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Making the Case for the Genetically Modified Human

If we fail to change trajectory, then perhaps we should be re-engineering the root cause of our problem — ourselves?

It’s true that I’m well known for attacking the GMO industry, its industry financed scientists and their thus-incentivised reductionist ‘science’. I’ve expressed many times that GMOs are a "solution looking for a problem". We know that GMOs are really only a bid to deal with symptoms of agricultural mismanagement, so they can perpetuate and capitalise on the temporarily highly profitable root cause (i.e. monocultures) of those symptoms. Without monocultures we would not need the many products that keep many an industry alive and many of us in employment (heavy machinery, oil, gasoline, pesticides, fertilisers, GMO seeds and the chemicals they require, etc.), but, with the present paradigm seemingly so entrenched, with our citizens and economic systems being painfully slow to change trajectory (with the industrial agriculture model still rapidly spreading its tentacles across the world’s landscapes), and it threatening our very survival as we begin to head deep into the peak oil era, I’ve had something of an epiphany….

Let me explain.

If we could just re-engineer our own race — humans themselves — we might be able to solve a great many issues in one hit. Indeed, perhaps, if we were successful, the pressure could be at least somewhat lifted from natural systems and the innocent creatures that are being affected by our present-day economic model.

Consider our soils, as just one example. We know that synthetic fertilisers destroy soil carbon, which is the basis of soil fertility. We know that turning and churning our soils, exposing it to excessive oxygen, also hastens the breakdown of soil carbon. This all directly results in not only reduced nutrition for us, but also a reduction in nutrition for all kinds of life, from micro-organisms, to plant life, to insects, birds and animals, life that traditionally functioned symbiotically — and, in concert, synergistically — ensuring our survival and that of all those myriad other creatures in the interdependent web of life we belong to. As this web of life steadily gets dismantled, our own health and even our survival becomes questionable.

To get an excellent visual picture of what I’m trying to say, please watch the time segment between 25:42 to 26:38 of this video.

But with our current lifestyle being "non-negotiable" (to quote George Bush senior, and he, after all, should know), and with government and industry still ignoring a multitude of calls for rapid transition to more holistic systems, I’m wondering if, instead of genetically engineering our crops, our trees and even creatures in the fish, animal and insect worlds, so as to accommodate our economy, perhaps it’s safer and more efficient to just re-engineer ourselves?

First and foremost, this is an ethical consideration. The creatures we share this planet with do not understand our economic systems. They merely suffer the consequences. They cannot vote. They don’t invest in the stock market, and any profit they gain from their activities is, at most, stored for winter consumption. They have nothing in the way of retirement plans, or insurance schemes to fall back on. They just have their own instinctive ingenuity, where they live within the laws of cause and effect, where the activities of one creature keeps that of another in balance. These creatures can survive without us, but we cannot survive without them. It is morally repugnant that our activities not only threaten our own survival and that of our children, but we’re taking a great many other species down with us too.

Now, how would this apply in practice, I hear you ask? Well, there are many ‘features’ we could engineer into the human race which could help ameliorate this problem, whilst still keeping our precious consumer society somewhat intact, or perhaps even prolonging it almost indefinitely. I’d like us to consider a few of these.

Perhaps the first feature that springs to mind, especially in the context of what I’ve expressed above, is we could engineer humans who do not need to eat. This one feature alone would have an enormously positive impact on natural systems. But, we could go much further. As we obviously want to persevere with consumerist systems, even without food (we’ve made it clear that we regard gadgets as more important than food, after all — as evidenced by how happy we are to eat crap from the $1 menu, whilst we spend several month’s wages on our various high-tech devices), then one thing we could also build into this new human is the ability to go without sleep.

Since the 1970s, it is said, we have been working longer and longer hours, so that despite inter-industry competition we can still continue to pay our bills. Getting sufficient sleep is a major limit on our ability to continue this trend. A newly engineered human who could do without both food and sleep would have the ability to work for as many hours as industry demanded (obviously with some time off for devoting to our gadgets, as otherwise we’d have nobody to produce for). In a sleepless economy, imagine the potential growth in ‘productivity’.

