First, an apology. It had always been my goal to make at least one post a day, so that any readers would get used to content appearing regularly (leaving aside, of course, whether that content is of any worth.) Busy busy busy, as I said before: there’s a lot of family in town, a lot of trips to and from the airport and to local tourist destinations.
But enough of that. I recently finished reading (listening to, actually) Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us. It’s a wonderful book, for reasons I’ll make clear in a later post, but I came across something disturbing in it that I wanted to mention here.
The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement advises adults voluntarily to cease breeding, in the hope that the gradual “phasing out” of humanity will allow Earth systems to recover to full health. Their aim is noble, and their means entirely peaceful, and for that I give them credit. However, the entire movement is based on a core assumption which happens to be false.
This assumption is easy to tease out if you examine their mission statement:
Phasing out the human race by voluntarily ceasing to breed will allow Earth’s biosphere to return to good health. Crowded conditions and resource shortages will improve as we become less dense.
I take no issue with the second sentence. The first one, however, bears scrutiny: phasing out the human race… will allow Earth’s biosphere to return to good health. Implicit in this statement, of course, is the assumption that not phasing out the human race will cause the systems that sustain the biosphere to continue their downward spiral. We’re given two choices only; either humans disappear, or the world of life falls to ruin.
Many people probably see that as a reasonable expression of our situation. With the shocking damage humans have wrought in the last few decades alone, it’s easy to imagine that we are inherently destructive, and that nothing short of our extinction will allow any hope for other living beings. Happily for humans, the evidence does not support this view.
The discovery and classification of hominid fossils establishes that humans have existed for several million years, and that humans of our own species have been around for at least a few hundred thousand. Just the magnitude of that span of time demonstrates that humans are perfectly capable of living on the Earth without destroying it. Similarly, almost wherever our civilizational juggernaut has encountered indigenous tribal peoples, we’ve found them living in intricate balance with the other organisms sharing their habitat. There’s no reason to imagine that, had we never arrived in North America, the sundry Native American peoples would not survive for tens of thousands of years more, just as they had from as long in the past.
The example of tribal peoples from the past, and of those still around today, establishes that there is nothing intrinsic in humans which prevents us from living sustainably. That should fill us with hope at our situation. As bad as we have allowed it to become, there is still time to change our ways.
Every extinction should fill us with sadness, remorse, and anger, including our own. We should do everything we can to ensure that we, and as many other species as possible, survive into the coming ages.