If you needed proof that the educated, wealthy, and powerful are just as susceptible to myths parading as science as anyone else—the over-population hysteria is a perfect example. It’s not the only discredited social cause, but the focus on total population numbers distracts us from very real demographic problems. This puts the world on a path to economic disaster.
As an overpopulation apocalypse became an article of secular faith—as well as the basis of an enormous pseudoscientific fundraising industry—serious demographers warned about an actual and potentially catastrophic population problem. This is the combination of plummeting fertility rates and increasingly longer life spans which has led to a radical change in the balance of young people to old people.
We’ve known this was happening since the 1930s, thanks to demographers such as Warren Thompson. From the 1960s onward, however, real demographic science was corrupted by academia, government, and media in love with the junk science of the overpopulation myth.
To this day, most people don’t know that birth rates were already falling during the 20th century when populations were growing fastest. While activists pushed for mandated birth control, they were part of the group that was actually causing an increase in population due to their increased life spans and reduced death rates.
This is the central truth of modern demography. As life spans have increased, fertility rates have fallen even faster. Thus far, it seems to be a law of nature.
Since the dawn of the 20th century, life spans have almost doubled. In large part, this is due to advances in biotechnologies: clean water, sanitation, and agriculture as well as the medical sciences. Due to these biotechnologies, billions of people were rapidly added to the number of living humans despite falling birth rates. People were just taking longer to die.
Globally, in fact, the human species has already reached peak babies. From this point forward, every generation will be smaller than the last. Total population will increase for a bit longer, but you can’t blame procreation and babies. It’s because life spans continue to increase.
In a few decades, however, that will reverse and the human species will then enter steady and perhaps accelerated depopulation. Can you imagine a world in coming centuries with one tenth (or less) the current human population? Many demographers believe it could happen.
Many people will applaud this remarkable change. Personally, I tend to think that it may be a good thing in the long run. It’s certainly interesting.
Unfortunately, however, there is a very worrisome transition period before death rates surpass birth rates. During this transition, the ratio of older people to the younger people who fund transfer payments to the aged will grow increasingly untenable. Most of the developed world is already in dismal economic conditions as social services and pension funds are forced to borrow to meet their obligations.
Former director of the United Nations Population Division Joseph Chaimi calls this the “Historic Reversal,” referring to that point where the elderly outnumber children. In the article linked here, Chaimi writes,
It first happened in Italy in 1995. Five years later, it happened in six additional countries—Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Japan, Portugal, and Spain. Today, the total number of countries where it has occurred stands at 30, including most members of the European Union. In fifteen years, that number is expected to nearly double and include Australia, Canada, China, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.
Having been distracted by the overpopulation mythmakers, voters—who should have been informed—are completely unaware of this historic change and resist all of the logical solutions, such as extended working careers. As a result, Chaimi observes, most politicians pretend the problem doesn’t exist or they just kick the can down the road. He ends the piece I linked to above with this paragraph:
As a result of low birth rates, improved chances of survival, and longer life, the Historic Reversal appears certain to happen in most countries during the 21st century. What remains uncertain, and appears somewhat worrisome at this point in time, is whether governments and the general public will respond effectively, responsibly, and in a timely manner to the Historic Reversal and the many challenges being brought about by population ageing.
I’m less optimistic and am convinced that neither governments nor publics will face reality until current systems are collapsing around them—as they already are in Greece and elsewhere. In the long run, I’m an optimist because new anti-aging therapeutics will keep people healthier longer so they can pay their own way and fix our current problems. These therapeutics, however, are a two-edged sword.
Though much of the research is not yet public, I’m seeing biotechnologies in labs that will dramatically extend life spans and reduce the rate and cost of age-related diseases. The public wants these technologies, of course, but they will make the problems of the Historic Reversal much more severe much faster.
If you doubt that such therapies are real, let’s talk about rapamycin. I don’t think it’s the most effective anti-aging compound, but it is probably the most studied. An anti-fungal molecule produced by bacteria from Easter Island, rapamycin’s anti-aging benefits in animals are extensively documented.
A new study has demonstrated even more dramatic life-extending impacts from rapamycin than previously observed. Researchers at the University of Washington, University of Missouri, and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center gave rapamycin to older mice—the equivalent to 60-year-old humans—for only 90 days. That one-time intervention produced permanent and dramatic health benefits. One mouse in the study may have broken the mouse longevity record, living 1400 days. That’s comparable to a human living 140 years.
I doubt that even the improved rapamycin molecules now being tested in animals will extend human life spans by six generations, but we have to seriously consider that they may add ten to twenty years. If this happened, already failing programs and pension funds would melt down completely. An already overburdened younger generation could never pay those bills. This is simple math.
Fortunately, this rapamycin study points the way to the true solution, which entails the end of retirement as we know it. Until recently, it was assumed that rapamycin and other anti-aging compounds would have to be taken from youth onward to prevent the damage of aging. This study, like others, shows that nearly all of rapamycin’s anti-aging benefits accrue even when dosing begins quite late in life.
Older mice given rapamycin show obvious signs of regeneration, regaining many characteristics typical of youth, including improved muscle mass, reduced fat, hair regrowth, restored cognition, and virility. Other therapies have produced the same kinds of changes in a broad range of animals, including cows and horses, so there is every reason to expect that the same will be true in humans.
This changes everything that we thought we knew about aging. It also changes the economics of anti-aging therapeutics, making them attractive to older people who need restored health to remain productive. If anti-aging therapies only prevented aging, it would take decades to prove. It would also be a hard sell to get young people to take prophylactically. Moreover, the economic benefits of anti-aging therapeutics would take twenty to forty years to arrive. The fact that anti-aging benefits accrue to the aged also encourages older investors to fund development of anti-aging therapies.
This is why I’m an optimist in the long run, despite my belief that things will get much worse before they get better. When I tell people about the anti-aging therapeutics in development now, I often encounter doubt. Skeptics say the pharmaceutical industry will kill any therapy that makes existing drugs obsolete. Others say that government will squelch drugs that could make the entitlements crisis so much worse.
I doubt this is the case, simply because foreign governments are courting many of the scientists working on the cutting edge. I don’t think anything can stop the arrival of anti-aging medicines that are far more effective than anything we’ve seen in the past. Even if you don’t believe me, you should at least consider what it means if I’m right.
Editor, Transformational Technology Alert
We welcome your comments. Please comply with our Community Rules.