Mar 212012
 
Altruism

Altruism (Photo credit: Peter Nijenhuis)

Academics have some ideas, but the ethics are troubling.

We’re the ones causing the problem, so maybe there are biological fixes that could make humanity consume fewer resources. Academics have some ideas, but the ethics are troubling. Are you ready for your government-mandated meat patch?

In the fight to keep Earth from rapidly warming, humanity is relying on three primary methods: market solutions like carbon taxes and emissions trading; behavioral solutions like convincing people to drive electric cars and eat less meat; and geoengineering solutions, which involve manipulating the environment. One proposed example involves dumping limestone into the sea to combat ocean acidity and increase carbon sequestration.

There’s a fourth method that has rarely, if ever, been discussed: engineering humans to become more effective at mitigating and adapting to climate change. In a new paper, professors from Oxford and New York University explore some of the ways that humans could be engineered.

Make People More Empathetic and Altruistic

This would involve giving people a drug to make them want to do things for the common good. The paper explains: “There is evidence that higher empathy levels correlate with stronger environmental behaviors and attitudes. Increasing altruism and empathy could also help increase people’s willingness to assist those who suffer from climate change. While altruism and empathy have large cultural components, there is evidence that they also have biological underpinnings.” Needless to say, there are ethical problems with changing the way people feel, though it could be argued that we already do this all the time with drugs that make people less depressed and anxious.

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