RationalWiki of VHEMT

The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement has been treated to a rational analysis by RationalWiki, which includes a few misunderstandings. Les U. Knight offers the following clarifications in green:

The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement is an extinctionist movement which advocates the self-extinction of humankind. This movement argues that humankind is responsible for ecological unbalance and the destruction of the global environment, and believes that our planet’s environment would be better off without humans. So far, there is no indication that the movement is going to be very successful.

Unfortunately, that’s true: people continue to breed as if there’s no day after tomorrow, despite the absence of an objective reason for creating another of us today. On the bright side, each day there are 213,800 more potential participants in the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement or VHEMT. (We’re vehement).

Method Statement

The VHEM wants to get rid of humans to allow other species the chance to evolve to sentience and fuck things up in their own unique way.

That’s just what sentient beings do—it’s not our fault we can think and feel.

The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement does not advocate murder or suicide: Instead it advocates non-reproduction so that human beings will eventually disappear. Once humanity has been and gone, the world will then return to a balanced state and evolve more peacefully and naturally.

The world will never return to what it was like before humans evolved: we’ve already eliminated too many species. Evolution is naturally not a peaceful process.

Initial problems

While an interesting though controversial idea—see this very article’s talk page for some idea of how controversial—it requires one important commitment; everybody would have to agree to it. That’s not just everyone in a town, or everyone in your school (like a recycling program) or everyone in your country but everyone. All 7 billion people on the planet need to stop having babies.

That does seem like a lot of people. The number could be cut in half if we just convince all men to stop impregnating women. Pre-pubescent boys and infertile or gay men would further reduce the number, but we’re still left with a couple billion. Granted, it’s highly unlikely, but does that mean we shouldn’t try? People still play the lottery when odds are 187 million to one, and all they get is money. Avoiding collapse of Earth’s biosphere is arguably an even bigger payoff.

Other than the extreme improbability and questionable desirability of this occurring,

“Extreme improbability” is a given, so let’s question the desirability.

...another obvious drawback to this is that the population would age rapidly and clearly not be able to take care of itself. If you think socialism won’t work when 25% of the population are pensioners, try any economics system when 90% of the population are pensioners... Rather than drifting off into a peaceful slumber to leave the world be, the human race would likely die an undignified death as its people fight and squabble their way into non-existence (this may or may not happen anyway).

Disastrous effects of an aging population have been overstated by those who benefit from excessive population density. With a gradual phase-out, fewer incapacitated people will suffer from a lack of care than do now. Economic systems are artificial and may be adjusted to suit changing needs.*

There is also the problem that the most vociferous supporters of the philosophy would presumably disappear in one generation. In evolutionary terms they would be out-competed by the descendants of those who wanted to continue reproducing, which would rather seem to make the process a little pointless.

We spread memes, not genes.*

Primary assumptions

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.

Homo sapiens’ activities adversely affect Earth’s biosphere more that any other species. Other species which cause extinctions, with a few possible exceptions, were exotics introduced by us. Catastrophic events such as volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and even the five identified mass extinction events are part of Earth’s dynamic processes.

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.

“Ecological balance” doesn’t mean unchanging or stagnant. Mature ecosystems reach a dynamic balance and adjust to changing conditions. Populations of species within ecosystems are always in flux and their balance is long term. Before humans, an exotic would occasionally be introduced to an ecosystem, or climate would change, temporarily disrupting this balance.

That the existence of humanity (or our actions) are somehow “unnatural”.

Whether something is natural or artificial isn’t important. “Natural” is a meaningless claim on both packaged food and environmental impact statements. Exotic invaders and super predators like us are naturally occurring, as are the extinctions they usually cause, but that doesn’t mean their effects are beneficial. Chimney swifts nest in artificial creations but that doesn’t mean chimneys are detrimental to swifts’ environment.

Or that any given state of the Earth can objectively be said to be better than any other given state.

“Better” is a subjective term. A paved parking lot can’t objectively be said to be better than a wetland ecosystem, but it could be said to contain less biodiversity and allow vehicles to move in and out without getting wet and muddy.

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.

Why stop killing people when they’re just going to die in the next few decades anyway?

