When I saw that this month’s edition of The Guardian‘s We Need to Talk About… podcast will be about population, mainly in terms of its connection to climate change but also in terms of how else fewer children would affect the world, and that members were called to submit questions and views, I obviously had to get involved, and by this I mean doing more than simply sharing. After all, commenting on an article that brought up the issue of overpopulation was why I made an account on The Guardian in the first place, and such articles got most of my otherwise quite few comments since.
So I ended up sending an e-mail tonight, choosing that option instead of the form due to the size of the text, and I’m posting it here now as well, only removing some “technical” details that wouldn’t be relevant here and slightly changing just a few little bits that were too conversational for a post. As you’ll be able to see, I just once again stated my position bluntly and explicitly, referring to the general problem and the overall impact and not focusing on climate change or any other single effect or outcome in particular. Tackling anything separately as well would have made this quite a few times longer, and would have also required bringing up other topics.
I’ll be blunt: A massive reduction of the human population is required in order to have any real chance of solving any major environmental or social problems, otherwise any other measures merely delaying the inevitable at an ever increasing cost. Now, since I hope we can agree that killing people or letting them die due to lack of access to needed resources of services is to be avoided (though in fact at least this latter scenario is still the norm worldwide), what needs to be tackled is breeding, people having children. And the situation is already so bad that even considering that sticking only to the, shall we say, nice measures, like voluntary family planning or incentives for the childfree, will be enough is, to put it very mildly, wishful thinking of the most dangerous kind. Maybe that would have worked if done several decades ago, maybe, but right now nothing short of a complete worldwide moratorium on births will cut it, to be lifted when or, for that matter, if we’ll sort things out, both environmentally and socially.
So the question is: How do we implement that moratorium, as soon as possible, with no exceptions and in a way that will give us the best chances to use the time provided by it to improve things enough to offer a real hope that someday we’ll be able to lift it and continue as a species deserving of its place on this world, according to the conditions I mentioned?
For those who are an active part of the problem, feel free to consider this an insane, ludicrous and/or dystopian hypothetical. The question remains.
That was long for the question field, wasn’t it? But just asking how to enforce a complete moratorium on humans breeding worldwide without stressing the context and preempting the whole speech about it not being needed would have been quite pointless.
Now this is likely to be dismissed long before anybody even gets this far with reading, but just in case… (Was told by a friend back in 2011 when I sent an open letter about overpopulation – the English translation of which you can read, though I took my stance further since – that also included such a statement that I shouldn’t say things like this because they become self-fulfilling prophecies, but it’s realistic.)
Since I mentioned taking my stance further, a brief history of it would be that in my teens I initially wanted three children, but I was maybe 16 when enough information reached me to make me realize that the world was terribly overpopulated and this was truly the biggest problem. (I’m 32 now, 33 next month.) By 18 I had finally integrated it all, being determined to never have any children myself and strongly advocate for firm population controls enforced by absolutely any means necessary, with clear targets to drastically reduce the world’s population without increasing mortality.
Initially it was a rather general concept, then was saying only 10% of people should be allowed to have children, then as time passed and the problem only got worse without anything being done in this direction, that number fell to 5%, then to 2%, then to the minimum necessary to avoid a genetic bottleneck, whatever scientists will determine that to be, assuming it’ll be a fair bit less than 2%. Then, more recently, I got to the point of being certain that nothing but a complete moratorium would cut it, initially thinking of a minimum of ten years, now of at least 20 years, and about to move to 25 or 30 I guess, seeing as things just keep getting worse. This also offers time to overhaul social systems as needed, and also to figure out how to decide how to select those potential suitable parents once the moratorium will be lifted, as that was always a difficult problem to propose proper solutions for, especially when it would have had to be implemented right away.
If such a moratorium will be lifted even in 35 to 40 years, it won’t be a problem for the human race to continue naturally even if just a small part of those still of childbearing age at the time will have children. And then there’s the option of preserving genetic material which may be used to create a new generation even later, as long as any people will be left alive to do that and guide them through the first years. So that’s not the problem, though maybe a perceived threat of extinction, be it of the species as a whole or of certain parts of it that are more dear to them, or even simply of their own family line, may actually motivate the people who are inclined to see that as a real possibility to get to work on fixing things.
But the thing is that, with our position as the species which can shape this world according to its will, humans have more the responsibility to be its stewards, fix the damage and help all other species we are, or should be, sharing it with have good lives, than the right to exploit at will. We’ll actually be worth continuing as a species if we’ll reach that point, and preferably also fix our own society so life will truly be worth living for all, as thinking, feeling beings, capable and willing to analyze how things stand and what they mean and needing real purpose and truly good things to happen to rationally conclude that living is undoubtedly the desirable state, as opposed to it largely being a matter of rationalizing the basic survival instinct despite all the facts against such a conclusion, as it typically is now.
So, since the question came up before, my position does not match that of VHEMT all the way to the end goal in principle, but that’s because I think humans, in much smaller numbers and obviously of the right mindset, are needed to fix things and care for this planet. If we won’t do that, we might as well go extinct before we’ll take everything else down with us, hence conditioning lifting this moratorium on fixing things.
And fixing things for the other species, and the world as a whole, after causing so much harm so far, and fixing our society as well in the manner I described above, is why we can’t waste time and resources and ingenuity on mitigating the harm caused by this huge problem we ourselves continue to create and worsen. As I stated previously, anything we do without drastically reducing the population merely delays the inevitable at an ever increasing cost, and that cost will be paid by all other species and then perhaps the humans least responsible for it first, but even trying to find those mitigating measures is a wasted effort in itself, as there’s so much to do we can’t afford to direct attention and resources to doing other things about something that can so clearly be solved, eventually, by one simple thing, namely people no longer having children until this matter fixes itself.
It’s one thing, one decision, that prevents far more harm, from both an environmental and a humanitarian perspective, than all other things a person can do put together. And imposing limits on this will allow far greater freedoms in most other aspects, which freedoms currently need to be curtailed to limit the damage caused by our numbers alone, even though the actions themselves may not be inherently harmful. Plus, of course, in poorer regions a population reduction is necessary before improvements in the standard of living may in any way be sustainable, while in the wealthier ones such a reduction is necessary for anything even remotely resembling the current standard of living to be sustainable, these more developed regions therefore requiring such a reduction first, contrary to what may be popular belief… Inasmuch as humans consider the matter at all, as in general the vast majority obviously can’t be expected to take this into account, so any fantasies about persuading people on a large scale of this are just that, fantasies, delusions. It must be imposed and enforced; no exceptions, no excuses.
Of course, all of this makes things usually get really ugly, really fast when talking to people. For full disclosure, the concepts themselves make the vast majority lash out and my vehemence and the coercive and punitive measures I advocate for those who won’t respond to the carrot, as they say, led to me even being kicked out of movements ostensibly dedicated to solving the issue, such as Global Population Speak Out some time after it was taken over by The Population Institute and the more radical opinions that its founder readily accepted along with the rest started being pushed aside. Was also told that if it ever becomes a realistic option we’ll meet on opposite sides of the barricades, weapons in hand, which was a stance I guess I could respect even though I’d much rather armed conflict be avoided if possible, or that I need to be lynched for my views, which is quite funny when I’m advocating for all of this in order to avoid killing or letting people, and other species, die.