Lifespan by David A. Sinclair & Matthew D. LaPlante

Lifespan by David A. Sinclair & Matthew D. LaPlante

Author:David A. Sinclair & Matthew D. LaPlante
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Atria Books
Published: 2019-09-09T16:00:00+00:00


The number of Homo sapiens grew slowly over the first few hundred thousand years of our history, and at least on one occasion, we almost went extinct. While there are many young skeletons from the Late Archaic and Paleolithic periods, there is only a handful of skeletons of individuals over the age of 40. It was rare for individuals to make it to the point we now have the luxury of calling middle age.6 Recall, this was a time when teenage girls were mothers and teenage boys were warriors. Generations turned over quickly. Only the fastest, smartest, strongest, and most resilient tended to survive. We rapidly evolved superior bipedal and analytical skills but at the expense of millions of brutal lives and early deaths.

Our ancestors bred as fast as biology allowed, which was only slightly faster than the death rate. But that was enough. Humanity endured and scattered to all ends of the planet. It wasn’t until right around the time Christopher Columbus rediscovered the New World that we reached the 500-million-individuals mark, but it took just three hundred more years for that population to double. And today, with each new human life, our planet becomes more crowded, hurtling us toward, or perhaps further beyond, what it can sustain.

How many is too many? One report, which examined sixty-five different scientific projections, concluded that the most common estimated “carrying capacity” of our planet is 8 billion.7 That’s just about where we’re at right now. And barring a nuclear holocaust or a global pandemic of historically deadly proportions—nothing anyone in his or her right mind would ever wish for—that’s not where our population is going to peak.

When the Pew Research Center polled members of the largest association of scientists in the world, 82 percent said that there isn’t enough food and other resources on this planet for its fast-growing human population.8 Among those who held that opinion was Frank Fenner, an eminent Australian scientist who helped bring an end to one of the world’s deadliest diseases as the chairman of the Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication. It was Fenner, in fact, who had the distinct honor of announcing the eradication of the disease to the World Health Organization’s governing body in 1980. Having helped millions of people avoid a virus that killed nearly a third of those who contracted the disease it caused, Fenner would have been justified in indulging in a little exuberant optimism about the ways in which people can come together to save themselves.

He had planned a quiet retirement.9 But his mind wouldn’t stop working. He couldn’t stop trying to identify and solve big problems. He spent the next twenty years of his life writing about other threats to humankind, many of which had been virtually ignored by the same world health leaders who had banded together to stop smallpox.

His final act of forewarning came just a few months before his death in 2010, when he told the Australian newspaper that the human population explosion and “unbridled consumption” had already sealed our species’ fate.


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