Voluntary Human Extinction Movement
| A bunch of tree-huggers|
|Save the rainforests!|
|Watch that carbon footprint!|
“”Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply, and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a... plague. And we... are the cure.
|—Agent Smith, The Matrix|
The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement or VHEMT, pronounced "vehement", is a loosely knit movement that, as its name suggests, calls for a stop to human reproduction, which will eventually lead to human extinction. This movement argues, correctly, that
peoplekind humankind is responsible for causing tremendous environmental and ecological carnage. Their official motto is, "May we live long and die out."
So far, there is no indication that the movement is going to be very successful. They honestly admit this much. But to be completely fair, it will be a while before we know how successful they are, assuming we live that long to see it.
Arguments for voluntary extinction
The activities of most Homo sapiens have considerable impacts on other Homo sapiens as well as flora and fauna and non-living things, such as rock formations, metal deposits and water bodies. As a species, we have been responsible for a great deal of human and non-human suffering for millennia. It is impossible to try and make amends for all the human, plant and animal pain and death we have caused, and persisting to develop our societies and industries can result in more negative externalities, such as pollution, poverty and the continued consumption of animals. The one certainty is that every living, breathing human being has a net negative impact on the environment around him or her and the surest way to avoid causing any more suffering, including that of the individual human himself or herself, is voluntary extinction.
Human beings cause each other mental and physical suffering, especially through relationships of power (marriage, family, community) and competition for scarce resources (economy, war). Many children are born into lives of poverty without having made any choice before exiting the womb. The alleviation of these problems anywhere in the future is unlikely, since economic and technological growth leads to new power differentials and not the reduction of poverty. Globalisation, for example, has resulted in the quality of life actually decreasing for the most deprived communities in many countries.
Even if through political and social development, all humanity became enlightened and altruistic enough to have interpersonal relations that did not cause human suffering, human beings have a negative impact on flora, fauna and other aspects of the non-human environment. As most humans are used to omnivorous diets, the husbandry, slaughter and consumption of animals will continue. A total conversion to a plant diet would not be perfect either. The agricultural practices required to sustain human populations will still involve a negative impact on local wildlife. Using animals for labour and dairy and egg products is detrimental to their physical and mental health. Carnivorous and omnivorous pets will still have to be fed, somehow, through the slaughter of other animals. Plant life, it could be said, has an equal right to live without being killed by humans. Even healthcare, such as the use of anti-bacterial antibiotics, destroys other organisms. Finally, even if all life could be protected, we are still making changes to geology and metallurgy with consequences to other organisms that cannot be foreseen. Altering waterways, for example, often has a great impact on animal and plant life. Constructing wind and solar farms can lead to the death of flying animals.
Even if technology allowed us to create sustainable habitats on earth and other planets, these are desirable only from a human perspective. Creating conditions on Mars suitable for Earth-like organisms is not necessarily making Mars a better place. Encountering other extra-terrestrial sentience can result in negative consequences, including
- the export of aggressive philosophies like racism or capitalism at the expense of those without power
- the conduct of war or unfair social or economic relations with extra-terrestrial sentience
- the disruption of extra-terrestrial culture
VHEMT Supporters and VHEMT Volunteers
The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement separates its followers into two groups, VHEMT Supporters and VHEMT Volunteers.
VHEMT Supporters agree that we need to stop breeding as humans are overpopulated, but do not agree we need to go as far as extinction. They believe we should all cease breeding until humans have reached a "sustainable" population. Meanwhile, VHEMT Volunteers see extinction as the only sure way to avoid breeding ourselves back to today’s density.
The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement does not advocate murder or suicide. Instead it advocates non-reproduction (not birth control, no births whatsoever) so that human beings will eventually disappear. Once humanity is gone, the world will apparently return to a "balanced state" and evolve more peacefully and naturally (because humans are the only mean animals).
Some extinction possibilities
- Voluntarily abstaining from reproduction. This is what the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement recommends.
- Not using medicine and eating less and less, until death occurs. Some adherents of Jainism, an Indian religion, do this.
