Meehan Crist

Meehan Crist is writer in residence in biological sciences at Columbia University.

Is it OK to have a child?

Meehan Crist, 5 March 2020

One evening last year, the Democratic member of Congress Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was chopping vegetables in her kitchen while speaking to her millions of Instagram followers via livestream: ‘Our planet is going to hit disaster if we don’t turn this ship around,’ she said, looking up from a chopping-board littered with squash peel. ‘There’s a scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult.’ Her hands fluttered to the hem of her sweater, then to the waistband of her trousers, which she absentmindedly adjusted. ‘And it does lead, I think, young people to have a legitimate question, you know, should …’ she took a moment to get the wording right: ‘Is it OK to still have children?’ Her comment spawned a flurry of pieces on why you should or should not procreate. But the thorny question of whether it is OK to have children – a question about what we owe one another and what we owe the unborn – remains.

Diary: California Burns

Meehan Crist, 21 November 2019

The first post that popped up showed a shaky video shot from the front seat of a car barrelling through a gauntlet of fire. As I watched it, I realised that the scene was familiar. It looked just like a video I saw after the Camp Fire. That video had left me shaken. This one did not. I’d already assimilated what was, a year earlier, an unimaginable horror. As we glide along the path of our own destruction, this is how we normalise it – one tweet at a time.

I can’t help but wonder what Rachel Carson would have made of our present crisis. She believed there were limits to the changes humans could bring about in the environment without fundamentally altering the balance of nature, and her vision of this balance was not a single point of ideal equilibrium but one of dynamic change. ‘The balance of nature,’ she wrote, ‘is not a status quo; it is fluid, ever shifting, in a constant state of adjustment. Man, too, is part of this balance. Sometimes the balance is in his favour; sometimes – and all too often through his own activities – it is shifted to his disadvantage.’ This is the first time in human history that the entire global climate is shifting to what may be our permanent disadvantage.

Before I got pregnant, I thought I understood how DNA works: parents pass on some combination of their DNA, which codes for various heritable traits, to their children, who pass on some combination to their children, and so on down the neat branching lines of the genealogical tree. What I didn’t know was that women can also receive DNA from their children.

Besides, I’ll be dead: When the Ice Melts

Meehan Crist, 22 February 2018

Higher sea levels mean higher storm surges, like the nine-foot surge that inundated Lower Manhattan and severely affected neighbourhoods in Long Island and New Jersey, but also that low-lying coastal areas, from Bangladesh to Amsterdam, will be underwater in less than a hundred years. It’s worth remembering that two-thirds of the world’s cities sit on coastlines. In a high-emissions scenario, average high tides in New York could be higher than the levels seen during Sandy. A rise in global sea levels of 11 feet would fully submerge cities like Mumbai and a large part of Bangladesh. The question is no longer if – but how high, and how fast.

Who Knows? The Voynich Manuscript

Meehan Crist, 27 July 2017

The Voynich Manuscript​ looks unremarkable: a yellowing bundle of cheap vellum pages bound between two wooden boards. The cover is blank. Once called ‘the most mysterious manuscript in the world’ by the medievalist and philologist John Manly, its 240 pages contain illustrations of plants no one can identify, what look to be circular celestial maps (though they don’t...

Letter
Meehan Crist writes: Nicholas Wade takes issue with ‘the tattered lie that race has no basis in biology’, citing the existence of ‘genetic differences between human populations’. Here, as in his book, Wade conflates race with genetically defined human populations. No geneticist would deny that genetic variation exists across human populations as defined by geography. However,...

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