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CPOL 510:  Power and Money: Topics in Global Political Economy

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June 11 – Climate Change and CRISPR

This week we introduce our two final concepts in the theater of global political economy.

Often we look at macro-level questions in international affairs and global political economy.   Some examples include (1) the industrialized North exploits the agricultural and cheap labor South, or (2) states with competing ideologies build global alliances in opposition to each other, or (3) countries cooperate in global trade even though their populations might benefit unevenly, as the West and OPEC.  There are other examples.

Looking at the impact of technology and science on global political economy, we might have chosen AI or blockchain or autonomous vehicles or Big Data or commercial exploration of space.  We choose climate change and CRISPR.

Our first GPE question this week is at the macro-level.  It argues that climate change is most important to explain international affairs in the next 10 or 50 or 100 years – more important than colonialism or nuclear weapons or trade policy or kulturkampf or political ideologies.  The idea is that the consequences of global efforts to reduce and address the effects of climate change, and the humanitarian crises and violent conflicts that follow from shortcomings, will drive international affairs for the next few generations.

Our second GPE question this week is at the opposite end of scale:  individuals being changed by gene-editing.  What will be possible – to make your children taller, smarter, healthier?  What limits might be pursued, and what questions of inequality will need to be addressed?  If the science is applied to wealthy societies, or only wealthy people in some societies, what consequences might ensue?

This questions are not only possible issues in the future – they are already current concerns.  You might choose to pursue one or the other of these, or both, this week.

Topic 1 – CRISPR

You can copy and paste from Wikipedia into Google Docs, right?  What if gene-editing a human being were that easy? What are the right questions to debate? Who gets to decide?

We start by learning what CRISPR-Cas9 is, at least a little (you don’t actually know what happens inside a computer when you cut-and-paste, do you?).  What is gene editing? Are there applications of gene editing that might make humanity (or individuals) better off?  Are there applications that maybe should be avoided, or prohibited, or federally funded?

Start with a video of Jennifer Doudna, a creator of CRISPR-Cas9 – either the BBC interview or her TEDtalk.  What questions does she raise that policy makers might need to think about?

BBC Hardtalk (24 min) –

or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuqX3Jb7rRA (2018) or audio;

or watch her TEDtalk and matching article  (2015, 15 min)

Policy questions are related to ethical questions. Science writer Heidi Ledford, raises some of these concerns in a recent issue of the highly-reputable Nature, , “CRISPR the Disruptor,” nature.com (June 2015)

And this is all moving very fast.  After human experiments and births in late 2018 in China, U.S. efforts are continuing – although not yet to birth: “New U.S. Experiments Aim to Create Gene-Edited Human Embryos,” Feb 1, 2019, NPR

“CRISPR might have made China’s “designer babies” smarter – Interesting Engineering, Feb 22, 2019

Most Americans probably don’t understand the basics of gene-editing, but they seem to have a sense of possible implications. A poll on the uses of gene-editing:  “Poll: Edit baby genes for health, not smarts,” Associated Press, Dec 29, 2018

Finally, maybe we are thinking of this as the “future of technology policy” but really it’s the “right-now of technology policy” – we know that policy always lags behind technology.  This guy is already selling gene-editing starter kits. “East Bay Biochemist Sells ‘Gene-Editing Kit’ for the Masses,” CBS San Francisco, Jan 29, 2019

(If this is the stuff you love, help yourself to as much of the following as you like. None is required:

U.S. Senate Cmte on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions:
Gene Editing Technology: Innovation and Impact (2017)

Matthew Porteus, Stanford Univ
Katrine Bosley, Editas Medicine
Jeffrey Kah, Johns Hopkins Univ

You can read the executive summary (page 1) of Porteus, the introduction (page 1-3) of Bosley, and all of Kahn (p. 1-5) – or, if you just can’t get enough, watch the entire hearing (1h37m) – you are not required to watch the whole thing or any of this (but you should at least look at those summaries)

Update: 3/17/2019 – A call for international governance of heritable CRISPR https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00726-5

Topic 2 – Climate Change

In 2018, the invaluable Foreign Affairs devoted an issue to looking at our “four columns” of international relations theory in current contexts.  They didn’t use columns, but identified six main themes:  realism, liberalism, tribalism, marxism, technology, and the environment, which they labeled “warming world.”

This “warming world” article is here and you should read it.  If you do not subscribe to Foreign Affairs, you can register for free with your email address, and get a few articles for free.    (Or with your .edu email, you can subscribe for a couple of dollars per month.)

