Should We “Flick the Switch On Humanity Itself”? – Ask Leo.

Leo Hickman of the Guardian recently attacked Climate Depot’s Marc Morano for the “rhetoric and tone” of Climate Depot. But what of his own “rhetoric and tone”? Does he eschew inflammatory and emotive rhetoric that might lead to people getting the wrong idea?

Perhaps not always: in 2007, Hickman suggested that ultimately it must just be better to exterminate the entire human race. At least that would solve the “problem” of global warming:

If you keep on boiling the answers down, you start to reach a thick, sticky conclusion that says flicking the switch on humanity itself is just about the only act that will ultimately make any difference in the grand geophysical scheme of things

Guardian. Ask Leo. April 19th 2007.

That’s not the wrong “rhetoric and tone” at all, is it? After all, if the world’s going to end soon, then there’s no harm in concluding that perhaps we should just wipe out the human race.

Of course, overpopulation is a subject Hickman worries may be linked to global warming, leading him to wonder: “are there too many of us to achieve a sustainable future?”. After all, too many people consuming too much electricity could mean no more ice for the polar bears. Something he is heartened that the eldest of his three children understands:

My six-year-old daughter, Esme, the eldest of three, is so far the only one with any concept of climate change. I don’t think she knows the term itself, but she has brought home from school related talk of how “leaving lights on can cause the ice that polar bears live on to melt”.

“That’s right,” I responded warmly, congratulating her on knowing such a thing. Why Don’t We Stop Hurting the Earth?

But then, says Hickman, “I wavered”. Does he really want to scare the crap out of his own kids over global warming? He thinks back to reading stories of nuclear holocaust in his childhood, and how they terrified and traumatized him, and concludes that “It helped to politicise me, but I could have done without the cold sweats.” Of course – there is always the importance of “politicizing” young children to consider.

What of fellow Guardian columnist Susan Blackmore’s comments that “I hope we have bird flu or some other thing that will reduce the population, because otherwise we’re doomed.”? (Apparently, the earth cannot sustain the “current plague of humans” according to Dr Blackmore.)

Is that more the “rhetoric and tone” we want to see? I don’t know. Ask Leo.



Leo Hickman has commented (below) that he wasn’t advocating exterminating the entire human race, and says i didn’t quote the whole paragraph. So here is the whole paragraph so you can see the context of his “flick the switch” remark for yourself:

If you keep on boiling the answers down, you start to reach a thick, sticky conclusion that says flicking the switch on humanity itself is just about the only act that will ultimately make any difference in the grand geophysical scheme of things. But the concept of self-extinction isn’t much of a vote-winner these days. So back in the real world of Saving the Planet™, what are the biggies – the things that will truly make a difference?

Not much of a “vote winner” – he could be right there. What do you think readers?



The Guardian’s Reader’s Room , where they discuss their readers’ reactions to the stories of the week, chooses Leo’s “7 Billion People” story to lead with. Its pick of the readers’ comments? The following thought from someone called ‘Xani’:

“I trust Mother Nature to decimate our species’ numbers when it becomes necessary.”

I’m sure they’re not recommending that, merely discussing “scenarios”.

19 responses to “Should We “Flick the Switch On Humanity Itself”? – Ask Leo.

  1. This man is so concerned with overpopulation and has three kids? (Well, I’ll take it back if at least is adopted or a stepchild.) I have an only child by choice; maybe I should be sainted by the environmentalist extremists…

  2. Quite right Emilia – and when it comes down to it and the ‘lawmakers’ (how I dislike that Americanism) and their supporters start to turn the screws I really don’t care whether their excess children are from multiple relationships or adopted. The source makes no difference to the consumption, if consumption is what matters, and that’s another lesson the kids will need to learn since it’s their future that current generations of empowered sifs are socially engineering and the kids have next to no say in it.

    Cameron is another example. Perhaps worse in some ways.

    Hickman and others might like to consider how they could help an urgent reduction of the the world’s population if they see fit to promote the idea. A quick survey of their own families with a view to a 50% cull by 2020 as a starting point. Who would they put on the short-life list? How would they feel about it?

    50% reduction should provide plenty of space for an overflow influx from other countries without such forward thinking policies. However I suspect it may not get past the Human Rights Laws. Oh well, the planet is doomed ….