Another extremely positive (or critical) feature would be the biological ability to convert toxins in air and water into nutrition to build up our bodies — converting dangerous chemicals into a replacement for food. This would certainly turn a problem into a solution. We would ultimately end up sponging up the very pollution we create — turning it into a resource whilst saving other creatures from having to deal with it.

Other features we could consider might even go beyond the physical. What about engineering psychological traits, those that can, for example, help us with our underlying malcontent with the life this consumer economy gives us? Attributes that spring to mind might include docility and even greater doses of apathy, for example, and even traits that combat our inner desire to spend time in nature (otherwise known as biophilia).

Think of it people — if we could remain, without food, sleep and clean air and water, completely within the boundaries of the urban centres we’ve built up, then we could leave nature alone, to regenerate.

But why stop here? I’d like your input on some of the genetic enhancements you feel could help you persevere in this wonderful and seemingly unstoppable modern world we’ve built for ourselves. I have quite a few ideas of my own, but I don’t want to hog the limelight on this important topic. So, by way of comments below, please share your thoughts on possible beneficial genetic enhancements to the human race which could help us 1) avoid the collapse of systems within the biosphere, but which 2) also enable us to maintain perpetual economic growth. After all, having our cake and eating it too is exactly what our leaders are after, and although we struggle to get permaculture projects off the ground, as industry do not see economic incentives for them to assist us to do so, there are clearly very solid industry incentives to redesign the human race in such a way as to avoid dismantling the economic systems that are proving so profitable for them. Indeed, I think we might literally find billions of dollars at our disposal to accomplish these ends. It’s also quite possible that these proposals, which are the first of their kind that I’m aware of, are actually already on the drawing board in the back rooms of Big Industry, and we just need to give them our support.

It might be a hard pill to swallow for some, but I think we might be reaching this point. Instead of GMOs and geo-engineering — where we adjust virtually every creature and system on the planet, to adapt them to fit within our economic context — it might be more cost effective, and more ethical, to just adjust ourselves.

Oh…. I just had one more feature idea — a single trait that could eliminate the need for all the other features mentioned so far…. Perhaps we could just engineer a race with intelligence?


  1. Good one Craig! And I loved the punch line! Perhaps all I could suggest is that we engineer humans to die before reaching reproductive age.

  2. Craig, the solution is much simpler – just engineer a human with koala genes then we don’t need buildings or cities we just need to plant trees which will solve some of the global warming problems but not all because the globe is in an underlying warming phase (even without the extra CO2 our globe will still go on warming till the tipping point is reached – what the tipping point is we don’t know possibly could be a massive megavolcanic eruption like Mount Toba 70,000 yrs BP) also the koala genes will ensure we spend lots of time sleeping in trees to digest the gum leaves so we won’t need to go tooling around in koala-mobiles.
    Voila the Hukola Being !!!!

  3. When human DNA is altered to something else, are we still human or are we something else?
    What happens when the problems (which are artificial btw) are solved and the world is cleansed?
    Is there any way to alter our DNA back again, or will we forever be contaminated with foreign genes?

    It’s not us or natural systems that need to be changed, they are fine as they are. Really it is the economic (capitalist/consumerist) system that has stolen our money and polluted our air, water and land. Our own guvmint makes war upon us and we don’t even realise it!

    [I hope this is a ‘shockjock’ article designed to draw reactions like mine because the alternative is disheartening to say the least.]

  4. Ok Craig, you can remove tongue from cheek now. I think most readers will have got the point of your very entertaining and well thought out article.

    Any action to address the current major issues we face may become simply academic very soon. We may have far greater worries than GMOs to deal with if the prediction in the following article for the next 30 days is anywhere near accurate.

    A Canadian paleoclimatologist with the University of Ottawa, Paul Beckwith, forecasts the likelihood of zero Arctic sea ice remaining after September 30 this year as a direct result of the weather patterns over the area in the last month.

    The Sierra Club of Canada are backing Beckwith’s research by launching a new climate blog with him soon and also through this article:

    Something to focus on for the next little while.

  5. So, Bernie – then we should perhaps consider some traits that will enable us to better withstand searing heat, intense cold, etc. Perhaps webbed feet would also be a good addition?

