The issue of human population is notoriously taboo and when it is discussed it’s often downplayed and assessed from an anthropocentric (human-focused) perspective. This taboo exists in both the environmental and animal rights movements. Even the film Cowspiracy has a segment that plays down population concerns when compared to animal agriculture. Consumption and the number of consumers are of course two sides to the same coin.
This anthropocentric focus is a necessity because if we are to factor in our impacts on the millions of other species and the requirements of each new human it quickly becomes clear we are cause a disproportionate amount of harm. Human population affects all earthlings, this includes human animals, other animals and not least the new human who comes into existence.
The current human population as of writing this article is in excess of 7.4 billion. The total number added to this finite planet rises by 230,000 new humans every single day (after deaths) and is predicted by a conservative UN estimate to be at 11.2 billion and rising in 2100. That’s if we can be sustained for that long.
We go into ecological overshoot (the point at which the earth can no longer replenish what we take) at an earlier point every year and we are causing the collapse of the oceans and fueling climate change through our activities. Should we as vegans want to add extra numbers to what many scientists have now designated The Anthropocene Epoch?
The Anthropocene, a geological age in which humans have significantly influenced the Earth’s atmosphere, has seen wild animals half in total number since 1970 according to the WWF. In the same period human animals doubled in number. We intensify the basic rate of extinction by 1000-10,000 times, 200 species a day. We get the dubious honour of being the first species to drive an extinction event. We are the asteroid. We are the volcano.
“But we vegans don’t contribute to extinctions! We photosynthesise then emit oxygen and fairydust!” Sadly not, while we generally require less land and water and produce less pollution than non-vegans who demand the direct exploitation of farmed animals, we still have highly harmful impacts on other animals. All of us will require land for agriculture, housing, fuel/energy, remaining clean water, finite mined resources etc. If we’re in the high consuming western world then multiply these demands further and factor in cars, transport for our food, roads and other infrastructure. These basic requirements will all push wild animals out and require that our activities take place in what was once their habitat.
So, procreation is a huge gamble at the best of times but comes with fixed certainties for those who are concerned with other animals living freely of human encroachment. The idea of purposefully creating “vegan children” is sadly an act in self-deception. Veganism is an ethic that babies and children are unable to subscribe to. The many possible descendants the vegan parent is responsible for will all behave however they choose. These choices will be made in a speciesist society, surrounded by speciesist peers. Remember that most of us rebelled against our non-vegan upbringing.
We live in a pro-birth culture where reproduction is celebrated and rewarded but everyone has the ability to change their mind. Just as many of us were once non-vegan, biological parents are still able to change their message regarding population the adding of new humans in the future.
Some will point to destructive financial systems as responsible for the greater blame. Every new human will be born into a globalised capitalist system and used as the worker/consumer cogs that the machine needs to continue. Let us also note that all other industrial economies and ideologies have been just as destructive environmentally and have also been speciesist. They all harm other animals.
Very few people or nations on Earth are asking to consume less. On the contrary most wish to consume more and see greater opportunities still for their descendants. We can’t replace ourselves with a new fantasy animal nor is the hope of reducing our consumption (or everyone magically becoming vegan) an argument that humans are not overpopulated.
What if we just replace ourselves? Unlike some animals we don’t reproduce and then die. Instead we multiply exponentially. Children, parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents often all live at the same time and make impacts simultaneously. Remember that other people will continue to have as many as they want, ours would be additional, on top of the existing growth.
Vegans are conscientious people who wish to opt out of causing unnecessary harm, not contributing further to what naturalist and Population Matters charity patron David Attenborough has described as “the human plague” could be said to be the very least we can do. We don’t believe in breeding new dogs when so many are already in need of homes. If we are to be consistent then adoption is the ethical imperative for those who possess a strong parenting urge.
Many of the contrary, anthropocentric arguments will resemble the excuses used by non-vegans, “It’s a personal choice! It’s natural! Other animals do it!” Let’s certainly not forget humans are animals too and in addition to the suffering we cause to others we should also factor in the suffering the future descendants will experience. Suffering is implicit to life and as such I believe it wrong to needlessly throw another being into existence. This could be especially prudent given the dire warnings coming from scientific papers regarding life in an ecologically ravaged era of climate change, food shortages, water wars and civilisation collapse. The value of each individual already drops and becomes cheaper with more and more of us.
All social justice issues rely on a habitable planet in order to stage them. With 230,000 new humans being added to the planet, all causes are lost causes and all problems are made worse. We need to look upstream instead of dealing with the downstream symptoms.
It is not compassionate to be laissez-faire regarding the adding of new humans into such a chaotic future and as I have shown, our concerns as vegans should be wider still.
Marcus Dredge is host of The Species Barrier, the UK’s first vegan radio show. You can subscribe to the Podcast on Itunes, follow on Twitter, Facebook etc and check the homepage at: http://www.thespeciesbarrier.com/