What if the ecological disaster can only be stopped by humans?

Our powers of rationalization are impressive: we imagine ourselves as potential saviors of the planet while our collective activities have increased extinctions to a level not seen in 65 million years, when a big-ass meteor collided with Earth.*

Would you rather have the surface of the planet look like the area surrounding a swamp-parked meth lab in a rusty trailer or like Venus? The dinosaurs could not be reached for comment on this.

Door number three, please.

This is a remarkably Earth-centric view of the environment;

This assumption is correct: Earth’s biosphere is what we’re concerned about. Human-centric views have got us where we are today and prevent us from getting out of it.

...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.

Imagine that. The goal of VHEMT isn’t to “boost the environment,” it’s to stop killing it. Colonizing the Americas didn’t stop people from killing ecosystems in Europe—it just spread the gospel of death, so to speak.

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’s the rush: it’s a race to go extinct before we spread to other places. And, to avoid eliminating millions of life forms here. Our natalist programming is so strong some will consider living in hell (i.e. the mantle of the earth) before considering not breeding.

That another species won’t evolve to intelligence and do the same to the planet at a later, post-human, date.

Let’s hope our species will evolve to intelligence. Our past actions have yet to prove we’re smarter than yeast in a vat of beer: replicating until the food supply is gone and then dying off. Other species already exhibit intelligence but none seems poised to take the evolutionary sidetrack we have. It’s not impossible another super predator will come along, wipe out its prey, and go extinct, but that doesn’t excuse what we’re doing.

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?

As we phase ourselves out, we have an obligation to dismantle dangerous technology and clever machines, and to phase out domesticated species when possible.

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?

Well, we did. We’d do it again, too. We’ve been causing extinctions since we left Africa, if not before. As long as there’s one breeding population of us left, there’s a grave threat we’ll eventually cover the planet again.

And fairly importantly:

That human extinction is the only solution to environmental problems.

Human extinction alone will not prevent the cascade of extinctions we have set in motion. If not one more human were born, we could still trash the planet on our way out. We need to preserve what’s left and restore what we haven’t destroyed beyond redemption. No solutions to environmental problems will succeed with an increasing number of us doing what we do.

The possibility remains that the technology and inventiveness of homo sapiens may just yet save the day.

But will we recognize those solutions when they come along? Voluntarily ceasing our redundant breeding requires Homo sapiens’ technology and inventiveness. Now we just need the awareness and universal availability of those solutions to 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 to 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.

Humanity’s ability to change attitudes and actions forms the basis for optimism about our chances of succeeding in slowing down, stopping, and turning around before we get where we’re headed.

And if they’re not, the human race will go extinct anyway so there is little point in coaxing it too early.

Exactly. The difference is that we wouldn’t be taking most of the biosphere with us, and humanity would tend toward utopia rather than dystopia on our way out.*

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.

Especially without a definitive and logically coherent question

In short, VHE is a very extreme solution and is by no means a practical or palatable one

It’s not practical only because people aren’t likely to voluntarily stop breeding, however, the solution is more practical than our present plan to prevent ecological collapse. “Palatable” is subjective. Some find the concept of not creating more of us to be unpalatable, while others consider doing so despite tens of thousands of children dying of preventable causes each day to be unpalatable. It’s just a question of taste.

—it can easily be envisaged that more people would choose not to have children for their own, personal reasons than reasons of achieving VHE.

No doubt. Most of us are motivated by that which affects us personally, though many have progressed to caring about the entire human family. Fewer still are motivated by a concern for all life. Each time a couple of us decides to not add another of us to the billions, environmental benefits are the same no matter why.

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 report to the “natural” state claimed by supporters of human extinction.

Species we’ve driven to extinction are gone forever but the biosphere usually recovers from mass extinctions in 10 to 30 million years. A plastic-eating bacteria will likely evolve eventually, and concentrations of toxic waste will be dispersed to become less of a hazard to life. One could call this a more “natural” state, but semantics then will be even more irrelevant than now.

However, following human extinction, no sapient beings would be around to judge whether the planet is a barren wasteland or a dense jungle.

Ecological problems resulting from this lack of human judgement are not insurmountable.

Thanks for reading and not breeding. Les