What will we do if in the future, global climate change makes the world increasingly difficult to inhabit? Unwilling to give up hope, some scientists and engineers have suggested creative solutions--"hacking the planet," so to speak. But extreme measures of geoengineering (like reducing sunlight by creating sulfur clouds in the upper atmosphere) could have unintended consequences, since we've never attempted such large-scale interventions.
New York University bioethicist Dr. Matthew Liao has some ideas of his own. He recommends "biomedical modification of human beings so that they can mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change." And although he sees these as improvements on geoengineering (which he calls "very dangerous"), some might argue that his take on bioengineering is equally extreme.
What do you think? Watch the video above and don't forget to leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Come on, talk nerdy to me!
CARA SANTA MARIA: Hi everyone. Cara Santa Maria here. You may have heard about some extreme ways scientists have proposed to deal with global climate change, like fertilizing the ocean with iron to suck up atmospheric CO2 or building a giant sun shield to reflect its warming rays. But Dr. Matthew Liao, the director of the bioethics program at New York University, thinks that instead of changing the planet, we may want to try changing our ourselves.
S MATTHEW LIAO: Climate change is a collective action problem, and what we need to do is get together and people aren’t doing that. And one of the things they’re doing is just that they’re not thinking beyond themselves. And so the idea is that if you can give something like oxytocin to people, then maybe they’ll be more willing to cooperate, to care more about the environment and care more about the big global collective action, you know, issues that have to do with collective action problems.
CSM: Matthew also said taking drugs like Ritalin to enhance cognition may help with the global population problem, since there's a link between cognitive ability and lower birth rates. Kind of makes me think of the soma holidays of Huxley's "Brave New World." I mean, is this a modern eugenics program?
SML: The Nazi eugenics as I see it is also called a negative eugenics and it involves things like coercion, sterilization, and genocide. I’m not talking about any of those. I’m not advocating. This is meant to be voluntary, you do it you know on your own free will.
CSM: Another voluntary program Matthew suggests is to limit our environmental impact by just being smaller-- actually, physically smaller. That's right. He recommends we pay attention to size when we think about, well, "family planning."
SML: So the idea here is maybe you can use a pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to screen embryos that are expected to be shorter, right. Another possibility is you can give hormone treatments. We now already give hormone treatments to speed up the closing of the growth plates, we already do that with children who are expected to be excessively tall. So presumably we can use that technology for this to have smaller children.
CSM: Moving on...Matthew also says we should start weaning ourselves off of meat. According to the UN, 18 percent of greenhouse gases come from livestock, most of which are raised for food. But Matthew knows that we carnivores would have a hard time stepping away from our burgers because, well, they taste sooo good.
SML: Maybe we can take common bovine proteins and make ourselves sort of allergic to those types of proteins, and after that, once you eat those meats, you know after a while, once you have this allergic reaction or unpleasant reaction to meat, after awhile, you’ll want to stop eating that type of meat. And so a way we can do it is we can create some sort of meat patch, kind of like a nicotine patch where you put it on before you go out to dinner, go out to restaurants, and this will curb your enthusiasm for eating meat.
CSM: You may think this is some sort of bioethics thought experiment, but...
SML: Basically the stuff that we looked at are things that we currently already can do. So they’re not meant to be very far-fetched scenarios. They’re meant to be realistic.
CSM: There you have it. Would you go to these extremes if it meant surviving a warmer climate? Let me know on Twitter, Facebook, or by leaving a comment right here on the Huffington Post. Come on, talk nerdy to me!