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Transhumanism As A Solution To Climate Change March 19, 2012

Posted by Metabiological in Transhumanism.
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Well I must admit this is  new one on me.  An interview of philosopher  S. Matthew Liao published recently in the Atlantic focuses on a new and controversial paper he and his colleagues have put forward.  The paper in question asks whether or not anthropogenic climate change can be solved or at the very least mitigated through enhancement of humans with traits which lower our carbon footprint.  In short rather then changing our society or economy why don’t we just change ourselves.

Now I’ve heard all sorts of crazy ideas to fix the climate.  I’ve heard seemingly practical ideas unfortunately turn out to not actually work due to unforeseen realities (iron fertilization, corn ethanol), I’ve heard great-on-paper ideas that would never fly in the real world (get people to voluntarily slash their energy consumption), I’ve hear batshit crazy ideas that sound like the plot of a bad Sci-Fi channel movie (giant space mirrors to reflect the sun’s rays).  But this is the first time I’ve heard someone seriously consider the idea having humans adapt themselves not simply in order to survive climate change but actually to reverse it.  If nothing else, it’s a new avenue of thought.

The enhancements chosen as examples range from the fairly mainstream (by transhumanist standards) to the rather out there.  Suggestions like giving people who want to give up meat but lack the necessary willpower drugs which induce nausea whenever they chow down on a steak are fairly practical even with today’s technology.  As others have noted considering the sheer amount of carbon released by animal husbandry and the meat industry helping a substantial number of people turn vegetarian would put a serious dent in our carbon output.  Other ideas are also based on solid foundations but are probably less likely to take hold.  Making humans smaller to reduce the amount of resources they require would probably work but are unlikely to catch on given the immense importance our society places on height as a marker of social standing.

Of course my favorite example has to be the suggestion of engineering humans with cat eyes, and thus great night vision, in order to reduce the amount of energy needed for lighting.  Stuff like this is the best part of transhumanism; outlandish, seemingly insane ideas that upon reflection reveal themselves to be nothing more then the kind of outside the box thinking that pushes science and the bounds of human knowledge onwards.  Also, who among you wouldn’t want to a pair of cat’s eyes (I know I would). It’s such a cool idea that it makes me wonder why the authors didn’t mention what seems to me to be the most obvious and wonderfully cool human enhancement for drawing down carbon levels: photosynthetic humans.  Imagine the combined effects of 7 billion human beings drawing CO2 out of the atmosphere, in addition to the reductions brought about through decreased agriculture and meat production as people eat less and less.  It would also put a whole new twist on “It’s not easy being green.”

Now before anyone points out the obvious I am well aware that many of these ideas are not practical.  That’s besides the point.  As the authors point out the purpose of this paper specifically and philosophical inquiry in general is not to be practical.  It’s about taking an idea and stretching it to it’s breaking point, tearing it apart bit by bit, putting it back together again and seeing if it still works correctly, and in that respect they did a magnificent job.

Needless to say the article has attracted the usual frenzy of ill-informed commentators that make the internet such a wonderful place to hang out.  I’m not going to spend any time on them since quite frankly you can go read the comments yourself if you’re really interested but the level of ignorance displayed is shocking even by the standards of the internet.  It got so bad the the authors actually took part in a rebuttal interview explaining their positions and pointing out misconceptions about what they believed.



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