You’ve taken your supplements, exercised religiously, intermittently fasted, and at last the age-reversing breakthrough you’ve been waiting for arrives! Finally, your longevity horizon stretches out before you. But that horizon is packed wall-to-wall with people.
The skies are gray with pollution and the land masses are flooded due to increased carbon emissions. Starvation and overpopulation runs rampant.Extending human lifespan has led not to a bright future but to unsustainable population growth and apocalypse. This is the bleak forecast of those who would argue against lifespan extension but is it accurate?
Many advocates for longevity research say these fears are largely unfounded due to several factors, including decreased fertility, improved agricultural practices, and better pollution control. So, is this correct? Is overpopulation a reality or is it a myth?
In 1970, global population growth reached a peak when it hit 2.07%. Since then, it has declined steadily. Today, world population growth hovers around 1.1% a year. The wealthier the country, the more drastic the rate of decline, as the necessity of having more children to offset those lost to childhood diseases disappears and birth control methods become more available. Interestingly, in countries where the GDP per capita is under $1,000 a year, women tend to have more than three children on average, whereas in wealthier nations where the GDP per capita is above $10,000 a year, women give birth to an average two or fewer children.
Decreasing birth rate in industrialized nations also contributes to slowing population. Sperm counts in some nations, such as England, the US, New Zealand, and Australia have halved in the last forty years and continue to decline at a rate of about 1.4% a year. Fluctuations in hormone levels from exposure to a variety of industrial and medical sources are doing women’s fertility no favors as well. Waiting to start a family also contributes to the situation. As a result, Western nations have seen population rates slowing.
Currently, the US population growth rate is the lowest since 1937, and in fact, some countries, such as Japan and Russia, are experiencing negative population growth, as much as -4.7% for Japan and -3.6 for Russia.
In Third World countries, where birth rates have traditionally been high, increases in the quality of living due to greater access to vaccines, clean water, and better education will lead to a decline there as well. While it may seem counterintuitive that saving lives reduces birth rates historically that has been the result. When the concern that most of your children will die before reaching adulthood is removed, the need to produce enough to beat the odds is also mitigated. Additionally, as these nations begin to enjoy the benefits of modern medicine, easier access to birth control will further help curb overpopulation.
Similarly, fears of global food shortages are misplaced. Today, while famine remains a vital issue in some parts of the world (yet completely manageable when current agricultural technology is globally embraced), more people are presently dying from obesity-related diseases than starvation. Those 850 million or so who are struggling with famine are doing so not because food isn’t available but because they are impoverished.
The UN Food and Agricultural Organization has, in fact, demonstrated an upward trend in global calorie availability since 1960 that continues to rise to this day. Presently, enough grain is produced to supply every person on the planet with over 3,000 calories a day—enough to overfeed most of us, let alone save us from starvation. Innovations in modern agriculture such as vertical farming and even “robobees” to help pollinate crops make an apocalyptic future of starvation unlikely.
In our near future, where global population steadies or declines and food is produced in a more efficient and environmentally friendly manner, the final obstacle to overcome is pollution. If you’re only looking forward to another few decades on the planet, it’s easier to kick the can down the road, as has often been done with environmental issues. However, if you know you’ll be roaming the Earth for another hundred years or more, suddenly, keeping the planet in viable shape becomes a priority. Even now, improvements in renewable energy and natural gas are being implemented with positive results.
Current regenerative efforts are not limited to biotechnology. Despite undeniable bumps in the road, it’s clear that most industrialized nations are making a concerted effort to curb carbon emissions, and they are working. In fact, even as the global economy flourishes at a rate of 3.1 percent, CO2 emissions measured in 2016 did not exceed those measured in the previous two years. Countries that have traditionally been the worst culprits for pollution are taking active steps to improve. India, for instance, is developing solar farms that provide energy for about 24% less the cost than coal-powered plants. China is moving from coal to renewable energy at a more rapid pace than expected, and sales of electric cars in that country have jumped 70% in 2017 alone.
As technology improves and global population rates level out or decline, we can look to the horizon with optimism and hope for a vital, healthy life that stretches for decades beyond what we can expect now. Thanks to better sanitation, vaccinations, and education among other factors industrialized nations have enjoyed a steady increase in life expectancy despite experiencing decreasing fertility.
Continuing improvements in renewable energy will contribute to a cleaner environment and advances in agricultural science will ensure everyone has access to proper nutrition. As those benefits are extended globally, there’s no reason why everyone shouldn’t enjoy the same life expectancy and we can confidently set our sights higher: to finally conquering the outer limits of human lifespan.
Author: Linda Ingmanson
Technical Editor: Jerlin Joseph