Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Human engineering to combat climate change?

There is a forthcoming article in Ethics, Policy and the Environment which proposes to consider human engineering, alongside other tools, in order to reduce our impact on the climate. The authors, Liao, Sandberg and Roache (LSR) write,  "It involves the biomedical modification of humans to make them better at mitigating climate change."

Among the proposed methods are:

- Pharmacological meat intolerance
- Making humans smaller
- Lowering birth-rates through cognitive enhancement
- Pharmacological enhancement of altruism and empathy

In a way, LSR recognize the fundamental problem of the challenge posed by climate change. Unlike other problems, such as malaria or AIDS, here we do not have technologies that can be applied to remedy a problem. This has been convincingly argued in a Nature piece by Nelson and Sarewitz. So what LSR suggest is to find equivalent medical technologies to find a solution to an intractable problem.

To avoid misunderstanding: I find the human engineering proposal outlandish and hope it will be either forgotten or forcefully rejected. But I am not optimistic in this regard as the argument takes advantage of a slippery slope which has been established through all sorts of human enhancement procedures which people have voluntarily adopted.
It highlights the problem outlined by Nelson and Sarewitz and gives it a new twist.
Just as we had a discussion about utopias here on Klimawiebel, enter yet another dystopian proposal!


richardtol said...

while we're at it, we should engineer people to have blue eyes and blond hair

Heber Rizzo said...

And what about manufacturing people not as totalitarian as this trio nor as dumb as their followers?

Hannah said...

App there is a market for the meat patch mentioned above already.......


wflamme said...

A Brave New World. Plus A Clockwork Orange.

eduardo said...

Another nice piece of 'research' from the Cultural Studies quarter.

It reminds me of that study that concluded that solid state physics was biased by male thoughts and fluid dynamics by female thoughts , due to the hard and soft contrast...

I wonder if it is at all legal to publish such a text or whether in Germany the Verfassungsschutz would have something to say about it.

Werner Krauss said...

Is it certified that this is not just a fake?

Anyway, there is one idea which I really like:

""We figured that if everyone had cat eyes, you wouldn't need so much lighting"

I mean, great example of how scientific madness sometimes turns into poetry: simply beautiful!

If we had cat eyes - right on, I wish I had!

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with "enhancing women's cognitive abilities"?

itisi69 said...

Don't underestimate the Green Taliban. Lebensborn redux and of course "No Pressure"....

eduardo said...


I am a bit curious. The authors of this study work at New York University and Oxford. How is it possible ?
is this an exception or would the philosophy departments consider this paper as something usual ?

Jon Jermey said...

Is it possible to find out who is funding this crackpot and have a quiet word in their ear about the inadvisibility of paying good money to finance something this stupid?

Of course, it will probably turn out to be the government..

@ReinerGrundmann said...

I note some strong sentiments of disbelief from commentators on the Human engineering paper. I am curious as to what exactly you object?
I mentioned the slippery slope of body and person "enhancements", already practised. Perhaps it would be useful to include technological applications as well. Biotechnlogy, geo-engineering, nuclear energy to name a few. What is the qualitative new in this proposal which sets it apart and makes it so totally unacceptable?

Maybe the merit of such proposals is that it provokes us to find out what it means to be human and what human dignity means.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Eduardo -5

Why do you think this is from the "cultural studies quarter"? And why do you imply this would be bad?

Or do you think this piece is a prank, like Sokal's paper from 1996 ("Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity")?

Two of the authors are philosophers, one has a PhD in in computational neuroscience. Nothing cultural or postmodern here.

Werner Krauss said...


excellent question. My first reaction was shock and laughter, too. On second sight, it gets more complicated. In-vitro-fertilization and pre-implementation-diagnostics are common practices, at least in many countries. Of course, we select, for example in the case of specific genetic diseases. Pills that cause nausea when eating meat doesn't sound that outlandish, too - pills that do the same when smoking, dietary pills, contraception pills, hormones etc are all manipulations of the body most of us easily accept as common practice. Dolly, the genetic sheep, is not "un-natural".

The real comparison for genetic / body engineering is probably Geo-engineering, which is widely accepted in climate sciences. Manipulating the atmosphere or the oceans, earth rotation or forest cover etc are highly funded climate research projects. The same is true for considerations of the deportation of whole populations, which already has a long tradition in nature conservation (and, of course, war or genetic cleansing) and is now considered in many research documents as possible reaction to climate change.

