Recently Elon Musk has been tweeting about the imminent danger of wholesale population collapse. And not just in places like Italy and Japan. Birth rates are falling the world over at a much faster rate than anticipated, suggesting that the global population could peak around 2050, dramatically changing how we live in the latter half of the century.
Fertility rates in Europe, East Asia, and Oceania are already catastrophically low. South Korea, for instance, recently posted a rate of 0.81 children per woman per lifetime, suggesting that the population may be cut in two by 2060.
But it’s not just the developed rich world that is seeing rates fall off a cliff. Even places with traditionally high birth rates, like India, are at or below replacement level.
The situation may be even direr in China, believed by the UN to be the world’s most populous country. Birth rates here are likely below 1, (despite the official figures being much higher than this), and will likely fall further. That’s because China has the worst gender imbalance in the world, with 1.2 men for every woman of childbearing age. There are simply far fewer women available to have children compared to other populations with similar age structures.
The only place where the population is likely to rise for the rest of the century is in sub-Saharan Africa. However, even here, that doesn’t look so certain. Birth rates are falling dramatically, with projections that fertility will fall to replacement levels over the next twenty years, provided that women gain access to education.
For most policymakers, the consequences of this are obvious. Nothing can be done about aging or death, so by 2100, they believe that the world will be in an economic crisis, driven by the sheer number of people older than 65.
But, of course, that’s missing a trick. While planners and policymakers can’t conceive that anything can be done to keep people healthier for longer, that doesn’t mean that such interventions aren’t available. In fact, supplements are already on the market today that claim to significantly extend lifespans.
Anti-Aging Science May Provide An Answer To Population Collapse
Most researchers agree that adopting a range of healthy lifestyle factors can extend life by around a decade, and perhaps two. If you quit smoking, drink moderately, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise, then the gains are significant. Average life expectancy in the US, for instance, could go up from a miserable 76 to more than 86.
Furthermore, if you make lifestyle changes to the extreme, then it may be possible to go significantly beyond that. Eating nutrient-dense foods, avoiding all junk, and exercising vigorously may help many people get into the nineties – something that long-lived cultures around the world prove is possible.
These measures, though, aren’t popular. Most people don’t want to follow them. Being healthy isn’t the goal. Experiencing pleasure is more important.
However, we may be getting to the stage where people may be able to have their cake and eat it, too, now that science is beginning to understand the mechanisms of aging. Already there is a slew of supplements and therapies to boost cellular protection mechanisms and balance hormones on the market. Regular consumers are able to rig their biochemistry to increase the likelihood that they will live longer and avoid disease, despite their passion for greasy burgers and candy.
What’s more, the power of antiaging interventions is growing over time. In the early days, the goal was simply to slow down the onset of aging and disease. Now technologies exist that can rewind the age of cells, potentially helping a sixty-year-old become biologically thirty again.
This technology isn’t science fiction. Thanks to David Sinclair’s Harvard lab, it’s proven science. His team has reversed aging in multiple mouse organs using genetic techniques that rewind cellular clocks, making them believe that they are young again. Yamanaka factors, as they are known, appear to reduce markers of aging and restore cells to youthfulness, just as happens in the womb when a fertilized egg transforms into a fetus. The genetic code gets reset, and damage is erased.
If this technology works in humans, which seems highly likely, it will change the game completely. Humans could live to 150 or beyond, eliminating the population collapse issue. Even if birth rates plummeted to below one globally, population decline would happen slowly over the course of centuries, giving the economy and society more time to adapt to changes. Furthermore, keeping people alive for longer means less need for education and health. Individuals could remain fit enough to work for over 100 years. That would dramatically boost productivity and provide a second “demographic dividend” that powers economies to become more productive.
Won’t It Just Be For The Rich?
Right now, anti-aging supplements are for people on high incomes. But that might not be the case in the future, particularly for gene therapies. While supplements involve high manufacturing and distribution costs (and aren’t particularly effective), the price of gene therapies is coming down all the time. If technology is open-source, it could cost just a few hundred dollars. Companies may even pay for their staff to get it to keep them in the labor force for longer.
Ultimately, it will make sense for governments to pay for anti-aging gene therapies as health systems collapse under the weight of disease and death in the future. Giving someone an anti-aging intervention that reduces their risk of chronic disease by 90 percent might cost $2,000 while treating cancer might cost $200,000 with very little benefit.
There will also likely be considerable pressure from the public. Only wealthy people living to 150 while the poor die at 60 would be politically impossible. Governments would have to make anti-aging therapies available at low or zero cost, like vaccinations, antibiotics, or other essential public health medications.
Ultimately, the societies that embrace anti-aging technologies stand to be the most successful in all areas. If people live significantly longer, the benefits are likely to be extraordinary.
(Devdiscourse’s journalists were not involved in the production of this article. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Devdiscourse and Devdiscourse does not claim any responsibility for the same.)