On voluntary extinction

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.


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4 Responses to “On voluntary extinction”

  1. asimplesinner Says:

    How far we have come in the pro-contraceptive mentality! A collegue of mine wrote an interesting post that shows where we were 80 some years ago… Who Said This About the Evils of Contraception?

  2. Nathaniel Says:

    I want to thank the author for his/her (sorry, I didn’t see a name for the author) point that human extinction would be a said thing.

    I would like to add 2 additional points he/she may not have thought about.

    Point 1:
    I think that it is easy to see humans can do great damage via pollution, even if you don’t think global warming is happening (and I feel odds are that it is these days) there is still the toxic pollution that has been added to rivers, lakes, and some pieces of land that has a detrimental effect of plant and animal life in that area. So we do cause pollution and it does cause harm.
    Does that last point mean that life/from Earth would be better without us? I argue no. Not only are we part of life on/from Earth but if we are able to limit the damage we do to various ecosystems around the world so they do not collapse then we provide means by which life on Earth will become life from Earth and those have the potential to survive past the point (in about 5 billion years from now-so keep paying your mortgage) when the sun expands and most things remaining on Earth get cooked. While humanity should learn how not to damage other forms of life on Earth and should actively work to avoid harm now, we are the only species likely to currently enable space travel and thus create the ability to evacuate the planet when such an evacuate becomes necessary to sustaining most of the life on/from Earth (not just us).
    Thus calling for human extinction actually removes a potential boon to the survival of Earth’s various life-forms.

    Shorter Point 2:

    I would argue the harm via pollution that humans cause is mainly not do to the number of humans but to the manner we go about economic development. Global Warming is caused by greenhouse gasses. This are released by the burning of fossil fuels. If not for the latter the former would not be a problem. Also look at China, it has a great deal of problems relating to both air and water quality because of the many emissions (some of which are quite toxic) put into each. China’s emissions problem (touching on fossil fuels again) has grown worse after it started its population control program. This is because of the fact that there is no stable ratio between the amount of humans and amount of emissions, factories, cars, coal powers plants, and so on. China jumped ahead of the USA in CO2 emissions not by a population boost but through rapid and reckless economic development in which consideration of the environment was not an issue. Thus focusing on economic systems systems to be the logical way to prevent pollution and environmental damage.

    Note: Population control does not involve counting and limiting the amount of emissions-only the number of humans. This is way it actually fails to serve as effective protection for the environment.

  3. Nathaniel Says:

    “is why it actually fails to serve as effective protection for the environment”

    Sorry for any other typos.

  4. 131. The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement « Floweret.wordpress.com Says:

    […] with a few of the points stated by Allisions of Grandeur, the mission stated (in the sub-clause) implicitly mentions that if human race is not “phased […]

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