  6. Here are a few suggestions: a gene so that we are limited to having only one or two children – over a few centuries or so, our global population will reduce down to a billion or so.

    A gene so that we to survive we must put our hands in the soil, and grow food – for every day we don’t do this, we lose a year of our life.

    A gene that means that we need to be (gently) touched or held by another human at least every 4 hours.

    A gene so that if we don’t smile or laugh at least once every hour, our faces will start to droop. (A free facelift with every smile!) Bonus hours for smiling and laughing with another person or animal!

    A gene that will not tolerate chemical food – if we eat tainted food, we will automatically throw up.

    A gene that allows our digestive system to fully compost our poop – we will become automatic compost makers – think of all the time we will save!

  7. Tee-hee Craig. Yes, very good, and I hope I didn’t tread on any toes. I really thought this was another one of your wry humour posts. It is, isn’t it?

    While we are still in Fantasy Land perhaps we should consider how we are going to tell the children there may be no Christmas this year, or any other year. No new toys. No Santa Claus. How do we explain that Santa’s North Pole grotto, which has always been on ice covered sea, has somehow slipped beneath the waves of the Arctic Ocean? Unless we claim that he is now operating from a submarine or some such nonsense.

    Back in the real world, a little adjunct to my previous post. The chart used in the George Monbiot post (and elsewhere) on 28 August shows the red 2012 ice extent line at the end of August being lower than at any other time since records began. There are still two weeks or so until normal ice melt time finishes in mid september which means that the red line is expected to fall further. What Beckwith is saying is that his models predict that the minimum ice level will fall around two weeks later than normal ie. around September 30. With the extra two weeks of melt, he predicts that the red line will fall off the bottom of this chart into very unprecedented (in recent geological times) territory.

    That is serious stuff, if if does take place. And there is ample time for another cyclone to form over that region.

  8. Hi Bernie. Yes, it is tongue in cheek, of course. Having said that, I do think that if we’re going to ignore biological realities, and push on with our present economic paradigm, come hell or high water (your reports speak of both), then I feel it is far more ethical to re-engineer ourselves than it is to re-engineer all planetary systems (geo-engineering) and all the other creatures who are in no way responsible for our madness.

    Perhaps someone could start a tongue-in-cheek campaign on this issue – telling people how it makes much more sense, and is more ethically sound, to leave nature alone, and to instead alter humanity, since it’s really only we who are creating these imbalances.

    Who knows, if the message was well delivered, some people may come to realise the injustice of manipulating innocent creatures just because we don’t know how how (or refuse) to work in harmony with nature.

  9. Continuing in the same vein, tongue firmly in cheek, perhaps this will give all the proponents, advocates and supporters of GMO an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is, or is that, their own DNA where their mouth is, and lead by example to ‘prove how safe GMOs are’, to demonstrate their faith in their own technology!

    Seriously, the only modification required is within their cranial vaults, something to provide perspective, common sense and to eliminate the tendencies towards selfish greed. We can only hope…

  10. Can anybody explain to me what the problem is with “reductionism” IN AND OF ITSELF?

    Is a scientific analysis that draws upon a reductionist methodology necessarily flawed?…must the products/conclusions of such analyses be necessarily opposed to those of holistic analyses?



  11. Hi Rob

    When I refer to reductionist science, I am describing the kind of science that takes components of systems, and analyses them separately and distinctly from the other components in those systems. It’s the kind of thinking that cannot see relationships between those components, and focusses only only on the individual components themselves. You end up with the situation where you “cannot see the forest for the trees”. The knowledge thus gained can be highly dangerous, as it doesn’t take into account the wider implications of your ‘discovery’.

    Take industrial agriculture for example. The industrial agriculture scientist focuses primarily on chemistry, whereas a permaculturist/organic gardener/farmer will focus on biology. Chemistry is a subset of biological activity. The biological activity found within partnerships between plants and microorganisms goes way beyond simple recipes of chemical applications. Biology itself makes chemical adjustments, and our dabbling in chemical minutiae can actually interfere with nature’s own efforts and systems for maintaining health and balance, which it has done without our microscopes for millenia.

