique called “preimplantation via genetic diagnosis,” in which embryos would be selected to implant based on height. It could also be accomplished with hormone treatment or gene imprinting.

The paper emphasizes the voluntary nature of the proposed biological modifications. But The Atlantic asked if it would be ethically problematic for parents to make these irreversible choices for their children.

“The reason we are even considering these solutions is to prevent climate change, which is a really serious problem, and which might affect the well being of millions of people including the child,” Liao said. “And so in that context, if on balance human engineering is going to promote the well being of that particular child, then you might be able to justify the solution to the child.”

BBC noted that Liao is not the first to explore the possibility of biological control in order to curb a society’s environmental footprint. China’s one-child policy was also an attempt to address the country’s environmental issues. The Pacific island of Tikopia traditionally has maintained a strict code of birth control to restrain population growth in response to limited resources.

One of the ideas that motivated the paper, Liao explained, was “the idea that we caused anthropogenic climate change, and so perhaps we ought to bear some of the costs required to address it.”

—Molly Wharton is an intern at National Review. 


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