‘Cull’ comes from the Old French ‘cuillir’, to collect (it’s the same word – both from Latin). My old Oxford Dictionary defines it thus:
“v.t. & n. Pick (flower&c.); select; (n.) animal removed from flock (& usually fattened) as inferior or too old for breeding.”
Nowadays, it is synonymous with a similar-sounding word, ‘kill’ – as in ‘let’s go and cull some badgers.’
This word is central to our attitude to our environment and its other species. We’re farmers, a fact which, if you think about it, is morally very dubious indeed. It’s bad enough, one might think, killing an animal to eat it; how much worse deliberately to have it born and to raise it in order to kill and eat it. (In mitigation, we might argue that we’re not the only ones to do this – ants, for example, farm aphids. But that’s not really a counter-argument or justification.) Using ‘cull’ rather than ‘kill’ lets us off the moral hook. Culling is necessary, a good thing; populations get too many and we must control them.
Why do we need to control them? Because we’ve eradicated, sorry, ‘culled’, other top-end-of-food-chain predators; because the success of other species on our patch means less for us, and we’re extremely bad at sharing. After all, sharing might mean that we couldn’t expand our own species’ growth.
I get very depressed listening to people saying ‘the population is growing and we must feed it’, as if a) the growth is unstoppable (which I don’t believe) and b) – even worse – that it’s a good thing. A cull of the human species, however, seems to be morally unjustifiable.