I have often thought that transhumanism and global warming hysteria were a natural couple. The former blames humans for killing the planet, and the latter believes we can redesign ourselves to achieve eugenic ends. I have joked that transhumanist GWHs should want us to shrink all our progeny to the size of pygmies. That would certainly lower our collective carbon footprint!
Now, my joke has now been proposed seriously (not the first time this has happened ) in a scientific paper–and the eugenics are biting with sharp teeth (as in discarding “tall” embryos as medical waste). From “Human Engineering and Climate Change:” (citations omitted):
Another more striking example of human engineering is the possibility of making humans smaller…How could such a reduction be achieved?…One way is through preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). While genetic modifications to control height are likely to be quite complex and beyond our current capacities, it nevertheless seems possible now to use PGD to select shorter children. This would not involve intervening to change the genetic material of embryos, or employing any clinical methods not currently used. It would simply involve rethinking the criteria for selecting which embryos to implant.
Another method of affecting height is to use hormone treatment either to affect somatotropin levels or to trigger the closing of the epiphyseal plate earlier than normal (this sometimes occurs accidentally through vitamin A overdoses. Hormone treatments are used for growth reduction in excessively tall children. Currently, somatostatin (an inhibitor of growth hormone) is being studied as a safer alternative. Finally, a more speculative and controversial way of reducing adult height is to reduce birth weight…Drugs or nutrients that either reduce the expression of paternally imprinted genes, or increase the expression of maternally imprinted genes, could potentially regulate birth size.
Good grief. Pie in the sky nonsense, of course. But it is the values that matter, and alas, those expressed in this paper are typical of the denizens of the contemporary high academy (in this case, two professors from Oxford and one from New York University).
The good professors know that most people will think the proposal outlandish. But that’s how radical ideas eventually get implimented:
…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. For example, people’s attitudes towards vegetarianism have changed as a result of vegetarianism’s ethical status. People’s attitudes towards currently unappealing human engineering solutions may undergo a similar change as awareness spreads about the effects that these solutions could have on the problem of climate change…
Third, we should be on our guard against status quo bias…Making our children smaller may be unappealing, but so is the prospect of having our children grow up in a world blighted by the environmental consequences of their ancestors’ choices and lifestyles.
There’s much more in the paper worth addressing, of course. But I’ll leave that for another day.