The Case of the Missing Humans 2: Population Control and Voluntary Human Extinction

If you have not noticed lately, there are a whole lot of us furless, gangly bipeds walking and driving and flying around planet Earth. For better and for worse….

According to projections from the United Nations in 2007, human population by 2050 could be at around 8, 9, or 11 billion worldwide depending on low, median, or high birth rates, respectively. But if fertility continues at a “Constant” pace, then the number would be closer to 12 billion of us by mid-century.1

So instead of saying humans are breeding like rabbits, we might as well just say that humans are breeding like humans! And you thought traffic was bad now!

Mother Earth is working so hard to support us along with all her other children. Some people have decided to address our bunny-like birth rate through other measures than simply hoping Mom will get another job. Some people are getting vehement about population control.

One cohort of such folks is the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, or VHEMT, founded by Les U. Knight. Its mission, if not obvious enough in the movement’s name, comes across pretty clearly in its motto: “May we live long and die out.”2

VHEMT’s basic perspective on human population and sustainability is that Earth would be better off without so many of us…indeed, without any of us. “Phasing out the human race by voluntarily ceasing to breed,” the website states, “will allow Earth’s biosphere to return to good health. Crowded conditions and resource shortages will improve as we become less dense.”

Now, I know you may be frowning, scowling, laughing, or scrunching your brow in confusion at this point. At the very least, you may be skeptical about the seriousness or the intent of VHEMT and its idea of “human extinction.”

But VHEMT is not a suicide cult, nor does it advocate actually killing human beings–either on a small or a large scale; Charles Manson, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin are not VHEMT icons or anything. VHEMT does not celebrate (human) death as a problem solver for the planet’s woes. Nor is it a bunch of old Scrooges who hate babies.

VHEMT shows itself to be quite sensible and sensitive, not extremist or monomaniacal, in its extensive question-and-answer style discussion of issues such as child birth, ecology, economics, politics, religion, and even science fiction, to name a few. The gist is that participants “vehemently” volunteer not to have any children. They choose to live sustainably by not adding to the number of humans living on planet Earth, now and into the future.

At the highest level of involvement, a VHEMT “Volunteer” lives by the following motto: “All of us should voluntarily refrain from reproducing further, bringing about the eventual extinction of Homo sapiens.”3 For the Volunteer, then, the ultimate goal is gradually getting human population to zero.

If utter extinction seems a bit much for you, then you might choose instead to be a VHEMT “Supporter” and adopt the following perspective: “Intentional creation of one more of us by any of us is unjustifiable at this time, but extinction of our species goes too far.” As a Supporter, you would agree to nix the baby making but without wanting to nix humanity completely.

Whatever the movement’s greater merit, at least VHEMT helps to bring ever more awareness to the very serious issue of human population growth and what we can do to address it. Even if you decide not to take part (in spirit or as a vehement VHEMT member), you might choose to limit your family to only one child and no more. Or maybe you could give the gift of a family to a needy child through adoption rather than reproduction.

Personally, I am not convinced that humanity should be extinct. For better and for worse, even we often problematic children are still children of Mother Earth; we are part of the biosphere and contribute to the biodiversity of life (planetary and universal). We do have a right to live…but also to let live.

Still, unless we take serious action, in developing and developed countries alike, our numbers will keep growing, and growing, and growing, and growing…. And in our case the more is not always the merrier for planet Earth.

Image credit: Nina Paley, colored by Aaron Hackmann.
See also: The Case of the Missing Humans: Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us.
1. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population
Division. “World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision, Highlights.” Working Paper No. ESA/P/WP.202. New York: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2007. 1. 20 August 2008 <http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/wpp2006/WPP2006_Highlights_rev.pdf>.
2. The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. 1996-2007. 20 August 2008 <www.vhemt.org>.
3. “How to Join VHEMT.” The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. 1996-2007. 20 August 2008 <www.vhemt.org/join.htm>.

What do you think about VHEMT and the idea of “human extinction.” Is it just a sick joke, or might there be some merit in the movement? Does human extinction seem to extreme for you? Do you even agree at all with the basic belief that human population is getting out of control…or that it matters for the environment? Have you thought of some other ways to address population issues and the environment?

  1. ellew

    Brilliant idea – to voluntarily not reproduce is quite intelligent. It frees up resources for those already in existence and at least helps curb the population explosion, if just a little.

