Recently you wrote about the lives saved by the hands-free cellphone law. Since we're overpopulating and running out of resources, shouldn't we stop trying to reduce deaths with laws like this? —Paul K.

Jeez, Paul, you must be a riot at parties. Still, you have a point. It's a point normally raised only by anti-environmentalists as a reductio ad absurdum of the whole conservation movement, but a point nonetheless: If you're a true eco-Nazi, shouldn't you be rooting for the demise of every dirty, wasteful human on the planet?

Putting aside the ethical objections to your question (by your lights, Joseph Stalin should be president of the Sierra Club), we quickly encounter an even greater challenge: how to objectively calculate the value (or cost) to society at large of an average human's existence.

It's not as though people haven't tried. I myself have calculated that each American who can manage to avoid being born will save the atmosphere from 1.7 million pounds of carbon. Meanwhile, the National Safety Council (betraying a blatant pro-human bias) has estimated that every traffic death costs the economy $1.3 million. We're not even using the same units of measure!

Politically speaking, the use of body count as the core driver of public policy is pretty much the definition of a tough sell. Even the folks who might be OK with a few hundred cellphone yakkers buying the farm each year will probably get queasy about all the innocent folks who would inevitably be dragged along for the ride.

Still, if you're serious about this everybody-out-of-the-pool approach to the human condition, check out the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Its leading journal, These EXIT Times, is based right here in Portland, and the VHEMT has spent years honing its response to the inevitable question, "Why don't you kill yourself?"