When I initially propose the concept of extreme life extension, I’m often met with a knee-jerk reaction which goes something like this:
“What will we do with all the people?”
It’s a logical ages-old question actually. But like most “obvious” flawed arguments, it’s easily dis-proven once you dig deep. So let’s go deep and see what we find:
Amazingly enough, when you factor out immigration, industrialized countries are actually seeing population declines rather than increases. And according to world renowned economist Julian Simon, our current resources and technologies (without considering those that are undeveloped) could support 6 billion more people. Misallocation of those resources and technologies, usually due to bureaucratic bottlenecks and political greed and ineptitude, are the culprits.
Since the Industrial Revolution, alarmists screamed doom and gloom about overcrowding and limited resources (backed by their “statistics”). However, the opposite has happened. The population increased by 740% since then, and standards of living have soared. It’s not so much a question of resources as it is one of education, individual productivity and distribution—social problems, not life-extension problems. As long as people produce more than they consume, it’s impossible to run out of resources.
Common sense and intuition say there should be a demographic catastrophe, if people were actually immortal and continued to reproduce. But what would the science (mathematics) say? Recently, Drs. Leonid and Natalia Gavrilov answered that question with a study sponsored by the SENS/Methuselah Foundation.
They proved it is possible to have sustainable population dynamics in a future hypothetical non-aging society.
They proved that (even) immortality, the joy of parenting and a sustainable population size are not mutually exclusive.
This is because a population of immortal reproducing organisms will grow indefinitely in time, but not necessarily indefinitely in size.
Many developed countries (like the studied Sweden) face dramatic decline in native-born population in the future and also risk losing their cultural identity due to massive immigration. Therefore, extension of healthy lifespan in these countries may in fact prevent, rather than create a demographic catastrophe.
The Gavrilovs painted five scenarios:
1. Negligible senescence where all anti-aging interventions start at age 60 years with 30-year time lag. Even in the case of defeating aging (no aging after 60 years) the natural population growth is relatively small (about 20% increase over 70 years).
2. Negligible senescence for a part of population (10%). What if only a small fraction of the population accepts anti-aging interventions. The population declines.
3. Negligible senescence for a part of population (10%) with growing acceptance (1 percent added to negligible senescence group each year), and the last remaining five percent of population refuse to apply these technologies in any circumstances. The Population still declines, but only slightly
4. Rejuvenation. Mortality declines after age 60 years until the levels observed at age 10 are reached; mortality remains constant thereafter. In this case, population would increase about 20% over 70 years. How about when rejuvenation starts at age 40 instead of age 60? Now we see a manageable 40% increase over 70 years.
5. And finally a more modest scenario where aging slows down still results in population declines.
A general conclusion of this study is that population changes are surprisingly small and slow in their response to dramatic life extension. Even in the case of the most radical life extension scenario, population growth could be relatively slow and may not necessarily lead to overpopulation. Therefore, the real concerns should be placed not on the threat of overpopulation, but rather on such potential obstacles to a successful biomedical war on aging, such as scientific, organizational and financial limitations.
Thank you Leonid and Natalie.
If you’d like to see details of their study, go to http://longevity-science.org/present.html.
The longer we keep ourselves alive, the more brainpower we have to see real and imagined problems through. Just as technology extends lives, it makes life more livable for larger populations. Telling people they should die to make room for others is an idiotic solution to any problem.