There are many avenues to pursue after this introduction, and we offer two here.  First, we could look at traditional subjects like Water Wars on the Nile (the impact of Ethiopia’s dam on Egypt’s access to the Nile River, and Horn of Africa politics more broadly), or Climates Shocks and Humanitarian Crises (which countries are most vulnerable and why that is important).  You should skim these articles.

But this week we are also choosing to pay attention to one particular technology:  carbon capture.  We start with the FA article Less than Zero – Can Carbon-Removal Technologies Curb Climate Change.  We proceed with a number of shorter items and videos:

– A cautious introduction from the Washington Post and a more hopeful introduction to the policy making from MIT Technology Review

Info from companies doing the work: https://cleantechnica.com/2018/12/04/cost-of-carbon-capture-plummets-thanks-to-two-new-techniques/

and this video

Relatedly, we can play with this app that shows what it thinks climate change will do to your hometownby 2080 – when you should be all the things a happy, healthy 80 year-old should be enjoying (“80’s the new 50,” or some similar cliche?)

One word of caution about the app – it says the Westminster, Maryland, and Frederick, Maryland, two towns near each other and both on Maryland’s Piedmont Plateau, will have different changes: Frederick a lot warmer and a lot wetter; Westminster half as much warmer and drier, not wetter.  So who knows. But fun to play around with a little.

While we look at removing CO2 we can also look at  How can we reduce the amount of food-packaging waste we create?

Finally, we look at two ocean clean-up articles:

https://www.theoceancleanup.com/technology/ and https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2019/02/17/researchers-find-large-amount-of-tiny-harmful-plastic-on-ocean-beach/

Together, we have two giant concerns that can drive the future of global political economy:  how are we changing the planet, and how can we change humans?

Ok, your turn…

Choosing to focus on either or both of these concerns, pose your own questions this week.  Approx 400-500 words (total) in one or two posts of your own by Friday night, and approx 400-500 words (total) in at least two replies to your classmates’ posts by Sunday night.

And don’t forget – What’s Next?

We shift next to really focusing on your papers.  If you and I haven’t talked yet, we need to.  If we have already talked and you want to again, great


22 Replies to “510-PAM-sum19-June11”

  1. Climate Change Concerns
    There have been global concerns on the use of shared resources between countries. River Nile, which is the longest in Africa, originates from Uganda, and feeds a very high population in Egypt. However, the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in Ethiopia has caused an alarm in Egypt as the citizens might experience water shortages (Benaim, & Hanna, 2018). A conflict has emerged between the Ethiopian and Egypt government as each tries to maintain its interests as far as the water resource is concerned. Construction of the dam in Ethiopia will aid in food sustainability as people will use this water for irrigation purposes. Egypt and Ethiopia must reach a consensus that will ensure that the water from the River Nile adequately serves both countries. Therefore, countries must focus on the effect of their actions on other countries for the sake of the future generation. But how can natural resources be equitably shared between countries without creating conflict?
    The actions of people from various industries have exposed the world to catastrophes, such as wildfires and hurricanes. The United States have been affected by wildfires and hurricanes sweeping the East Coast region leading to massive destruction of property and lives (Busby, & Uexkull, 2018). Besides, most countries have been affected by floods due to a rise in sea levels. These are just the manifestation of the effects of climate change on the environment. Emission of greenhouse gases, deforestation, and poor methods of farming have all contributed to global warming, which has devastating effects in the world.
    Climate change is a major concern in the world caused by human activities. Changes in the environment have led to destructive hurricanes, high rise of temperatures leading to global warming, and natural wildfires that end up destructing forests. The impact of global warming has been felt in the whole world due to its devastating effects on the environment. Countries have begun addressing the issue of climate change by enacting policies that are meant to lower the emission of greenhouse gases. Innovations in industries and other sectors are being explored to reduce the release of harmful waste products in the environment. Clean and renewable sources of energy are being used in place of coal and fossil fuels (Krupp, Keohane, & Pooley, 2019). Most governments have invested in wind, solar, and hydro to generate energy, and this has greatly lowered the emission levels of greenhouse gases.
    Technologies that are helping in reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air are being deployed to aid in lowering the levels of global warming. This issue must be addressed amicably for the sake of the future generation. Increased pollution affects the world as a whole; hence, global warming affects the international policies that are adopted by countries. Negative emission technologies (NETs) are being used to cut the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (Krupp, Keohane, & Pooley, 2019). These technologies are cost-effective; hence, they can be easily used by companies and governments. Other natural methods such as afforestation have been explored to ensure there is conducive air circulation in the environment. Removing the greenhouse gases from the atmosphere can play a very significant role in creating a favorable climate for human survival. The sustainability of the future generation requires all countries to continue championing for reforestation, afforestation, use of clean energy, and recycling of waste products from the industries.
    Benaim, D., & Hanna, M.W. (2018). Water Wars on the Nile. How Water Scarcity and Middle Eastern Influence are Reshaping Northeast Africa.
    Busby, J., & Uexkull, N.V. (2018). Climate Shocks and Humanitarian Crises. Which Countries are most at Risk?
    Krupp, F., Keohane, N., & Pooley, E. (2019). Less Than Zero, Can Carbon-Removal Technologies Curb Climate Change? Foreign Affairs.Com

