Many people want to save the Earth, but most of them are concerned about the deteriorating environment that is causing human misery and extinction.
Les Knight, the founder of the Voluntary Human Verification movement, wants humans to go extinct in order to save the planet from us.
It’s an unusual point of view, if not exactly unique these days. Over the decades he’s argued about the demise of the human species, he’s garnered quite a following and more than his share of attention. With the world passing the 8 billion population record for the first time, The New York Times decided to do a profile. I have to admit it was interesting on a number of levels and well worth reading.
It’s not often one reads a profile of a truly happy man who wishes his human child dead, and Les seems to be a happy man with a strange preference for Gaia.
PORTLAND, Ore. – For someone who wants his species extinct, Les Knight is a pretty happy man.
He regularly organized meteor shower parties with fireworks on the roof. He organized a long-running game of bare croquet in his yard, which, it should be noted, was surrounded by 20-foot-high laurel hedges. Not even Tucker Carlson could match Mr. Knight’s courage. During an interview with Mr. Knight on MSNBC in 2005, Mr. Carlson criticized him for espousing the “sickest” beliefs, but later added: “You’re one of the funniest guests we’ve ever had.”
Mr. Knight, 75, is the founder of the Voluntary Human Verification movement, which is less a movement than a loose consortium of people who believe the best thing people can do to help the Earth is to stop having children.
Mr. Knight added the word “voluntary” decades ago to make clear that proponents were not advocating mass murder or forced birth control, nor encouraging suicide. Their ethos is reflected in the motto “Long live and die” and another slogan that Mr. Knight hangs at various conventions and street fairs: “Thank you for not growing.”
No wonder he lives in Portland. Maybe if I did, I would also think that the human race would disappear. Just kidding!
Most environmentalists express their love for the Earth in self-interested terms. We’re depleting resources, killing vital species, destroying potential medicines in rainforests…you know the drill, and in many cases there’s some truth to the warnings.
Human flourishing must be compatible with conservation, and the richer the society, the more efforts are made to protect the environment. The more wealth there is, the healthier the Earth will be in the long run.
Look at a satellite photo of Hispaniola and you can literally see the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as poor Haiti has been deforested due to severe poverty.
Preserving earth’s ecology to ensure human flourishing is not Les’ idea. Rather, he believes the Earth would be better off without us. The land is a moral priority, not the health and well-being of our species.
But rarely has anyone gone as openly as Mr. Knight, who was childless and had a vasectomy in 1973 at the age of 25. Mr. Knight says that despite our many achievements, humans are causing net damage to the Earth.
“Look what we’ve done to this planet,” Mr. Knight said during a conversation in his sunny backyard one warm morning this fall. “We’re not the good kind.”
What a strange point of view. It is based on the idea that the Earth’s ecosystem is a kind of Eden, and humans brought the original sin of consumption. This is so far from the truth that there is no way to reconcile the vision with reality.
Nature is beautiful, especially when it is a little tamed. It is easy to see the forest as a kind of temple. I pass through Idaho, Montana, Utah or Arizona and marvel at the wonders. California’s sequoias, redwood forests, and even Death Valley will leave you breathless. You couldn’t pay me to go to the wildest places like the Amazon because they could be death traps.
All life is predatory in some way. Life feeds on life. Beavers build dams. Bears tear salmon apart. Wolves tear apart their prey. This is the cycle of life and people are part of this cycle. We are no more trouble on earth than a wolf or an eagle. It is immoral to think otherwise. From bacteria to whales, there is a type of predator.
And as Elon Musk constantly points out, we are the pinnacle of consciousness, at least in the solar system. And nature is awakened precisely through consciousness. We tend to assign moral value to how high a being’s level of consciousness is, as it seems appropriate.
His beliefs were based on deep ecology, which challenged assumptions of human dominance and argued that other species were equally important. Mr. Knight came to see humans as the most destructive of invasive species and as super predators.
“We arrived and then we were confused,” Mr Knight said. “And since we’re smart enough, we should know enough to finish it.”
“People remember the music and art and literature and the great things we did – it’s funny how they never remember the bad things we did,” he said. “I don’t think the whales will miss our songs.”
Although the United States has seen births rise during the coronavirus pandemic, reversing the country’s declining birth rate, a 2020 survey found that one in four childless Americans cited climate change as the cause. Research has shown that having fewer children is perhaps the single most important way to reduce your carbon footprint, and although Mr Knight doesn’t like to impose his beliefs on people, he likes to think that there are some people who do not exist because of his efforts.
Deep ecology is full of heresy, but the funniest is seeing human predation as something particularly abhorrent. The whales Mr. Knight mentions feed on krill, a less conscious species, but they live on nonetheless. Eating them is no more morally questionable than people who eat lobster. Life goes on in almost every situation.
At the core of Deep Ecology, as much as it elevates Nature to divine status, it hates life itself. Life is predatory. Even plants live by mining the earth for nutrients, just as humans mine the earth for minerals. “Consumption” is what living things do; to despise consumption is to despise the essence of being alive.
Perhaps Mercury or Pluto could satisfy the spiritual desires of jovial Les Knight, but I fear that the voluntary extinction of humans would leave predatory life alive and well on planet Earth.
After all, hating a person is synonymous with hating life itself. And this, it seems to me, is at the foundation of Voluntary Human Absence.
Which I guess makes sense in Portland.