By Simon Knutsson
Published May 29, 2021; minor updates August 16, 2021


I list activities that could be parts of a path to human extinction. I think the most effective activity is influencing policy. Many policies might matter for human extinction, at least indirectly. The policies in question are often a matter of what should be prioritised among different things that could be considered important. People with different views of human extinction might make different priorities. The second most effective activity seems to be improving capacity. One can improve capacity, for example, by building skills, networks, and well-functioning organisations, and by increasing the number of productive people involved and the amount of available money.


“Scores of [professional philosophers] recognize no moral call to keep the human race in existence”, according to Professor Leslie.[1] Professor Benatar writes that “the prospect of a world without humans is not something that, in itself, we should regret”. It seems one can reach a similar conclusion based on philosophical misanthropy, which Dr Kidd recommends. Many others have put forth related views.[2]

Suppose someone thinks that human extinction is less bad than the other realistic outcomes.[3] What could this person do? What are reasonable, effective activities that could be parts of a path to human extinction? (If someone views all sentient life on Earth like that, then similar kinds of activities seem relevant.)[4]

I list and comment on such activities related to human extinction.[5] The activities are rather concrete such as influencing policy and building capacity.

There are other important, more fundamental activities, which I will not go into here, such as investigating the following:

  • The consequences of human extinction. For example, what will happen to wild animals if humans go extinct compared to if humans stay around? I mention some considerations in this paper (in section 4), where I refer to other works.
  • The value question of whether human extinction is better or worse than other outcomes.
  • The moral question of which activities are morally okay, right or best.
  • Priority questions such as how much attention should be paid to human extinction compared to potentially more important things.

I focus on more concrete activities that could be parts of a path to human extinction, assuming, for the purpose of this text, that this is a desirable path.

I spend most of this text going through these activities, then I say what I think is most effective, and, finally, I ask what the readers think and whether the readers know of literature on this topic. In the appendix, I address risks of talking about human extinction as I do.

Before we turn to the list of activities, I will now make a few remarks for clarity. When I talk about human extinction, I mean that humans no longer exist, without us being directly replaced by new types of beings such as enhanced or artificial beings. I guess that human extinction is less bad than the other realistic outcomes.[6] Talking about paths to human extinction and an activity being a part of such a path is a simplified way of speaking, but it seems understandable enough.[7] Note that an act can be a part of a path to human extinction even if the person acting does not aim to cause human extinction. Of course, the activities I mention are all non-violent. Moreover, that I mention an activity below does not mean that I find it effective (later, in a separate section, we get to what I do think is effective).


Influence policy

In this section, I list examples of potentially relevant policy areas and then talk briefly about how to influence policy. I spend much ink on this section about influencing policy because the activities may be less obvious than some other activities and influencing policy is seemingly the most effective activity. The activities broadly have to do with regulations, priorities, laws and the allocation of government resources.[8]

Extinction prevention: Some want government capacity and resources to be spent on preventing human extinction. For example, to prevent various potential causes of human extinction or to place humans in shelters so that they would survive a disaster and continue the human species. One can go through any list of potential causes of human extinction and suggested remedies, and consider whether public resources should be spent on such things. Depending on what one concludes, one can work to ensure that such things get less or no resources and that the resources are instead spent on more important things. For example, in my view, reducing extreme suffering and violence should get more resources and preventing human extinction should get no resources.[9]

Surveillance and government control: Someone who wants to prevent human extinction may advocate for increased surveillance and government control of people to reduce the risk of human extinction. This can be considered to have drawbacks, such as decreased privacy and freedom, and the risk of authoritarian or totalitarian outcomes. Still, some people who want to preserve humanity may find these costs and risks to be worth it because preserving humanity is so important to them. But one could reasonably advocate against such surveillance and control based on the arguments that the costs and risks, including risks of totalitarian outcomes, are too great compared to the potential benefits of continued existence.

Law: I vaguely recall someone talking favourably about making it illegal to cause human extinction. In any case, someone could favour making it illegal. But at least some ways of causing extinction should be legal. It is, for example, okay to cause human extinction by convincing everyone to not have children. One could ensure that there are no legal obstacles to advocating for or causing human extinction. Legal matters seem to require continuous work partly because bad laws can be created whenever and legal wins need to be guarded as they can be reversed.

