Here we are again, those of us who made it, a year older and a year more experienced; another swing round the sun completed. We are somewhat more damaged by the workings of our metabolisms and biochemical happenstance, that much closer to catastrophic failure of one of the many intricate biological systems we depend upon. I hope we've managed to use that time well - it passes us at great cost, when considering what it will take to create more of it.
You did know that we're early in the era of being able to buy time - years of health - with money, right? That's what investment in the most plausible longevity research is, in essence. Pay now for the therapies that will result in the decades ahead. No different in concept to investing for a comfortable retirement - but the payoff is enormously larger in scope.
But to the title of this post: what was the most important thing that happened in 2007? To be sure, the scientific community has turned out ten thousand new facts, theories, promising avenues of research, technology demonstrations - and more - that will prove relevant to a future in which aging is conquered by biotechnology. "Important" doesn't have to mean "beneficial," however. The most important thing that happened in 2007 is that somewhere in the vicinity of 40 million people lost their lives to aging. Looking back to comparable years - and all recent years are comparable years - we see:
Each one of us carries within us a complex universe of knowledge, life experience, and human relationships. Each individual is gifted with unique insights possessed by no one else. Almost all of this rich treasury of information is forever lost to mankind when we die. This lost treasury is truly enormous. If the vast content of each person's life can be summarized in just one book, then every year, natural death robs us of 52 million books, worldwide. But the U.S. Library of Congress, the world's largest collection of physical books, holds only 18 million volumes. So each year, we allow a destruction of knowledge equivalent to three Libraries of Congress.
It is as if in 2001, somebody burned the Library of Congress to the ground. Once in January. Then again in May. Then again in September. 52 million books go up in flames. And then in 2002, they burn it down again. Three more times. And then again in 2003.
If we conservatively assume that the population age structure and the age-specific mortality is the same worldwide as in the United States, then the worldwide natural death toll of 52 million people in the Year 2001 represents an economic loss of about $100 trillion dollars. Every year.
How big of an economic calamity is this? Taking Federal Reserve figures for the total tangible wealth of the United States, including all financial assets, all real estate, and all consumer durables, net of debt, and applying the ratio of U.S. to world GDP gives us an estimate of total global tangible net worth of $91 trillion dollars. So this means that every year, natural death robs us of human capital equivalent in value to the entire tangible wealth of the world.
Nothing else that takes place in our world even begins to compare in impact to the end result of aging, a process we can now envisage bringing to an end through medical science. The cost of aging will be the most important happening of 2008 - and so too in every future year until we can rescue people from suffering and the degeneration of their biology. All else that took place in 2007 and all that will take place in 2008 is a shuffling of the deckchairs on the Titanic. Never forget that.