    1. nourh, while reading your post, I was reminded of a thought that occurred to me while reading through the climate change section of this assignment. The United States used to have a reputation for being a global leader in a number of arenas, but it seems that reputation continues to fade away, especially as it pertains to quality of life concerns. Our cost of healthcare is outrageous, we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and we seem to be complicit with the impact of industry on climate change. Every step forward seems to see two steps back. President Trump has tried to undermine the Paris Climate Agreement, the Iran Nuclear Deal, and the Affordable Care Act. Our populace, in its constant effort to survive and pay the bills, is tragically under-informed and massively skeptical of government and media. This distrust is easily exploited and results in self-destruction. It is somewhat encouraging, however, to see E.U. countries taking up the mantle of moving humanity forward with regard to climate change.

      As far as the water tension between Egypt and Ethiopia, I must admit that a part of me is happy to see Ethiopia move forward with the dam. Can you imagine having a water source as massive as the Nile River running through your homeland and being forbidden from utilizing it to irrigate lifesaving agriculture and prevent recurring famine? Unbelievable. Who decides the “haves and the have-nots?” You are right that both of them should strive to reach an amenable agreement that serves the needs of both countries, but I would add that Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Eritrea, South Sudan, and Sudan should not be neglected in these arrangements, since the Nile flows through them too. Perhaps a coalition agreement would be well suited to this situation.

      1. Jeff –

        nice on two counts – 20th century American leadership yielding in important ways that you list and some other ways too –

        I’m intrigued by the conflict you raise: when should states lead in the global interest (Paris treaty, JCPOA) and when should they act in their own interest even at the expense of others (GERD)? nice

    2. Nourh, I think you lay out a very good depiction of how dire of a situation we are left in with this generation and time in our history as a global society. Climate change should not be a political issue yet with our nature as human beings always fighting to one-up another nation or political system, it is no wonder that even our survival and possible demise due to climate change’s impact is yet another game of “who is more powerful” and still has most of the world not willing to help each other out and instead leads to the exploitation of many nations on others nations’ without a care to their survival- whether its out of desperation or is intentionally cruel, it is a problem that we are seeing. The fact that the Busby article states that “rising seas, dying farmlands, and ever more powerful storms and floods will render some countries uninhabitable” is absolutely terrifying and should be firing up nations to help each other out even if just to lessen potential rise in mass migration or refugee crisis due to uninhabitability of entire nations. The “uninhabitable” language made me really sad that we’ve come to a position in time where even that threat is not seeming to hit major news or major platforms to instill a sense of urgency among our leaders to do something and act upon this. I feel like our power, and greed to constantly compete to be the best in technological development, nuclear power, army size and other “power plays” has divided this world into a few survivors and many left to die off and this saddens me. Climate change does “matter more than anything else” due to its ripple impact across other forms of issues (war, violence, poverty, famine, infrastructure breakdown, lack of agricultural trade, dying off of many industries, refugee increase, mass migration, terror increase, unstable borders/security, rogue and rebel rising, water scarcity, violent storms, violent fires, etc.). I can only hope that the growth in awareness will allow for NGOs and non-nation states to take the lead and advocate and move to combat this, because nations themselves are clearly not doing enough.

