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For the good of the Earth, perhaps humankind should phase itself out

Several weeks ago, I wrote that humans must curtail reproduction in order to save the planet. This prompted both accolades and the accusation that I was advocating eugenics, which I wasn't. The only people who should definitively and forcefully be curtailed from breeding are real bastards, absolute shitheads and mean, nasty sons-of-bitches. Unfortunately, there's no foolproof way to identify them.

Clearly, there's no way to force a reduction in the number of humans. The Chinese tried it with their one-child-per-couple policy. This only resulted in a lot of murdered girl babies—perhaps millions of them—since Chinese culture values boys more. In the United States, a country that does not value one gender over another, but does value wealth, the poor would be overwhelmingly pressured. Eventually, we would be nothing but a country of powerbrokers, toffs, pissy aristocrats and people like Donald Trump. This would be as intolerable as genocide and indeed might prompt mass suicide among decent people who couldn't bear the strain.

So we're still left with a tremendous problem: too many people. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert put another fine point on it. In "The Sixth Extinction?" she documents the fact that in the past, the Earth has gone through six mass extinctions of most life. These were the results of events like giant meteorite impacts and atmosphere-destroying volcanic eruptions. Afterward, life emerged and evolved anew, albeit in altered forms.

Kolbert and much of the scientific community agree that this time around, the natural cataclysm is us. It began about 50,000 years ago, coinciding with the arrival of human beings in Australia. This caused the extinction of virtually every marsupial weighing more than 200 pounds. Some 20,000 years later, humans arrived in North America. Three-quarters of its indigenous animals became extinct. The rate at which species are dying off is accelerating, and if it continues to do so, the Earth as we know it is doomed.

What to do?

Enter VHEMT, or the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Their motto, "May we live long and die out," is a perfectly benign one; bumper stickers available at their Web site (www.vhemt.org) include phrases like, "Thank you for not breeding." Their philosophy is very simple, that "crowded conditions and resource shortages will improve as we become less dense."

This is one of the most compassionate and logical ideas I've seen. VHEMT is neither nuts nor dogmatic; it simply recognizes the fact that a reduction in human numbers is the only chance this planet has, and asserts that the inevitable result of vast quantities of human life is contrary to maintaining any quality of life. VHEMT's position is ultimately a moral one: If the current trajectory of human populations continues, the extermination of not just the human race, but virtually all other species, is inevitable. In other words, we owe it to the biosphere to back off.

This is a difficult concept for most to understand. We're so ingrained with the notion of human birth as a joyous event: The goal of having children, and even desiring grandchildren, blinds us to the fact that there are other options—options which entail neither genocide nor brutality. These options simply require education and a serious moral recalculation of our duties to each other and the planet. The mechanism of VHEMT's philosophy is simple: In achieving the capacity to understand the problem, people of good will do the right thing.

I won't speculate whether this is realistic or not, but I hope it is. The idea that we're as inexorable as a giant meteorite impact or massive volcanic eruption is disturbing.

Someone once said that the measure of a good life is whether the world is better off when you leave it than when you came in. May we all strive to lead good lives.

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