  2. Meg

    I don’t agree that humankind should volunteer to become extinct – I think you are right Justin, we do add something to the biosphere and have as much right to be here as any other organism despite our obvious flaws!

    I agree we have to do something to ensure that our population doesn’t continue to grow exponentially. I guess limiting the number of offspring we produce is the most sensible way to do it.

    I admire the commitment of the VEHMT volunteers and supporters who choose not to have children. I have two and plan to leave it at that. Being a parent is such a joy, I am glad I have been able to choose to become one!

  3. ice_empress

    We all need to do some soul searching + critically evaluate if it is right to procreate. With the ever expanding human population, how many more can this planet feed, house and clothe? We all have the responsibility and make the ultimate choice by not adding another human to this already crowded planet. People that don’t exist, don’t pollute, don’t need food, a car, a place to live, maybe even creating yet another person with the same needs and wants.

    Live and let live? As humans, we have done a “marvelous” job of bringing thousands of animal + plant species to the brink of extinction or completely wiping them out. Many ecosystems are close to crashing, coral reefs are dying off, our thirst for oil continues to increase + the problems that come with it. A phrase that got stuck in my head: “Americans would drill thru a polar bears heart if that would mean that they would pay a $1 less per gallon.”

    We may be a part of the biosphere, but with a much more negative impact on this planet than a positive one. We have not proven ourselves to be worthy to live on Mother Earth. Unless we can stabilize our numbers + live in harmony with the planet + it’s other species, the planet will be better off without homo sapiens.

  4. stuntcat

    Our music and art are fantastic but other than that we’re making big cities and pumping tons of trash in the air and now we’ve started a worldwide mass-extinction. So we’re stamping out thousands of species, Forever, at the same time we bring babies into the world giving the innocent little guys the rest of this century- Which will not be the beautiful march forward that the last century was.. the century when our population suddenly quadrupled.

  5. TomRod

    We need to quit relying solely on Terra Firma. It is well within our technological capability to colonize the near solar system. At the trade off of the occasional mistake, we could unlock the resources available there AND live sustainably. It’s hard to live sustainably within a well-established structure. However, in the creation of a NEW structure, sustainability could be included in the paradigm.

    Problem solved 🙂

  6. Justin Van Kleeck

    These are some great comments on all sides of the fence. I agree with Ice Empress that we have done a very poor job, especially lately, of living in harmony with our fellow Earthlings. Whether that should be a sentence to death–extinction ourselves–is another matter. The key to our continued (justifiable!) existence on Earth is to shift our mode to living, not to kill ourselves off. That is sort of like drowning a puppy rather than training it patiently not to poop in the house.

    And on that note, TomRod’s certainty/faith in relocating to other planet’s is not exactly a problem solver, I think, because of the very poor record that Ice Empress reminds us about! Burning out one planet after another is NOT the solution; changing our lifestyles is.

  7. Carole Gale

    I like the idea of giving less weight to human beings. We assume that we can displace other species and even allow them to go extinct to preserve our own future. We need to change our perception of ourselves as humans and realise that we are not the be all and end all.

  8. Jim

    Right or not, “voluntary” human extinction is too little, too late. By 2050 there will be 12 billion humans, and little else. By 2150 there will be NOTHING else. The tenets of VHEMT are laudable, but they are too weak to make even the smallest dent in the human population.
    The only long-term solution is forced population control, and dramatic and quick polulation decreases, preferably by attrition, but by the use of force if necessary. It is no longer a matter of human rights, it is a matter of survival of the fittest, and the fittest will be those who are willing to limit their breeding, and no one else.
    Nothing else will save the rest of life on Earth.
    Those who believe otherwise are simply kidding themselves.

  9. Jay

    My vasectomy dates from Friday the 13th 1977, and my conviction about the evil of population growth from many years before that. I’m the father of two, with NO grand-children. I do not believe that voluntary abstinence from parenthood will work, whatever incentives might be offered. The Earth will be better off without us, and the sooner the better; we’ll manage it by extinguishing one another. We are no more viable than the millions of species that preceded us into limbo. I deeply regret our damage to this beautiful Earth and its remaining non-human life we will leave behind. Our extinction is already underway, is inevitable, and should be accepted humbly by us all.

    1. Justin Van Kleeck

      I have to admit, Jay, in my darker and more cynical moments I feel the same as you do. I commend you for your personal choice to stop reproducing, even going so far as to have surgery to prevent it.

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