When large-scale manipulation of the earth system (the earth-body) is part of the consideration to handle the climate problem, why not consider human beings as another factor which could be manipulated accordingly?

Because it sounds so completely mad - but this is no (philosophical legitimate) argument. Because we are too lazy to think, maybe? Or, maybe, because it doesn't make any sense? Climate change has entered each and every facet of our daily lives and bodies, due to the ongoing campaigns of concerned climate scientists who want to be taken seriously. Now someone comes and takes it seriously from an unexpected side - where is the problem: the philosophers who make this suggestions (with airs of Sokal), or the climate scientists who preached doom for decades now?

The common thread is "design" versus "nature"; neither the body nor the atmosphere or the sea are "nature"; instead, they are a product of co-construction of human and non-human forces. If nature doesn't work as criteria what is allowed to do or not, things turn to be difficult.

At stake is the very construction of what climate change actually means. This is a huge challenge for natural scientists, who define climate exclusively in terms of nature - nature defined in terms of commons sense. Maybe blaming those (seemingly mad) philosophers is not the answer to this problem?

Fake or not - it's good to think with. (And who doesn't want to have cat eyes?).

Steve Fuller said...

It turns out that yesterday I assigned to my class the Atlantic Monthly article that interviews the NYU ethicist who co-authored the paper.

Perhaps I brainwashed them, but my students were able to discuss this issue more open-mindedly than many of the contributors here. It may be that people here have a hard time thinking about what it means to be human with substantial changes to their physical makeup. That strikes me as a Darwinian hang-up that too closely associates 'humanity' with 'homo sapiens'.

hvw said...

Nice job, Reiner. This post yielded a cluster of highly emotional ad hominem comments which really stands out. Racism! Totalitarians! Crackpots! Stupid! Dumb Green Taliban!

Loosen up people! Responding this way to an invitation to think about a topic you are not familiar with, ethics, doesn't make you look smart. The authors even anticipated that provocation as thinking-aid is a new concept for some readers and spent a whole page to spell it out explicitly.

richardtol said...

@Reiner, HVW
My dismissive response is not because of the notion of enhanced humans. I'm drinking coffee as I write this.

Rather, I dismiss this because the authors argue that because they think climate change is terribly important, it is allowed to tinker with other people's bodies.

I choose my initial words with care. Fundamental freedoms have been violated before in the name of science.

@ReinerGrundmann said...


note that the authors make much of the voluntary aspects of their proposals.

BTW, there has been a similar heated debate on the occasion of Peter Sloterdijk's "Elmauer Rede" (published as Rules for the Human Zoo: a response to the Letter on Humanism). Based on Nietzsche who wrote that the history of humanity is a history of breeding ("Zuechtung"), Sloterdijk said that we now have biomedical devices which could be used more efficiently to "pacify" people. The old model was to give people some reading -- reading as a social technology to keep people peaceful: "Since Plato, politics has been conceived in part as concerned with the necessity of ‘taming’ humans into being good citizens... reading the right books calms the inner beast."

Sloterdijk was attacked at the time but he did not make detailed proposals. It was more a provocation.

I can think of the administering of the drug Ritalin to schoolchildren which happens on a mass scale, in order to "tame" them.

richardtol said...

Emission reduction is a public good. Few would volunteer. Tallness is a sign of strength and health. Few would opt for short children. Before long, some bigger fool will take this paper and argue for mandatory intervention.

Anonymous said...

Werner identifies a main reason behind this obvious silliness when he states: "climate scientists who preached doom for decades now".

It didn't take much imagination to outgess what damage the permanent doomsday preaching would cause, in particular in the brains of children and younger people.

It all leads to totalitarian thought, the one proposed by Naomi Klein or the one presented by Liao et al.

Richard Tol is not exaggerating, warning that "Before long, some bigger fool will take this paper and argue for mandatory intervention"

We are witnessing the bad outcome of another idealistic approach to change the world for the better. There have been many others before which all failed but they seem to be forgotten in some parts of the eco-movement.

The call "to discuss this issue more open-mindedly" is quite peculiar and requires a "brainwash" indeed.

V. Lenzer

@ReinerGrundmann said...

The Guardian has an interview with the authors of the paper which you can read here.

