David Attenborough—famous for hosting BBC’s The Living Planet and other nature documentaries—has recently drawn headlines for lambasting humans as a “plague on the Earth.”
That someone of Attenborough’s stature (he has been knighted, among other official honors, and is so popular in the U.K. that he was named one the One-Hundred Greatest Britons in a 2002 BBC poll) would compare us to cholera evidences how mainstream anti-humanism has become within the environmental movement. Indeed, in the wake of the media firestorm about Attenborough’s remark, Population Matters—the U.K.’s largest population control trust, for which Attenborough serves as a patron—affirmed the analogy as “apt,” stating that we are indeed “like a plague of locusts, which consumes all it sees and then dies off.”
This is nothing new for environmentalists. In 1972, the young David Suzuki told students: “One of the things I’ve gotten off on lately is that basically . . . we’re all fruit flies.” He likened us to “maggots” who are “born as an egg” and “eventually hatch out and start crawling around” eating and “defecating all over the environment.”
One might forgive the excessive zeal of a young radical in a socially radical time for calling us embryonic flies. But given the opportunity in 2009 in a Canadian television interview to retract his insulting depiction of humanity, the now world-famous Suzuki demurred, lamenting merely that “Humanity is humanity. . . I just wish they’d stop being so human!”
In recent years, deep misanthropy has seeped into the popular culture. For example, the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still starred Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, an alien come to earth to commit total genocide to “save the earth.” At the end, he shows “mercy” by stripping us of our technology—an event which, were it actually to occur, would result in billions of human deaths. Illustrating how times have changed, the 1951 original version had Klaatu on earth to save humans, not wipe us out.
This deep misanthropy has found its way into curricula. A few years ago, for example, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website carried a children’s feature called Planet Slayer, featuring “Dr. Schpinkee’s Greenhouse Calculator,” with which kids added up their carbon score. The game ended with a “carbon hog” bloodily exploding. Data then told children how much longer they could live until they used up their respective “share of the planet”—strongly implying a duty to die thereafter in order not to be a plague on the earth.
Deep misanthropy has helped renew the Malthusian drive to radically depopulate the planet of people as a remedy for environmental ills and human deprivation. Population Matters, for example, would have us voluntarily reduce our current population of seven billion by about half to save the planet. Another Population Matters patron, Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, says the optimal human count would be much lower, around 1.5 billion.
Like The Day the Earth Stood Still, such advocacy has distinct genocidal overtones. But the Malthusians always assure us that they only support “non-coercive” measures, such as legally mandated access to “reproductive health”—which means, in part, contraception and universal abortion-on-demand.
But actual population reduction to the extent for which the Malthusians yearn can’t be accomplished voluntarily. Consider China’s infamous “one child” policy. Despite more than forty years of forced abortion, ubiquitous female infanticide, eugenics, and other draconian population control policies, the population in China continues to grow. Indeed, while China’s tyrannical policies have succeeded in slowing of the rate of growth, today the country has a larger population than any time in its history.
Massive depopulation would also require mass euthanasia of the aging and infirm—in part in order to balance the population pyramid. In this regard, the Japanese Finance Minister recently opined that his country’s elderly should “hurry up and die,” and yet, he retains his position.
The Malthusians also want radical wealth redistribution. Thus, the “vision” of Population Matters advocates:
Sustainability means greater equity. Renewable resources are insufficient for many to live in great luxury, while continued dire poverty is a recipe for resource overexploitation and conflict. Our vision, then, is of a global community with a relatively equal lifestyle, living in balance with nature and respecting the valid claims of all of its members.
“All its members,” of course, means flora and fauna.
The ongoing convergence of deep misanthropy, radical Malthusianism, and renewed advocacy for wealth redistribution is very dangerous. Advocates always claim that the profound changes they seek will be accomplished freely. But these are all Utopian endeavors, meaning that the perceived all-important ends will come eventually to justify coercive means.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. He also consults for the Patients Rights Council and the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His previous “On the Square” articles can be found here.
“David Attenborough—Humans are a Plague on Earth,” Telegraph, January 22, 2013,
Population Matters, “Is Humanity a Plague?”
New York Post, “Enviro Mental Institution”
Facts and Details, “Population of China”
The Guardian, “Let elderly people ‘hurry up and die,’ says Japanese minister”
Population Matters, “Vision” statement
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