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Malthus Predicted Penury on the Eve of Plenty – Article by Richard M. Ebeling

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Categories: History, Philosophy, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatRichard M. Ebeling
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Those of us fortunate enough to have been born in the so-called Western World (Europe and North America) rarely appreciate the historical uniqueness of our material and cultural well-being compared, not only to many around the globe today, but to westerners just a handful of generations ago.

A mere 200 years ago, in 1820, the world population numbered only around 1.1 billion people. About 95 percent of that number lived in poverty, with 85 percent existing in “extreme poverty.” By 2015, the world population had increased to over 7 billion, but less than 10 percent lived in poverty. Indeed, over the last quarter of a century, demographers calculate that every day there are 137,000 fewer people around the world living in extreme poverty.

This escape from poverty originated in Western Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the coming of the Industrial Revolution and the freeing of men and markets from the heavy-handed regulations and commercial restrictions of government. Especially since the mid-twentieth century, that liberation from poverty has been slowly but surely enveloping more of the people in the so-called “developing countries.”

Before this economic revolution of human betterment was made possible by free, or at least freer, markets, life around the world was (borrowing part of Thomas Hobbes’s famous phrase) basically nasty, brutish and short for virtually all of mankind.  The idea and ideal of material prosperity for humanity as a whole was merely the dream of a few dreamers who concocted utopian fantasies of remaking society to make a better world. For some at the end of the 1700s, the French Revolution served as the inspiration to believe that now that the “old regime” of power, privilege, and political position was being overthrown and a “new dawn” was opening for humanity.

The destruction of the ancient institutional order opened the door for remaking society and its structure; and with the institutional transformation could come a change in man. There emerged a new version of Plato’s belief that human nature was primarily a product of the social environment. Change the institutions within which men lived and the character of man could be transformed over time, as well.

William Godwin and the Collectivist Remaking of Man and Society

A leading voice in support of this “transformative” vision was William Godwin, a British social philosopher and critic, who argued that selfishness, poverty, and the form and content of human relationships could be radically made over, if only the institution of private property and the political order protecting it was abolished.

He argued for this new understanding and conception of man and society in his books, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), and The Inquirer (1798). Indeed, some have argued that Godwin was one of the first of the modern advocates of “anarchism” – an ideal society without a system of political coercion in which men will cooperatively and collectively live and work for a higher “common good.”

The guiding principles in Godwin’s political and economic philosophy (which received some revision and modification between the three editions of Political Justice during his lifetime) were:

First, the moral foundation of all human actions should be based on the individual being concerned with the interests and betterment of the collective society, and not himself; any judgment concerning the ethics in men’s behavior should not be based on the results those actions produce, but the intention or motive behind the actions undertaken.

Second, that human nature is not a universal “given,” but rather man is born like a “blank slate,” the content of which can be influenced by the social environment and the education experienced by the new mind.

Third, that poverty is not and need not be an essential part of the human condition; rather, it is the result of the institution of private property that gives what rightly belongs and should be shared equally by all men to some by arbitrary political power and legitimacy; a “new society” of communal work and sharing will raise production to unimaginable levels, abolishing poverty and creating plenty.

Fourth, this would be coupled with the fact that as there was less concern with material want, people would turn their minds to intellectual pursuits; this would result in a reduction in the sex drive, and a falling off in reproduction and the number of people in society. Thus, concerns that a materially better off world might mean a growth in population exceeding the capacity to feed it was downplayed. Besides, there were plenty of places around the world to which any excess population could migrate.

Said William Godwin in Political Justice:

“If justice have any meaning, it is just that I should contribute everything in my power to the benefit of the whole . . . It is in the disposition and view of the mind, and not in the good which may accidentally and intentionally result, that virtue consists . . .

“Human beings are partakers of a common nature; what conduces to the benefit or pleasure of one man will conduce to the benefit or pleasure of another. Hence it follows, upon the principles of equal and impartial justice, that the good things of the world are a common stock, upon which one man has as valid a title as another to draw for what he wants . . . What can be more desirable and just than that the produce itself should, with some degree of equality, be shared among them?”

What if some individuals refused to sacrifice for the collective, and were unwilling to bend their own self-interest to the betterment of the societal group? Godwin was equally direct that the individual had no right to his own life if his foregoing it served the needs of the collective:

“He has no right to his life when his duty calls him to resign it. Other men are bound . . . to deprive him of life or liberty, if that should appear in any case to be indispensably necessary to prevent a greater evil . . .”

