An energy-efficient human being?

200402439-001In April 2012, 360 Magazine published an interview with Matthew Liao,
Professor in philosophy and bioethics at the New York University. This interview appeared originally in The Atlantic in March 2012. This article caught my eye, because it was the first time I read about someone suggested making alterations on humans, instead of our environment, to become more energy efficient: creating an energy-efficient human being. In this blog I don’t go in on the ethical discussions concerning these suggestions: I write about the ideas from this interview as if it was a scenario:

Everyone knows that the future of mankind, and probably that of earth in general, is threatened by climate change. At the end of the 20th century the first attempts were made to deal with this threat. The Kyoto agreement didn’t lead to a sufficient decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.

Even though alternative energytechnologies are popping up, they seem to be successful only on a small scale and fail to offer a solution for a worldwide problem. People have experimented with altering the environment as well, like permanent changes to the atmosphere. But the possible consequences from such alterations may be beyond our grasp.

So, why not tackle the problem at its core and start adjusting humans. Genetic technology offers plenty solutions to make people more energy-efficient:

The no-meat patch
We have known for years that livestock-farming and the production of meat is a great burden to the environment. Almost 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions is a result of our meat production. Although this is a common known fact, people (especially people in western countries) don’t seem to be willing to cut back on their meat consumption. The solution: a patch that stimulates the human immune system to reject common bovine proteins, which will lead to an aversion to meat products.

Shorter people
People keep growing, meaning every generation grows taller than the previous one. This means a bigger burden on the environment, due to the fact that every pound of bodyweight means a certain need of nutrition and energy. And it’s not just about what the body needs: taller and heavier people also leads to more intensive use of textile, carpets, furniture and other products. A decline I human average height could therefor decrease people’s eco-footprint. Genetic implantation in embryo’s or hormonal treatment for children can help reduce human size.

Pill for compassion and against selfishness
We are already familiar with pills that work against feelings of depression, but we now also have pills that increase compassion and decrease selfishness. They make people think differently and consider the consequences of their decisions and behavior for people on the other end of the globe or for future generations. Certain polluting or wasteful behavior can thus be avoided.

A fixed amount of carbon emissions per family
We already know the Chines example of one-child-policy and Great Britain recently a proposal to make a maximum of two children. An alternative for decreasing family sizes is introducing a maximum amount of carbon emissions per family. That way people can choose, for example between taking one tall child of three smaller children.

Cat eyes
Cat eyes see equally as good as human eyes in the daylight and better than human eyes in the night. If humans would have cat-like eyes, we would need far less light and electricity in the nighttime. And many people think cat-eyes are beautiful so this might become a fashion trend as well 🙂


About Silke de Wilde

I am a foresight-expert and practitioner. As a freelancer, I help organisations think about the future and how to get there, for example by trendanalysis and scenarioplanning. As a facilitator I give workshops to inspire and help people think out of the box. I'm one of the co-founders of the Dutch Future Society. I also organise training in foresight at the School for Foresight. And in the time that's left I like getting into science fiction and working on my phd-research: Cities constructing futures. Yes, you might say I'm a future-fanatic, and I'm grateful that I'm able to make a living out of doing what I love. Thank you for visiting Futurista and please don't be a stranger!
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