      1. acattigay –

        You id a conflict similar to Jeff’s – should wealthy nations address climate change issues for the benefit of others who are more impacted, or for their own benefit (preventing climate refugee flows, etc)

        nice theme emerging this week…

        1. Acattigay – you raise some interesting and important issues about the ripple effect of climate change in other areas. Many people see climate change as an isolated issue related that results in different weather patterns. Even many former climate change skeptics are now begrudging admit that that severe weather is an effect of climate change and that the severe weather has a tangible effect such as the loss of property or life. But climate change is so much bigger than that as you note. In particular, I’d like to call attention to several of the issues you identified: war, violence, poverty, famine, refugees, and mass migration. As you would imagine, these issues are interrelated, but many people underestimate the effect climate change has on them. When I was researching a paper in the Fall, I learned that some people identify climate change as one of the contributing causes of the crisis in Syria. The region in which the protests began was a (literal and figurative) tinder box due to a long-term drought some attribute to climate change. Because of the drought, there was famine. Because of the famine, conditions were right for a spark to light the protest against the government. And then, of course, we saw one of the worst refugee crises in modern history and mass migration into Europe. The mass migration into Europe ignited a spark that, arguably, primed dissatisfied Europeans to elect right wing politicians like Victor Orban and the British to vote to leave the European Union. It is a bit of a stretch to say that climate change is solely responsible for Brexit. And certainly, populist sentiment was on the rise irrespective of Syrian migration. But I think it is fair to say that climate change is a contributing factor to migration which is a contributing factor to nationalist sentiment rising in Europe (and the United States).

  2. I found the CRISPR-Cas9 section disturbing. While genetic modification has been a practice for quite some time, even now widely utilized at the commercial level in agriculture, I was shocked to see the utter lack of control and regulation of an experimental method that has the potential to permanently alter living organisms generationally. It makes me question the integrity of the scientific community. I understand the value of peer review and mass experimentation, however, to haphazardly release such a powerful technique to the world, with no coordination or oversight, seems irresponsible to the point that I question whether it was intentional. Sure, it is disturbing that an eager scientist in China has decided to carry out experiments on human embryos which were seen through to live birth, but it also presents irreversible and irreplaceable evidence, no matter the outcry. This has already gone too far and seems to be too late to completely fix. Nefarious actors across the globe now have this technology and nothing causes me to think that it won’t be used to advance their agendas. The home kits being offered by the California NASA scientist are an example of the foolishness that ensues from the lack of regulation. The video shows tree frogs doubling in size by using this kit. What happens when these frogs are released into the wild? Theoretically that trait passes on from generation to generation indefinitely. How will that affect the ecosystem? This needs to be reined in as soon as possible.

    The section regarding climate change really drove home to me the fact that this issue is in an immediate state of urgency. Although I have heard advocates and politicians emphasize this repeatedly over the past couple of years, I always viewed it as exaggerated rhetoric. Recently, however, I have been feeling strongly that I need to begin taking action on a personal level within my own household to make the changes I can to combat this epidemic. My personal interest in nutrition and organics taught me that we as consumers have a tremendous amount of power to drive the markets, and this consumer power to affect change is within each of our individual grasps. I have asked myself what steps I can take to reduce and ultimately eliminate single-use plastics from my household. Think of the impact we could have if it became popular for consumers to bring reusable grocery bags with them to the market every time we went, if we replaced Ziplock bags with reusable containers, if restaurants eliminated plastic straws, plastic utensils, and plastic carry-out containers. This trend, if spread nationwide, would surely help the restorative cause we desperately need. It is encouraging to see that real-world action is finally being taken to address the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with a seemingly simple system. Perhaps bringing back the popularity of gardening could benefit the cause. Not only is it therapeutic, but it is practical in that it provides nutritious food for the grower’s household while helping to naturally capture carbon dioxide. Again, taken large scale, this would be impactful. Obviously, the situation is dire and requires immediate, large-scale solutions, but every little thing we can do on an individual level ultimately adds up and contributes to improvement rather than degradation.

    1. Jeff, I one hundred percent agree with your concerns regarding the CRISPR science and technology. It did make me question, not necessarily the scientific community, but the lack of control and regulation made me concerned. It made me question the political leaders or industry leaders that are supposed to serve as a protector of science and technological developments so it does not do harm to communities or generations. I think that what’s presented in the CRISPR readings is definitely fascinating and the potential to do good is definitely apparent, but the lack of regulation and control makes me think that the more likelihood for competitiveness in who owns or has the rights to the technology will get in the way of actually doing any good and the potential to cause division between rich/poor societies/communities is very much a possibility. I think that the lack of regulation is also scary in the fact that it seems they are fast tracking this type of technology to be starting to do experiments on humans soon and this really is moving this into the realm of what we traditionally think of as science fiction to be scientific reality and this is problematic without caution and demonstrated successful studies/stories prior to implementation.

