The Shrinkage Solution

The latest Technology Review (September/October 2011) revisits an article published in 1967: The Shrinkage Solution.  The first paragraph will give you the general idea:

“In 1966, a Nobel Prize-winning biologist named Joshua Lederberg suggested, in an essay in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, that because human evolution could now be directed by scientific means, we ought to seriously consider what kinds of changes we might like to see. A year later, in a provocative—and bizarre—essay for the July 1967 issue ofTechnology Review, a pair of MIT civil-engineering professors named Robert Hansen and Myle Holley considered one such change: making people smaller.” (Maher, Timothy, “The Shrinkage Solution,” Technology Review, September/October 2011, p. 120)

Now there’s an idea.  Genetically engineer people to be smaller.  They will then use fewer resources.

Of course, like any strategy, this one has costs.  Basketball will become much less interesting (unless they lower the rims).  Football will probably be less violent.  Whether that is a cost or a benefit is for you to decide.

The original authors (Hansen and Holley) go on to make this comment:

If, as the authors believe, the question of human size merits thought, it appears more reasonable to consider a decrease rather than an increase in size. First, an increase in size would clearly aggravate the problems we already associate with our excessive rate of population growth. Second, the advantages of large size and physical strength (in the performance of useful labor, the resolution of individual and group conflicts, etc.) have been almost entirely eliminated by technology.”

Here we are 44 years later and the ratio of global food output to population has risen steadily.  Yet the neo-Malthusians continue to predict catastrophe.  Some day their predictions may come true.  But if you flip a coin and allow it to fall on the table, there is a slight probability that it will land on its edge.  Like the predictions of global catastrophe, you just need to wait long enough.

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