  3. Poor little buggers having a father who’s concerned about the right level of ‘politicising’ them.

    It’s funny how these people get into population control when they’ve had their own children. Another example would be James ‘Gia’ Lovelock. It took some digging, believe me, to find out but he’s got four children and nine grandchildren.


    • Good one Pointman, Kudos. I always wondered about James “We’re all gonna die” Lovelock.

      It’s interesting that David Brower of Friends of the Earth had four kids, as did Garret Hardin. Ted Turner has five.

      Hypocrisy in everything. And they tell us they think it’s all going to blow up soon – yeah right. Is that why they’re having so many kids?

  4. After evidently trawling through my entire archive, is that really the most damning selective quote you can find to attack me? Seriously?! Are you actually trying to claim that this selective quote means I am advocating that we “exterminate the entire human race”? That’s hilarious! Priceless. (Nice job on not quoting the whole paragraph, by the way. Nice touch.) And then to somehow compare this to Morano’s “rhetoric and tone”, well, I’m afraid it says much more about you than me.

    • Hi Leo, thanks for commenting.

      I didn’t know you were a regular reader of this blog – or were you just up late at night, googling your own name? But anyway, to answer your comment.

      I didn’t think your point about extermination not being – how did you put it? – a “vote winner” was really relevant, but I have included the whole paragraph in an update above so readers can judge for themselves.

      I didn’t have to search your archive as I distinctly remembered your “flick the switch” quote – it’s not the kind of off -hand remark you tend to forget. I could’ve mentioned your extensive long-haul flights around the world as well as your decision to have three children but part of blogging is knowing when enough is enough (just out of personal curiosity, Leo: business or first?).

      Oh, one last thing: you didn’t mention the comments on your fellow Guardian writer’s “current plague of humanity” crack. Would you care to take the high moral ground here, and condemn that remark?

      • Rather than climb out of the hole you’ve dug for yourself, you seem content with continuing to dig deeper. As anyone who read that FULL article can see for themselves, it is premised on what people MIGHT say when posed that hypothetical question I was asked by a reader. Namely, it is not me saying it or, more importantly, endorsing it. It is a summary of the sorts of things those groups I quoted were saying in 2007. My second paragraph – I really can’t believe I’m having to spell this out – is a comment on what would be the rather absurd conclusion if you had to act out ALL those suggestions. I would have thought it evident from the tone of the article that I clearly don’t think ‘exterminating the entire human race’ is a sound or even sane idea. But I’m obviously mistaken!

        As for the rest of your comment, I have never told people to have fewer (or no) children. (That article refers to the OPT’s views, not mine.) Please look up a much longer feature I wrote about the human population issue earlier this month, but, again, please don’t misconstrue it to represent my own views on the matter. It’s a feature, as opposed to a comment piece. There’s a big difference. And as for the issue of flying, I have argued many times that the price of flying should better reflect the cost it is having to the environment (as should any activity where the ‘externalities’ have not be fully internalised), but I have not said that people should never fly. (I’ve even written a whole book on the subject! Available at all good bookshops, by the way.) I do occasionally fly for work (shock, horror), but the last ‘leisure’ flight I took was in 2006, the time before than in 2002. In fact, I have made the return trip to Italy five times in the past two years for work so to avoid flying. It’s not something that I can do for work every time but I do try to whenever I can. But do feel free to accuse me of ‘extensive long-haul flights around the world’ without full receipt of the facts, if you wish.

        Re Blackmore, she is not a colleague of mine, and I haven’t read the piece you are quoting, but I’ll tell you what: you condemn Morano for the dreadful language and tactics he uses (the very reason we’re even having this discussion, after all) and I’ll go and have a read of her piece and tell you if I think it is acceptable or not. Deal?

        (Lastly, I use Google alerts to warn me of just the sort of hit piece you have penned. And I’m very pleased it do otherwise this might have gone uncorrected.)

      • Leo Hickman: “And as for the issue of flying, I have argued many times that the price of flying should better reflect the cost it is having to the environment (as should any activity where the ‘externalities’ have not be fully internalised)”

        So basically price the plebs out of the skies (or any other activities implied by your externalities/internalities comment). Very progressive.