    2. Jeff –

      Yeah, I really wonder whether we are all watching CRISPR with modest interest when in fact it will have astounding impact in ways we’re not yet even thinking about…

      Climate change gets much more attention and some genuine activity, but I wonder the same thing… what is it that we don’t know that we don’t know?

  3. This weeks sections were my favorite of the course by far. I think that the CRISPR and genetic ethics is something that brings up something that could happen and is a technology and development that is a possibility to utilize to better health and stronger human beings. With that said, the counter-climate change technologies and developments show a more dire necessity for us to survive and keep our planet/human race and environment living for generations without too much hardships and inevitable disasters. There was a more “let’s act now” kind of approach to the climate change readings while CRISPR seemed more relaxed and “this could be further developed” type of approach. Either way, both have serious affects and influences on where we are going as a global society and have implications for our future that is still unveiling itself as we progress forward.

    The section this week on the readings/videos relating to CRISPR are both fascinating and quite frightening as well. I do think that the ideal potential really is reflective of how far we’ve progressed and come in human thought, scientific development and technology as a global society. However, it also brings to light the potential for war, unnecessary deaths, complications, greed, exploitation and long-term health effects that are not known yet and may not be known until after CRISPR technology is actually used on human beings and those first sets of people affected are studied in the future.
    Scientific progress and health/medicine progress needs some form of risk-taking or we would not progress as a society, hence being willing to take the risk with good enough tests on lesser controversial experiments would be necessary documentation and record-keeping. The section of readings from the “CRISPR Might Have Made China’s Designer Babies Smarter” brings up a huge dilemma of the fact that the lack of ethics or openness to accept the unethical existence of this new technology is widely known and understood yet this may not have weight or determine if it should be stopped like lesser intensive past scientific medical developments. This goes to show that society is changing in its lack of hesitation with things that a generation or two before would have stopped or extremely modified with the potential risk or lack of ethics. Our tolerance for unethical developments is growing and this is concerning.
    This means we are getting desensitized and are confronted with what potential this can have versus what the facts and risks are showing now. I see the potential, right now based on the readings presented, as me favoring the idea of CRISPR developing for much longer before any sort of interaction with the human population. While eradicating disease and lessening potential for illnesses or defects is ideally nice on paper, I think that I see potential patent issues, exploitation of developing and poorer/rural communities at the expense of the rich/powerful nations as causing greater inequality, greater inhumanity and potential for growing tensions and wars over this type of technology if left in the wrong hands/power. I also question this since the fine line between eradicating disease is just hairs away from the desire to go down a “designer baby” or “eugenics” path again repeating horrors of history if left in the wrong control. I see this from a Marxist perspective as having the ability to be great but at someone else’s expense…the question should be, is it worth it? My answer is no. Not even a little.

    Climate Change
    The climate change articles brought about a sense of urgency and importance in that climate change is happening and the reaction is now to finally start acting to try and prevent or reduce when it may be too late in some cases. The Busby article “Why Climate Change Matters More Than Anything Else” essentially summed up the biggest fears and inevitable-ness of climate change. It seems to be more a “when or what” versus “if”. The fact that the world is in multiple crises, Busby pointed out, is largely due to direct or indirect impacts of climate change related issues. Just like my concern regarding CRISPR and the difference between strong/rich/stable countries and poor/weak/instable countries …climate change issues brings about a host of many more problem potential. With the possible famine, mass migration/forced humanitarian refugee crisis, exploitation by stronger countries, droughts, disappearing or uninhabitability of nations is rising and it’s frightening. I believe that the solutions come mainly from the articles relating to carbon capturing technologies and think that the emphasis of carbon removal understanding and technologies/industries needs to rise and more and more people need to pay attention. It’s tough with the situation we are in with Trump and the Republican led Senate with them constantly pushing the agenda that climate change is not real or not as bad as we say it is. The facts and statistics/science/data shows the exact opposite so we are in a critical time in our nation and world history and only time will tell if we are able to combat this in time or if we are essentially going to only be reactive and choose not to act until it’s too late and multiple deaths/disasters take place first. I argue that this could be the time for a nation or nations/NGOs/corporations to take the lead in the next generation of international relations and politics because the traditional waiting on one nation to take the lead is obviously too slow and is proving ineffective.

