Sunday, 8 May 2011

Don't extinct, excel!

I recently got into a discussion with some people on Facebook. A friend had posted a link about the impact of humans on the environment and some of his friends mentioned being supporters of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. I couldn't keep quiet even though I generally know better than to argue with extremists on the internet. To my mind, anyone who advocates human extinction is depressed and suicidal on a species-wide scale and needs some mental health care. Obviously, I do realise humans haven't been taking very good care of their environment, but to extinct us just isn't normal and natural behaviour. The VHEM has a lot of arguments for their case on their website, and a lot of them are fallacious or at best one-sided half-truths. My two main arguments in favour of the presence of the human race on this planet are featured as well.

Humans are part of nature. 

The VEHM hope to argue that this is somehow not true. They say that evolution has only turned out one species that adjusts its surroundings (fairly aggressively) to improve its own living conditions, and therefore humans are a fluke and not part of nature. Scientifically speaking, evolution is a mechanism ruled by chance and survival of the fittest and it adequately explains human development; in fact humans are a prime example of the theory. VEHM suggests that humans weren't meant to exist, betraying a religious-like belief in some human-hostile Nature with a grand plan. Evolution as a scientific theory cannot have unintentional flukes. It is a process that moves along without any end goal and without caring whether one species wipes out another. Saying that 'Nature' or 'Evolution' don't want us here is scientifically and rationally nonsense. For a self-proclaimed rational movement, that's pretty low.

To their defense, VEHM does try to support the idea of a human-hostile Nature by explaining that population explosions of successful species often lead to their extinction (which suits scientific evolutionary reasoning better). Superpredators successfully wipe out their prey and then starve. In the light of impending involuntary extinction of the human race, or at least of human civilization, voluntary extinction is presented as the better option: at least living conditions will improve as population dwindles and human civilization will be preserved longer. Metaphorically, choosing suicide rather than capture or murder still seems like the wrong approach to me. If I'm being chased by a homicidal maniac, I'm going to keep running! Not to mention try to stop him! Should we not, in the face of involuntary extinction due to environmental collapse or lack of resources, rather think how we can improve our chances? Which brings me to my second point:

Science and science fiction.

The VEHM reject the idea that we can improve the world through science but I feel they're being defeatist and short-sighted. They rightly point out that there are problems today that were caused by scientific and technological advances of previous centuries, such as pollution for example. They also rightly point out that previous attempts at spreading 'civilisation' to new, unknown areas led to disruptions of ecosystems and cultures. There's no denying those things, obviously. However "if you tried something and failed, give up and never try again" is not really sound advice is it? And to my mind, we didn't even fail! Great things were achieved in the past few centuries. That's not to minimise or excuse mistakes that were made, but due to our high intelligence and adaptability as a successful species, we can do better!

If we spread out to the stars, we will make every effort to do so responsibly, because we've learned from our mistakes (and our science fiction). New technologies and scientific discoveries are rigorously tested to reduce the impact on the environment. Investing in space exploration may not result in a 'this-lifetime' exodus, but it can teach us a lot about how to live with sparse resources. A moon base would have to recycle water, air, food and waste, and use only sustainable energy sources. We could live that way on Earth as well. Yes - all of us. The technology already exists and is being rolled out gradually on many levels. Examples like improved insulation, rooftop solar panels, rainwater reclamation, renewable fuels are rife. There is no reason for us to restrict our so-called 'luxurious' life-style (as many environmentalists endorse), nor to go the whole hog and extinct the human race. We just have to be clever, think long-term, learn from past mistakes and make the world a better place - for humans to live in.

1 comment:

  1. I can't imagine the VEHM getting very far with their propaganda efforts.
    Instinct says reproduce ... and we have the technology available to circumvent the consequences of vasectomies etc.

    What I find disturbing is often heard comment that people shouldn't resort to Assisted Reproductive Technology, but should simply accept childlessness "because that's better for the environment".

    No one would dream of saying to cancer patients should not undergo chemo/radiation/surgery but simply accept death ""because that's better for the environment". Or heart attack patients, or ... or.

    Technology is far from able to let the entire world population live like rich Westerners. The fair thing is for us Westerners to live (quite) a bit more modestly.