      • You spotted that little ploy as well – it’s beautiful isn’t it?

        Once things like flying, driving, electricity are made to reflect “their cost to the environment” it will mean that foreign destinations are mercifully free of plebs like us.

        Of course, journalists and environmentalists will need to fly frequently to report on how we’re destroying the world. Completely necessary, you understand.

    • Hickman, you ranting eco-fascist nutcase, just jump off a bridge and do your part to reduce the global population. Oh sorry, I forgot, death is only meted out by green fanatics to the anonymous little people, children dying in the third world of malaria for lack of DDT etc etc, the noble, priestly cast of the church of Gia (like your hero, ‘Ten houses’ Gore) will continue to live lives of technological luxury whilst the rest of the human race descends into lives of grinding subsistence agriculture.

      PS, Here’s a tip, you insufferable dweeb, when debating people on the net don’t bother informing them at great length at how ‘hilarious’ and ‘priceless’ you find their comments, even as you type out huge, ranting screeds in response with fingers trembling with suppressed, girlish rage. It makes you sound like a fourteen year old. But I suppose only a mental child would believe the nonsense you do anyway.

  5. I actually didn’t choose to have one child for environmental reasons – it’s more that emotionally I felt I could only deal with one small child at one time. If I feel the need to expand my family when my daughter is a little older, I’ll look into adoption, again, not for environmental but for personal reasons.

    I by the way got a lot of criticism when I wrote an essay saying I didn’t have a problem with people having a many children as they wanted if they could emotionally and financially handle it. I also suspect the reason that we’re fascinated by these “mega-families” (the Duggars, the Jeubs, etcetera) is for the same reason we watch programs about the Hensel twins or the Aceves family (if you don’t know who they are, look them up): they’re outside the norm. Which means in the long run these mega-families won’t have much effect on the overall population because they’re so rare.

  6. But are you surprised, hauntingthelibrary? Jimmy Swaggart cheated on his wife, after all (I think you get my drifft).

    • Hi Emilia, thanks for commenting.

      No, not surprised, just disappointed. If they believed what they were saying it would be one thing. But all these people who tell us we must cut back our emissions, and that the world is overpopulated are the same ones that have large houses, regularly fly long haul (for “eco” holidays, natch) and have loads of kids.

      Comment may be free, but talk is cheap.

  7. Sorry, I meant to spell “drift.”

  8. These Eugenicists frighten me, make them go away Mummy.

  9. With regard to Mr. Hickman’s comments and the full paragraph from his article (which article seems to be an advice column that elicits questions and then, in this instance, utterly fails to priovide a straight answer making me wonder why he chose the question in th first place) we are still no wiser as to his true philosopy, public or personal.

    What I would really like to is a solid effort by those who push for constraining policies to overarch our lives to adopt those policies voluntarily, themselves and their families, now. It has to be possible after all every on e of them is based on removal of facilities and very few assume that some form of alternative or substitute facility will come along in the very near future to replace the facilities ‘lost’. (Or maybe I should say discarded since ‘lost’ implies ‘loss’ and we are often told that abandoning things would not mean a lessening of our lives but rather a great freedom from, well, whatever but lets generalize and call it ‘consumerism’.)

    So I see absolutely no reason why the visionaries should not adopt the concepts that they promote and prove to all of us that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I’m sure your children will think it’s great fun. Remember to tell them that the change is permanent not just a short experiment. They will probably have no concept of ‘permanent’ vs ‘impermanent’ so early conditioning to the new conditions should be easy. (On the other hand how old are they now? if they are at or close to double figures that observation may no longer be entirely true. Oh well – good luck.)

    Send us a parchment from time to time telling us how you are getting on.

  10. Tatiana Covington

    He can go flick my Bic instead.

  11. Pingback: Should We “Flick the Switch On Humanity Itself”? – Ask Leo … « switch

  12. I pretty well agree with the late Julian Simon, we don’t have enough people.

    When all the concern for the planet boils out to it’s being over-populated by humans (no other animal seems to be singled out) then you get to Dave Foreman, Founder of Earth First!, “Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental”

    After you Dave; why I wouldn’t dream of denying you the privilege.

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