Population policy: Policies that might affect the number of children being born include the amount of financial support paid to parents, access to and subsidies of contraceptives, and government campaigns that encourage or discourage having children. One could work for policy changes in the areas that tend to lower the number of children born. (Even if increasing the number of humans in the short term would increase the likelihood of human extinction, it does not make much sense to work for an increase in the number of humans.)[10]

Biology and genetics: Several biology-related technologies might have large potential benefits and a risk of increasing the likelihood of human extinction. I don’t know if the following involve any noteworthy risk of human extinction, but one can think of genetic or other modifications to prevent diseases or the like, or changes to humans to make humans less immoral. If there is a risk of such technologies increasing the likelihood of human extinction, someone who very much wants to preserve humanity might favour that one should be very cautious with such technologies. But someone who values preserving humanity less might think that the potential benefit is worth the risk. One could try to ensure that those who place the most importance on other things (ideally on reducing extreme suffering) rather than preserving humanity have a seat at the table and have a voice in such decisions, so that, for example, big benefits in terms of reduced misery are not lost due to decision-makers being overly cautious based on high concern for the preservation of humanity.

Diplomacy, international relations, and military decisions: One might favour different policies, decisions and tradeoffs in these areas depending on one’s view of human extinction. One can try to be a part of or influence those decisions. A simplified example to illustrate a possibility is that one can imagine decisions involving tradeoffs between, on the one hand, the safety of the inhabitants and the risk of war in general, and, on the other hand, the risk of human extinction.[11] Some decisions might, for instance, reduce the likelihood of war while increasing the probability that a war will cause extinction if it breaks out.

Space: In my view, it is a wrong priority to spend resources on travelling to and colonising other planets when there are ongoing horrors on Earth that we could try to prevent. One might want to expand beyond Earth to spread life (and realise the purported value involved in that) and make humanity or other sentient life more resilient (e.g., because one thinks it is harder to go extinct if the species is spread out across several planets). But spreading life beyond Earth sounds like a terrible idea, so one could work on a policy level against that. For example, one could reasonably argue that less or no resources should go to expanding beyond Earth or one could argue for legal barriers to such expansions.

Climate and environment: The issue is complex, but one can imagine how people who view human extinction differently could favour different climate or environmental policies. For example, the extent to which one values the preservation of humanity might matter for cost-benefit-risk analyses, which might in turn result in different recommended policies that have different effects on the likelihood of human extinction.

Government areas related to research, writing and publishing: One can consider any government funding or other support or hindrance of research, writing, translations, publishing, etc. and see whether there are obstacles to work in favour of human extinction. Obstacles could be policies, practices or the opinions of specific people. Then one can see how those things could be changed.

Those are some of the policy areas that one could try to influence. How, then, does one influence policies or decisions? It presumably depends on the specific case, and one can look up sources on how to influence policy in general, but here are a few obvious ways:

  • become a publicly elected politician;
  • become someone in government who is not elected by the public but still makes policy decisions or influences them;
  • influence such people; and
  • affect public opinion, which in turn can affect policy-making.

Influence similar areas outside of policy-making

For some of the policy areas mentioned in the previous section, one can consider whether there are similar things to influence outside of policy-making. For example, perhaps non-profit organisations do related things and get funding that is not from the government. Or perhaps certain companies do related work. If it seems reasonable all things considered, one could try to influence such work and funding by, say, influencing customers, charitable giving, or specific organisations or companies.

Find effective interventions and share the information

One can take a step back and try to come up with new activities, or analyse which of the known activities seem most effective. Similarly, one can work on how specific activities should be done to be most effective. It is also important to share one’s findings. Essentially, the work I describe here would be on strategy related to human extinction. All this work can be done in, for example, the following ways: do research and analysis, write, organise workshops, discuss, or create or support organisations that work on this. All this could be an ongoing research programme involving many individuals and perhaps different organisations. It might be hard to do such work at a university or with funding from a government or other typical source of funding for academic research.

