Live For 150 Years Joe? We’ll Be Lucky If Humanity Survives That Long
It’s good to see Australia’s Treasurer, Joe Hockey, taking the long-term view. He says that a child born today could feasibly live for 150 years, but while he’s reading up on magic pills for longevity, maybe he should widen his reading a bit.
Joe, of course, is looking at the purely economic implications of an ageing population. But if increased longevity is linked to continuing good health and to people working proportionally longer, economics may be the least of our worries.
Mr Hockey is a big fan of greater economic growth, and like most of his ilk he seems to subscribe to the idea that growth can continue forever. So along with worrying about how people are going to live much longer lives, it would be nice if he were to give some attention to the ability of Planet Earth to sustain his future generations of geriatrics.
He could start with the classic, Limits to Growth. After its publication in 1972 it was much maligned by people who overlooked the fact that its warnings of possible ‘overshoot and collapse’ applied to the mid to late 21st century. Now, just 15 years into the new century it’s already looking more prescient than pessimistic.
For an actual measure on how we are doing, Joe could move on to the latest study of planetary boundaries. According to its authors, we have already pushed four of nine key planetary systems into the danger zone. While the authors of the paper may optimistically suggest that “The world has a tremendous opportunity this year to address global risks, and do it more equitably”, let’s be honest, nothing much will change.
For an up-close look at one of the systems that is in big trouble, biosphere integrity, Joe can read up on how we have reduced the total numbers of wild animal by half in the past 40 years. The bizarre thing is that, through poaching, over-fishing and habitat destruction, we are quite happy to wipe out species that are economically important to us.
Of course, there isn’t much chance that Mr Hockey will read any of these works, and the likelihood that he would heed their warnings is non-existent. The Abbott government has a particularly abysmal environmental record. Mind you, most national governments are not much better.
A mass extinction event may be underway, but the probability of Homo sapiens going the way of the dodo, moa or passenger pigeon is probably very small. We’ll still be around in 2165 and it’s close to a certainty that, over the intervening years, we will continue to degrade the natural environment.
So Joe, instead of worrying about how you can increase the rate at which we consume the planet, how about you focus on increasing that rate at which we improve it instead.
Otherwise, the prospect of living to 150 doesn’t look very attractive at all.
Title image: Ryan Rayburn/IMF via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0