Arguing that it is Immoral to Object to Longevity Science for Fear of Overpopulation

Overpopulation is one of the great apocalyptic fears of our era, and like many of the rest of those fears, it is unfounded. If anything, the trajectory is for increased wealth to reduce population as children shift from being a necessary benefit to what is effectively a form of luxury good. Further, the effects of great longevity on population size are generally much smaller than people imagine, as rigorous modeling shows. Lastly, this planet could support more than ten times the current population using present day technologies, were more of the land used efficiently. Yet still, people look at the results of war and kleptocracy and cry overpopulation rather than recognizing the true causes of suffering.

In this article, I'll try to show that the overpopulation objection against rejuvenation is morally deplorable, that not developing rejuvenation for the sake of avoiding overpopulation is morally unacceptable, and thus overpopulation doesn't constitute a valid objection to rejuvenation. I'll start with an example. Imagine there's a family of two parents and three children. They're not doing too well financially, and they live packed in a tiny apartment with no chances of moving somewhere larger. Clearly they cannot afford having more children, but they would really like having more anyway. What should they do? The only reasonable answer is that they should not have any more children until they can afford having them. Throwing away the old ones for the sake of some other child to be even conceived yet would be nothing short of sheer madness.

That being said, let's have a look at the overpopulation objection. It can be summarised as follows: If we cured ageing, we would end up having more people than our planet can sustain. Therefore we should not cure ageing. Translation: Curing ageing means eliminating age-related diseases as a cause of death, i.e. eliminating a very effective way to get rid of older people. If we don't get rid of older people, we won't have room for new ones, so we shouldn't cure ageing.

If we were to apply this logic to the small-scale example of the family, we should get rid of the older kids to make room for the new ones, and I'm not talking about kicking them out of the house when they're 18; new people are born all the time in the world, which in our small-scale example translates to the family wanting more kids here and now. Not curing ageing means letting people become sick with horrible age-related diseases and die of them; in the small-scale example, this could be compared to not vaccinating the kids. It goes without saying that, from a merely moral standpoint, if we're afraid that we might end up having more people than we can afford having, the appropriate answer to this problem is 'let's not make more people than we can afford having'.

Still, the idea of present-day people dying for the sake of potential future children who aren't even in their mothers' wombs yet somehow seems perfectly acceptable; however, when applied the example of the family, the very same idea appears to be a clear case of being several sandwiches short of a picnic. Why this double standard? I can think of three reasons. The first, obvious reason is that death by ageing happens 'naturally' and up until now has been inevitable, so by the false equation 'normal'='right', people conclude this is how things should be. The second reason might be that we don't value elderly lives as much as children's. This may be understandable from the cynical survival-of-the-species point of view, but is absolutely undefendable from any humane point of view. The third reason is that we don't really think of humanity as some sort of big family. The children of the family example are much more 'concrete' than the elderly people of the large-scale example. When you think of the former, you identify with one of the parents and are horrified at the thought of throwing away your own children; when you think of the latter, for the most part they're just random elderly people whom you don't know and have no emotional attachment to.

Long story short: You can't use overpopulation as a reason to object to rejuvenation biotechnologies, because you can't ask people to give up on good health and potentially indefinite lifespans for the sake of people who aren't even in the making yet. The only reasonable alternative is that we don't make more people than we can afford having.



The people I've heard promoting this particular type of alarmism aren't at all interested in morality or humanism. They are far right and far left leaning nutjobs with a penchant for the authoritarian.

So even though the points raised are valid they will fall on deaf ears.

Posted by: Anonymoose at February 24th, 2017 1:04 PM

Japan, North America, Western Europe and Italy are all population negative. There are no known population control measures in play in these countries. What happens is that women in developed countries control population on their own, self-limiting the number of children to opt for greater independence. Two children is population negative. The greater problem is not adding years to the end of life per se but rather how will a country like the USA pay for all the medical care (maybe not needed if taking an anti-aging pill) and pensions. Social Security is already being partially paid for out of the US general fund. The Social Security Trust Fund has IOUs in the form of US T-bills, but they are worthless pieces of paper backed by nothing or than the "good faith and credit of the United States," which means "print more electronic money. The US collects ~3.2 trillion in tax revenues and spend $6 trillion. The difference is made up by borrowing or creating electronic money out of thin air. Methinks many Americans fear living longer because they see the elderly over-medicated, mindless, drooling at the mouth, confined to wheelchairs. An anti-aging strategy would increase health span along with lifespan. Seniors would be functional to their last day of life. That is what is hoped for. Because of the sorry state of financial affairs, any anti-aging technology needs to be affordable and reduce the overall cost of healthcare.