    An industrial agriculturist will, with a reductionist mindset, quickly determine that all a plant needs to ‘survive’ is NPK, and then he feeds it to the plant in soluble form. A biologically minded farmer recognises that bypassing the soil life to ‘mainline’ NPK to plants is to place the burden of plant nutrition on ourselves (or, on the industries who sell these products), and the reality is we (humans) just do not understand plant nutrition sufficient for this task, and it’s being reflected in the nutrient deficient ‘food’ we’re now being forced to eat. Plants need much more than just ‘NPK’ – they also need trace elements that industry do not provide, and they need the relationships with microorganisms to ensure they receive all this nutrition in correctly balanced amounts.

    A good quote to illustrate:

    Working with living creatures, both plant and animal, is what makes agriculture different from any other production enterprise. Even though a product is produced, in farming the process is anything but industrial. It is biological. We are dealing with a vital, living system rather than an inert manufacturing process. The skills required to manage a biological system are similar to those of the conductor of an orchestra. The musicians are all very good at what they do individually. The role of the conductor is not to play each instrument but rather to nurture the union of the disparate parts. The conductor coordinates each musician’s effort with those of all the others and combines them in a harmonious whole.

    Agriculture cannot be an industrial process any more than music can be. It must be understood differently from stamping this metal into shape or mixing these chemicals and reagents to create that compound. The major workers – the soil microorganisms, the fungi, the mineral particles, the sun, the air, the water – are all parts of a system, and it is not just the employment of any one of them but the coordination of the whole that achieves success. – Eliot Coleman, The New Organic Grower, p.3, 4.

    Here are a couple of posts that show the contrast between holistic and reductionist thinking, and the consequences:

    Reductionism results in people trying to turn our fields into a factory-floor environment. The result is collapse. Holistic science seeks to understand ‘details’, but considers these details in its context, harnessing natural systems and synergies, rather than dismantling and isolating them into dysfunctional components.

    To succinctly answer your questions:

    >>>Is a scientific analysis that draws upon a reductionist methodology necessarily flawed? …must the products/conclusions of such analyses be necessarily opposed to those of holistic analyses?

    If the analysis and its products/conclusions come only from drawing from reductionist methodology, then how can one know if the results are opposed to those of an holistic analysis or not? One can only know, if time is first taken to consider and test connections with other elements related to what you’re studying — and it also needs to be recognised that the ‘other elements’ we may draw connections between may be far more diverse than the human mind has yet to discover/realise, and thus not all connections will ever be recognised/made. We thus need to have some appreciation and humility that we may never understand all that we’re studying. This thinking naturally introduces the precautionary principle.

    Specialisation is one of the greatest failures of our race. As Wendell Berry says:

    The disease of the modern character is specialization. Looked at from the standpoint of the social system, the aim of specialization may seem desirable enough. The aim is to see that the responsibilities of government, law, medicine, engineering, agriculture, education, etc., are given into the hands of the most skilled, best prepared people. The difficulties do not appear until we look at specialization from the opposite standpoint – that of individual persons. We then begin to see the grotesquery – indeed, the impossibility – of an idea of community wholeness that divorces itself from any idea of personal wholeness.

    The first, and best known, hazard of the specialist system is that it produces specialists – people who are elaborately and expensively trained to do one thing. We get into absurdity very quickly here. There are, for intance, educators who have nothing to teach, communicators who have nothing to say, medical doctors skilled at expensive cures for diseases that they have no skill, and no interest, in preventing. More common, and more damaging, are the inventors, manufacturers, and salesmen of devices who have no concern for the possible effects of those devices. Specialization is thus seen to be a way of institutionalizing, justifying, and paying highly for a calamitous disintegration and scattering-out of the various functions of character: workmanship, care, conscience, responsibility.