- Using science and technology to evolve/devolve into non-sapient photosynthesizing organisms that consume the same amount of energy as we put out, having as limited as possible an impact on the environment. This is only desirable if reproduction does not lead to an increasing population and these new organisms do not cause significant harm to other organisms.
This is in intriguing, if controversial,[note 1] idea. It may seem to require the voluntary cooperation of every single living human on the planet in order to work. But this is false. Victory is achieved simply by having a birth rate of less than 2.1, the replacement rate. With it, the human population will fall in the long term, until eventually humans go extinct, which is precisely the ultimate goal. Chances of success are still small, but as they say, you miss all the shots you don't take. But there is some hope. Global birth rates tend to be declining and in most industrialized countries, birth rates are already below replacement levels.
Another possible drawback to this is that the population would age rapidly and clearly not be able to take care of itself. Automation could come in useful. Furthermore, the economy could be restructured should the need arise.
It is evident that the most vociferous supporters of the philosophy would presumably disappear in one generation. From an evolutionary point of view, this strategy seems self-defeating. But the people behind this movement are not passing on their genes, they are trying to spread ideas. And ideas are not something you are born with; they are things you can learn and accept throughout the course of your life.
In order for human extinction to be beneficial to the planet in a long term sense, several assumptions must be made. If most or all of these turn out to be true, then indeed human extinction will be a benefit to the earth. These assumptions are:
- That the human race is the primary, and possibly only, negative factor affecting the planet.
- That the planet will return to "ecological balance" after humanity has disappeared.
- That there's even such a thing as "ecological balance," and hence a genuine positive or negative way of describing environmental change. This is particularly important as the climate over the whole of geological time is in constant flux and what is "natural" and "normal" is a subjective opinion.
Just ask the dinosaurs. Or the trilobites
- That the existence of humanity (or our actions) are somehow "unnatural." Or that any given state of the Earth can objectively be said to be better than any other given state.
- Some ecological disaster independent of humans wouldn't wreck the planet anyway after our absence. It's kind of pointless for people to become voluntarily extinct if some big-ass meteor on a collision course with Earth appears in the next ten thousand years anyway. What if the ecological disaster can only be stopped by humans? Would you rather have the surface of the planet look like the area surrounding a swamp-parked meth lab in a rusty trailer (that still sucks) or like Venus? The dinosaurs could not be reached for comment on this.
- Indeed, given that the Earth will eventually be rendered as barren as Mercury by the natural lifecycle of the Sun, that it matters what the carbon on the planet is doing when the atmosphere is burned off.
- This is a remarkably Earth-centric view of the environment; it may be possible in the next few hundred years for colonization and land cultivation to reach a point where we can build environments on places that didn't previously have them such as Mars. If the goal is really to boost the environment as opposed to the Earth it may be better in the long term (like the meteor example) to have some sapient species around to spread the green gospel so to speak, even at the cost of short-term damage.
- Moreover, why should only earthling humans go extinct? With the estimated billions of Earth-like planets in the Milky Way alone, there are doubtless millions of civilizations in various stages of development that are experiencing the same environmental challenges that humans are undergoing. Some sapient intelligence will need to stick around and spread this philosophy. It needn't be humans nor human-derived intelligences, but in absence of knowledge of other civilizations with space travel there's no reason why earthlings shouldn't spread their philosophy. Imagine if some Earth astronauts were able to catch a few pre-industrial civilizations making the transition and convince them to go voluntarily extinct. What's wrong with sacrificing with biosphere of the Earth (or the biosphere of some other planet if they develop the means to spread the tenets of the movement first) if it leads to hundreds of other saved planets? Is it okay to allow similar depredation of other Earth-like planets as long as the Earth gets theirs? Again, it's Earth-chauvinism.
- That human beings or a portion of human beings can't just leave the planet or migrate to somewhere where there is no environment (i.e. the mantle of the earth) before the plan will yield results. If it will take 75 years for the human race to die off in enough numbers to 'heal' the planet but only 60 years to rush everyone off of the traditional biospheres in whiz-bang spaceships, what's the rush?
- That another species won't evolve to intelligence and do the same to the planet at a later, post-human, date.