It also asked Ben Hale, one of the editors of Ethics, Policy & Environment who said:

"The things I've seen written on it so far appear to miss the point. The article was clearly not a positive policy proposal. Instead, it was a series of Swiftian philosophical thought experiments more designed to contextualize actively discussed schemes like geoengineering, written by a professor who is not otherwise engaged with the climate community. In the same issue, we will be publishing several other articles critical of geoengineering."

Werner Krauss said...

V. Lenzer,

thanks for quoting me, even though you do completely out of context.

The provocation of Liao's article or interview in the Atlantic (which I read) is not easily answered. If we don't like his suggestions, how do we legitimize our answers?

Your (and Richard's #18) answers are fine on the level of everyday talk. But none of your answers is based on any scholarly foundation or philosophical reasoning; instead, it is a bundle of biological, cultural, religious and political stereotypes and opinions. I don't list the arguments again here; just read them again calm and slowly. Start with "Tallness is a sign of strength and health" (#18) and end with "brainwash". I think you will agree -it's opinion, no more, no less.

I have no problem with that; quite the contrary, I am always eager to express my opinion and to learn what others think. But these arguments do not serve as a legitimate answer to Liao's suggestion of "human engineering". Otherwise, important decisions really were simply a matter of the political party in charge, between adepts of FDP or the Greens, for example.

So how to argue that we don't want human engineering when we are actually doing this already in so many fields? When we cannot argue in the name of nature, because nature is no longer a valuable judge in the age of anthropocene?

This is a philosophical problem, and justly so, because the article comes from philosophy. Richard Tol obviously is polemical when he says that "we should engineer people to have blue eyes and blond hair". But we already decide about life or not with testing genetic diseases in pre-implementation-diagnostics. Why do we say "yes" to the latter and "no" to the former?

Because we can differentiate; because PID is not cosmetics, but a highly complicated, dangerous, and expensive procedure to avoid babies dying from genetic diseases. And because genetics and hospitals are far from being able to "engineer" blue eyes and blond hair.

Pragmatic reasons, which have to be permanently renegotiated. When technological possibilities change, decisions will have to be adjusted. In England they do this already this way with PID, and as much as I read, it works.

Why not having pills that cause nausea when eating meat? There are pills that make you sick when you smoke. Why "no" to the first, yes to the second? Why "no" at all? No idea. Do we have to care about this at all? No. Except we don't want the pharmacy industry to control our bodies - then corporate pharma industries are the problem, not the pill.

And why not cat eyes to save lighting, as they suggest in the Atlantic interview? No idea. I would love to have cat eyes! We could stroll through dark streets at night and catch some mice, carbon free!

For me, this obvious fun example supports the idea that we deal here with a philosophical (and not a merely technical-engineering) exercise - or at least can turn it into one - without getting brainwashed.

richardtol said...

It's fine to discuss such things in the ivory tower. The authors went public.

Eugenics and fascism are linked by history. Fascism and environmentalism share historic roots in romanticism.

The authors' "ich habe es nicht gewuesst" rings as hollow as when those words were last spoken.

Werner Krauss said...


Anonymous said...

@ Werner

Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

There's a lot of issues worth to be discussed. You cite some of the important ones.

Meanwhile and having a deeper view into Liao's article, I don't think the ideas presented there should be downplayed as some sort of an apprentice piece.

As one of the authors puts it in the interview: "Philosophers, however, spend a lot of time discussing views that they do not necessarily endorse"

The authors are thoroughly aware of the social impact oft their presentation. If they deny any political dimension, they are contradicting themselves, arguing in terms of a serious political debate.

Here's another interview with Liao ...


Just imagine the reactions if e. g. H. J. Schellnhuber (not to mention Th. Sarrazin) would publish such an interview!?

I keep it with Richard: the danger behind this kind of discussions should not be ignored.

And yes, I think that there is an obvious risk with the overinflated climate fear that could be observed in the last years. These exaggerations do not necessarily lead to totalitarian thought but we get quite near as we can see now.

Remember Stephen Schneider?

"we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have"

Misled idealism and the inevitable experiences of the sorcerer's apprentices.

V. Lenzer

Anonymous said...

Werner, I note the comparison of pills to help stop smoking with a pill to make meat taste bad. Eating meat isn't addictive. People who choose to stop eating it can do so with no withdrawal symptoms. So, with that analogy sadly lacking, maybe you can give a better example of why such a pill would be beneficial?