Posted by: Bill Sardi at February 26th, 2017 9:06 AM

"Lastly, this planet could support more than ten times the current population using present day technologies, were more of the land used efficiently."

Your understanding of human overpopulation is remarkably limited and ignorant. Land use efficiency is a minor factor in human sustainability. Overpopulation by definition is tied a populations biomass's relationship to its ability to effectively acquire the critical resources necessary for its continued maintenance and growth. Humans are unique in that they have had the technical ability to extract the majority of their critical resources well beyond the necessary planetary cyclic regeneration of those resources - by tapping in geologic past life resource residues.

Specifically the human species has two major current critical resource bottle necks, which are energy and phosphorus. Historically, scientific inquiry, technology development and problem resolution are proportional to and critically dependent on a society having adequate energy. Currently, there are no energy sources that can replace the fossil fuel resources in the quantities needed to maintain, much less indefinitely sustain - even the current population. Regarding phosphorus there is only one resource that has proven to be economically viable to supply the phosphorus (all life depends on adequate phosphorus resources) and that is rock phosphates. Rock phosphate extraction's economic viability is expected to become untenable in less than three decades due to the declining quality of reserves resulting in the increased cost of removing natural toxins naturally found in rock phosphates such as heavy metals including uranium. Logically, we have used the good stuff up first. While their are large gross rock phosphate deposits globally (USGS) very little of these deposits are economically viable under current energy economic paradigms. Rock phosphates were the most limiting ingredient in chemical fertilizers (NPK) of the "green revolution" and the production of cheap foods that we now take for granted. Currently, the extraction and production of all three chemical ingredients of NPK are petroleum dependent. Even if we find alternative energy sources to fossil fuels, it will not change the chemical need for the petrochemicals to refine and produce NPK. Further, any change in the petroleum and petrochemical economics (scaling down of the petroleum industry - which ecologically we desperately need to do) will necessarily increase the cost of NPK and global food production. These cost increases will increase unrest in poorer parts of the world.

In the depleted absence of fossil fuels, or some completely new alternative energy (solar and wind can only theoretically fulfill about 22% of the global energy needs in the best case) such as fusion, our ability to economically extract the necessary components of NPK fertilizers which 95% of global food production is dependent upon - will still peak in just a few decades.

If we define the human population's sustainability limits using only renewable resources (including phosphates which has regeneration cycle measured in centuries), we passed those limits early in the Industrial Revolution at a global population of less than one billion. Thinking that world can support 74 billion people (10 times the current 7.4B) is incredibly ignorant of both the technical, economic, and ecological aspects as to what the exceptionally general term "support" has to mean.

Regarding overpopulation and longevity morality: The science of longevity and the technical inquiry necessary to produce significant extension of healthy life spans and or immortality are absolutely dependent on the economic and social stability of the planet - to which adequate affordable food production is a primary key element. Morality (longevity or otherwise) is a social and philosophical construct that dissolves in the reality of both fiscal and physical economic viability. Continued human overpopulation as a function of critical resource depletion actually insures that we will never reach our goals of enhanced maximum longevity and or immortality - unless we reach these very, very soon. The lack of current real progress increasing maximum healthy life span indicates that while me may be making progress in reducing the symptoms of genetic default programed aging, increasing maximum health life span isn't really happening - yet.

Having said all this and in the frame of critical resource economics, and again in terms of both fiscal and physical economics the extended longevity of our species is a far more economically viable strategy - than the constant reproduction of individuals to support a maximum sustainable population. There is a much higher critical resource cost in the constant reproduction of new individuals (their increasing education needs, treatment of their age related diseases (most), and the housing and care of the aged senile in their current typical end-of-life scenarios) than a human population that spends much longer periods in states of healthy productivity. Consequently, enhanced longevity science and its practical and successful applications to the human species at large is a necessary - if not absolutely critical part of increasing the sustainability of the human species and especially assuming and informed understanding of the finite critical resources of our planet.

Posted by: Durwood M. Dugger at February 26th, 2017 11:25 AM

"Currently, there are no energy sources that can replace the fossil fuel resources in the quantities needed to maintain, much less indefinitely sustain - even the current population."

Of course there is! We have it since several decades ago! It's called nuclear fission. Using breeder reactors (developed several decades ago and working right now in several countries) we can cover all our energy needs for several billion years!

As you said, "your understanding of human overpopulation is remarkably limited and ignorant".

Posted by: Antonio at February 27th, 2017 3:51 AM

"To power the entire world with renewable energy, you'd just need to crank out a bunch of solar panels, batteries, and wind turbines and you're done."

