Saving the Earth by Shrinking Humans


Image: The Incredible Shrinking Man

If you have run out of controversial topics for dinner conversation, or websites to stumble upon, here's one for you. The Incredible Shrinking Man project researches and reviews the "implications of genetically downsizing the human species to better fit the earth." You might think this ranks somewhere between the lunatic fringe and a last-ditch gamble to avoid the extinction of humankind in a sci-fi novel. We did. That was before we meandered through one of the most thought-provoking sites on the web.The Incredible Shrinking Man is the brainchild of Arne Hendriks, who has left the safe territory of previous projects like The Repair Manifesto and the Instructables Restaurant to dedicate himself to answering the question: why not reverse the trend towards tall? The result explores fascinating topics like prejudice against short people, redesigning infrastructure for a shorter race, and the science of height.

For example, how did Chinese cultural values change from the popularity of foot-binding to achieve tiny "Lotus feet" to the trend for painful leg-extension surgeries, sometimes necessary to get ahead in a society where minimum height requirements prevent entry into schools and professions. In western culture, healthy children are being turned into medical experiments in which 100-200 thousand US dollars of hormone treatment can buy an inch or two of height. Is it worth it for $789 per year per inch in increased wages?

Bonsai livestock and cheap trans-atlantic flights are just two examples of infrastructure impacts from engineering shorter people. Scientific challenges also receive review, like how to preserve brain mass and maintain the delicate duties of growth hormones in functions other than height while shrinking body size.

Given the historical dangers of attempts to engineer the human race, and the widespread protests against genetic engineering of other species, the Incredible Shrinking Man will certainly remain a purely theoretical premise. But this fascinating, mind-broadening, stumble-worthy collection provokes sensitivity towards diversity of size, as well as awareness of the resource requirements of the human race. Thankfully, the popularity of Lotus Foot has waned. But the era of "Lotus Footprint" is upon us...whether we like it or not.

More on Short People:
Little People, Big World
Let's Get Small
More on Cultural Change:
Making Stuff Cool, Making Stuff Uncool: Why Cultural Change is Key
Small is Beautiful

Tags: Biology | Evolution | Extinction | Genetic Engineering | GMO

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