Go Shrink Yourself

Science, technology, and life.
Sept. 16 2009 11:09 AM

Go Shrink Yourself

Here's an idea for saving our planet: make people smaller.

Sounds crazy, right? Nobody wants to be small. Everybody wants to be big. How would you make people smaller, anyway? Genetic modification? Wouldn't it be horribly risky? Even if it worked, wouldn't it be embarrassing and dangerous to be smaller than other people? I can already hear you snickering, "You first."

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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You're right. It's dangerous and crazy. But it might be less dangerous and crazy than the alternatives.

Our planet is in trouble. We're overheating its atmosphere. We're exhausting its resources. Just about every analysis suggests that we have no hope of averting disaster using known technologies. Solar power, wind, carbon caps—we should do all of that. But it won't come close to being enough. And even if we invent some brilliant solution to climate change, the next environmental crisis is just around the corner. There are simply too many people using too many resources. We're overtaxing our planet.

Could we get more resources from other planets? Theoretically, sure. But right now, we can't even afford to go back to the moon .

This is where contrarian thinking comes in handy. Maybe we don't have to find more resources. Maybe we can reduce the number of people.

That's the agenda of the Optimum Population Trust , which has just released an analysis of the environmental costs of bringing new children into the world . " Contraception is almost five times cheaper than conventional green technologies as a means of combating climate change," says the trust's press release. Likewise, other environmental challenges—soil erosion, water shortage, deforestation, fish depletion, starvation—"would be easier to solve with fewer people."

The argument is totally, screamingly, urgently correct. Yet, as David Fahrenthold reported in yesterday's Washington Post , the Obama administration won't touch it, and a U.N. official calls it "an insult to developing countries." Why the resistance? Because everyone fears coercive population control . The only thing more hard-wired than our desire to procreate is our desire to fornicate.

So: If we're devouring our planet, and we can't find more resources, and we refuse to have fewer children, where does that leave us?

Hence my proposal: Shrinking our numbers isn't the only way to reduce our environmental impact. Another way is to shrink our size . Don't tell me it's impossible. Look what we've done to dogs .

If you come up with a less crazy solution, let me know .

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