The Short People Solution to Climate Change


As who does not?

Short people are more climate-friendly argue researchers at New York University and Oxford University in a provocative new paper, Human Engineering and Climate Change, to be published in the journal Ethics, Policy and the Environment. This is not the first time that environmental concerns have motivated such a suggestion. For example, back in 1967 Technology Review published an article which argued:

A reduction in man's size might be compared to an increase in the size of the earth….Consider, as but one example, the relation of man's size to the facilities provided for his transportation. Smaller man could mean smaller vehicles, either smaller highway rights of way or greater capacity for existing highways, easier provision for off-street parking … Similar benefits of smaller human size become apparent in buildings.

In 1984, the Washington Post in article on how to feed an allegedly overpopulating world cited futurist Graham Molliter as envisioning "an outer-limits scenario: using genetic engineering to produce smaller people–who need less food." 

In the new article, the researchers point out that international treaties and markets have not had any real impact on the amount of atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide humanity is producing by burning fossil fuels. So perhaps something more drastically creative should be done – thus their proposal to shrink the average size of human beings. As their article points out: 

[One] more striking example of human engineering is the possibility of making humans smaller. Human ecological footprints are partly correlated with our size. We need a certain amount of food and nutrients to maintain each kilogram of body mass. This means that, other things being equal, the larger one is, the more food and energy one requires. Indeed, basal metabolic rate (which determines the amount of energy needed per day) scales linearly with body mass and length. As well as needing to eat more, larger people also consume more energy in less obvious ways. For example, a car uses more fuel per mile to carry a heavier person than a lighter person; more fabric is needed to clothe larger than smaller people; heavier people wear out shoes, carpets, and furniture more quickly than lighter people, and so on.

Reduced average human size might be achieved by pre-implantation genetic diagnosis of embryos in which only those expressing genes for shorter stature are implanted; using hormone treatments to stop growth earlier in children; or encouraging low-birth weight infants.

In addition, the researchers suggest deploying pharmacological treatments to induce meat aversion in people since livestock production results in a lot of greenhouse gas emissions per calorie. We could also use less electricity for lighting if humans were genetically modified to have eyes more like those of cats that can see better in the dark.

Another possible technique would be to treat people with cognitive enhancements since a side effect is that smarter people tend to have fewer children. Also, it might be possible to pharmacologically boost empathy in people so that they will cooperate more easily to address environmental problems.

I am not sure what pharmacological treatment might be implied by the authors' observation that "testosterone appears to decrease aspects of empathy." Why pull punches when it comes to saving Mother Earth: If men are bad for the planet, why not suggest getting rid of the bearers of Y chromosomes? 

What about the ethics of meddling in this way? The authors stress that adoption of all of their proposals should be voluntary. 

Via The Atlantic blog

Disclosure: Although I am six feet and five inches in height, most of my best friends are shorter (but a few are taller).