Thomas Malthus on the “Natural” Limits to Human Betterment

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) was an ordained minister who became interested in various themes in political economy and became famous for arguing against the theories espoused by William Godwin. His father, Daniel Malthus, took a view sympathetic to Godwin’s on man, human nature, and society. Thomas took the opposite view and ended up writing his famous, An Essay on the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society, with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and Other Writers (1798).

The gist of Thomas Malthus’s argument was that physical capacities to regularly increase the supply of food for human survival falls far short of the natural inclinations of human reproduction. Thus, the growth in population, when left unchecked, and given the “passions” of men and women, has the tendency to outrun the supply of food.

Hence, there were natural limits on the improvement of the material conditions of man, which no change in the political, economic, and social institutions of society, by themselves, can assure or bring about a “heaven on earth,” as prophesied and promised by Godwin and others.

Not surprisingly, the book caused a firestorm of controversy. Malthus’s apparent “pessimism” concerning the possibility of improving the human condition through conscious social change led the British social critic and essayist, Thomas Carlyle, to call economics, “the dismal science.”

Malthus argued that human existence is bound by two inescapable principles that have not and are not likely to change, given all of human history: the need for food to exist, and the degree of sexual passions of men and women for each other, which he enunciates in his Essay on the Principle of Population:

“I think I may fairly make two postulata. First, that food is necessary to the existence of man. Secondly, that the passion between the sexes is necessary, and will remain nearly in its present state.

“These two laws ever since we have had any knowledge of mankind, appear to have been fixed laws of his nature; and as we have not hitherto seen any alteration in them, we have no right to conclude that they will ever cease to be what they now are . . . I do not know that any writer has supposed that on this earth man will ultimately be able to live without food.

“But Mr. Godwin has conjectured that the passion between the sexes may in time be extinguished. As, however, he calls this part of his work, a deviation into the land of conjecture, I will not dwell long upon it at present, than to say, that the best arguments for the perfectibility of man, are drawn from a contemplation of the great progress that he has already made from the savage state, and the difficulty of saying where he is to stop.

“But towards the extinction of the passion between the sexes, no progress whatever has hitherto been made. It appears to exist in as much force at present as it did two thousand, or four thousand years ago.”

The Checks on Mouths to Feed: Misery and Vice

Malthus then made his famous statement concerning the relationship between the “geometric” rate of unchecked population growth in comparison to the “arithmetical” growth in the rate of food production. Eventually, the rate of population growth would overtake the rate of food production, the result of which would be a “natural check” on population through poverty, starvation, and death.

“Assuming then, my postulata as granted, I say, that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man. Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first process in comparison to the second.

“By the law of our nature which makes food necessary to the life of man, the effects of these two unequal powers must be kept equal. This implies a strong and constantly operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence. This difficulty must fall somewhere; and must necessarily be severely felt by a large portion of mankind . . .

“This natural inequality of the two powers of population and of production in the earth, and that great law of our nature which must constantly keep their effects equal, form the great difficulty that to me appears insurmountable in the way of the perfectibility of society.

“All the arguments are of slight and subordinate consideration in comparison of this. I see no way by which man can escape from the weight of this nature. No fancied equality, no agrarian regulation in their utmost extent, could remove the pressure of it even for a single century. And it appears, therefore, to be decisive against the possible existence of a society, all the members of which, should live in ease, happiness, and comparative leisure; and feel no anxiety about providing the means of subsistence for themselves and families.”

Malthus argued that taking periods of 25 years as a benchmark, the accelerating growth in population would finally reach a crisis point relative to the rate of food growth.  What, then, may check this growth in an unsustainable population? Malthus concluded only two factors. What he called “vice” and “misery.”

Fearful of marrying before he can support a family and bring about starvation and ruin to his offspring, a man may delay and defer marriage until he feels financially able to care for a wife and children. But this results in “vice,” since the sexual urges lead men to search out physical gratification outside the bonds of matrimony, and the birth of illegitimate offspring.

Or it brings about “misery,” due to a failure to defer marriage, and the bringing into the world children for which means of subsistence do not adequately exist. This results in starvation and premature death of children and adults that brings the population and its growth down, again, to a level sustainable from existing food production.

Malthus added that if Godwin’s proposal for a greater community of property and equality of distribution of its output were to be introduced it would soon diminish the incentives for work and effort and set men into conflict with each other. Or as he put it, weakened private property rights would soon set in motion “the black train of distresses, that would inevitably be occasioned by the insecurity of property.”

