This article was originally published in USA Today.

The seeming indifference of many to below-replacement fertility rates sweeping across nations may stem from a disproportionate emphasis on practical matters that fail to stir the soul.

During the pandemic, I came across a haunting series of photos depicting empty spaces around the world that normally bustle with life − streets, airports, subway stations, cafes, museums. Looking at these images had a strange, existentially unsettling effect on me.

When we see pictures of natural landscapes like forests, mountains and oceans, it doesn’t disturb us if they are unpopulated with humans. In fact, many of us seek out sparsely inhabited places when we want to spend time in nature. Yet, when confronted with the sight of unpopulated spaces engineered to nurture the activities that keep civilization moving forward, the stark absence of humans served as a sobering reminder that the true purpose of our constructed world lies not in the impressive structures themselves, but in the people who bring them to life.