We’re all vaguely aware of the things that need to be done to slow the rate of–or at least mitigate the effects of–climate change. On a macro level there are things like installing carbon scrubbers in coal plants and pursuing more sustainable logging practices. And on a more basic level, we can all recycle our soda cans, eat less meat, or take a few minutes less in the shower. But do we need to make adjustments on an even more fundamental level? That’s the question that Matthew Liao is asking. Director of NYU’s Bioethics Program, Liao has raised the question of whether we as a species need to change–on a biological level, that is. Eating less meat, for instance, is great for the environment, but hard to do. But what if you couldn’t eat it. You could artificially induce intolerance to red meat by provoking an immune-system response against bovine proteins. It could be as simple as a nicotine-like patch, says Liao, and could go a long way to helping reduce our collective carbon footprint. (It would function a little bit like Antabuse, the drug that makes alcohol intolerable for people so addicted to alcohol that they’re likely to die from further abuse.)
Liao’s idea is just a thought experiment for now (though science says it may be possible), but the enormous scale of the climate change problem has spawned solutions far more bizarre than Liao’s. Some thinkers, for instance, have pointed out that if humans were about six inches shorter, we would need on average about 25% less food every day. So break out the shrink rays? That may not be necessary just yet, but the proliferation of think-outside-the-box ideas is spurred by a genuine crisis. After all, what to do when 97 percent of scientists believe that climate change is real, and yet almost one-fourth of Americans do not believe that climate change is real. If 97% of scientists agreed beyond a reasonable doubt that a potentially-dangerous virus was spreading around the world and would soon go beyond a point where it could be reversed, we’d hardly scoff at some oddball solutions.