The International Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT), is a special interest “movement” advanced by people “who care about life” on planet earth, if you’re not human, that is. According to their web site they are not “just a bunch of misanthropes and anti-social, Malthusian misfits,”…. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They just want Voluntary human extinction as a humanitarian alternative to human disasters.
“We don’t carry on about how the human race has shown itself to be a greedy, amoral parasite on the once-healthy face of this planet. That type of negativity offers no solution to the inexorable horrors which human activity is causing. Rather, The Movement presents an encouraging alternative to the callous exploitation and wholesale destruction of Earth’s ecology.”
All they want is for the human race to stop breeding so that the human species will go extinct allowing plants and animals to live in joyous harmony with mother earth. “Each time another one of us decides to not add another one of us to the burgeoning billions already squatting on this ravaged planet, another ray of hope shines through the gloom.” WOW doesn’t that just give you chills of joy, or something?
VHEMT was founded in 1991 by Les U. Knight, a substitute middle school teacher in Portland, Oregon who, after becoming disenchanted with environmental group ZERO Population Growth’s slogan of “stop at two,” imagined a more effective alternative – “stop at zero.” The VHEMT, according to Knight, is not a “code of behavior to live by” and “it can’t get into arguments, tell people what to do and think, nor get punched for doing so.” It’s only concern is ceasing all human reproduction, to allow the environment to recover.
Knight claims that the idea has always existed in the private thoughts of a few enlightened people throughout history, and that he has merely provided a name and context for it. This is dubious, although many writers and organizations have raged against the environmental dangers of overpopulation, such as Thomas Malthus’s infamous An Essay on the Principles of Population published in 1798; and numerous population hippy acid focused groups such as Population-Environment Balance and Zero Population Growth or the Church of Euthanasia headed by Chris Korda, who , following the instructions of an “alien intelligence known as The Being,” advocated for the suicide and cannibalism of everyone on earth.
The movement’s goals are rendered impossible by their own logic. If we are to assume that humans are so selfish/destructive that the earth is better off without us, it also holds that we’re too selfish/destructive to ever actually allow ourselves to die off. But let’s humor them. Say, against all odds, that today, everyone on Earth agreed to allow humanity to die out, and the decision was reached peacefully and democratically. The last humans would be born roughly nine months from now. They’d probably become minor celebrities, and TV news shows would speculate about who the last person alive might be. At first, there wouldn’t really be any noticeable changes. But within twenty years, as about fifty-six million people die each year, the population would dip from seven billion to less than six billion; in forty years, less than five. Cities would slowly empty of people, as if they had sprung a leak. Resources would be less scarce, for a time. It’d suddenly be easier to get a cab at rush hour in New York. At night, alarms would go off in the distance, from rusting cars belonging to no one.
In sixty years, some three-and-a-half billion people would remain. The youngest people in the world would be sixty years old. Infrastructure would have started to crumble. At some point, there wouldn’t be the critical mass of people required to maintain power plants and bridges and sewage treatment plants all at once. People would probably be too old to work to maintain them. Life would become more primitive. What would these remaining people be like? How much of our basic humanity is chained to the idea of survival and history, that once unmoored might drift completely away? What does it matter if you’re the last one left?
In eighty years, a little more than 2.3 billion people would remain, optimistically assuming a peaceful wind down. Maybe. Without infrastructure, and a supportive community of healthy people, and modern medicine, it’s hard to imagine people living beyond eighty. In any case, by this point, the population would very quickly crash. Sometime within those few decades, the last person would collapse, unburied, leaving the Earth to rehabilitate. Before dying off, the last humans might build monuments, to commemorate how they made a noble choice to kill themselves to save the planet. In 7.2 million years, those monuments would fall apart, leaving no evidence that we ever existed. After that, based on the timeline of the far future: In eight hundred million years, all multi-cellular organisms would die out. In another seven billion years or so, the sun would expand in its red giant phase and obliterate the Earth. In 1010120 years, all the energy in the universe would extinguish, leaving an infinite void.
That’s the joke about the VHEMT: Regardless of when and how we leave, the ending’s always the same.