Research, teach, and inform others

Besides coming up with and analysing effective interventions, one can research, teach, and inform others about things related to human extinction, including moral, value and priority issues. One can do this, for example, by filling an information gap (e.g., by pointing out something that has been missed or neglected) or by correcting misleading statements in the literature. All this can be done to help people become more knowledgeable and better able to make informed choices.

This research, teaching and informing can be different from advocacy and promotion because one can educate, inform and correct things without trying to advocate or promote anything. But one can also do things that are more similar to advocacy and promotion. For example, one can publish a type of research paper in moral philosophy in which one argues for a view one finds plausible (e.g., ‘this ought to be done in relation to extinction’). This can be similar to advocacy and promotion in the sense that one argues for a view, but at the same time, one can make a research contribution.

Of course, one can do these activities oneself or support those who do them.

Implementation of findings from analysis and research

The previous two sections were partly about strategy, analysis, research and the like, and about sharing information. But in addition to doing that kind of work, a further step is to contribute to the implementation of that information. In other words, to contribute to that the information affects how people do things. Consider some analysts or consultants in the private sector. One step is to do analytical work on, for example, strategy, and to come up with the findings. Another step is to write up and pedagogically present the findings. A report might just be put in a drawer and a presentation might be heard and forgotten or simply not acted upon. Hence, an important step is to ensure that the findings change the way people and organisations work. That important implementation work is an area by itself.

Movement and community building

One can do movement and community building, such as by arranging spaces to meet online and in person, helping one another, communicating, managing groups on social media, developing norms, and ensuring that members feel part of a supportive and meaningful community.

Improve capacity

To improve capacity, one can work to improve many things over time: reputation, skills, knowledge, influence, networks, human resources, personal productivity, available money, the number of organisations, and how well these organisations work (e.g., by starting organisations, or by improving the structure and processes of existing organisations).

For example, advantages of building organisations are, among other things, that they can credibly gather and store large sums of money for a specific purpose (which can be a form of capacity building), they can offer career paths and job security, and people can have specialised full-time roles. In general, it seems that organisations with full-time staff can accomplish more than groups with only part-time volunteers. Organisations can be a time sink due to administration, but they seem like an overall good idea.

Pave the way

There seems to be a need for paving the way for future work on human extinction. One example, which I have written about before, is that there were efforts behind the scenes to discourage writing that the future will be bad. The people involved were, among others, people who are exceptionally concerned about keeping humanity in existence.[12] It is unclear how widespread it is to engage in such non-public efforts, coordinations and conditions for employment or funding. One way to remedy such things is to avoid going along with coordinated efforts to make people not talk favourably about human extinction, to speak up if one is privately asked to play ball, and to ensure that such efforts are exposed and monitored. A broader area in which there seems to be a need for paving the way has to do with mechanisms pushing against talking about pessimism, antinatalism, negative utilitarianism, voluntary human extinction, and similar ideas. One could try to prevent or counteract such things, for example, by changing norms.

Marketing and promotion

Things like the following seem important for having an impact: marketing, image, and public relations. Many things can be marketed, including ideas, values, communities, movements, texts, videos, organisations and persons. For each of these, one can consider all aspects of marketing and engage in suitable marketing activities. For example, one can promote the overarching idea that human extinction is less bad than the other realistic outcomes and that this is something that should be reflected in our actions. In other words, one can make human extinction a priority and promote it as a reasonable and important idea, and as a legitimate area to work on.

Here are some simple example activities related to marketing and promotion (although I don’t particularly like such activities, and ideally wish they could be avoided, it seems they are standard):

  • Promote texts, ideas, people, and organisations that are in one’s interest to promote.
  • Work on the branding of the cause or the community.
  • Get favourable coverage by the media, bloggers, influential people, and the like.
  • Get talks at various platforms.
  • Have the marketable people be perceived as the outward representatives.
  • Develop a marketing strategy and use the best marketing practices.
  • Use the best fundraising practices.
  • Learn about possible targets groups or audiences. What are they like? How do they behave? What do they care about? What do they want? One can then divide or categorise the population in useful ways, and select a few target audiences and rank them in order of priority. Then one can adjust the marketing accordingly and tailor it to specific target groups.
  • Associate with influential or credible people (e.g., people can become advisors at an organisation).
  • Publish research papers, books or reports that are almost entirely advocacy.[13]

Handle competitors

One need not think about those with other views as competitors, but some do act like competitors, so it can be wise to handle that. One type of activity is to keep an eye on competitors as is commonly done among businesses, political parties, interest groups, and so on. If someone, for instance, makes an allegation, it might be wise to respond to it so that it is not left unanswered. Another type of activity, which I will focus on in the rest of this section, is to handle competitors that behave in ways that could be considered immoral, corrupt, shady, dishonest or otherwise problematic.

