There is a movement afoot which calls for humanity to allow itself to go extinct. The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT) wants people to stop having babies, and allow the human species to quietly slip away. They state, simply put, that Earth and its biosphere would be better off without us. In their view, the human race is akin to an “exotic invader”, whose population is out of control and threatens other species with extinction, and only removal of the human race can restore the natural ecological order.
While the first reaction to this idea is often incredulity, on sober reflection, they may have a point. The Holocene mass extinction event, which is currently ongoing, is characterized by the notable actions of humanity as being direct agents of this mass extinction. Current estimates for the 20th century have human-caused extinctions at somewhere between 20,000 and 2 million species, mostly animals. This period of destruction includes the numerous species of megafauna that went extinct approximately 10,000 years ago, but continues into the present day with the demise of creatures like the Yangtze River Dolphin. Some scientists estimate that by 2100, half of all species of life will have been rendered extinct, directly and indirectly, by human activity.
If one of those species happens to be humanity, would that really be such a bad thing? Note that these groups are not talking about suicide (save as a species) or murder, or anything like that. All that has to happen is for people to stop having babies. Voluntary sterilization, then live a full life, and die. With no people, Earth and its species would be free to recover and grow.
In the past 50 years, there has been movement to change humanity’s view of the natural world. The movement is gaining momentum, too. Despite all the damage we cause, there is a realization that we need to do something to make right what we have done. When the hole in the ozone was discovered, when humanity was forced to get their head out of the sand and confront the problem, we did. Legislation was passed all over the world, and the use of CFCs prohibited by 1989. Since then, the ozone layer has started to repair itself, and it is expected to return to normal by 2050. We can correct our mistakes, given time and direction.
Overpopulation is one of our biggest mistakes, and linked to that is the doctrine of overconsumption that holds sway in industrialized nations. These two ideas alone are the source of the lion’s share of the world’s problems. While rendering ourselves extinct would certainly solve these problems, the idea is simplistic at best, and completely unrealistic. More realistic, and really far easier, is to simply own our problems and fix them. This will require some major work, and may require measures that make us uncomfortable. Attaining negative population growth will require sacrifices. But far better to try to work towards that, and to continue lowering our ecological footprint, than to tell people that the only way to save our planet is to stop having babies.