Tempering Nature’s Constraints through Moral Restraint

In 1799, after the publication of An Essay on the Principle of Population, and then again in 1802, Thomas Malthus went on trips around parts of Europe. He collected a large amount of historical and demographic data on population (to the extent that such data then existed). He used this to publish a second edition of the book in 1803 that was substantially increased in size and factual information, as he had been able to gather it.

To his previous argument, Malthus now added an additional factor that could serve as a check on population, and could even keep population growth sufficiently under control so that standards of living might rise, even in the long run. This was what he called “moral restraint.”  This was a conscious act to defer marriage until an individual had the financial means to adequately support a family, and the will to renounce the temptations of “vice.” That is, to abstain from sexual gratification outside of marriage. Said Malthus:

“It is of the utmost importance to the happiness of mankind that population should not increase too fast; but it does not appear that the object to be accomplished would admit of any considerable diminishment in the desire for marriage.

“It is clearly the duty of each individual not to marry till he has a prospect of supporting his children; but it is at the same time to be wished that he should retain undiminished his desire for marriage, in order that he may exert himself to realize this prospect, and be stimulated to make provision for the support of greater numbers . . .

“And if moral restraint be the only virtuous mode of avoiding the incidental evils arising from this principle, our obligation to practice it will evidently rest exactly upon the same foundation as our obligation to practice any of the other virtues.”

Unleashing of Free Markets Negated Malthus’ Prediction

Given the seven-fold increase in world population since 1820 discussed above, accompanied by an even more dramatic fall in global poverty over the last two hundred years, Malthus’ warnings and fears seem to have been totally undermined by the facts of history. Population has exploded beyond all experience in human history during the last two centuries, yet all of these billions of additional mouths are increasingly fed and with a rising standard of living for a growing number of them.

Clearly, Malthus, writing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries underestimated one important influence that was beginning during his lifetime: market-based industrialization. Investment in productive capital equipment, especially in agriculture, began to dramatically increase the output and the nutritive quality of food produced per unit of cultivated land. This included the development of modern chemistry to increase harvests and productive strains of crops. Thus, food production has grown exponentially, and not, as Malthus feared, “arithmetically.”

Urbanization has resulted in a conscious choice by married couples to reduce the size of families. In farming societies with limited mechanization, each child is an additional mouth that comes with two hands to help in the working of the land.  Hence, children are “investment goods” in agricultural society, both for work to be done and offering support for parents in their old age.

In industrial, urban society, children are additional mouths to feed that supply little or no extra income to the family during most of childhood. Hence, children are “consumer goods” that consume income, and reduce the standard of living of the family.  In addition, the cost of urban residential living space has influenced the incentives about sizes of families. And, of course, the development of birth control has greatly influenced the ability and widened of the choice of how many children to have, and when.

In fairness, what Malthus and many others failed to see or anticipate was the explosion of production, industry, and commerce that was soon set loose by expanding economic liberty in the nineteenth century. This unleashed entrepreneurial innovation and discovery of market opportunities in the pursuit of profits. This was made possible by ending the trade protectionism, domestic regulation, heavy tax burdens, and paper money inflations that enveloped all of Europe, including Great Britain, during nearly the quarter of a century of war from 1791 to 1815 between first Revolutionary and then Napoleonic France against practically all of the rest of Europe.

The difference was made by the arrival of peace and the beginning of a conscious introduction of economic liberalism, first in Great Britain and then other parts of the European continent, and independently at the same time in the United States. Only then was free market capitalism’s potential horn-of-plenty able to begin to release its bounty upon humanity.

Malthus’s Contributions to Human Understanding

Many historians of economic thought have pointed out the various weaknesses, exaggerations, inconsistencies, and factual errors in Malthus’s argument and the changing premises and arguments in the various editions of his Essay on the Principle of Population. Indeed, one of the leading such historians, Edwin Cannan, stated that Malthus’s analysis, “falls to the ground as an argument, and remains only a chaos of facts collected to illustrate the effect of laws which do not exist.” And Joseph A. Schumpeter even said that the actual pattern of birth rates with industrialization and urbanization accompanied by growth in food production suggested “a sort of Malthusianism in reverse.”

But even with its weaknesses and factual errors, others have seen an enduringly valuable contribution in Malthus’s theory of population. No less than an authority than the Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, in his treatise, Human Action, suggested that in Malthus’s work can be seen a contribution equal to the discovery of the logic of division of labor and the spontaneous workings of the market order for the betterment of human circumstances:

“The Malthusian law of population is one of the great achievements of thought. Together with the principle of the division of labor it provided the foundation for modern biology and the theory of evolution; the importance of these two fundamental theorems for the sciences of human action is second only to the discovery of the regularity in the intertwinement and sequence of market phenomena and their inevitable determination by the market data . . .

