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Made for the Environment

2 - Reason for the Performance Art Event

In 2007 I visited the city of Ushuaia in Argentina. Situated at the southern tip of South America, its harbour is the starting place for many cruises to Antarctica. I took the picture below during my visit to Ushuaia in their summer. It shows the city of Ushuaia in the foreground, the Beagle Channel and the mountainous Isla Navarino in the background.

City of Ushuaia

In this city, the Museo Yámana offers displays about the indigenous Yaghan people that used to live in this area. The picture below is taken from the museum’s website.

Museo Yamana

This is where I learned that these people lived outdoors, in a climate much colder than Vancouver's, completely naked, all year long.

Indeed, it would be considerably easier to live naked in Vancouver than to live naked in Ushuaia. Using climate data, shown in the diagram below, it is clear to see that Vancouver is considerably warmer throughout the entire year. Besides being warmer, Vancouver has more annual sunshine, less wind and fewer snow days. In fact, snow flurries can happen at any time of the year in Ushuaia.

Vancouver - Ushuaia Temperature Graphs

The Yaghan were one of the four indigenous Fuegian groups that lived naked in Tierra del Fuego long before the arrival of the Europeans. Charles Darwin was the first European to write a lengthy description of their culture when he visited this area in 1832. In one of his journal entries he describes native women approaching his ship:

But these Fuegians in the canoe were quite naked, and even one full-grown woman was absolutely so. It was raining heavily, and the fresh water, together with the spray, trickled down her body. In another harbour not far distant, a woman, who was suckling a recently-born child, came one day alongside the vessel, and remained there out of mere curiosity, whilst the sleet fell and thawed on her naked bosom, and on the skin of her naked baby!
(Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle, 1832)

Further on, Darwin writes:

Nature by making habit omnipotent, and its effects hereditary, has fitted the Fuegian to the climate..
(Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle, 1832)

The French Mission Scientifique du Cap Horn visited the same area in 1882. This was the first expedition to photograph these people. The picture below shows a family group.

1882 Yaghan Family

Martin Gusinde photographed some of the last remaining genetically-pure members of these people in the 1920’s. Below is a picture he took of a group of women preparing for a winter ritual dance.

1920 Yaghan Women

He also photographed a group of men preparing for a winter ritual performance.

1920 Yaghan Women

Occassionaly I think about these people and their society as I walk around Vancouver during the winter. I wonder how their naked bodies could cope with the continuous cold. The answer I am sure lay somewhere in their genes. Sometimes I wonder what the wintery streets of Vancouver would look like filled with naked yet law-abiding citizens.

These thoughts would amuse me from time to time, but until recently, they were just science fiction. But my thoughts have gotten much closer to reality with the discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 genetic engineering process. Developed in 2012, this process allows scientists to easily and accurately modify genes. The diagram below is one of many ways to illustrate the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing process. It was taken from the Origene website which offers gene editing services in the United States.

1920 Yaghan Women

This new bio-engineering technology could be used to add the same genes to Vancouverites that allowed the Yaghan to adapt to their cold environment.

There is some speculation that the Yaghan had a higher body temperature which may have been regulated by the mitochrondrial genes. Or, they may have had more insulating brown fat on their bodies thanks to the genes in the nucleus, similar to the Neanderthals which lived in cold northern zones during the last ice age. Regardless, there was something genetically different about them, and this genetic adaptation should be passed on to future generations of Vancouverites...for the sake of our environment.

Such a genetic modification would definitely have a long-term benefit to our environment. People who are more cold tolerant consume less heating fuel, wear fewer clothes and use less building materials. Encouraging less consumption is a central principle advocated by all environmentalists.

Unfortunately, Canada's "Assisted Human Reproduction Act, 2004" prohibits editing human genes that could meet this environmental need. Section 5 (1) (f) of this Act clearly states that:

No person shall knowingly alter the genome of a cell of a human being or in vitro embryo such that the alteration is capable of being transmitted to descendants

Breaking this law can result in the following punishment as outlined in Section 60 of the Act:

A person who contravenes any of sections 5 to 7 and 9 is guilty of an offence and

(a) is liable, on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding $500,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or to both; or


is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding $250,00 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding four years or both.

I believe that, for the environment, Secion 5 (1) (f) should be repealed so that editing the human genome is no longer prohibited but rather controlled or regulated. For example, all human gene engineering proposals would have to be reviewed by a panel comprised of scientific experts, the legal community and the general public before they were allowed to continue.

Therefore, I propose that Parliament legalize the editing of the human genome in order to create humans that are better adapted to their environment. I believe that it is in the best interest of my society and our environment to encourage research into this promising new area of bio-technology. By walking naked through the winter streets of Vancouver, I will display an environmentally friendly ideal which future Vancouverites should strive to attain.


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