    1. Right on, acatiggay. Your comments on climate change resonate with me. In fact, throughout this week’s material, my mind kept being drawn back to a 1998 album called Extinction Level Event by Busta Rhymes. His intro track is audio of a cute little girl saying, “Daddy, what’s it gonna be like in the year 2000?” and the dad goes on for about two minutes in a calm voice to describe the inevitable cataclysmic apocalypse. This week’s real-life material is quite burdensome and depicts such a state of urgency. I am always in favor of a multilateral approach to solutions and truly, if things are already as bad as the experts say, it will be necessary. On the other hand, I don’t underestimate the power of nature to cleanse and correct itself – though I’d rather not be part of either the cause nor effect of mass extinction. The right-wing rhetoric around this issue is disturbing. I realize they use it to manipulate their base for support, however, I believe it’s indicative that they truly do not grasp the seriousness of the issue. Either that, or we have been misled, but there seems to be (in my limited view) widespread consensus in the scientific community on this topic. Also, we see everyday in the news, and in our own weather, unprecedented phenomena occurring everywhere. I remember when the seasons were predictable around here. Not as much anymore. We have more rain here now than ever before and the seasons tend to come a month later than they used to. Bees are scarce compared to the 80’s and temperature fluctuations are more drastic. One thing that gets the congressional ball rolling is civic engagement. Each of us is capable of emailing and/or calling our representatives to express our views on the urgency. In the meantime, we can all do our part to chip away at this problem through lifestyle changes and how we spend our dollars. God help us.

    2. acattigay –

      I wonder if you’ve really hit on a critical concept here – “desensitized”

      Human flight, split the atom, cure polio, go to the Moon, instantaneous free video chat to/from anywhere in the world with pocket technology – a few wild fires and floods or gene-level engineering – don’t worry about it, it will be fine – we’ll stop using plastic straws and the techies will work all the rest of it out….

    3. acatiggay,
      I find you what you wrote eloquent, but I believe your part on CRISPR9 very pessimistic. CRISPR is definitely not a panacea and does raise important concerns in the context of application. If the new discoveries of CRISPR9 are followed with right policies, fair execution, and provided to those in need by the measures that include the elimination of greedy elements it will most likely lead to very positive results. CRISPR will possibly save nations that rely on domestic agriculture as the main generator of jobs, but faced with droughts that lead to starvation that could be saved by CRISPR9. Moreover, we cannot separate the effects of global warming from scientific advancements such as CRISPR9, that could decrease the negative effects of global warming in light of the lack of serious action by the government and people of the world.

  4. Curiosity killed…not the cat, but the cat’s genetic diversity.

    Wow. This week’s readings on gene editing left me reeling. I was hopeful that scientists would be able to cure some of the most devastating human diseases and simultaneously fearful that they would create worse problems along the way. My takeaway is that CRISPR is a very powerful tool that has the potential to do both great good and great harm. Like Dr. Doudna, I am in favor of using this tool for the betterment of humankind and to alleviate suffering. But at the same time, I am mindful of the famous line from Spiderman: with great power comes great responsibility.

    Dr. Doudna characterized the development of CRISPR as the result of curiosity driven science, observing that scientists often do not know where their research will lead. Curiosity driven science represents one of the defining characteristics of humans throughout history: we continually seek to know more about ourselves and the world around us. Generally, we consider this curiosity to be a good thing. As noted in this week’s materials, technology is the key to human advancement. We would not have modern technological advances like the telephone, aircraft, and pasteurization without curious minds trying to push the boundaries of known science. But there is a point where we have to ask: should there be limits on curiosity driven science? Just because we can do something, should we?

    Those, like Dr. Josiah Zayner, would answer that question in the affirmative. Dr. Zayner’s position that, when you make technology available to everyone, innovation happens, has merit. For example, when the Internet became cheap and ubiquitous, there was an amazing explosion of innovation. Many things that we take for granted today (online classes????) could not have existed without the Internet as a platform. For example, Blackboard, our academic, web-pased computer program, was created by two guys (Michael Chasen and Matthew Pittinsky) writing code in their apartment on a borrowed computer. This could not have happened without the democratization of technology that resulted from making the Internet available to everyone for (just about) any purpose.

    But the flip side is that the Internet is also a tool for human trafficking, child exploitation, fraud, extremism, and other things that are harmful to people and to society. Would anyone say that we are worse off because of the Internet? I think that some would. But I believe that most people consider the benefits of the Internet to outweigh the costs.

