Conservationists and environmentalists often talk about the ecological footprint. That is the area required to provide one’ s way of life. Those with a higher lifestyle have a higher footprint than people with a lower lifestyle.
The typical footprint in western nations is such, that if the standard of life is raised to western levels, the resources of our planet will be insufficient.
The are two base attitudes towards this problem. One point of view is that the inhabitants of more affluent countries are living on too great feet and hence has to give up some of their wealth. The other extreme is that there are simply too many people on earth and hence the number of humans should be reduced.
The latter position is defended by the hard greens. They often take an “ecocentric” position and see humanity as a negative factor. Hard greens argue that the earth’s biosphere is more important than human well-being.
The voluntary human extinction movement (VHEMT) sees the gradual and voluntary extinction as the solution for the environmental problems of our planet. Pentti Linkola want to reduce the number of humans to about 600 million, though not necessarily through voluntary means.
These two examples are, of course, extremes. Nevertheless it is obvious that population reduction would benefit the environment. Natural ecosystems could recover if less area is too be used by humanity.
The question is how population reduction is to be achieved. The VHEMT simply wants us to stop reproducing and over time the number of humans will decline. Linkola, on the other hand, advocates more violent methods to reduce human populations.
Both methods have one thing in common: humanity should be reduced through the death of the “surplus” of humans. It would be obvious that we disagree with the hard green, not in the last place because of their rampant antihumanism. Fortunately this is not the only way to reduce the number of humans.
Gerard O’Neill had the dream of a deindustrialized earth with a total human population of about one billion, where natural environments could recover from the damages caused by industrialization. Unlike the hard green, he wanted to achieve this by a combination of birth control and space colonization.
Birth control to decrease the pace of the growth of the world population and space colonization to relocate a large number of people.
I need to make two remarks here. First, O’Neill wrote his book in the 1970s, when there were only four billion people. He believed, at the time, that space colonization would become a reality between 1990 and 2005. Secondly, he believed that it would be possible relocate 200 million people each year – provided that there would be sufficient spacecrafts.
Though I believe that O’Neill’s vision is unrealistic, it is not without merit. Assuming that the world population will stabilize after 2050 at 10 billion people, it would make sense to ship off people from our planet to free space habitats.
Sending someone into space does have an impact on our environment. On the other hand, however, if someone leaves the planet, the earth is freed from a polluter. For that reason O’Neill believed that conservationists should encourage emigration to space.
From a conservationist perspective the sooner we start with space colonization, the better it will be for the planet. It would be pity if we will start with colonizing space only after all wildlife has become extinct.