Show on NPR: Don’t they have any idea what this all means?

By Flyss. June 29th, 2010

Flyss here.  Strattera and I are heading home. Not sure what all we’ve learned, but maybe we’ll figure it out after a rest. BTW, I know there are a lot of questions from readers waiting to be answered. We’ll get to them soon. Glenn would want us to.

I wanted to mention one particular thing that happened while we were here, though it had nothing to do with being here, actually  It was a show on NPR about physical immortality that just played. (Aubrey de Grey came up.) Here’s what got to me: Everyone on the show seemed to (a) take it for granted that pretty soon we’re going to live practically forever, and, (b) this is a good thing.

What, are they all crazy? I mean, yes, (a) is correct:  We are all going to live practically forever. But how exactly is this a good thing? Can’t they see the consequences?

If people don’t die, earth’s population goes through the roof.  If you live forever, even a one-child policy like China has leads to crazy overpopulation. So what are we going to do, talk the whole world into not having kids? Never going to happen.  Will we just run out of resources so that everyone starves? Not going to happen either. The super rich and the super connected are going to get immortality first. And then they’re going to take control and make sure they and their family and their friends have whatever they need. Whatever it takes.

It’s a nightmare. And it’s coming. — Flyss

[This thread continues here.]


  1. c says:

    people are already leaving earth , as the population grows exponentially, mortality is shortened, there is more fear and hatred… and people getting gay etc…. and older people are passing on. More wars…

  2. humanspybot says:

    Your numbers don’t work out. The biggest wars in history were only a blip in population growth. Ditto gay people; ditto older people passing on. The world’s population in 1900 was about 1.5 billion. Two world wars and a worldwide influenza epidemic later, and it’s four times bigger than that. Why? Because medicine saved lives, mostly because it saved babies like Stephn says in his posts, which was almost like an act of war on the planet.

    Forget the internal combustion engine: saving babies was the greatest act of war on the planet ever committed!!

  3. c says:

    Hello no, it’s not the act of saving babies that’s increasing population. Most of the population growth comes from religious and cultural implications where the masculinity rules and coercing females to marry young to procreate 4 or 8 children… India, China and Africa for example. Now who’s fault is it? the docs or the men who dictate everything from politics, religion to culture?

  4. Stephen says:

    Humanspybot is actually correct. World birth rate has been going steadily down even as population growth has been shooting up. The cause has not been increased fertility, but decreased death.
    And that reduction in death is almost all in children. See this post of Strattera’s:

    By the way, it’s not doctors who reduced infant mortality. The major change was improved nutrition. The second was improved sanitation. Of all the things medicine has done, only vaccinations has made a major change in world population, and that’s a very distant third behind the other two.

  5. Observer says:

    There are several contributing factors to the population explosion. Everything from saving babies, to saving the elderly & the overly handicapped, to the drive of people to have their own offspring their own ‘blood’ if you will continuing down the line, to massively increased food production, to hormones in the food causing increased libido functions, and not to forget teen pregnancy. And those are just to name a few…So, if someone were to place blame on anyone it would be on basically everyone, because we all contribute to it in some fashion.

    As Ox “hates death”, so too do we all. No one wants to see dead people.

  6. Stephen says:

    Actually, “humanspybot” has it right. To go through your points one by one:
    (1) Saving the elderly has had no more than a trivial impact on world population. So far, that is. Right now, people over 60 make up about 7.5% of the world population. This will change, due to a number of factors, but life extension is finally beginning to make an impact.
    (2) Drive of people to have their own offspring: Yes, but this is eternal. The massively increased rate of change of world population began around 1800.
    (3)Increased food production is probably the biggest influence. But what this did more than anything else was to “save babies.” (Agreed:The world’s massive reduction in infant mortality was not attributable to doctors.)
    (4)Hormones in the food? This makes little sense. Fertility and birthrate have been going steadily down, not up; in any case, those hormones would be much more present in developed countries than in undeveloped.
    (5) Teen pregnancy? Throughout most of history, that has been the norm, and so it can’t be invoked to explain the takeoff of population.