    And, that brings us back to the question of the week: just because we can edit genes, should we? I answer the question with more questions, beginning with: do we even have enough information to answer that question? We can imagine the benefits, which we already know include eradicating certain genetic diseases. But do we know enough about the effects of gene editing to truly understand what the costs could be? Based on this week’s readings, those could include removing human genetic diversity in an instant that developed and evolved over millennia, creating a class of super humans, and unforeseen dangerous mutations. Do we risk making human life a commodity? Or turning human DNA into a weapon?

    Like most people, I am in favor of taking the good parts of gene editing without the bad. Unfortunately, history has shown that technology just doesn’t work like that.

    1. Genevieve –

      I like any essay that includes the phrases “democratization of technology” and “Unfortunately, history has shown that technology just doesn’t work like that.”

      One question to emerges is, What’s next? Regulating the Internet combines hardware that can be regulated, sorta, and software and applications that can’t be, really. Sure, CRISPR will be at the legitimate and giant institutions of great medicine – but also in tiny private labs…. Should there be local, national, international regulation? Is it possible to get agreement on what that regulation should be? Is it possible to enforce when a tiny lab can do whatever it wants without being discovered? Things are going to get interesting…

  5. The advancement in scientific research that leads to discoveries like CHISTPR-Case 9 raises a core policy question, which is what can governments do in terms of proper funding and support for such great scientific advancements. The case of CHISTPR-Case 9 is a perfect example of the importance of scientific research that is- in a larger context- in many cases underfunded especially when compared with military spending on a global level. In other words, the world should invest in life-saving and constrictive advancements rather than constructive technology. In to remarkable that CHISTPR-Case 9 redesigns DNA or rewrites its codes, which creates prospects for preventing the inherence of diseases. Moreover, creating possibilities for curing deadly diseases such as cancer and HIV must be taken very seriously by policymakers as it is of obviously tremendous importance. Furthermore, many crops in the world are threatened by possible extinction including main kinds of coffee the second most demanded commodity in the world. One of the main negative consequences of global warming -which is also a serious problem not address well my people and governments- are droughts. Those droughts that are occurring more frequently are causing serious damage to agricultural production, CHISTPR-Case 9 as mentioned in the BBC interview can possibly create crops that are more drought resistant. That is obviously a tool that can be used to save important crops from extinction, in addition to preventing or decreasing the likelihood of starvation caused by droughts mainly in Africa and other countries that rely on local supply of food and its exports of food are vital to their economies.

    1. BA, I concur with your assessment regarding the enormous potential of CRISPR to eliminate genetic diseases. It is absolutely worthy of research, legislation, and funding. These types of breakthroughs have propelled society forward over the last couple of centuries. My concern is that the absence of responsible stewardship of this technique opens the door to nefarious exploitation. It must be a conundrum for scientist who, on the one hand, desire peer review and perhaps as much testing as possible before potentially unreasonable restrictions set in, and on the other hand, have a responsibility to humanity to exercise significant self-control to ensure their power is wielded for good. I do not envy their position, especially considering that funding is often lacking as advancements teeter in the balance, and publicity tends to help their cause.

    2. BA –

      BA wins the prize for bringing this week’s ideas together – can technologies like CRISPR solve our environmental problems?

      BA also raises a question on the other side of regulation – should governments be funding CRISPR projects – helping scientists explore new possibilities instead of (or also) restricting them?

  6. from EA –

    In this week’s discussion, the alternative topics of discussion presented are CRISPR and Climate Change. I have decided to post a comment on climate change because of how much I view it as an existential threat, as well as the fact that discussion on this topic has been of significant importance to nations, especially in the United States and many parts of Europe. Not only has there been rigorous debates on its impact on the ecosystem, it has become a very heated issue of debate in relation to how an economy is managed and where priorities should be.

    ​Credence has been given to the perception of climate change as an existential threat by Busby (2018) who stated that the threat of climate change stands likely to define this century. In my own view, the way this very important issue is handled might determine the kind of world that generations to come will live in. recent events like the wildfires in the western part and hurricanes in the East Coast of the United States in the summer and fall of 2018 showed just how badly climate change has started to bring devastating weather trends (Busby & Uexkull, 2018). The main culprit of this increasing trend, carbon dioxide emissions have been described as now having an atmospheric concentration level of “410 parts per million, the highest level in 800,000 years” (Busby, 2018). This should cause many nations around the world to take note and institute policies that will reduce the emissions of this gas to stem the growing threat of climate change.

