If a tree fell in the forest and there were no humans around to hear it, would the world be a better place?
If you’re like most people, the idea of humans going extinct doesn’t have much appeal at first glance. Extinction is something that happens to dinosaurs and carnivorous marsupials, not to us. We’re not like mindless yeast in a vat of beer, blithely breeding and excreting until we succumb to the poisonous nature of our own waste ... or are we?
A closer look at the idea of human extinction reveals great potential for ecological restoration, abundant resources for all, and subsequently world peace. What a wonderful world it could be if there were ewer of us with each passing day.
Sure, some might say, every problem facing humanity and the biosphere would be easier to resolve as our density declines, but extinction? No thanks, we’re evolution’s crowning achievement -- no other species thinks as we do. This is why we’re able to imagine rational and compassionate solutions to the plethora of problems we’ve created.
We’re the only species that could actually engineer our own extinction, and perhaps we’re the only one with reason to do so. Ecosystems flourish without humans, as we’re learned from the tragedy of Chernobyl. Now that humans have been supplanted by mere nuclear radiation, wildlife not seem in 50 years has returned to the 2,800 square kilometers of unmanaged reserve. All we’ve done is leave it alone. Likewise, phasing ourselves out would restore Earth’s entire biosphere (minus the million or so species we will have made extinct by that time).
On our way out, while tidying up our mess, more of everything we like would be available. I doubt anyone likes the effects of our excessive breeding, even when earning a profit from it. Habitat for humanity would increase without encroaching on habitat for wildlife. Precious resources, such as potable water, could flow freely once again.
Unfortunately, this dream remains as distant as a Martian colony. Although birth rates continue to decline, our sheer numbers are on course to increase by half again to nine billion in the next 40 years. What can we do personally in the face of such an onslaught?
Well, in this case it’s more about what we stop doing. Simply by not breeding, we achieve more good for planet and people than a full lifetime of recycling, offsetting carbon emissions and buying green could do. Each new person not created in Australia preserves 6.6 hectares of wildlife habitat for about 75 years -- no small feat for just one couple.
At the same time, our heroic non-breeders avoid sentencing a loved one to life in a world with rapidly diminishing livability. Predictions are always fraught with uncertainties, but I think we can agree that Earth’s future doesn’t hold the promise of opportunity it once did.
We’re pulling strands from the web of life and jumping up and down on it harder with each addition to our burgeoning billions. It’s not much of a stretch to augur a fall if we keep at it. Sustainable growth is not sustainable.
Without question, despite overwhelming reasons not to, most couples breed. Cheers of encouragement from friends, family, and institutions greet couples who multiply their ecological footprints with the pitter patter of new ones. A powerful taboo prevents pointing out this folly -- human breeding remains the sacred cow [in our living room].
Our voluntary extinction, though ethically correct from an Earth-centered perspective, is unlikely to gain universal acceptance -- one more reason why the intentional creation of one more of us by anyone anywhere can’t be justified at this time.
Thank you for not breeding.
Les U Knight is editor of the website for the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, www.vhemt.org