Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Eugenics Tackles Climate Change

By Michael Cook

Can a proposal to genetically modify children that are smaller to reduce their carbon footprint be taken seriously?

Michael Cook is editor of the online bioethics news service BioEdge.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Newspapers have their “silly season” of shock-horror absurdities in the slow news summer months. How about bioethics journals? Judging from recent media splutterings it must be in February and March.

Exhibit A in the journal Environment, Ethics and Policy is all we have room to discuss here. The authors propose to combat climate change with human engineering. People who are smaller and shorter and eat less meat will help reduce both their own carbon footprint and bovine flatulence (a significant contributor to greenhouse gases).

The details are so extraordinary that some caveats are needed to ensure a fair hearing. First, although engineering of children is clearly eugenics, the authors insist that it is benevolent eugenics: the privatised voluntary kind, not the government-enforced mandatory kind.

Second, these are thought experiments, not practical proposals.

Third, the eccentricity of the solutions is justified by the urgency of the problem. How else will we solve climate change?

Their most eye-popping brainwave is to turn us into hobbits. “For instance,” co-author S. Matthew Liao of New York University told The Atlantic, “if you reduce the average US height by just 15 cm, you could reduce body mass by 21% for men and 25% for women, with a corresponding reduction in metabolic rates by some 15% to 18%, because less tissue means lower...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.