Werner Krauss said...

@Dave JR

you got me wrong: I do not support at all pills to make meat taste bad!
I just want to find out how to judge beyond mere "feeling", or "opinion".

As I said before, we practice human engineering on so many levels; why do we accept genetic testing, genetic manipulated food, in-vitro-fertilization, or the mass experiments by Apple, Microsoft or facebook with computer technologies, which indeed already change our brains, our relations, consumption patterns, politics and cultures - why do we accept this, but not meat pills? Why here yes, there no? Any sustainable criteria at hand? That's my question.

This is a serious question. It's not done with shouting "fascist", "totalitarian" or whatsoever. I mean a real argument. This is not ivory tower; this is about arguing in a responsible way.

I have no easy answer. I tried above, with a kind of pragmatism from case to case. Help is welcome.

Anonymous said...

@ Werner

This is not about freedom of speech and it’s clearly not about individual decisons like genetic testing, eating genetic manipulated food, in-vitro-fertilization etc.

And I am less concerned about a snobbish bunch of young academics enjoying themselves with unscrupulous exercises in cynism, trying to push it to the limit (even if I don’t understand any approach to defend or to vindicate this kind of discussions for what ever reasons, the least with this anything-goes-attitude in social sciences).
Get grown, would be a suitable answer.

What I think about ist he misled idealism in the climate issue and to where it all might end up.

And what I’m really concerned about are those „masters of fear“ who stir up the frights behind the stage following their own agendas.

As Mr. Zimmermann puts it in a slightly different context ...

„You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks ...

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world“

An NO, I didn’t get you wrong when I quoted your little sentence on „climate scientists who preached doom for decades now“.

I have forgotten the interrogation mark but otherwise I think I got you right.

When it comes to fear, people are loosing their heads in different ways. We have seen poor Peter Gleick defending his cause in an unapropriate manner and we took notice of the silliness of all kind of climate warriors truly convinced that the earth will be boiling in some years.

It would be interesting to learn who is going to get out all the b***t out of these bumblebrains - without surgery or human engineering.

V. Lenzer

eduardo said...



yes, I was referring to the postmodern movement. There are some similarities with this paper. The authors are philosophers, as you pointed out. Philosophers should write about philosophy, including philosophy of science, if they wish. This is a purportedly scientific paper, and is quite slanted and sloppy from the scientific point of view. not to mention the ethical point of view.

Some examples: when they cite that millions could suffer from droughts, coastal flooding, heat waves, etc.. the back up their claims by IPCC and Stern. Well, we know already those works, IPCC Working group 2, and the Stern Review.
When the cite that we will need to reduce emissions by 70% to keep the planet hospitable, they cite Washington (2011). This paper does not mention the word hospitable. they just point out that 70% reduction will needed to reduce sea-level by half. There are other examples of general sweeping assertions without back up.

But this is rather my point. This a manuscript that puts forward solutions to reduce emissions. perhaps I missed it, but are there any numbers, even approximate, about the reduction in emissions that each of the proposed measures would achieve ? I didnt see any. Just on these grounds, this manuscript is just nonsense. With this methodology any one after 2 beers in the pub can come up with a several hundred of 'solutions' to mitigate climate change . My first suggestion would be to close all philosophy departments worldwide. This would be within any accepted ethical standards. If I am brave enough and want to step out of the most basic ethical standards, I would suggest to all northern women to reject (voluntarily of course!) any pregnancy from their partners and, instead, to get pregnant on their holidays in Spain. Spaniards are shorter, and therefore, their offspring will be smaller, reducing the metabolic rate of the Northern Europeans by 30%. And as a side effect, the happiness of half of the Northern and Southern European population will increase, at least for a few moments. Thus they will watch less television, also saving some energy there. Companies will notice that and reduce the tv commercials, that would lead to less shopping, more savings
Now, can you argue why is this proposal absurd ? It is a win-win solution. Of course, I am not at all suggesting that it should be implemented, but it does show that 'pregnancy on holidays' should be seriously considered as a measure to mitigate climate change.

There are of course other moral issues, specially with the application of PID. But this has nothing to do with climate mitigation. It just indicates how far some people can go to get some notoriety

Anonymous said...

