At the present time, there is, among much of the world’s human population, a dangerous tendency to confound human success with longevity. What I mean by this is that our species’ spectacular cultural and evolutionary success, which is indubitable, is not at all the same as our species’ longevity, for this is an entirely different matter. Moreover, there is a false sense of security that comes from living among a large group of people, which observation also applies to the global human population at the present time. We have become so numerous that many of us believe it is impossible that our species will become extinct, whether in the near or distant future. However, it is completely wrong to assume that our scientific and technological advances, which are the primary reasons for our species’ success over all other living creatures, also imply that we are improving our long-term chances of survival. In fact, I declare that these two things are diametrically opposed to each other.
One of the effects of scientific advances in medicine and the study of diseases has been an alarming increase in the global human population, to the point that we are seriously altering, depleting, burdening, upsetting, and destroying both natural and physical systems all over the world. Moreover, because of all the many technological “improvements” in our lives, human beings are consuming far more of everything – food, water, trees, land, fish, plants, animals, minerals, metals, energy, living space, and so forth – than our ancestors did, while we have correspondingly increased the amount of garbage, waste, pollutants, carbon dioxide, and toxic and radioactive substances that we are producing.
Because we foolish humans believe that we have outwitted Nature by freeing ourselves from the ravages of famine, disease, war, and predators, all of which served to check the human population in the past, and because we are not willing to let our children die of famine, war, or disease, or let them be eaten by predators, then it logically follows that the only way we can reduce the total human population to a more sane and sustainable level is if as many people as possible make the decision not to have any children.
By caring only about the survival of our human progeny, we are making it increasingly difficult, and in many cases impossible, for the progeny of other species, both plant and animal, to survive. For, although human babies may look sweet, adorable, and innocent, every human child that is born, especially if that child is born in a wealthy industrialized country, is another voracious, oil-guzzling, and mass-consuming monster which will contribute to our accelerating devastation of the planet. During the past decades and centuries, it has always been the case that each generation has consumed and polluted more, while taking up more space, than the preceding generation, due to our numbers multiplying like a deadly infestation. Another reason for this increased consumption is the simple fact that people are living longer and longer, which means that they have many more years in which to consume things and pollute the planet. Hence, even if one drives a car, eats meat, lives in a big house, flies in a plane to different parts of the world, and buys many artificial things one doesn’t need, if one has no children, then there will be no one to copy and perpetuate one’s bad habits of consuming and polluting which are causing so much harm all over the world.
But, you will say, even if I don’t have any children, there will be other people who will have children, and surely one small, single child will not make any difference in the grand scheme of things. However, it is precisely this attitude – that one more child does not matter – that has led us to the present alarming situation. For there are many millions and billions of people who, when they debate whether or not to have a child, or how many children they want to have, think only of themselves and how it will affect them, while they think nothing at all of how their selfish decision will affect all the other creatures that live on the Earth. In this age of mass hyper-consumption and planetary-wide environmental degradation, not having children is the greatest, most generous gift that a human being can give to all the many other organisms with which we share the planet, and, indirectly, to our own species.
Although it may seem paradoxical or counterintuitive, the only way we can ensure the long-term survival of our species is by reducing the global human population. By how much? The answer is, by as much as possible. The Earth most certainly does not need 7 billion people. It does not need 6, 5, 4, 3, or even 2 billion people. These were milestones that were surpassed for the very first time in the Earth’s extremely long history only in the past hundred years.
In 1800, world population stood at about one billion; by 1930 it had doubled to two billion. Only 30 years later (in 1960) it had doubled again to four billion; currently we are on track to achieve a third doubling, to eight billion humans, around 2025.
For the millions of years that human beings have been around, they probably did not number more than 100 million people. During that time, it is erroneously believed that our species’ existence was precarious; and yet, the fact that our human ancestors were able to survive for such a long time disproves this common belief.
Now that we have solved the perennial problems of having enough to eat and defending ourselves from predators and disease, we now face the even greater problems caused by our too-great success. As paradoxical as it may sound, our species has never been in greater peril of extinction – of disappearing forever from the face of the Earth – than it is at the present time, when our numbers and, more importantly, our voracious consumption and destruction of the natural world have reached a truly frenzied and unsustainable apex from which the only way we can go is down, down, down.
For several centuries and millennia, we humans have wallowed in the narcissistic belief that we are a special race, favoured by God and created in His image, and that we are destined to do great things in the world. Moreover, many of us believe that this fertile planet, along with all the many different creatures that exist on it, were created solely for our use, to do with as we please. But now, when the extremely destructive effects of our diabolical scientific and technological wizardry are becoming more and more visible all over the world, it should be clear that the only thing we will accomplish by continuing on this suicidal path is our extinction – both because we were not wise enough to change course while there was still time, and because we selfishly and thoughtlessly caused the wanton destruction of so many of the Earth’s living creatures, on which we depend for our survival, so that we no longer deserved to exist, having become the greatest living menace that this ancient and nurturing planet has ever known.
If we are truly wise, as we flatter ourselves to be, then we will voluntarily reduce our population by as much as possible, in order to give the Earth’s many non-human inhabitants the chance to recover from their depleted numbers and multiply, as they formerly did before our catastrophic demographic success. For if we do not make this reduction voluntarily, it is my belief that it will be done for us, as a necessary purge to restore the balance that we have so greatly upset. By doing so, we will reduce our destructive impact on the land, water, and air, which, together, form the hospitable substrates in which this truly incredible and mysterious thing called Life is able to flourish in this otherwise barren Universe.
 During the course of the twentieth century, the average life expectancy in the most developed countries rose from a little over forty years to more than seventy years, and close to eighty years in a few countries. In a hypothetical country with a reproduction rate that remains fixed at 2.1 children per woman, which is roughly the rate that is needed to maintain the population at a steady figure, if the life expectancy were to double, for example, from forty to eighty years of age, then the population would also roughly double, even though there is no increase in the number of children being born. This is because there would be many people still alive who, in the previous era, would have died at a younger age.
 The End of Growth by Richard Heinberg, Introduction. New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, British Columbia, 2011.
 People who make this assumption are mistaking our species’ lack of dominance with precariousness, which are two seemingly related but in reality very different things. To us, bacteria and microbes seem fragile and precarious organisms because of their microscopic size, their very short individual existence, and the ease with which any one of them can be killed. Moreover, because they are invisible to the naked human eye, most people would declare that they cannot possibly be said to dominate the world. But the fact that bacteria have existed continuously for billions of years shows that these beliefs are completely mistaken. We judge and interpret the world according to a very narrow human standard, a tendency that often leads us astray, so that we are prone to making false judgments about the world.