More old people is a bad idea. More old cabbages is an insane idea
Here’s a few little factoids to keep you on your toes…just as you were ready to digest Sunday lunch and nod off. But beforehand, a couple of interesting quotes from the World Health Organisation on the subject of increased longevity:
‘A better understanding of the changing relationship between health with age is crucial if we are to create a future that takes full advantage of the powerful resource inherent in older populations. To do so, nations must develop appropriate data systems and research capacity to monitor and understand these patterns and relationships, specifically longtitudinal studies that incorporate measures of health, economic status, family, and well-being.’
Or, in a nutshell, active and aware old folks good, dementia-ridden vegetables bad.
‘Managing population ageing also requires building needed infrastructure and institutions as soon as possible. The longer we delay, the more costly and less effective the solutions are likely to be’.
Memo to Jeremy Berkeley-Hunt: stop sympathising, start doing.
Setting the above aside for now, I want to point out to everyone something that occurred to me during 2011. While every population-future site I go to keeps telling me that better-fed folks have fewer children, why is nobody calculating the effect of better-medicated and healthier oldies living much longer? And – allied to this – where are the voices asking WTF is the point of extending longevity to create an even bigger problem for ourselves on this planet of finite surface area and atmosphere we call Earth?
According to the Population Reference Bureau’s “2010 World Population Data Sheet”, 4.45 people are born every second worldwide, and 1.8 people die during that same second. Now given the staggering advances made in longevity since 1950 (when a 63-year lifespan was seen by most Europeans as ‘a good innings’), those numbers really do not look good for the medium to long term – even if we assume zero further progress from here on. We are looking at 2.5 times as many kids being born as grandpa’s popping their clogs. But the reality is, progress on these issues is accelerating almost exponentially.
Here’s the rub: neo-natal/infant survival is going up, while early clog-popping is going down.
Let’s look at the net effect of four factors:
1. Better medicare and diet producing more birth survivals to adulthood
2. Greater material prosperity creating less (cultural) desire for children
3. Greater fitness awareness producing longer-living wrinklies
4. Further medical advances reducing the death rate and also increasing longevity.
Simply extrapolating current trends forward (and even taking point 2 at face value – a big assumption) in theory we could be looking at 3 people born per second to 1 dying.
Which translates into a 33% net rate of population increase….compared to 20% now.
But it doesn’t end there, because if a kid survives to adulthood, the growth in numbers is no longer a projection: short of global pandemic or nuclear holocaust, it’s happened and it won’t be reversed. This effectively acts like ‘compound interest’ in population terms: even if each kid has 2 not 3 kids, more of them survive and have two kids each – perhaps all of whom survive.
Homo sapiens has a truly amazing brain, but in most folks it’s crap at working out interest, compound growth, or extrapolating the exponential. This is how credit card companies make so much money: if we could all do it, there would be no such thing as a credit card charging upwards of 23% apr annually.
Now whichever way you cut it, it’s a terrible idea to have the birth rate outstripping the death rate by 3 to 1. But if you use a less optimistic assumption – that survival into old age also outstrips progress in fighting dementia – you have a problem so much greater, eventually obligatory euthanasia becomes the only solution. The Sovereign cost of housing and caring for a billion human carrots doesn’t bear thinking about.
My point is a simple one: don’t be complacent, and don’t be reassured by the Armageddon-never-happens brigade: their view is based on the idiotic assumption that, because it’s never happened before, it can’t happen. Words like Pompeii, Fukushima, Nazi dictatorship, Gulag, Dunkirk, Dallas, and Hwang Ho spring to mind.
We have the same water available today we had 750,000 years ago…but 1400 times as many people who need to use it….who are using it 3.2 times more rapaciously than they were 70 years ago.
Think on it.