Earth Day came and went last week. And like years before, promises were made by governments and politicians to be better stewards of our planet. Just about any sane person realizes global warming is real and the damage humans have done to Planet Earth is substantial.
Most people believe a major step in the right direction to heal Earth's environmental crisis is to reduce humanity's carbon footprint and be more green—something being addressed in the recently signed Paris Agreement. While I applaud the collaborative effort and good intentions of the treaty, it's inadequate and doomed to failure. It's like bringing a water gun to a war zone. Nothing short of a mass-extinction event for humans can stop and reverse the environmental damage done or occurring to the planet. Billions of people around the developing world want the standard of life we have in America, and they're not going to stop for anything until they achieve that.
I don't know if the major US presidential candidates—like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or Hillary Clinton—are aware of this conundrum. And even if they were, the real question is: Can their politics, ethics, and religious beliefs handle it? Because sending out Christmas cards on recycled paper and giving tax incentives for electric cars is not going to pull us out of the toxic mess we've created on Earth. There's only one realistic hope to save the planet—and it comes from an unlikely place: technology. Radical technology. I'm talking CRISPR gene editing, transhumanism, and nanobots in every biological nook of the world. This will not be Kansas, anymore. And our current politicians will be freaked out by it.
The bright green future rests with disruptive tech. Consider this, for example: Twelve years ago, I used to work as a director at nonprofit wildlife organization WildiAid. In Cambodia, I went on undercover missions and helped bust and jail poachers who were causing wildlife—like tigers, Sun bears, and the Asian rhino—to go extinct. We did good work, but poaching is a nearly $20 billion business, and there's just no way a nonprofit organization (or even a dozen of them) could stop the demand for illegal wildlife, not when population growth in Asia is skyrocketing and poverty-stricken locals can sell a tiger for over $10,000.
I'm worried that conservatives like Cruz will try to stop new technologies that will change our battle in combating a degrading Earth
But there are people who can save the endangered species on the planet. And they will soon dramatically change the nature of animal protection. Those people may have little to do with wildlife, but their genetics work holds the answer to stable animal population levels in the wild. In as little as five years, we may begin stocking endangered wildlife in places where poachers have hunted animals to extinction. We'll do this like we stock trout streams in America. Why spend resources in a losing battle to save endangered wildlife from being poached when you can spend the same amount to boost animal population levels ten-fold? Maye even 100-fold. This type of thinking is especially important in our oceans, which we've bloody well fished to near death.
As a US Presidential candidate who believes that all problems can be solved by science, I believe the best way to fix all of our environmental dilemmas is via technological innovation—not attempting to reverse our carbon footprint, recycle more, or go green.
As noted earlier, the obvious reason going green doesn't work—even though I still think it's a good disciplinary policy for humans—is the sheer impossibility of getting the developed world to stop… well, developing. You simply cannot tell an upcoming Chinese family not to drive cars. And you can't tell a burgeoning Indian city to only use renewable resources when it's cheaper to use fossil fuels. You also can't tell indigenous Brazilian parents to stop poaching when their children are hungry. These people will not listen. They want what they want, and are willing to partially destroy the planet to get it—especially when they know the developed world already possesses it.
So while I support green policies, there's no way such well-wishes will stop the future environmental degradation—nor will it reduce what already occurred. Even with a bunch of laws passed, or a massive cultural change, or everyone joining hands and singing "Kumbaya," we're in for dirty, toxic ride with the planet.
But don't lost hope. What can happen—and will likely happen barring a collapse of society—is our thriving modern world will devise transhumanist technological fixes to the issues at hand. Take meatless meat for example—a powerful disruptive idea already here. About a third of the arable land on earth is dedicated to grazing animals. Much of that land was slash-and-burned to make way for cattle and other livestock. If we switched to meatless meat, which is made in a laboratory and tastes quite similar to real meat, we could stop the clear cutting and whole scale destruction of those ecosystems (not to mention we can avoid cruelly slaughtering 150 million animals a day for food). Additionally, if we can figure out ways to genetically grow back rainforests in weeks instead of years, we could stop creating all that greenhouse crap that goes into our air and atmosphere. With new genetic editing techniques, it's quite possible we could learn to speed up biological processes, like tree and plant growth.
It gets even better, though. Gene-editing technology like CRISPR/Cas9 could in the future make us cancer-proof, so even if we did have a depleted ozone layer from rainforest destruction and pollution, we'd never get cancer. Another alternative is to use CRISPR tech to give us sunburn-proof skin.
Of course, some prominent futurists like Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis are predicting a word of nanobots and nanotechnology in 20 years or less, which could physically change the structure of our material existence. We'd simply create billions of mini-robots that inhibit everything and help recreate and protect natural beauty. The nanobots and nanotech will be able to eradicate pollution and serve green purposes on a nearly molecular scale.
Whichever way you twist it, radical science is the method that can help and save us most efficiently. We can use it to fix just about every stupid thing we've ever done to our planet and to its life forms. And best of all, science often doesn't just tackle problems by kicking the proverbial can down the road, but rather by eradicating issues completely—like we did with diseases like smallpox, or by inventing freezers so our food doesn't spoil, or by flashlights so we can see outside on a rainy night.
But here is our impasse. Not every government leader is inclined to use science to fix the environment—or even to help human being's health and longevity. Some politicians believe first and foremost in following their moral and religious ideology—like former President George W. Bush, who severely limited federal stem cell funding for seven years while in office because of his Christian values.
With the radical new age of CRISPR genetic tech upon us, I'm worried that conservatives like Cruz will also try to stop new technologies that will change our battle in combating a degrading Earth. It's likely Republicans will be against radical pro-green genetics or embracing environmentally-friendly cyborgism that seemingly counters their biblical view of the world. In this case, the Democrats—who are often far less religious than Republicans—may be more inclined to understand the necessity for changing our DNA or embracing nanotech to be become better climate-adjusters. In fact, maybe the Libertarians—who passionately insist on separation of church and state in public affairs—will be the most accepting of future tech to save the planet. Their nominee will be on all 50 states this election cycle.
We'd simply create billions of mini-robots that inhibit everything and help recreate and protect natural beauty
Like it or not, genetic editing, nanotech, and cyborgism are a fundamental part of the future for how we deal with basically everything, and it will allow us to rewrite the coding—and hence alter the form and purpose—of the entire biological world.
Sadly, there are already calls for moratoriums being voiced over some of these types of science. If there's a ban on the research, how then will we learn to re-grow trees in weeks instead of years to replenish our fragile rainforests? How will we help build up endangered wildlife populations if the technology is outlawed? How will we become cancer-proof to higher UV rays if we can't experiment?
Whatever happens in the 2016 US elections, if you care about the environment—if you care about really making a difference to return this planet back to a pristine and green state—then vote for the politician who doesn't make their science decisions based on archaic religion and 5,000-year-old holy texts, but on what works and what is in the best interest of the people. The next person in the White House—especially if they manage to stay eight years—is going to make or break the issue of environmentalism—and the greatest hope for them is to stand strong with using radical science and technology as the their main weapon of change.
Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of The Transhumanist Wager, and a 2016 US Presidential candidate. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond human ability.