    But, I agree, blame doesn’t attach. No one set out to increase the world’s population. And who can possibly argue that we should have deliberately starved people? But, the effect happened with or without intention. The same can be said of the internal combustion engine. No one set out to create global warming.

    However, we _are_ setting out to extend life. That’s the difference.

  7. Edward says:

    It is true, world wars have done little to decrease the population. Yet, likewise, increased lifespans have also done little. The true exponential driver of population is fertility rates… mostly in the developing world.

    Overpopulation is not a problem in any developed nation. It is hard to name a single developed nation whose fertility rate is above the replacement rate. The only places where overpopulation is a problem is the developing world.

    It is a sad fact, but the poor and miserable breed like crazy and end up sharing their misery with their numerous offspring. This is probably because when there is no rule of law, you have child labor and no universal education. Thus, you are poor and it is extremely profitable to breed some child slaves to work on the family farm. The payout is immediate and direct, unlike having kids in rich countries, in which the payout is just emotional. Mix in ignorance about contraceptives and STDs, and you have an incendiary mixture of forces which conspire against sustainable population rates.

    Furthermore, the developing world uses the least resources, so each extra person there depletes much less resources on a marginal basis.

    There is every reason to suspect that the numerous alternative sources of energy, like solar, wind, and geothermal will be able to act as efficient substitutes when oil becomes scarce.

    Density living in cities is far more efficient, and urbanization has increased greatly because of this reason. I suspect this trend will continue, despite rural living being increasingly easy as tech improves, simply because of network effects.

    There really is no reason why the Earth couldn’t hold 100 billion people. The only problem is that externalities are not properly accounted for. It does seem the global warming has the potential to be an issue, but it is hard to say how much of any issue and how soon. If it is a serious threat, by the time it actually causes damage, our tech will likely be even more advanced.

    Though geo-engineering is easily possible, even with current technology, as a last resort. It seems that in almost any global warming scenario, the real losers will again be the developing world. The rich countries will probably be bruised but manage just fine.

  8. Stephen says:

    To address the first part of your comment: I agree, and state explicitly, that increased life spans have played almost no role in population. However, reduced infant mortality has played a major role. The issue of birth rate is true tautologically: there is no other source of exponential growth in population, or, for that matter, linear growth. :-) However, birth rates have been consistently declining, and have continued to decline as the rate of change of population growth has risen upwards. EG. Fertility is a fact of life, an extremely basic and instinctual one. It has been kept in check by death Proposing to remove the check unleashes the power of the fact.

  9. c says:

    True Edward, how about all these disease are perpetuated by the government to weaken humans… take for example, the Bird Flu virus, Anthrax, Mad Cow diseases…. Sars was the worst though.

    irresponsible choices of humanity have to be taken part into this account of over population. Whether it be race, religion and economic status…

  10. james says:

    insanity. Overpopulation. Just look up at the stars. is that overpopulation.
    Overpopulation is a benefit for the species.
    the idea that we need to curb population is insanity on the most logical level.
    When you know resources are infinite , when you know space is infinite

    Abundance is a part of nature.

    If space is the argument, we can already go off world and colonise
    and the rest of the universe wouldn’t notice. our 6 billion
    against their trillions and trillions

    If every one on earth was immortal and had generations of babies who were immortals and this continued for over a billion years
    we still would be a relativity small number compared to the rest of this universe.

    The main argument is resources. But this is deception. Nature is abundant and does not stop. it is simply a few have halted progress for the species by hoarding as much as they can. technologies and natural truths etc
    even worse is that they have convinced others that resources are finite
    and given birth to some insane theory where we need to cull our own species in order to survive instead of expand out like the rest of nature does. and the rest of the universe has done

    If you observed such behaviour on another planet
    where they actively cull their own species, hide resources from each other
    the actual lifespan of their species too the rest of the galaxy would be very short and they would have shot themselves in the foot so to speak

    How a species handles overpopulation determines how long the species will last.
    Culling a species eventually leads to extinction.
    The only way to survive is to expand.

    Human species is really just getting started

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