A Small Proposal To Save the Planet

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In the July 1967 issue of MIT’s Technology Review, Robert Hansen and Myle Holley, both civil engineering professors, made a rather novel argument: One way to conserve Earth’s dwindling resources might be to … shrink people.

This month, Tech Review’s Timothy Maher revisits the provocative (and highly impractical) solution, which would have involved using genetic engineering to shrink human bodies so that we could live with smaller homes, smaller cars, and, in all, smaller footprints. Maher writes:

Strange as the argument sounds, it did resonate as late as 1995, when an essay in The Futurist briefly cited Hansen and ­Holley’s work in TR before pointing out that pygmies are physically fine at four and a half feet tall. Hansen and Holley emphasized that they weren’t necessarily advocating making people smaller—they were simply … giving the idea the careful thought they believed it deserved.

Strange, certainly. Even Hansen and Holley admitted that such an idea would be unlikely to excite people—few of us want to be shorter. Perhaps it’s too literal of a conceptual leap to go from smaller footprint to smaller people. But one question they ask still resonates: “If a change in size appears desirable, what incentives, if any, will lead to its achievement through free, individual choice?” If you look past the first half of the sentence, you see a rather modern conundrum: How do we incentivize lifestyle changes that will allow us to conserve resources?

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