V. Lenzer, could you please be so kind and look up the context of the quote from Stephen Schneider?

You will find a rather interesting sentence following the little part you quote.

This type of out-of-context quoting reminds me of all the creationists taking little snippets from evolutionary biologists. I don't think you want to be in that crowd.


Werner Krauss said...

@V Lenzer #27

you write:

"It would be interesting to learn who is going to get out all the b***t out of these bumblebrains - without surgery or human engineering."

Is this a call for violence against Peter Gleick and the likes?

Anonymous said...

@ Bam

"could you please be so kind and look up the context of the quote from Stephen Schneider?"

De mortuis nil nisi bene.

Here's Stephen Schneider in his own words, explaining his thoughts on "double ethical bind" - yet another philosophical issue ...


And here's a well reflected piece on his work and his influence on the public debate ...


Read also Chris Russil's article on the issue ...


V. Lenzer

Werner Krauss said...

@ Eduardo,

you write:

"Philosophers should write about philosophy, including philosophy of science, if they wish."

And consequently physicists should write about physics, including the physics of climate, it they wish?

This kind of argument doesn't make much sense. Talk about disciplinary borders makes the charm of the blogosphere.

I personally fully understand the position that the paper of Liao et al can be read as cynical, dangerous or even fascist. Or even stupid, as you point out correctly. Either you simply ignore it, to act politically against it, or else the challenge is to exactly point out why. I was interested in the why.

On second sight, I decided to read it indeed as a philosophical paper which poses a philosophical question: how do we decide, on the basis of which reasons?

The arguments we get here on this thread are not very convincing. Instead, we see the process of group building (we against the postmodern fascist environmentalists etc...), including more or less open insults, wishes for censorship or even death wishes. Not really arguments, right? In the end, we see ourselves, but still don't know much about how we decide.

Or is this the way we decide? Not with arguments and based on reason, but through the mechanism of symbolic group building and finally power - I decide what is right or wrong, because my friends have more power than yours...

Furthermore, we argue as if we were still living in the 20th century. We don't. Human engineering is not fully grasped with the arguments used here. We are maybe already in the midst of it. We are also in the midst of Geo-engineering already. We should acknowledge this and find out, which kind of human engineering and geo-engineering we want and consider ethically correct. The question whether we want to have it at all or not does not exist anymore (independently of what we think about climate change, by the way).

Philosophers like Plato, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sloterdijk, Rorty, Latour and many more discussed this question; there are also cultural scientists like Franklin, Rose, Rabinow, Haraway, Jasanoff and so on who discuss this in medicine, biology, health and so on. And "climate" deserves this discussion, too, urgently. For the sake of reason and better decisions.

This is how I read this article. But I understand that it is maybe better to discuss this at another occasion.

Dennis Bray said...

Now if they could only engineer a patch that would create an aversion to stupidity ... (and maybe post modern discourse)

Anonymous said...

@ Werner

"Is this a call for violence against Peter Gleick and the likes?"

You must be joking.

It's exactly the opposite and you know it well.

I wrote about misled idealism and people loosing their heads when they are living and thinking in a constant and irrational stage of fear.

A question well worth to be discussed if you have a look on what's going on in the so called climate war.

Stiring up the fears for a "good cause" is a relevant part of the problem.

Replacing the rhetorics you refer to: how to cool down the overheating once its destructive effects are already showing?

V. Lenzer

Werner Krauss said...

V Lenzer,

just read the full lyrics of Mr. Zimmermann, especially the last verse:

Peter Gleick, Stephen Schneider, Naomi Klein - masters of war?

Werner Krauss said...

@ Dennis Bray

Yes, great one-liner, and a great illustration of the quality of debate I just described! Just shout out loud: postmodern! ha! and you will have a lot of friends.

And I have to admit, Dennis, it works, at least as as long as they haven't invented yet this patch that creates an aversion against stupidity!

Ha - great one-liner, too, eh?

(And a wonderful example of the quality of climate debate!)

eduardo said...


I would have two questions. Feel free to answer them

- When I read page 9, bottom half of the manuscript, I interpret that the authors are putting forward the idea of administering children a hormone to inhibit their growth. Am I right in my interpretation?

- do you think that this idea is worth of serious discussion ?

Dennis Bray said...

