Could genomics solve the climate change crisis?

Technological advances in molecular biology could help fix the planet.

DANIEL C. ESTY: So genomics, the idea that we can intervene with the genome of not just humans but any species in a way that might harden that species, improve it's resilience to threats like climate change or make it more amenable to various medical approaches so as to ensure there's a reduction of harm. And it can also be used in plants, for example, to speed up the growth pace and otherwise to provide ways to help harden the species or improve a species contribution to the response to climate change.

So many aspects of society have been transformed by technology breakthroughs in the last couple of decades. And I would argue that the environmental arena broadly and climate change in particular had seen very little of that brought to bear despite an urgent need. And I do think suddenly that's changing. We now have a number of people that are looking at various aspects of the technology world and saying how might this help us achieve a sustainable future. And that is very much a focus of the Better Planet book with a number of authors putting forward both technologies and frames of thinking that might move us towards a climate change answer. One of the most important aspects of this in my mind is the concept of genomics, of thinking about how we do genetic modification as a strategy for improving sustainability. And the chapter in our Better Planet book that lays this out offers examples both in terms of human exposure to public health threats broadly and to climate change in particular and understanding how we might well be able to address individual exposures that differ from the general public with genomic intervention in the future sparing people pain and suffering they might otherwise face.

And perhaps even more interesting there are very significant ways that we might see genomic progress in addressing the plant and animal world. I'm thinking in particular of forests which could be a critical sink for carbon dioxide and I do think there are ways that we can make forests grow faster and perhaps serve more successfully as a sink for those greenhouse gases ensuring a better response to the problem and getting us to think about both mitigation, reducing emissions, but also the ability to set up nature as part of the solution absorbing those carbon emissions.

  • Genomics is the study of genes and their functions. The branch of molecular biology presents the idea that the genome can be manipulated for added resilience against harm.
  • Yale professor and editor Daniel C. Esty argues that genetic modification in nature as a way to improve sustainability should be seriously considered.
  • In the book A Better Planet: Forty Big Ideas for a Sustainable Future, Esty and several authors offer actionable solutions for dealing with greenhouse gases, including genomic intervention in nature.

What authority should government have over our actions?

The ability to interact peacefully and voluntarily provides individuals a better quality of life.

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  • In classical liberal philosophy, voluntary action says the scope of legitimate government authority is extremely narrow.
  • While not all classical liberals agree on immigration policy, the question remains: What right does a government have to stop someone from moving to another country should they so choose?
  • As an immigrant, himself, Georgetown University professor Peter Jaworski invites us to consider the freest countries in the world and examine the economic freedom and civil liberties their citizens enjoy.

Toilet paper is a giant waste of resources

Americans consume the most toilet paper in the world but it's a very wasteful product to manufacture, according to the numbers.

Credit: Paul Hennessy / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images.
Surprising Science
  • Toilet paper consumption is unsustainable and requires a tremendous amount of resources to produce.
  • Americans use the most toilet paper in the world and have been hoarding it due to coronavirus.
  • Alternatives to toilet paper are gaining more popularity with the public.
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Why the presumption of good faith can make our lives civil again

Taking time for thoughtful consideration has fallen out of fashion, writes Emily Chamlee-Wright. How can we restore good faith and good judgement to our increasingly polarized conversations?

Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • The clamor of the crowd during a heated discussion can make it hard to tell who is right and who is wrong. Adam Smith wrote that the loudness of blame can stupefy our good judgment.
  • Equally, when we're talking with just one other person, our previous assumptions and knee-jerk reactions can cloud our good judgment.
  • If you want to find clarity in moments like that, Emily Chamlee-Wright recommends practicing the presumption of good faith. That means that we should presume, unless we have good evidence to the contrary, that the other person's intent is not to deceive or to offend us, but to learn our point of view.
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