December 29, 2008
Guy Dammann is pondering parenthood in that wonderful Guardian way.
Parentitis is the well known if scarcely documented condition that transforms polite, environmentally-aware, socially co-operative adults into pushy bigots who, when they’re not making innumerable short journeys in their 4x4s, are to be found at home amassing toxic nappy mountains, cooing noisily over waste matter and £500 pushchairs… Parentitis is natural, of course, but its nature is exacerbated and contorted by the collapse of trust in extended family support structures, the “us against them” axis of corporate culture having become mirrored in the domestic sphere.
Given that the most notable features of parenthood are apparently bigotry, a “collapse of trust,” 4x4s and “toxic nappy mountains,” it’s not terribly surprising that Dammann’s article is titled Am I Fit to Breed? Such sweet moral agonies are, after all, not uncommon in the pages of the Guardian. Nor is it shocking to find an ambivalent mention of VHEMT, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, whose website bears the slogan “may we live long and die out,” along with an assertion that, “phasing out the human race by voluntarily ceasing to breed will allow Earth’s biosphere to return to good health.”
Dreams of a planet unblemished by humanity are in fact remarkably common, at least in certain quarters. The “biocentric” conservationist Paul Watson is happy to describe humanity as a “cancer” and tells us that, while vegan diets are a good thing, “curing the biosphere of the human virus will require a radical and invasive approach.” Readers may recall another environmental crusader, Dr John Reid (mentioned here), whose plan to save the world from human beings entails putting “something in the water” – specifically, “a virus that would… make a substantial proportion of the population infertile.” And while the good doctor is happy to share his view of all human life as an extraneous infestation of an otherwise pristine Earth, he’s also insistent that “affluent populations should be targeted first.”
Last year, the Optimum Population Trust published a briefing paper, A Population-Based Climate Strategy, in which it was argued that couples having two children instead of three would reduce that family’s carbon dioxide output by the “equivalent of 620 return flights a year between London and New York.” The OPT regards population growth as a “failure of courage and leadership” and mulls, albeit hesitantly, on the need for “intervention by the state… in individual freedoms for the foreseeable future.” OPT co-chairman, Professor John Guillebaud, claims: “The greatest thing anyone in Britain could do to help the future of the planet would be to have one less child.”
Mr Dammann isn’t entirely disapproving of such notions:
The followers of [VHEMT] take to its logical conclusion the observation that the population growth of the human species is unsustainable. Rather than waiting for nature to extinguish us by itself, which process will almost inevitably involve the destruction of many other species besides, we should initiate proceedings ourselves by refusing to have any more children… [T]here is something magnificent about the thought of an entire species simply switching itself off, without violence or force of anything other than will, to make way for something more lasting. It is unthinkable within the system of nature, unless as the conscious, involuntary corollary to a process that may be occurring anyway. But the absurdity lies not in the aim, which is in many ways laudable, but in the idea that the compassionate motivation in which it originates could possibly see the project through.
The problem, then, is not the premise of voluntary self-eradication, but merely its impracticality.