Let's take it to the extreme (I forgot my SAP). What happens if we use our MAP (Meat Aversion Patch)? Market conditions would see the price of meat drop in order to entice people to throw away thier MAPs. With lower prices, meat would become the choice food of the poor, and millions would suffer high cholesterol as a result of global warming.

Please, it is no more out to lunch than some of the other reasoning in the mother of all debates.

Dennis Bray said...

Flying without my SAP again. A world of one child families of dwarf altruistic vegans. Now there's a vision. But it is cool outside.

richardtol said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
richardtol said...

No, it is not. It sunny and unseasonally warm outside.

Dennis Bray said...


We live in different worlds and a lot is open to (multiple)interpretations that are relative to something or other, or so I have been told, or not. That should cover my a*s.

Werner Krauss said...


thanks for asking. Excellent example for discussion (page 8 bottom , by the way).

Question 1: yes.
(Or, to be more correct, they consider this possibility and put it up for discussion.)

Question 2: Yes, as an exercise.

Why? In my eyes, this suggestion is completely absurd (like all the others, by the way). I cannot imagine that they really MEAN it literally. Instead, it is a philosophical exercise in ethics (intended as such or not - it can be used for that). Philosophers are allowed to make impossible comparisons, because it helps us to think more thoroughly.

So, here the exercise:

The authors remind us that hormone treatment to prevent rapid growth is already in practice:

"Hormone treatments are used for growth reduction in excessively tall children(Bramswig et al. 1988; Grüters et al. 1989). Currently, somatostatin (an inhibitor of
growth hormone) is being studied as a safer alternative (Hindmarsh et al. 1995)."

Some examples that come to my mind:

Messi came to Barcelona because they paid there for his hormone treatment (to make him grow, I have to admit -:);

Hormone treatment is used to prevent jet-lag (Melatonin);

it is used to enable conception or to prevent it;

and it is used to cure many other diseases like depression etc.

two examples for pre-implementation-diagnostics (PID) (better to think with, for me):

In India, PID is used to select boys who are preferred over girls.

In England (and Germany? not sure) it is used for diagnosing genetic disease under certain restrictions.

In short, "we aren't born, we are made", to quote a study by Sarah Franklin. When we talk about humans, we cannot simply refer to a natural state that can inform us how to decide. Instead, we have to find other criteria. Why don't we like the selection of sex, but accept to avoid certain genetic dispositions? Why do we allow to make people grow in one case, but not to keep them short in another?

Putting the problem into an absurd correlation, to climate change, the dilemma becomes even more obvious. We discuss behavioral solutions, market solutions, geo-engineering - so why not human engineering? Why accept human engineering concerning population growth (conception), sex of the babies, treatment of moods etc, but not in respect to climate?

Because it doesn't make any sense. Nobody said this in our thread up to now. Instead, we blamed the environmentalists, Stephen Schneider, the postmoderns, cultural studies, fascists and so on. Challenged by an absurd question, we learned about ourselves and our helplessness to say why we don't like the idea.

I guess this is my argument: each and every case needs its own committee, which decides along pragmatic reasons. We cannot rely only on our instincts (hey, don't touch humans - because we already do); we cannot rely only on historical experiences (is eugenics/ fascism really an argument against genetic testing?); we cannot rely on political reasons (how to differ from the tea-party, who are also against human engineering?), and so on.

We have to find out how to decide in a pragmatic way in questions of humanity, human beings and anthropogenic climate change without relying on overcome stereotypes. We permanently rely on stereotypes in these questions - "fascism! eugenics! agenda! postmodern! oil industry!" and so on - and we have difficulties to make a difference between complete nonsense and sense. I am afraid that the level of absurdity like in this article is not an exception, we only don't realize it.

(We even cannot agree on what anthropogenic climate change means, by the way, but we pretend to discuss common topics how to deal with the problem).

It is an exercise how to deal with post-normal situations, to put it into the language of klimazwiebel.

Okay, maybe you can accept this. If not, feel free to consder the suggestions by Liao et al as what they are: nonsense.

That's a long answer, sorry.

Anonymous said...

@ Werner

"Peter Gleick, Stephen Schneider, Naomi Klein - masters of war?"

Masters of climate war maybe ... a "war" of words and opinions.

No guns and knifes around so far - fortunately.

Far-fetched what you try to construct here and completely missing the point I'm talking about.

Sort of an "Gleickian" attempt to compromise opinions you dislike?

V. Lenzer

Dennis Bray said...


