The Overpopulation Argument
One of the major arguments against life extension is that our planet could not cope with a massive increase in the number of people, placing huge pressure on resources. However, much of the evidence to support this claim is quite easy to debunk. The World Health Organisation estimates that the world’s population is going to double in the next fifty years. But this is based on current birth rates, and in the developed world these rates are already at an all-time low. The low number of children per woman (currently under 2 in the US and UK) may extend to poorer countries as planned parenthood becomes more widespread and education levels among women rise. The greatest impact on population as a result of life extension is going to be in countries that have low fertility rates anyway, so the population change would not be as great as one might fear. The same fears of the dangers of overpopulation were expressed in the 1970s because of a population boom; the catastrophe never materialised however because the predictions failed to factor in technological and agricultural progress. In fact, although there are six times as many people on the planet now than there were in 1800, we have better quality of life than ever before. Social structures have been developed to deal with a lifespan where people retire at 65 and die at 80. As lifespan lengthens society will evolve with it, so that we may become used to not just two or three, but perhaps four or five generations around the table at a family reunion. Career structures would change, as people might choose to have a number of professions in their lifetime rather than one – this is already happening. Pension funds would make more long-term investments as people begin to draw a pension later in life, or continue to work and draw a reduced pension. The wisdom and experience of having more older individuals alive who are also likely to be healthier due to cutting edge research into what causes the body to age would benefit the work place, politics, education and psychology. Younger people would no longer feel under such pressure to juggle family and work, since there would be no sudden vertical drop in income level at 65. Living longer would mean people would be more keen to protect the environment since they would have to live in it longer, perhaps two centuries. Medical costs would plummet as the battle against age-related disease is won, since most governments spend the largest proportion of their health expenditure on cancer, strokes and heart disease.
Fears of overpopulation are not a sufficiently strong argument to reject life extension. It is possible that within 30 years science will have identified the major longevity genes and will have sound proof of what lifestyle patterns prolong life. Some experts calculate that some people alive today will be still alive 150 years from now. Will we be among them?