- Since the evolution of intelligence seems to have happened over hundreds of thousands of years (with several non-human species to this day close to or even exceeding the intelligence levels of proto-hominids humans came from), it would seem prudent for human beings to arrange for the elimination of several species on the cusp of intelligence, otherwise the planet will be in the same state in shockingly little geological time. Unfortunately, it raises the question of how much time the planet is buying. Rendering extinct all of the, say, dolphins, corvids, primates, etc. may only buy the planet an extra hundred thousand years, but eliminating any form of terrestrial life along with the smarter sea creatures may buy the planet a few ten million years.
- That humans will be the only sapient beings on the planet when the plan is adopted; for example, the creation of artificial intelligence. What good does it do if humans voluntarily go extinct but our petrol-consuming robot buddies decide to stick around?
- That it is necessary to eliminate the entire human race to achieve their goals. Homo sapiens have been around for quite a while, but it's relatively recently that we've had such a big impact. Besides which, it seems to assume that primal, non-technological peoples (e.g. the Yanomami) are just as baleful as industrial civilizations; is it because modern civilization ultimately came from hunting-gathering in some way?
And fairly importantly:
- That human extinction is the only solution of environmental problems. The possibility remains that the technology and inventiveness of homo sapiens may just yet save the day.
So far, it's not abundantly clear that these assumptions hold well enough to justify the extinction of the human species, even if it is voluntary and the practical considerations already discussed can be ironed out. Certainly the final factor - that voluntary extinction is the only solution of the issue - is far from proven. While so-called "magic bullet" technologies may not deliver, the changes that need to be made to human attitudes and actions to help the environment are well inside the realms of possibility. And if they're not, the human race will go extinct anyway so there is little point in coaxing it too early.
Other main factors are very subjective, the idea of human civilization as being "unnatural" or whether the Earth in a "natural" state is in fact better aren't easy questions to answer, and there may not even be a way to logically define a correct answer. Mass extinctions happen all the time by "natural" means, and if a "natural" extinction is defined as a species not being able to adapt quick enough to its surroundings via natural selection, then human impact on the planet is no more out of the ordinary than any asteroid impact. Similarly, the assumption that another species will arrive and build up a high level of environmentally-damaging technology is equally up in the air as an argument, you just cannot create a definitive and logically coherent answer.
In short, VHE is a very extreme solution and is by no means a practical or palatable one - it can easily be envisaged that more people would choose not to have children for their own, personal reasons than reasons of achieving VHE. If it was achieved, however, it would take thousands (if not millions) of years for human activity to be wiped completely away by the ravages of time and for the world to revert to the "natural" state claimed by supporters of human extinction. However, following human extinction, no sapient beings would be around to judge whether the planet is a barren wasteland or a dense jungle. Furthermore, human civilization 1.0 has already depleted the planet of quite a few useful resources, most crucially fossil fuels. These recover extremely slowly if at all, and if another civilization is formed as a result of the great apes evolving another intelligent being in a few million years, not at all unlikely, this new civilization would likely be stuck in the early industrial era for a long time, and would probably drive sperm whales extinct to steal their oil, since the only oil in the ground would be unusable or buried at inaccessible depths, and the likely result is that civilization 2.0 would be even more ecologically devastating than ours.
In essence, this is just the Christian idea of a fallen world, with humans cast as the Satan figure who must be vanquished before there can be a return to paradise. The minor "sun is going to explode eventually" issue kind of torpedoes the whole thing.
Efilism (life spelled backwards) is an offshoot of the VHEMT which not only argues that humans should not only bring about their own extinction by not reproducing, but that the last humans left alive should deliberately cause a mass extinction event that would result in the extinction of all sentient life, in order to prevent the suffering that inevitably affects all sentient animals, whether from hunger, being eaten alive or otherwise attacked by other animals, cold, thirst, disease or any other cause.
- Voluntary Human Extinction Movement's official website.
- "RationalWiki of VHEMT" - The official response to our article, circa May, 2012.
- How about a day to celebrate people who choose not to reproduce? (Video link.)
- Please see this article's talk page.