Why ‘The planet will be fine without us’ is an inconsiderate argument

Chernobyl Pripyat Playground (2019), photograph by Carsten Brink (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

The planet will be fine without us – That’s what I hear people say quite often recently. What people mean when they say this, I think, is that we shouldn’t worry or grieve too much about ecosystem breakdown because – once humans will be extinct – the planet will recover and new life will emerge. To emphasize their point, people sometimes compare humans to a ‘cancer killing planetary life’. The sooner we ‘erase ourselves’, the better it’ll be for the planet, because then everything can regenerate in the absence of our wrongdoing.

What bothers me about this argument isn’t so much its anti-humanism. I can understand that people are frustrated with ‘our species’ – although it’s worth noting that not all of us are equally responsible for ecosystem breakdown. Historically considered (i.e. in terms of cumulative emissions), the Global North is responsible for 92 percent of the excess carbon emissions that are now driving global heating. Meanwhile, the richest 10 percent of the world population were responsible for more than 50 percent of all carbon emissions of the last two decades. The majority of ‘our species’ is this thus pretty innocent when it comes to global heating. So why should all these people just accept their own annihilation?

This connects to my next point, which is that the argument The planet will be fine without us is usually exchanged among people whose livelihood is not (yet) directly threatened by ecosystem breakdown. Would you go to someone who just lost loved ones and their home in the recent floods in Pakistan and say: ‘What you’re experiencing is just the early phase of a somewhat ugly process by the end of which our species will be extinct. But – don’t worry – the planet will be fine!’ The planet will be fine without us is an argument of privilege – articulated by those who are not yet severely hit by the effects of ecosystem breakdown and it’s cruelties (hunger, loss, illness, etc). Were they hit, then they couldn’t cast their hopes into a far-away future of planetary healing. Were they hit, then they’d put all their efforts into survival, which – in a way – would run counter to their plea for an as-quick-as-possible human self-annihilation.

But, in any case, people usually don’t mean themselves when they advocate human self-annihilation for the sake of the planet. It’s others who should go. Personally, I understand how this sentiment can come from a deep frustration with what humans are capable of doing to each other and to other life forms. When I see how animals are mass tortured in the contemporary meat and dairy industry – and how this is being widely tolerated – then I also think that we might deserve to go extinct. But that argument as well misses the point, because we’ll take down many other species with us.

Already today, plants and animals are dying out at a rate unprecedented in our approximately 300.000 year long species-history. Now already, it makes my heart sink to witness this loss – when I read of thousands of seabirds dead in their nests or washed ashore due to extreme heatwaves, for example, or of stranded turtles who had ingested nothing but plastic. I dread the moment when I will witness ecosystem breakdown at my own doorstep, attend to the suffering it creates. It’s important to keep in mind that if we continue on the path we’re on, then – yes – humans might go extinct and never come back. Before that’ll happen, however, uncountable animal and plant species will die out as well – and they won’t come back either.

The planet will be fine without us is therefore an inconsiderate argument. It soothes me about as much as knowing that the car is fine after the lethal car crash that killed all passengers. Yes, the car may be used by others in the future, but the previous passengers will be gone forever. To make sure that this will not happen, let’s stop inventing intelligent excuses for our own inaction and instead try our best to save ourselves and some other fantastic creatures. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s