NEW YORK – Barbra Streisand once sang that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.
Not so, says an organization that wants to prove Babs wrong by working to wipe human beings off the face of the earth.
"May We Live Long and Die Out!" is the motto of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, or VHEMT. The group opposes violence, arguing instead for a gradual fading away of mankind.
"As long as there's one breeding pair of homo sapiens on the planet, there's too great a threat to the biosphere," says "Les U. Knight," a Portland, Ore., substitute teacher and creator of www.vhemt.org, the Web site that serves some 230 subscribing VHEMT members around the globe.
Knight argues, as do most other environmentalists, that man has done more harm to nature than good. But VHEMT takes environmentalism to one of its farther limits by saying man's primary concern shouldn't be its own survival.
"We are causing more extinctions now than at any time in the last 60 million years," Knight says. "We're creating a great loss of biodiversity, and when you just have one or two species left, the ecosystem's pretty fragile."
Many environmentalists believe humans have contributed to the extinction of various species around the world. In a 1996 issue of Science, British ecologist Stuart Pimm estimated that from 100 to 10,000 species disappear each year — from 100 to 1,000 times more than had died out before humanity appeared on the scene.
VHEMT's viewpoints are a far cry from those of more mainstream organizations concerned with human overpopulation, such as Washington, D.C.-based Population Action International. Whereas VHEMT's ultimate goal is to improve the biosphere for its own sake, PAI's goal is fundamentally human-based.
PAI says Mother Nature is resilient, and notes the Earth has recovered from mass extinctions before — it just takes at least 5 million years to do so, far too long for it to matter to human beings.
And yet VHEMT doesn't go as far as others. Take The Church of Euthanasia, an "alien intelligence"-inspired organization of about 300 members that actually offers suicide tips and suggests that those who eat meat practice cannibalism.
That's too extreme for Knight. VHEMT does not support suicide, forced abortions or mass forced sterilizations.
"We'll be dead soon enough," Knight says. "Why rush things?"
Not surprisingly, organized religions like the Catholic Church dismiss VHEMT's claims.
"We believe, as does every mainstream religion, that God made the world and God made everything in the word," according to New York Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling. "It's part of God's plan of creation, and it is absurd to suggest that the world would be better off without the human race."
On the streets of New York City, public reaction to the group's goals ranges from skeptical to incredulous.
"I think it's a very bad idea," says 24-year-old marketing assistant Tom DeFruytier, of Brussels, Belgium. "Of course we should work together so the environment doesn't get worse, but this is way to extreme. Who will benefit from this?"
Chuck Marci, 42, a New York entertainment consultant, agrees the world would be better off without one set of humans — members of VHEMT.
"Don't reproduce? No more human beings? I think they ought to practice what they preach, and then we'll see what they say in 30, 40 years."