I next list examples of problematic behaviours, which I don’t like and don’t encourage. It can be good to be aware that these things are done or seem to be done (depending on which of the following activities we are talking about). One thing that can be done about these activities is to see to that they are exposed so that there is publicly available information about what is going on. One can also counter each in specific ways. For example, if someone publishes misleading research or biased teaching material, one can publish better research or teaching material.

  • Promote texts, ideas, people, and organisations in problematic ways, for example, by citing their texts more than is warranted.
  • Do the opposite with those that one wants to prevent from becoming influential: Ignore or talk about these things in excessively unfavourable terms (e.g., “fringe”, “perverted”, “haters”, “radical”, or label the views or theories with unflattering names), cite them less than is warranted and misrepresent them. And if you engage with opposing views, then only do so with the less convincing people or versions of those views so that you can give a fair or balanced appearance of having engaged with others or other views without really doing so.
  • List someone as a co-author when it is not warranted, or use ghostwriters without saying so.
  • Create and try to spread a syllabus or teaching material (e.g., a textbook) or try to get a course taught at a university that is skewed towards one’s own or one’s allies’ views or writings. The purpose can partly be to influence students on moral or priority issues, to promote oneself and one’s allies, and to get the students to read texts by oneself or allies.
  • Pretend to have view X while having view Y. This can be done, for example, because X is more appealing to a wider audience and donors, Y might sound too radical, or there might be implications of Y that one privately accepts but that are hard to defend from a public relations perspective.
  • Never point out disadvantages or problems with one’s theory or view, or if one does, then one chooses weak objections or minor problems and mentions a reply (without mentioning any problems with the reply).
  • Flatter and build relations with influential or rich people to further your goals. For example, by giving them an inflated impression of how favourable you are toward them and what they do.
  • Exaggerate or present false or misleading claims on one’s CV or the like to market oneself and one’s ideas. Do the same for allies’ accomplishments. Never expose such things among allies and if someone else does, then defend the ally or stay silent.
  • Out of the public view, coordinate about which works to cite and which ideas to mention or stay silent about. In private conversations, try to get authors to agree to this, place such non-public conditions on employment or funding. I have written about related efforts.

Support hands-on interventions

Examples of ways to support hands-on interventions might include:

  • Donate to or work for charities that work on birth control (e.g., charities that distribute contraceptives).
  • Work on changing norms in favour of not having children.
  • Try to change incentives by providing some benefit only to those who do not have children.

Personal choices

Relevant personal choices can, for instance, be about not having children, education, career, diet, donations, saving money, or recycling and other environment-related behaviour.[14] Some of these choices overlap with the activities mentioned above. For example, education, career and donations can be relevant to many of the activities above.

What I think is most effective

I think the most effective activity is influencing policy (and similar areas outside of policy-making). I here list activities with the seemingly more effective activities higher up in the list.

Several activities are related. For example, marketing and promotion can lead to improved capacity which can make it easier to influence policy.

When it comes to influencing policy, it seems ineffective to start a political party or try to become a publicly elected politician. A reason is that by starting a party or becoming a politician, one becomes a competitor to other parties, politicians and their supporters. People who might have been favourable to you and open to your ideas suddenly get an interest in attacking or ignoring you, your party, and the ideas. It seems more effective to affect public opinion, the views and behaviours of influential people, and to influence policy in other ways.

What do you think?

I am grateful for feedback on this text and suggestions of other reasonable (non-violent), potentially effective activities. I can update this text, so feel free to send me an email. I would also like to know what others have said about this topic. If anyone knows of a source, please tell me and I will try to check it out.

