Tuesday, December 6

This is the reason why the planet needs you to live longer and longer


In Spain in 1900 life expectancy at birth he was not 35 years old. This does not mean that all people died at the age of 35, as many people who know their family history will surely verify. This figure is an average, and the fact that it is so low is a consequence of the high infant mortality.

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According to WHO data, the average life expectancy at birth today it ranges from 50 years in Sierra Leone to 84 years in Japan. That of Spain is currently at 83 years. This value has increased by about five years in the last three decades.

How much longer can we expect to live? Advances in medicine can further raise this figure and there are lines of research throughout the world aimed at prolonging human life beyond its natural limits. Assuming that life expectancy continues to increase, is a world where people live hundreds of years sustainable?

Why do we die, and how to avoid it

A century ago, the leading cause of death was infectious diseases. People died from millions of smallpox, typhus or cholera. Vaccines and hygiene eliminated those risks for most of humanity.

Today the leading cause of death are cardiovascular diseases Chronic diseases that have their origin in lifestyle: an unhealthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle and the consumption of tobacco and alcohol. All of these factors determine the development of cancer, the second leading cause of death. In many ways, people die today of abundance and inactivity.

The countries with the lowest incidence of these chronic diseases are also those with the highest life expectancy, such as Japan. However, whether people die more or less late is not as important as their state of health, both for the planet and its environment.

A person who lives to be 80 years old but spends the last two decades of his life sick consumes an enormous amount of resources in the form of medical care, hours of dedication of the people in charge of providing that care. Time and resources that could be spent on other activities if the same person were healthy.

Live to 150 years, but with health?

The benefits of extending health are impressive. Mortality reduction accounts for about 11% of recent economic growth in GDP in low-income countries.

However, when the intrinsic value of health, called value of additional life years (VLY), the result is far superior. This figure is deduced from people’s willingness to exchange income, pleasure or comfort for an increase in their life expectancy.

Calculations between 2000 and 2011 indicate that around 24% of total income growth in low-income countries was due to earned VLYs. People who are healthier for more years are more able to contribute to the societies in which they live.

That is why today a distinction is made between the concepts of duration of life (life span) and duration of health (health span), namely, how many years we live with health and independence.

Even so, the maximum age that a person can live has remained constant throughout history, and is around 125 years. If chronic diseases were eliminated, on average it would only increase life expectancy by 15 years.

Science is already investigating how to get around that limit by transplanting organs made in the laboratory from stem cells, or gene therapies that deactivate the parts of DNA responsible for aging.

It is quite possible that in a few decades a life of 150 years or more is achievable. But considering that the planet’s resources are limited, can we afford to live that long?

More years, less population

Scientists speak of the ability of the Earth’s carrying capacity, that is, the maximum number of human beings that can inhabit the planet without depleting resources. Most studies puts this figure around 8,000 millionthe number we will reach this year, although some believe it could be half.

The world human population has grown due to advances in agriculture and technology, but at the cost of exploiting the planet’s resources and dumping huge amounts of CO2 that are changing the climate. But would people living longer cause an increase in population and resource consumption? Not necessarily.

Studies indicate that the higher the life expectancy in a society, the the lower your fertilitywhich leads to a decrease in the population, but also to an increase in resource consumption per capita.

On the one hand, it has also been shown that environmental awareness depends on life expectancy. People who expect to live longer are more concerned about the future and therefore invest more in caring for the environment.

One possible explanation for this relationship is that as people live longer, they have more time to pursue education and careers before starting a family. In addition, increased access to contraceptives allows people to delay or limit birth rates.

However, it is important to note that while increased longevity may lead to lower fertility rates overall, it also allows for later pregnancies and the possibility of multiple generations in a familywhich have positive effects both for the family and for society as a whole.

Longevity and sustainability do not seem as important as sustainability and health. It is difficult to build a sustainable world full of sick people who require many more resources. Inevitably, a side effect of better health is increased life expectancy.

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