No, you aren't done. Batteries are expensive and polluting, and anyway there are large regions and seasons where/when solar panels and wind turbines are mostly useless.

"You don't even need nukes."

Nuclear energy is not based on nukes at all.

Posted by: Antonio at February 27th, 2017 2:10 PM

Uhh...the Stanford study I linked to seems to disagree with you, Antonio. If that wasn't enough, here's more:

As for batteries, Tesla's aren't that expensive and seem to be getting significantly cheaper relatively quickly. I don't see any big pollution problem with them either.

If you've never heard of nuclear power plants being referred to (perhaps pejoratively) as nukes, well, now you have. ;-)

Posted by: Florin Clapa at February 27th, 2017 5:25 PM

Florin Clapa:

As for your first comment, there is not one link there but a lot of them. Which do you refer to? Anyway, they seem only to be roadmaps, not demonstrations.

In your second comment there is again a roadmap. At least, that is the first link, I didn't read all links.

Consider for example the situation in Spain. Every decade we have 2-3 years of drought. During those years, water consumption for human use is restricted, and of course hydro energy is mostly non-existent. There is also from time to time periods of weeks or even an entire month with almost no wind. Also, particularly in the north, there are long periods without direct sunlight. For example, my girlfriend always complains that in her city usually there are only 10-20 days without rain per year. And, if you think that thus her region is good for hydroelectricity, it's not. The rivers there are short and don't carry much water. It's so for the entire Atlantic north coast of Spain (around 35% of Spain's coast).

You can also consider countries like Russia and Canada, with little sunlight and frozen rivers. When there is some days without wind, you are f****d.

Posted by: Antonio at February 28th, 2017 2:41 AM

Antonio, I was referring to the first section on the page I linked to first, but there's a shorter summary further down the page. The roadmap paper (yeah, it's more accurate to call it that than a "study," but it's not just hypothetical either, since most of this renewable tech works well today and only needs to be scaled up) is the first link in that section. The second link I posted has a bunch of similar papers by different groups.

Here's the summary of the roadmap paper:

The roadmap paper itself:

And some nice infographics for most countries including Spain, Canada, and Russia:

There's no need for new hydro.

Initially, the grid will still be needed to transport electricity to places where renewables can't generate enough electricity to meet demand. Batteries could supplement that, and I can image that if they (and solar panels) get cheap and efficient enough, even those places may use them instead of the grid. Anyway, some utilities are already starting to install large-scale battery storage.

Posted by: Florin Clapa at February 28th, 2017 1:26 PM

Looking at the Standford Road Maps - they completely ignore critical resource depletion economics and the current very limited role alternative energy is contributing to global energy demand. It's very easy to imagine technological solutions with equally imagined free energy resources, if only they actually existed. I would suggest a read of the book TechnoFix to understand why technology without abundant inexpensive energy sources can't solve most of the economic problems that many of you seem to think technology alone can solve. If you think nuclear fission is more than another subsidized, non-competitive, non-renewable, and extremely hazardous energy source (as we sit here and wait for the next Fukushima) you really need to do a lot more economic homework on the subject of energy.

I had to laugh at the Tesla battery statements - current battery replacement costs for Tesla cars is in excess of $15K and only a tiny fraction of the batteries weight is actually lithium - meaning poor recycling economic justification. Current Tesla car sales are also declining and critiques of the Tesla's poor economics continue to grow. This also means that Tesla's will have little used car market potential and add to the many things that we were promised could be economically recycled - that sit across the world - un-recycled in huge, continuing to grow, environmentally damaging - junk debris piles. Battery storage technology is advancing, but its economics continue to be marginal if not completely non-viable for global scaling.

Recycling economics have proven to be far more complex and difficult than what product promoters of recycled products tend to promote and project. Again, unless there is some new really cheap (many times cheaper than fossil fuel) energy source discovered (it certainly won't be fission if the economics aren't subsidized) the human population problem (Overpopulation - A population far in excess of the critical resources to support it in the long term.) only becomes more acute as time goes on.

Posted by: Durwood M. Dugger at July 8th, 2017 2:19 PM

"If you think nuclear fission is more than another subsidized, non-competitive, non-renewable, and extremely hazardous energy source (as we sit here and wait for the next Fukushima)"

Nobody has died or got sick on Fukushima due to radiation from the plant.

170,000 people died and 6,000,000 buildings collapsed in an accident of a renewable energy power plant.

"you really need to do a lot more economic homework on the subject of energy"

You really should follow your own advice before opening your mouth.

Posted by: Antonio at July 9th, 2017 3:31 AM
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