In the news today was the story of how scientists have discovered a way to manipulate skin cells into behaving like embryonic stem cells. Which means they have the ability to turn into any kind of human tissue with the obvious potential of being used in the future to cure diseases and to replace faulty organs. It can also aid in medical research.
If the recipe for stem cell-like behavior can be perfected, individualized pluripotent cells could be created to reflect a particular disease condition — for example, allowing researchers to test potential treatments for Parkinson’s disease on living human neurons created in a culture dish.
This advance in medical research will in turn lead to more advances in medicine. Having better medicine technology may reduce ethical dilemmas such as whether to euthanise a terminally ill or severely handicapped loved one, but new ones are introduced.
How will we behave if we know we can live longer? Will we become less motivated and less concerned about personal achievements? How will we behave if we know we can repair any part of our bodies? Will we become more selfish and reckless in our actions and behaviour?
Will we deny this technology to persons we deem to be criminal and deviant, thus breeding them out eventually? Who gets to say who’s criminal and deviant?
Looking even further ahead, being able to recreate copies of our cells would mean that we can clone ourselves too. If we can afford it, should we be allowed to make copies of ourselves and live perpetually?
Will our societies become rigid in structure with stringent rules and laws governing genetics and our identities like that shown in the movie “Gattaca“? Or will it be a genetic madhouse as depicted in the videogame “BioShock“?
A “gene bank” in the video game Bioshock
Bringing this discussion closer to the present, the immediate effect of us living longer and healthier is the planet’s population growing at an ever greater exponential rate. Which leads nicely to the next section.
Killing the Planet
Just a few days ago, after a UN climate conference in Valencia, Spain, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had said that governments must do more to fight global warming.
Ban said that he had just been on a trip to see ice shelves breaking up in Antarctica and the melting Torres del Paine glaciers in Chile. He also visited the Amazon rainforest, which he said was being “suffocated” by global warming.
“I come to you humbled after seeing some of the most precious treasures of our planet – treasures that are being threatened by humanity’s own hand,” he said.
“These scenes are as frightening as a science fiction movie,” Ban said. “But they are even more terrifying, because they are real.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change presented a report which says,
Human activity is “very likely” to be the cause of rising temperatures and that deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, are needed to avert ever more heatwaves, melting glaciers, extinctions and rising sea levels.
Even if you think global warming is over-hyped, an ever increasing population creates more energy needs which will pollute the environment further. Plus it puts greater strains on the resources of our planet. Ever dwindling resources will lead to more people fighting over them. In a very simple nutshell, all human fighting and wars is essentially a fight to control resources: oil, land, minerals, food and water.
Global warming will lead to greater human conflict, so it’ll be hellish one way or another.
What am I trying to say?
Knowing the environmental impact the human race has on the planet mutes my enthusiasm for any kind of medical advances which will prolong our lives and makes us healthier. It also makes me ambivalent about having kids, and sometimes it makes me callous about people dying of hunger, in a war, a natural disaster or during an outbreak of a virulent disease.
With the possible exception of natural disasters (and maybe not if sea levels continue to rise), all of those things listed above can be directly or indirectly traced back to a problem with overpopulation.
But every species has the instinctive urge to procreate and perpetuate the species. The question for us is: will the human race be smart enough to rein back those urges to give the planet a chance to recuperate and heal itself?