Appendix: Risks of talking about human extinction in this way

Some might worry that writing about effective paths to human extinction may cause someone to try to kill humans. Sometimes expressions of such worries seem insincere or exaggerated to achieve various effects, but some might genuinely worry about this. However, I think finding productive, non-violent activities that can be parts of a path to human extinction, which this text is about, contributes to non-violence. The reason is simply that one points to other available options besides violence. I try to present such non-violent alternatives that could have a legitimate place in a democratic society.[15]


[1] Leslie, John. (1998). The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction. New York: Routledge, p. 184.

[2] I describe some views in my text “How Could an Empty World Be Better than a Populated One?” A relevant source I do not mention there is the seminar with Professor Crisp, the abstract of which reads: “It is widely believed that one of the main reasons we should seek to decrease existential risk arising from global warming, bioterrorism, and so on is that it would be very bad overall were human and other sentient beings to become extinct. In this presentation, I shall argue that it is not unreasonable to believe that extinction would be good overall.” See also the text “Would extinction be so bad?” by Professor Crisp. Other examples include that Professor Huemer writes, “I think people may be, on average, horrible”. And there is The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. I present my own view in my paper “The world destruction argument”, section 3. Tännsjö says “there is a strong tradition within Western philosophy arguing that, given our human predicament, the coming to an end of humanity is morally unobjectionable or even desirable” in Tännsjö, Torbjörn. (2021) “Who Cares?Journal of Controversial Ideas, 1(1), 1.

[3] The person need not like the idea of human extinction or think that human extinction would be good; the person might simply consider it to be the lesser evil compared to what is otherwise likely to happen.

[4] Details might be different but the categories of activities would seemingly be about the same.

[5] Readers may also want to look at “Part II: How Can We Best Reduce Suffering?” in Magnus Vinding’s book Suffering-Focused Ethics and the section “How can we avert s-risks?” in Tobias Baumann’s “S-risks: An introduction”, although these sources do not defend or advocate human extinction.

[6] One can imagine better outcomes such as the following: all humans treat one another and other animals well, all diseases are gone and so is all misery, humans help other animals, humans do not colonise space (except perhaps to help others elsewhere in the universe), and things never turn bad. But such outcomes seem so unrealistic. The reasons I do not have a stronger opinion on whether human extinction is less bad than the other realistic outcomes are mainly of an empirical rather than an evaluative nature. One of the main reasons human extinction may be worse is that wild animal suffering may continue for longer or on a larger scale if humans are not around.

[7] Rather than stating precisely what it is for an activity to be a part of a path to human extinction, I will just point to the list of activities in this text and say ‘these are the kinds of activities I have in mind’.

[8] A relevant organisation could, obviously, be a government or a part of government, but one can also think of intergovernmental organisations.

[9] Some things might both reduce suffering and prevent extinction; for example, something that decreases the likelihood of a scenario in which humans go extinct and in which there are vast amounts of suffering. Such activities could reasonably get resources because it is important to avoid the suffering in question. But the fact that something keeps humanity in existence is not alone something that warrants that resources are spent on it.

[10] One reason being that there are likely more effective things to do. Additionally, one can object to the creation of new humans for all sorts of well-known reasons such as that coming into existence is a harm, and that the new beings cannot consent to being brought into existence.

[11] It would also be important that decisions do not increase the risks of there being vast amounts of suffering in the future. See Baumann’s “S-risks: An introduction” and Brian Tomasik’s “Risks of Astronomical Future Suffering”.

[12] They at least wanted to ensure that the future will be inhabited by advanced beings that realise vast amounts of purported value, even if these beings are not humans.

[13] On the one hand, this activity seems problematic and therefore it fits in the list of activities in the next section “Handle competitors”. On the other hand, it seems so common to publish such things that one should perhaps consider it a normal part of academic publishing, at least in moral philosophy and applied ethics.

[14] I write ‘personal choices’ for lack of a better phrase. I mean choices that have to do with one’s own life in a direct way.

[15] I am grateful to Mark J. Maharaj and Amanda Sukenick for reading a draft and giving feedback.

Effective paths to human extinction