|Surrealist painting of industrialized human, artist unknown|
- There are now more than 7.5 billion humans on Earth.
- It took until the early 1800s for the human population to reach one billion. Now we add a billion humans every 12-15 years.
- 10,000 years ago, humans made up 1% of vertebrate land animals. Today, free-living nonhumans make up just 1%. The other 99% are humans, our food-industry captives, and our domesecrated pets.
- Populations of free-living nonhumans have halved since 1970, whereas the human population has doubled.
The human population crisis can be a contentious subject for many people. I touched briefly on it in a Facebook post a couple of years ago and managed to release all kinds of vitriol. I had noted that the best way to help the planet is to adopt a vegan diet and not have children. Some folks lost their minds and inferred that I was condemning them for the children they already had. My mere intention was to encourage people to rethink their future eating and breeding habits.
Last month a group of more than 15,000 world scientists concurred and issued a Second Warning to Humanity (since we didn't heed the first alarm back in 1992). They report that we are failing greatly to restrict human population and economic growth, among other threats, and that we must "re-examine and change our individual behaviors including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most) and drastically diminishing our per capita consumption of fossil fuels, meat [flesh], and other resources."
Some 20 years ago a college friend pointed out that choosing to procreate is a selfish and egocentric act. Like most human-centered speciesists, I didn't give it much thought, but it made a lot of sense. "Therefore because the [parent] has enjoyed sensual pleasure, the [child] must live, suffer, and die," scribed 19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.
People will go to great lengths to create mini-mes. The wealthier among us opt for technological extremes like In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), uterus transplants, or pay poorer surrogates to carry their children. And still—much like homeless nonhuman companions—the ranks of homeless human children in need of forever loving homes never seem to wane.
Humans are often no less prejudiced about their own species than they are about their own skin color, religion, or nationality. Self-interest and self-justification are huge drivers in everything we do. As a human in a human-extremist world, I didn't always think about how my living and doing afflicted other animals, but now I make a point of reassessing everything.
Being an ethical vegan, I'm very concerned about my intrusion on innocent nonhumans and their environments, therefore, my activism extends to my reproductive choices, no less so than any other choice I make. My purpose is to reduce suffering, not increase it. As such, I feel a responsibility not to bring any more humans into an already overburdened world.
The impact humans have had on Earth has been so colossal, even in such a short amount of time (200,000 years), that scientists have dubbed this the Anthropocene Period—age of humans. In their second warning, scientists marked that "we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century."
In her Pulitzer Prize winning book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert details our entry into the Anthropocene Period and the Sixth Extinction. "David Wake, of the University of California-Berkeley, and Vance Vredenburg, of San Francisco State, noted that there 'have been five great mass extinctions during the history of life on this planet.'. . . Those of us alive today not only are witnessing one of the rarest events in life's history, we are also causing it. 'One weedy species,' the pair observed, 'has unwittingly achieved the ability to affect its own fate and that of most of the other species on this planet.' " Kolbert uses each chapter to focus on a particular species encompassing millions of individuals who are either dead or dying because of human omnipresence, speciesism, and the mass slaughter and consumption of other animals and nature.
According to "Meat India" by Sangamithra Iyer, India alone has seen a jump of 340 million humans in only 22 years. In that time 300 McDonald's and 288 Kentucky Fried Chicken stores have opened in India. Land and water resources are strained, and greenhouse gas emissions have multiplied. Universally confined in crowded, dark, and ammonia-saturated factories with no windows; frightened and despairing hens are forced to produce 56 billion more eggs in India alone. Free-living nonhumans can't escape human severity either. A recent photo, “Hell Is Here”, shows two elephants, a mother and her child, screaming and running for their lives after being set on fire by an angry mob of encroaching humans.
And the problem of human population is not relegated to India, but it just may be more visible there because most of the "developed" world is just that—"developed" over. Human expansion, as well as economic interests (read: greed), have simply wiped out most free-living nonhumans and their habitats in other parts of the world like the United States. The raging fires out West have killed and/or displaced thousands, perhaps millions of nonhumans and destroyed their homes, but the speciesist media avoids reporting on their suffering unless humans are involved. The cumulative effect of all this destruction is what David Cantor of Responsible Policies for Animals has coined the Biocaust.
Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been attributed to toxic pesticides, climate change, and other human factors, has caused billions of bees to die and disappear. According to expert entomologists, overall insect populations have declined by 75 percent in the last 25 years, also leading to the deaths of many insect-eating birds. When asked if all insects would perish considering such alarming rates, Martin Sorg, a longstanding member of the Entomological Society in Krefeld, Germany, told a reporter not to worry. “All the vertebrates will die before that,” he said.
There are many reasons why people have children. Sometimes it's mindless and they do it just because that's what everyone else does or because they think that's what they're supposed to do after they find the right job, the right home, and the right spouse. Sometimes people have children to recreate and relive their own childhoods, to save their marriages, as an additional source of labor, or to have someone to take care of them as they age. In the end, people are always consuming even through their children, buying borrowed time.
Aren't there other ways for us to offer love without confining it to the next of kin? We demand motherhood and reproductive rights for ourselves but we deny it to other animals whose reproduction we control and exploit for more of their own babies, flesh, milk, and eggs. We breed countless numbers of nonhumans for pet consumption and then decry their homelessness and euphemistically call their murders "euthanasia." Each time we create, we destroy. We act as though we care, but our actions say otherwise.
"Zoos readily sacrifice individuals to the supposed eventual good of species. Of course, the sacrificed individuals never include humans, even though human population causes environmental devastation and humans are the primary destroyers of species and ecosystems," discerned Joan Dunayer in Animal Equality: Language and Liberation. "Like all other speciesists, zoo professionals apply a double standard. Zoo apologists contend that nonhuman rights would accelerate the extinction of species. The opposite is true. Humans' presumed right to kill nonhumans and take their land has caused the widespread extinction that zoos publicly bewail. In a society that respected nonhuman rights, it would be illegal to kill nonhuman animals . . . Their habitats would be off-limits to further 'development.' Instead of manipulating nonhuman reproduction, humans would curtail their own."
Humans are not entitled to everything in nature. Nonhumans are not inferior, and they should not have to suffer and endure proliferating and abusive industries, policies, cultures, and practices created and maintained by humans with superiority complexes.
"By the legal standards of human democratic societies, nonhumans are innocent. Yet, the law fails to protect them. . . . We're guilty if we participate in needless, unjust practices that cause suffering or death. Most humans are guilty. Yet, the law fails to punish them," continued Dunayer.
Human population growth adversely affects both nonhumans and humans. More humans mean more violence, war, and competition for land and diminishing clean water; more hunger, poverty, and economic inequality, lower wages and higher unemployment; more devastating floods, fires, and storms; more disease, pollution, and rising temperatures, and on and on. All of our pain and suffering is self-inflicted.
To abide on the current path is not only unsustainable, inequitable, and unethical—it is insane! Unfortunately, we will most likely carry on just as we have been until our collective hand is forced and it will be too late. The innocent will be punished along with the guilty. Perhaps we have "Until the year 2100, maybe, surely no longer than that," wrote Stephen King in The Stand. "Maybe not that long. Time enough for poor old Mother Earth to recycle herself a little. A season of rest."
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