    Even worse, a system of specialization requires the abdication to specialists of various competences and responsibilities that were once personal and universal. Thus, the average – one is tempted to say, the ideal – American citizen now consigns the problem of food production to agriculturists, and “agribusinessmen,” the problems of health to doctors and sanitation experts, the problems of education to school teachers and educators, the problems of conservation to conservationists, and so on. This supposedly fortunate citizen is therefore left with only two concerns: making money and entertaining himself. He earns money, typically, as a specialist, working an eight-hour day at a job for the quality or consequences of which somebody else – or, perhaps more typically, nobody else – will be responsible. And not surprisingly, since he can do so little else for himself, he is even unable to entertain himself, for there exists an enormous industry of exorbitantly expensive specialists whose purpose is to entertain him.

    The beneficiary of this regime of specialists ought to be the happiest of mortals – or so we are expected to believe. All of his vital concerns are in the hands of certified experts. He is a certified expert himself, and as such he earns more money in a year than all his great-grandparents put together. Between stints at his job he has nothing to do but mow his lawn with a sit-down mower, or watch other certified experts on television. At suppertime he may eat a tray of ready-prepared food, which he and his wife (also a certified expert) procure at the cost only of money, transportation, and the pushing of a button. For a few minutes between supper and sleep he may catch a glimpse of his children, who since breakfast have been in the care of education experts, basketball or marching-band experts, or perhaps legal experts.

    The fact is, however, that this is probably the most unhappy average citizen in the history of the world. He has not the power to provide himself with anything but money, and his money is inflating like a balloon and drifting away, subject to historical circumstances and the power of other people. From morning to night he does not touch anything that he has produced himself, in which he can take pride. For all his leisure and recreation, he feels bad, he looks bad, he is overweight, his health is poor. His air, water, and food are all known to contain poisons. There is a fair chance that he will die of suffocation. He suspects that his love life is not as fulfilling as other people’s. He wishes that he had been born sooner, or later. He does not know why his children are the way they are. He does not not understand what they say. He does not care much and does not know why he does not care. He does not know what his wife wants or what he wants. Certain advertisements and pictures in magazines make him suspect that he is basically unattractive. He feels that all his possessions are under threat of pillage. He does not know what he would do if he lost his job, if the economy failed, if the utility companies failed, if the police went on strike, if the truckers went on strike, if his wife left him, if his children ran away, if he should be found to be incurably ill. And for these anxieties, of course, he consults certified experts, who in turn consult certified experts about their anxieties.

    It is rarely considered that this average citizen is anxious because he ought to be – because he still has some gumption that he has not yet given up in deference to the experts. He ought to be anxious, because he is helpless. That he is dependent upon so many specialists, the beneficiary of so much expert help, can only mean that he is a captive, a potential victim. If he lives by the competence of so many other people, then he lives also by their indulgence; his own will and his own reasons to live are made subordinate to the mere tolerance of everybody else. He has one chance to live what he conceives to be his life; his own small specialty within a delicate, tense, everywhere-strained system of specialties.

    From a public point of view, the specialist system is a failure because, though everything is done by an expert, very little is done well. Our typical industrial or professional product is both ingenious and shoddy. The specialist system fails from a personal point of view because a person who can do only one thing can do virtually nothing for himself. In living in a world by his own will and skill, the stupidest peasant or tribesman is more competent than the most intelligent worker or technician or intellectual in a society of specialists. – Agricultural Crisis, a Crisis of Culture‘, by Wendell Berry, p.28-31.

  12. While Craig’s piece on re engineering humanity was tongue in cheek, this quote from a recent article about The Maths of Climate Change, by Rolling Stone Magazine, shows that such frightening suggestions are in fact being trotted out by those seeking to defend their unsustainable $$ interests.

    “The Chamber [US Chamber of Commerce] even filed a brief with the EPA urging the agency not to regulate carbon – should the world’s scientists turn out to be right and the planet heats up, the Chamber advised, “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological and technological adaptations.” As radical goes, demanding that we change our physiology seems right up there

    Read more:

  13. Thanks for your response regarding reductionism Craig. As ever, I have read your contribution with interest. To anyone wanting to comment on the relationship between reductionism, science, permaculture, and modern society, I have started a thread on this site’s forum titled “The problem with reductionism is?” and so hopefully we can explore the issues further there.


    PS: I’ve put the new thread under the “The Big Picture” superthread.

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