2 - Short version:
The views expressed by the presenter are for the purposes of debate and do not
necessarily represent his own opinions, nor are they intended to represent in
any way the opinions or other views of the AGHE. Prepared
and presented by Augustine G. DiGiovanna.
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I speak in opposition to the hypothesis. I base my opposition on several lines of evidence which include the following; (1) current and projected demographics; (2) what is meant by "quality of life"; (3) and the adverse effects of large populations on quality of life.
First, we must recognize facts about present populations and our best projections about future populations. These projections are based on certain assumptions, one of which is having a change in mean longevity and no change in maximum longevity. When demographers consider the variables and scenarios that affect longevity, they conclude that the most likely or "middle series" life expectancies for people born in the year 2050 will be only 84 for women and only 80 for men. Life expectancies for people who are age 65 in the year 2050 will be only 87 for women and only 85 for men. Anyone considering increasing life expectancies expects to increase them far above these values. If we succeed in doing this, projections about population size are dangerously low. Moreover, projections about elders in the population are especially low. This is because in the US and other developed countries, survival rates during childhood and young adulthood are already so high that only increasing survival among older adults can have a significant effect on life expectancy. But let's see demographers' projected population size and age distributions. By the year 2050 the US population will increase from its present 280 million to 404 million and will still be growing. By the year 2050 the world population will increase from 6 billion to 9 billion and will still be growing. Most of the global population increase will occur in the developing nations, and most of this increase will occur among adults, especially among elders. The result will be an extremely high human population made up of a new and disproportionately high percentage of elders. Any increase in life expectancies beyond those I mentioned previously will only make a bad situation worse.
2. Quality of life
Now let's look at the meaning of quality of life. The US government says that quality of life includes a "general sense of happiness and satisfaction with our lives and environment that encompasses all aspects of life, including health, recreation, culture, rights, values, beliefs, aspirations, and conditions that support life containing these elements." Well, how do you measure all that? Other descriptions of quality of life include more specifically one's food, physical independence, economic status, social status, self-efficacy, self-determination, space, political circumstances, employment, and exposure to wilderness. I hope you noticed that even some of these criteria are overly vague. Still, the point I will make is that increases in population size, especially with increases in the percentage of elders, will cause a decline in many, if not all, of these criteria. I have time to address only a few of these.
First, consider health. Many diseases increase in frequency and severity with increasing age. Even with the current rate of increasing life expectancy and of medical advances, the number of afflicted elder individuals is rising at an ever-increasing rate, as is the percent of the population afflicted. Specific examples include eye disorders and blindness; hearing impairment; dental disease; arthritis, which is the leading chronic and disabling condition among elders; cancer; depression; and dementias, of which Alzheimer's disease is by far the most common. The incidence of dementia among elders doubles every five years. Dementia occurs in eleven percent of those 80-84, twenty-one percent for those 85-89, and thirty-nine percent for those 90-94. At that rate, increasing life expectancy to age 100 means that more than three quarters of the population will become demented and remain so for at least several years. Meanwhile, our resources for preventing, for treating, and for making accommodations for these diseases are already being outstripped. This is true on an individual basis and even more so for diseases that fall within the realm of public health, such as disease-carrying vectors and epidemics like AIDS. Increasing mean longevity would also mean general and widespread declines in health status for elders and, therefore, a widespread decline in quality of life for elders and for society as a whole. It would also likely mean new epidemics of transmissible diseases and diseases that are now considered rare. Just these last scenarios have already occurred with AIDS and with Alzheimer's disease.
Next, consider food. Ample quality food is necessary for a high quality of life. Our food supply comes from agriculture and harvests from the sea. In many areas, arable land is being lost due to human activities including urbanization and development, erosion, salinization, and pollution. Currently, providing adequate food supply globally is already impossible due to inappropriate public policies such as tariffs and trade agreements, ineffective food distribution methods, and in an increasing number of cases, recurring energy shortages. These factors plus over harvesting are devastating our seafood supplies.
In developing countries, problems providing ample quality food are getting worse faster due to more rapid urbanization and people choosing diets more like those in developed countries. As a specific example, increasing the amount of meat in the diet doubles the energy needed for each calorie of food, and it increases run-off and animal manure.
Simply stated, we are not feeding our global population now. Increasing life expectancy means even sooner widespread famine, with not only biological devastation, but also political upheavals.
c. Dependency ratios
As people age, they become more dependent on others in a multitude of ways. The number of young adults needed to care for a given number of elders is called the dependency ratio. Both nationally and globally, dependency ratios are now increasing and already becoming problematic. Both the national demographics and the global demographics show that with current life expectancies, dependency ratios will continue to increase dramatically. In just 25 years, the global dependency ratio will be 50 percent higher than it is now because of elders.
I will only mention increases in economic difficulties that accompany population growth with increasing numbers and proportions of elders. Who has not already heard much about these? Prescription drug costs and costs for all health care; HMOs; Social Security; competition for jobs; and poverty among elders.
From an ecological perspective, it is impossible to have a sustainable growing population. The basic resources of food, water, and shelter are limited, and a growing population will eventually outstrip them. Then either the population stops growing and sustains its miserable lifestyle or it shrinks, often with a crash. And nature does not choose “high quality of life” methods for reducing populations. The human population is not immune to nature's laws. We are already experiencing these facts in growing pollution, urban blight, wilderness destruction, and most frightening of all, the beginning of the Earth's sixth major extinction. Each year approximately 27,000 species become extinct. And extinction is forever!
I will conclude with a quote on the effects of increasing human longevity vis-à-vis quality of life, and especially for a population with many elders. "Any technical improvement can only relieve misery for a while. As long as misery is the only check on the size of a population, technical improvement will enable the population to grow, and will soon enable more people than before to live in misery. The final result of technical improvements, therefore, is to increase the size of the population, which is to increase the total sum of human misery." (From: http://fizziker.com/AlBartlett/population.htm, Reflections On Sustainability, Population Growth And The Environment by Albert A. Bartlett.)
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Prepared and presented by Augustine G. DiGiovanna
Copyright 2002: A.G. DiGiovanna, Professor of Biology, Salisbury University, agdigiovanna@Salisbury.edu