    ​It should be expected that governments will take this issue seriously and implement policies that reduce emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It is good to see that the coal industry, which is a major player in emissions of greenhouse gas is facing a decline in relevance and revenue (Climate Nexus, 2019). This should be celebrated but one must take some time and reflect on the fact that this decline in the coal industry means that people will lose their jobs, and families will be affected. Also, seeing how the government provides incentives (such as subsidies and tax credits) to car manufacturers and consumers who focus on electric vehicles, one would also wonder how this impacts competition within the automobile industry, and how it affects oil prices or investments in oil companies (U.S Department of Energy, 2019).

    ​These concerns mentioned above play a role in shaping the questions that I have regarding steps that are being taken to limit the impacts of climate change.

    My questions are;

    • Can we effectively combat climate change without harming the competitive nature of industries like the automobile industry, mining and others?
    • Will there be reliefs to those people who will lose their sources of livelihood due to transitions to clean energy?
    • How else can climate change skeptics be convinced to believe the science other than being shown the facts?
    • Will changes (policies) to greenhouse gas emissions stop -or even reverse- the trends of hurricanes and wildfires that have become common nature in recent years?

    These questions weigh heavy on my mind. I have seen many stories of people who see clear science that prove this issue is real but decide to argue that it does not. Some – like President Trump- argue that it is done to affect the American economy in a negative way. It will be great if people like that are able to see the true harm that climate change is causing.

    1. To Nourh

      Thank you for your post on this important subject of climate change. I appreciate your question on how countries need to find the right balance on how to share or manage natural resources to ensure no one nation benefits more. I completely agree with your point that future generations must be considered by every nation when they consume natural resources, or when they decide to pollute the atmosphere as is central to the strong debate between climate change believers and climate change skeptics.
      Another point I agree with is your conclusion that human activities have played a significant role in increase of greenhouse gas emission. This is key to note because it is what has spurred many nations to switch to renewable sources of energy. This is essential to preserve the ecosystem for future generations. No nation should be allowed to indiscriminately allow or be passive in the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions because the impacts end up being felt by many other nations that share the Earth with them.
      I am pleased to see also that there are technologies being deployed to reduce the negative impacts of technology. These should be promoted by governments of nations around the world because even though the climate change deniers want to maintain their stands, the evidence and facts tell a clear picture of the need to act fast or future generations (including this) will suffer harsh consequences.

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    2. To Jeff

      Thank you for your insightful post this week. I was also very disturbed when I checked out the materials about the CRISPR issue. It is frightening sometimes seeing just how far these scientists would go to get a breakthrough in their research. It is also more scary to know that there is not a tight amount of regulation and oversight on the kinds of experiments that they conduct. Knowing that these experiments could alter the genetic composition of living organisms is hard to imagine and accept. More needs to be done to regulate their activities.
      In the case of the climate change topic, I agree with your conclusion that it is a matter of utmost urgency, and one that deserves the attention of all humans right away. It is not a bad thing to admit that you viewed the advocates as making exaggerated rhetoric about the case. I also initially viewed it as something that was made up until I saw scientific facts to prove that indeed the world and ecosystem are changing. You post has challenged me to do more things to contribute to this movement to reduce negative impacts that we humans have on the climate. I will stop using too many plastic bottles, I will reduce energy usage, and I intend to read up on more effective way with which I can contribute to this cause.

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    3. EA – excellent post with many things to think about. I’d like to hone in on your first two questions: Can we effectively combat climate change without harming the competitive nature of industries like the automobile industry, mining and others? Will there be reliefs to those people who will lose their sources of livelihood due to transitions to clean energy? With respect to the first question, I think the answer is probably yes, but I’m not convinced that this is the right question to ask. I think the question is HOW can we effectively combat climate change without harming economic opportunity in the transportation, energy, and other industries. Much of the resistance to transitioning to clean vehicles and energy sources revolves around the impact on industries as they exist today, without considering that where we are today is just a point on a continuum. For example, what if the government decided not to allow the development of the automobile industry because it could threaten the viability of the horse and carriage industry? Or that telephone service would put the telegraph companies out of business. This argument carries over to your second question about how to ease the burden on employees in industries that become obsolete. In my opinion, this is the core of human evolution. We move forward through technological innovation. It can be uncomfortable at times as we move into new areas and we risk leaving people with obsolete skills behind. But I don’t think the answer is to try to stand in the way of progress so that we can sustain legacy industry sectors. Instead, we should continually push toward more efficient and cleaner transportation and energy choices while at the same time helping those most vulnerable adapt.

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