Sunday, November 19, 2023

Self-extinction: Male fertility, pesticides and the end of the human project

It is a common meme these days that humans are busy bringing about their own extinction. This is usually imagined to take the form of mass death resulting from the effects of climate change including food shortages, and/or from the rapid decline in the availability of fossil fuels, and/or from a worldwide pandemic caused by a microbe as lethal as the Ebola virus.

But what if our path to extinction is really taking the form of damage to human fertility of the type described by a new report that links the dramatic decline in male sperm count directly to pesticides? What if human society collapses for lack of new humans? The plants and animals might rejoice if they can do such a thing. But the human project would come to an end.

And that speaks to the central issue for humankind. Is the human project worth saving? And, if it is, are we as a global society willing to do what it takes to save it? On current form one would expect that the answer is no. But in order to change the answer to yes, the "yes" forces would have to proffer some very compelling arguments to get the world's chemical companies to give up on synthetic pesticides. I can imagine arguments that include reference to the literary, musical, architectural, artistic, philosophical and scientific achievements of humans. But these would likely fall on deaf ears unless the scientific achievements are allowed to include the continued dispersal of pesticides into the air, water and soil across the globe.

I am reminded of an old New Yorker cartoon with the following caption: "Yes, the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders." That, dear readers, summarizes why a scenario out of the film "Children of Men"—which seemed so far-fetched when it was released in  2006—is coming soon to a planet near you. It's worth noting that the film purports to take place in 2027.

I have previously written about the dramatic collapse of sperm counts across the world. If current trends continue, sperm counts will reach zero by 2045. (That's NOT a typo.) Are those trends continuing? The answer is no, they are getting even worse! That means sperm counts worldwide may reach the zero mark even earlier.

Of course, all of this is being completely ignored by governments and major institutions because it is far too inconvenient if true. That seems to be the modus operandi of the ruling elites. Where there is some effort to address critical environmental and public health problems, they are almost all focused on technical fixes rather than the wholesale reorganization of human society on a sustainable basis.

The Thanksgiving holiday is coming up this week in the United States. It is customary for people to say what it is that they are thankful for. I think parents may want to consider giving thanks for their children before the ability to become parents is extinguished by the chemical industry and other malefactors who are busy creating "shareholder value."

Kurt Cobb is a freelance writer and communications consultant who writes frequently about energy and environment. His work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Resilience, Common Dreams, Naked Capitalism, Le Monde Diplomatique,, OilVoice, TalkMarkets,, Business Insider and many other places. He is the author of an oil-themed novel entitled Prelude and has a widely followed blog called Resource Insights. He can be contacted at


Joe Clarkson said...

My guess is that sperm counts are tested from populations of modern urbanites who get most of their pesticide load from industrial agriculture. Since there are still large numbers of people, mostly in the Global South, getting their food from subsistence organic horticulture, humanity is in no risk of extinction from lack of babies.

Indeed, lack of babies is just what the earth needs. If the total fertility rate goes to almost zero, human population numbers might get back to below carrying capacity by the end of the century. And rapid population reduction would surely destroy the global market economy and induce the mother of all economic depressions. I think falling sperm counts are a win-win. Let's hope they go to zero almost everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Technology may try to solve this under the principle that it just takes one

King of the Road said...

There's a business book entitled "What Got You Here Won't Get You There." That phrase applies to us as a race. Those characteristics that enabled a slow, weak species whose newborns took many years to be self-sustaining to survive and, for the moment, thrive, are not the characteristics required to help us survive as a species. We are tribal, acquisitive, and sexual and that got us here.

As to the chemical companies and pesticides, it's not reasonable to expect anything different. Their executives and shareholders are inherently tribal and acquisitive. And, in fact, they are giving us what we want.

SomeoneInAsia said...

QUOTE: ***Is the human project worth saving?... On current form one would expect that the answer is no. But in order to change the answer to yes, the "yes" forces would have to proffer some very compelling arguments... I can imagine arguments that include reference to the literary, musical, architectural, artistic, philosophical and scientific achievements of humans...***

My strong suspicion is that here again the usual tribalism that has characterized our kind from day one will rear its ugly head: only certain parts of the human project will be worth saving. Homer? Shakespeare? Beethoven? Leonardo? Oh, but of course! Du Fu? Tsao Hsueh-Chin? Rumi? Lady Murasaki? Forget it. (Not that we Chinese won't be guilty of the same.)

I'm reminded of all those so-called anthologies of WORLD (ha!) literature, between the covers of which one finds not a single non-Western literary work being listed. Or books on WORLD mythology which devote umpteen pages to the Greeks (who else) but only a couple miserable paragraphs to, say, the Australian aborigines. I'll be frank about it: it is things like these that tempt me to think that perhaps the human project's not really worth saving, after all. Certainly all the literary, artistic etc achievements offer scant compensation for all the damage our species (or certain members of our species, rather) has inflicted on the biosphere -- if the said achievements have not actually abetted this damage!