Sacramento — During a recent drive from Portland, Oregon, to Sacramento, I spotted a bizarre billboard along Interstate 5 that proclaimed, “A lot of humans wish they never were born.” That’s no doubt true and a fascinating concept to discuss with friends after drinking too much merlot or visiting the cannabis store, but billboards in big cities can cost thousands of dollars a month. What type of folks would spend the cash to proclaim that depressing message?
The large-lettered sign directs readers to the StopHavingKids.org website, which is part of an international “anti-natalist” movement that’s trying to convince people from every country and walk of life to stop giving birth. There’s a Monty Python nature to the website — so much so that I had to spend some time Googling to make sure the campaigners aren’t pulling our legs. To save the Earth, apparently we need to phase out humanity.
After the ads for merchandise (including hoodies with the “Stop Having Kids” message), I found this quotation from South African philosopher David Benatar:
Although the good things in one’s life make it go better than it otherwise would have gone, one could not have been deprived by their absence if one had not existed. Those who never exist cannot be deprived. However, by coming into existence one does suffer quite serious harms that could not have befallen one had one not come into existence.
Try to wrap your head around that one. The site lists many reasons that being a human is so awful — slavery, environmental degradation, climate change, birth defects and assorted suffering — but my favorite one revolves around the issue of consent. “If every person gave consent to play the game of life then I personally wouldn’t have any objection to that,” one anti-natalist told the BBC. I’m a big fan of consent and contracts, but it might be a challenge to address that conundrum.
Environmental ideology has gotten so drab that it’s even causing mental problems for its adherents.
Anyway, I appreciate that the group is adamant that it only wants to convince — not force — humans to stop procreating. And you’ve got to admire its bare-knuckled honesty. Frankly, many advocates for radical environmental policies try to hide their goals and motives. They don’t seem to like humanity very much either, but the anti-natalists just come right out and say that bringing a person into existence is an existential form of abuse. That takes moxie.
Unlike California’s environmentalist lawmakers who claim to be bettering mankind, the stop-mankind people aren’t busy tormenting us beyond posting some billboards. The latest legislative nonsense is a new law that requires Californians to recycle our food waste. They try to ban everything that makes our lives comfortable, from internal combustion engines to natural-gas heating — and even throw in bans on straws and plastic bags. These folks are downers.
No wonder. Environmental ideology has gotten so drab that it’s even causing mental problems for its adherents. A recent article in the Sierra Club magazine offered advice on how to create a happy and green world, which is a useful idea given how unhappy many of its readers seem to be: “Other climate-aware therapy might only focus on helping you cope with your feelings of climate grief. You can find a therapist through the Climate Psychiatry Alliance” or through another support group that’s “helping people turn eco-anxiety into action.”
Then again, Sierra Club notes that “trauma can be passed down epigenetically in DNA from our ancestors,” so maybe anti-natalism is right about the future. Still, at least the article was trying to be helpful. After reading a piece last month in the New Yorker about how “refrigeration became an agent of climate catastrophe,” I might agree that ending the human race is the only plausible solution.
To most of us, modern heating and cooling is a godsend — a great innovation that, well, if I have to explain it you then you’ve obviously never spent a summer in the Sacramento Valley or thought about the logistics of keeping meat chilled on blocks of ice. But writer David Owen, while admitting that his modern home has refrigerators and four-zone air conditioning, laments the futility of battling climate change by improving energy efficiency:
The (International Energy Agency) says that if we successfully implement what it calls an “Efficient Cooling Scenario,” by optimizing the energy efficiency of our cooling machines, we could save almost three trillion dollars by 2050. If we really do that, though, we will have three trillion to spend on something else, and whatever we spend it on will inevitably have climate consequences of its own.… Making useful technologies more efficient makes them cheaper, and as they become cheaper we use them more and find more uses for them, just as adding lanes to congested highways makes driving more attractive, not less.
That’s a grim take on the world, but perhaps those Sierra Club-recommended support groups offer some answers. Technological advancement via capitalism has eroded poverty, improved human lives, and led to vast environmental advancements — yet so many mainstream writers view it as the enemy. Three weeks ago, I wrote about the Atlantic’s odd case against capitalism, as its writer offered a critique of — get this — hobbies. “The anxieties of capitalism are not confined to the workplace,” wrote Julie Beck in decrying the zeal by which Americans pursue running, hiking, biking, and knitting.
Note that the friends of capitalism (and even some conservatives seem to be its enemies, also) generally like human beings and appreciate — even marvel at — the innovations that our fellows create. We’re also concerned about environmental issues, but you won’t find us among the ranks of those who want to torment — or extinguish — humanity.
Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at email@example.com.