Do you think there is any merit in suggesting a department of human down-scaling?

Sorry to the readers but this is just too absurd to leave alone.

Hannah said...

O/T but “brave new world” related. I received this from Tesco (British supermarket). I presume their advertising like Amazon’s is “tailor made” to suit each individual customer....made me laugh quite a lot.....for the record I only remember ever having bought “Tuborg” (Danish beer) online from them.....:o)
“Hello Hannah, you'll find great deals on baby essentials this week and better than half price Champagne too. Take part in Climate Week by making a low carbon recipe and finally, don't forget Mothers' Day on Sunday!”

richardtol said...

Do the baby essentials include shrink hormones? It's climate week after all.

Hannah said...


Well, given how many times we (humans) have thought we were targeting one problem, only to create a new (think Thalidomide and now this: http://lifestyle.aol.co.uk/2012/01/22/anti-miscarriage-drug-could-cause-cancer-in-daughters-of-women-w/) I wouldn't be surprised if Sudocrem (nappy rash cream) turns out to affect your libido in later life....

Here is Tesco’s:

Make a Low-Carbon Meal

Our call to action for Climate Week 2012 is to eat a low carbon meal and be part of the solution to climate change. Here are some of our tips on what to eat to ensure your meal is more environmentally friendly:

LESS – eat less meat and dairy
Meat and dairy have high carbon footprints. Why not make one of your meals a vegetarian or vegan one?

LOCAL – eat local, seasonal ingredients
Choose ingredients that haven’t come from half way around the world. Eat a meal with fresh British produce that hasn’t been kept in cold storage for months.

LEFTOVERS – eat food that would otherwise be thrown away

....and here is one of the recipes:

Now, as it happens I really like Caribbean food (probably for sentimental reasons) but I think we all see what is wrong here :o)

Werner Krauss said...

Just read the Guardian interview Reiner linked above. Here a quote from one of the authors, Sandberg:

"Sandberg: People are unused to ethical analysis. In philosophy we take ideas and test them to destruction. This means that we often bring up concepts or lines of thought we do not personally believe in and then argue them as strongly as possible to see where they go and what we can learn. This is very different from everyday life where most people who state an idea or belief also believe in it - and it makes people misunderstand this kind of thinking. To make matters worse most people debating it will not read the paper and see how we discuss the ethical problems or why even we think it is a preposterous idea... they will just think some eggheads blithely promote eugenics."

"Of course, to many people even a hint that our biology might be subject to political considerations is horrific. Yet they do not seem to worry much about the political decisions that are constantly being made about our reproduction (laws against reproductive cloning are political decisons about the desired form of human reproduction), nutrition or health. We are living in an era of biopolitics. It is better to make the issues explicit and discuss them than assume they will go away if we ignore them."

(And Liao adds that the paper is completely useless for those who do not believe in anthropogenic climate change and, consequently, would never consider geo-engineering as an option.)

richardtol said...

Greg Mankiw proposed a height tax.


@ReinerGrundmann said...


It does not matter if the authors get the science right. They make the case that current policies do not work. They say: if it is really the end of the world then let us discuss all available options. This is what philosophers can do, and again it is futile to call for a closure to philosophy departments. From the perspective of someone who believes the apocalyptic message, it might be: shut down science and engineering departments because they have created the mess we are in (read: carbon dependent industrial societies).

The philosopher Pascal famously said 'All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone'. If we were able to do that we would have a lower carbon footprint, no doubt. But how would we feed ourselves? Pondering these questions makes one realize that all of these options where people are restrained from movement, work, travel, are off the table when considering practical political steps to deal with climate change.

I said in another post, explaining the Kaya identity, that depopulating the Earth, stopping eating and commuting, and stopping using energy would not be options. LSR try to show that medical interventions could somehow deal with energy consumption. Looking at realistic effect this would be tinkering at the margins. They do not give numbers but in my estimate it would be equivalent to changing light bulbs and build more efficient cars and power plants.

The reactions so far (not only on this blog) show that it will not be an option for policy making. Things might be different if one tiny pill would solve the problem of climate change.

thomas t samaras said...

