The Shrinkage Solution  

Posted by Big Gav

Technology Review has a recap of an unusual old idea to reduce resource consumption - The Shrinkage Solution.

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 of Technology Review, a pair of MIT civil-engineering professors named Robert Hansen and Myle Holley considered one such change: making people smaller.

We wish here to comment on one kind of human change—a change of physical size—which apparently would be far less difficult to achieve than the modifications we infer to be potentially feasible through genetic alchemy. Indeed, it is our understanding that controlled, substantial modification of size may require only the judicious application of findings in the area of endocrinology.

The authors never got into the specifics of how humans might be made smaller, or how much smaller they should be. They acknowledged that the idea would probably generate "widespread antagonism," but they argued that given our emerging capacity for genetic engineering, it would be reckless to ignore the possibilities altogether: "Can we afford not to consider, in all its aspects, the question of human size?"

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.

Smaller people, they wrote, would need less food and tinier houses. They'd create less waste. And the smaller you are, the bigger the world seems. "A reduction in man's size might be compared to an increase in the size of the earth," the authors noted.

2 comments

While shrinking people would indeed reduce our resource dependencies, perhaps a more logical solution to the problem would simply be to think smarter about how we use what we have available - using tools like analytics and advanced modeling for example to maximise the efficiency of current operations.

Well - I don't think the proposal is all that serious (I'm not taking it seriously anyway).

Maximising the efficiency of how we use things is one part of the solution to our problems - but there is a lot of transformational activity that needs to be done as well...

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