Bioethics Blogs

Making humans morally better won’t fix the problems of climate change

Guest Post: Bob Simpson, Monash University

Climate change, cooperation and moral bioenhancement

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has repeatedly said that greenhouse gas emissions increase the likelihood of severe and irreversible harm for people and ecosystems. And in his State of the Union address in 2015, Barack Obama emphasised these problems, saying that climate change poses the greatest threat to humanity’s future. We’ve come to expect pronouncements like these. Political leaders and transnational policy institutions both have an important role to play in implementing the measures needed to address threats from climate change – measures like international economic agreements, energy sector reform, and technological research.

By contrast, we wouldn’t expect advocates of biotechnological human enhancement to be proposing solutions to climate change. What does human enhancement have to do with oceanic warming or greenhouse gas emissions? According to people like Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu, who advocate “moral bio-enhancement”, these things are in fact related. They say that we should be finding ways to use biotechnological interventions to make people more trusting and altruistic towards strangers, and hence more willing to make personal sacrifices – like, say, dramatically reducing their carbon footprint – in order to cooperate in global policies aimed at mitigating the impact of climate change.

To some this may sound like a totalitarian brave new world. For Persson and Savulescu, though, where the survival of human life as we know it is at stake, taking the steps needed to make people more cooperative and less destructive – both in this area, and in relation to other grave dangers, like political extremists getting their hands on bioweapons that could unleash super-pandemics – is the lesser of two evils.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.