The criticisms of Liao's paper reflect knee-jerk reactions to new ideas. First of all, we have already implemented size control actions through a food system that subjects the population to excess protein, calories, and various chemicals and toxins. We eat animals that have been fed genetically-modified foods, hormones and antibiotics. In contrast, for most of human existence, we ate simple, basic foods and we didn't have them everyday. Sometimes we went without eating for days. Professors Popkin, Colin Campbell, Cameron, Burkitt and Rollo have noted that our emphasis on meat, processed foods and calories have led to faster aging and increased chronic diseases in middle and older ages.

The problem is that we are blinded by our prejudice favoring taller and bigger people. This favoritism is a threat to human survival because 6 to 9 billion bigger humans consume so many more resources along with polluting the environment. A world population of bigger people need more metals, minerals, plastics, energy, water, food, and farmland. And these needs are quite large as described in the book: Human Body Size and the Laws of Scaling-Physiological, Performance, Growth, Longevity and Ecological Ramifications, Nova Science, NY, 2007.

For readers with an open mind, there's plenty of research showing that shorter, lighter people have a number of physical advantages (faster reaction times, faster acceleration, stronger pound for pound, and greater endurance). Some of the greatest achievers of all time have been quite small: Mozart, Picasso, Michelangelo, Einstein, Alexander the Great, Alexander Pope, John Keats, Andrew Carnegie, Onassis, David Murdoch, Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Churchill, President Madison, Maradona, Scott Hamilton, and Tara Lipinski.

I have studied the ramifications of increasing body size for about 37 years and published over 40 papers and books on the benefits of smaller humans. If the subject interests you, go to website: www.humanbodysize.com and http://smallerhumans.blogspot.com/ Why smaller humans are in our future

eduardo said...

@ 52

could you estimate the savings in emissions if humans were on average 5 cm smaller ? could you explain how you have quantified it ?

Freddy Schenk said...

In addition to eduardo #53:

Thomas, you claim that smaller people are getting older than tall people. Wouldn't it be better if people die earlier with respect to emissions?

Could you calculate first what eduardo asked and compare then which emissions are in contrast reduced when (tall) people die earlier?

A possible result could be that tall people dying earlier saves more emissions than small people living longer.

thomas t samaras said...

Hi Eduardo.

I calculated a variety of changes in food, water and resource needs by comparing a 20% taller and ~73% heavier average American. The 73% greater weight is based on the fact that weight generally increases as the cube of the increase in height. The taller person would also have a 44% increase in surface area.

Some resource needs would increase as a function of surface area or body weight. For example, bigger buildings have more surface area in proportion to height squared and therefore lose heat in proportion to this factor. Food and water needs tend to be proportional to body mass and thus increase by 73%. Of course, the figures are based on the assumption that both tall and short populations follow the same activities and lifestyle. You can find a more detailed explanation in the paper Secular Growth and Its Harmful Ramifications, Medical Hypotheses 2002 58: 93-112. I think you can access it on the internet or PubMed. I also describe my estimates in my book: Human Body Size and the Laws of Scaling.

Based on the above, I calculated that we would increase CO2 emissions by 3 billion tons a year in the US alone. Garbage generation would be 80 million tons per year. A 10% smaller person would save 1.2 billion tons of CO2 and food intake would be reduced by 50 million tons per year. Dannenberg calculated that a 10 lb heavier American would result in the need for an additional 350 million gallons of airline fuel per year.

Freddy's observation that the shorter longevity of a taller person would conserve resources is true. However, according to my calculations, the increased longevity of the smaller person would still result in a substantial savings. However, a diet that makes us smaller and healthier could be a conservation measure since the enormous investment in nurturing and educating a new borne would provide a productive individual for a longer time. So the question of individual values arises: do we want a short, less productive life or a longer productive life? Personally, at 80 years of age, I still feel that I have a lot more to learn and to contribute to society. It takes a long time to acquire knowledge and skills in today's modern world. I don't think we are here just to procreate and die.

For a complete list of our work over the years, see my website: www.humanbodysize.com

eduardo said...


How did you calculate the reduction in emissions by a reduction of 10% in body size ?
I am somewhat confused. For instance water consumption per person in Germany is about 1000 liters per day. Most of that is used up by industry, and not for food

to be honest, I found those estimates very doubtful. But even with your numbers, reducing the average body size by 10% worldwide, which I think it s quite a lot, emissions would be reduced by 1.2 giga tines of carbon dioxide. Current emissions are now 30 gigatons. This means a reduction of 5%.
I think there are better ways to reduce emissions