So here’s our problem; anthropogenic emissions are changing our climate, as we should hopefully all know and trust, and we’re accomplishing that much faster than good old nature has been used to, hence all the fuss over it. One of the most grand, and unfortunately controversial solutions forwarded by many lobbies is that of geoengineering - the artificial changing of our climate, atmosphere, oceans and more through the use of technology and some radical ideas.
These can range from carbon-capture and storage (well-known and growing), seeding the world’s oceans with the necessary nutrients to spur mass plankton growth, which in turn absorb sunlight and carbon and produce lovely things like oxygen, whilst providing food and reducing acidification, to artificial cloud creation through sulphur particles sprayed into the sky. These are some of the less ‘dangerous’ ones however. At the other extreme we’ve got propositions for placing mirrors in space to redirect sunlight and cool the planet, combatting the warming effects of climate change, to filling the atmosphere with particles which bounce insolation back, acting similarly to a reflective blanket over the upper atmosphere.
The main issue with these larger forms is that we simply do not know how they will affect ecosystems and climate trends globally. Spraying sulphur and other non-native atoms into the atmosphere could easily backfire and shut down key air currents or weather systems which feed agriculture and urban regions, and the implications for actually halting sunlight hitting the earth are a mystery; what would all the investment in solar be for if a large percentage of the insolation needed is suddenly restricted access to Earth? ? What of our photosynthetic friends, which will be heavily depended upon should carbon keep rising?
However, a recent interview with philosopher and bioethics professor, Matthew Liao, has opened eyes and angered many. In his yet to be published paper, he outlines possible solutions to the climate problem via genetic modification and bioengineering, focusing on changing us as a way of mitigating warming temperatures. His suggestions include such things as genetically modifying babies to be smaller, less resource-intensive, actively putting people off meat by creating nauseous feelings when eaten (Clockwork Orange anyone?), and limiting the ability to reproduce to reduce population.
Now these are some of the extremes of the paper, and admittedly some of them are ethically and morally wrong on many levels. Yes, there is a problem with overpopulation and starvation, but people are allowed a choice, and when this is taken from them, we take away a lot of what is to be human, and the above ideas do exactly this. On the other hand, if, with our technological and medical advances, we are able to foster better relations with both each other, nature and our problems, such as some of the professor’s other ideas address, this is not such a bad idea. These include altering intelligence and brain functions to make us more empathic and harmonious, with the hope of then overcoming our lack of action and altruism thus far with clever and rational responses.
I won’t go further into this topic, as I would rather wait for the fallout to clear and those slightly less angry amongst us to see some reason with the paper and the implications behind it. What is most worrying to me about this, even more so than some of the suggestions made, is that firstly, people will instantly despise something they don’t fully understand, and I believe much of the anger is a result of this; without a released paper and one interview to go on, to attack and name the professor and his colleagues ‘Nazis’, claiming ‘eugenics’ is equally wrong. We cannot link such terrible things with what are clearly thought out scientific ideas, even if we do eventually disregard them as morally extreme and move on. At least they bring the issue to our attention; science was built upon paradigm shifts brought about by radical thinkers.
My bigger worry however is this - it must be seen that we are indeed in very dire times and care little about those factors causing it, as it has reached the point where respected scientists are beginning to consider such radical solutions as engineering humans themselves. Are we really so ingrained with destroying ourselves that we have to be rewritten? I’d like to think not.