Back in 2012, WUWT reported on professor Liao’s bizarre human genetic engineering proposals to combat climate change – ideas so crazy even Bill McKibben thought they were stupid. Unsurprisingly, the idea is still circulating, even gaining traction among some radical greens. The latest manifestation is a positive review of Liao’s plans in Australia’s mainstream news.
Humans of the future: Short, allergic to meat and with night vision
HAVE we been looking at the climate change issue all wrong?
Scientists are becoming increasingly interested in whether changing ourselves instead of the environment could be the unexpected solution to the world’s biggest problem.
The controversial idea of “human engineering” to lower our impact on the planet was suggested by New York University bioethics professor S Matthew Liao in 2012, who said the concept was “potentially less risky than geoengineering” and “could help behavioural and market solutions succeed in mitigating climate change”.
But the idea hasn’t gone away. Gizmodo’s Meanwhile in the Future podcast this week examined some of the specific ideas to see how altering our bodies might fix our planet. And this is just a starting point: the possibilities are endless.
The first proposal we cover is night vision — the idea that we could genetically engineer humans to have more rods so we could better see at night, and thus reduce our dependence on electric lights.
Smaller people, quite logically, tend to use up fewer energy resources. We were much shorter 100 years ago, and Prof Liao says we could go back.
Mental alterations are even more divisive than physical “improvements”. Could making us smarter guarantee better choices? Prof Liao suggests administering drugs including Ritalin and Modafinil to improve our intelligence, pointing out the link between cognitive ability and having fewer children.
But it’s complicated. There are other factors at work, including education, healthcare and economic and social conditions. And it’s not always the cleverest people who make the best decisions. …
Liao is very clear that he has no plans to force anybody to be shorter or to take Modafinil. But eugenics actually didn’t start out as something that was forced on people — many of the early eugenics proponents were all about choice. Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin, saw the idea of selective breeding as something that would become a “civil religion.” As Allen Buchanan, Dan W. Brock, Norman Daniels, and Daniel Wikler write in the book From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice:
If there was a core belief common to all eugenicists, it would have to be expressed in the most general terms: concern for human betterment through selection—that is, by taking measures to ensure that the humans who do come into existence will be capable of enjoying better lives and of contributing to the betterment of lives for others.
I’m not saying we’re one step away from Nazi-style eugenics here. But this is a road we’ve been down before, and it didn’t end well for us. So we should think carefully about this possible future. Climate change is a really tough problem. It’s going to require a whole lot of different (and even weird) solutions to make the future livable and just. But we can’t forget history as we forge into the future.
In some ways I find Professor Liao’s ideas on mass administration of drugs even more disturbing than his genetic ideas. Ritalin is a powerful stimulant which is sometimes prescribed to children with attention deficit disorder. In small doses, in very controlled circumstances, it can help people with brain chemistry imbalances focus on tasks, and lead a more normal life.
But Ritalin is hideously addictive and has dangerous side effects. It is one of the most widely abused street drugs. Its street name is Ice, or Meth – Ritalin is Methamphetamine.
Correction (From Wikipedia)
Ritalin Methylphenidate (trade names Concerta, Methylin, Medikinet, Ritalin, Equasym XL, Quillivant XR, Metadate) is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant of the phenethylamine and piperidine classes that is used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.
Methylphenidate can worsen psychosis in psychotic patients, and in very rare cases it has been associated with the emergence of new psychotic symptoms. It should be used with extreme caution in patients with bipolar disorder due to the potential induction of mania or hypomania. There have been very rare reports of suicidal ideation, but evidence does not support a link. Logorrhea is occasionally reported. Libido disorders, disorientation, and hallucinations are very rarely reported. Priapism is a very rare adverse event that can be potentially serious.
USFDA-commissioned studies from 2011 indicate that in children, young adults, and adults there is no association between serious adverse cardiovascular events (sudden death, heart attack, and stroke) and the medical use of methylphenidate or other ADHD stimulants.
Because some adverse effects may only emerge during chronic use of methylphenidate, a constant watch for adverse effects is recommended.
Modafinil in my opinion may not be much better. Modafinal is rapidly becoming a favourite of executives striving to hit tight deadlines, because its side effects seem to be less severe than Ritalin, which can lead users to develop paranoia and violent psychosis. Modafinal is a popular student drug – it is a memory enhancer, and it lets users continue to function for several days without sleep, with very little loss of mental acuity. But long term use of Modafinal may be just as damaging in some ways, as other widely abused stimulant drugs.
According to The Guardian;
… Sahakian’s research also suggests that prolific use over a prolonged period of time could have a potentially damaging effect on sleep architecture.
“Some professionals tend to use it on specific occasions – when they’re jetlagged or when they’ve had a particularly bad night’s sleep,” she says. “They don’t use it every day and they don’t use it in multiple doses. Whereas, if you talk to students, they’ve often taken a dose and then, when they feel it’s wearing off, they’ve taken another dose.
“And of course that does affect their sleep pattern, because when they should be going to bed, they’ve still got the drug in their system, still exerting its wake-promoting effects. This is of course counter-productive, as we consolidate our memories during sleep.”
I spoke to students who used modafinil during exam periods. They revealed that after several weeks, they had the sensation of permanently being trapped in a twilight zone, neither asleep nor awake. …
A genetic modification for cat like night vision, or to change someone’s height? I could imagine some people actually embracing that. There are times I would certainly like better vision, and parents already in some cases tinker with the height of their children through medical interventions. But advocating mass genetic engineering, or mass administration of powerful, dangerous drugs, in the name of saving the environment, is surely nothing short of sheer lunacy.