“Malthus showed that nature in limiting the means of subsistence does not accord to any living being a right of existence, and that by indulging heedlessly in the natural impulse of proliferation man would never have risen about the verge of starvation. He contended that human civilization and well-being could develop only to the extent that man learned to rein in his sexual appetites by moral restraints…

“Nonhuman beings are entirely subject to the operation of the biological law described by Malthus . . . But the case is different with man. Man integrates the satisfaction of the purely zoological impulses, common to all animals, into a scale of values, in which a place is also assigned to specifically human ends.

“Acting man also rationalizes the satisfaction of his sexual appetites. Their satisfaction is the outcome of a weighing of the pros and cons. Man does not blindly submit to a sexual stimulation . . . He refrains from copulation if he deems the costs – the anticipated disadvantages – too high.”

Thomas Malthus, even with the limits and incompleteness of his analysis, can be seen to have made essential contributions to understanding the inescapable human condition. First, man at any time exists under a scarcity of the means for his ends.  Other things held given, the larger the population the greater needs to be the available supply of food and other necessities of life, if the standard and quality of life are not to be diminished. The only way to prevent a decline in standards of living is for there to be increases in capital investment that increase production and the productivity of the workforce more than any increase in the population.

Second, given the level of capital investment and technological knowledge, there is an optimal size of a society’s population, below which more people means greater net output, and above which there results less net output. And, third, the political and economic institutional circumstances can make a difference in that they may foster capital investment, more forward-looking choices by individuals, and incentives to save and work.

On this latter point, Malthus was well aware of the dangers from overreaching and expanding governmental power in terms of their threat to liberty and popular self-improvement. In the expanded, fifth edition of his Essay on Population, which appeared in 1817, he warned that ignorance of the laws of nature and the essential institutions of a free commercial society can easily lead astray mobs of people whose violent actions may open the door to despotism.

This sets the stage for a dangerous confrontation between individual liberty and political authority, in which people must always be watchful and knowledgeable so as to check the government’s drive for unchecked power. Malthus warned:

“The checks which are necessary to secure the liberty of the subject will always to some degree embarrass and delay the operations of the executive government. The members of the government feeling these inconveniences while they are exerting themselves, as they conceive, in the service of their country, and conscious perhaps of no ill intention towards the people, will naturally be disposed on every occasion to demand the suspension or abolition of these checks; but if once the convenience of ministers be put in competition with the liberties of the people and we get into the habit of relying on fair assurances and personal character, instead of examining with the most scrupulous and jealous care the merits of each particular case, there is an end of British freedom.

“If we once admit the principle that the government must know better with regard to the quantity of power which it wants than we can possibly do with out limited means of information, and that therefore it is our duty to surrender up our private judgments, we may just as well at the same time surrender up the whole of our constitution. Government is a quarter in which liberty is not nor cannot be very faithfully preserved. If we are wanting to ourselves, and inattentive to our great interests in this respect, it is the height of folly and unreasonableness to expect that government will attend to them for us.”

Thus, Thomas Malthus’s contribution may be said to be the following: Man is above all other life forms on earth in that he is able to use his reason to control his passions when they may entail costs greater than the anticipated benefits; at the same time he can use his rational faculties to devise ways to escape limits that nature places upon him by planning ahead to increase his future productive and income earning capacities to improve his standard of living. And that to do so most successfully there must be the necessary institutional prerequisites, among which freedom, property, and peace are the most essential.

Richard M. Ebeling is BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He was president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) from 2003 to 2008.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

See the original article here.

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Laissez-Faire in Tokyo Land Use – Article by Alex Tabarrok

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Categories: Economics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatAlex Tabarrok
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Tokyo, Japan’s capital city, has a growing population of over 13 million people but house prices have hardly increased in twenty years. Why? Tokyo has a laissez-faire approach to land use that allows lots of building subject to only a few general regulations set nationally. Robin Harding at the FT has a very important piece on the Tokyo system:

Here is a startling fact: in 2014 there were 142,417 housing starts in the city of Tokyo (population 13.3m, no empty land), more than the 83,657 housing permits issued in the state of California (population 38.7m), or the 137,010 houses started in the entire country of England (population 54.3m).

Tokyo’s steady construction is linked to a still more startling fact. In contrast to the enormous house price booms that have distorted western cities — setting young against old, redistributing wealth to the already wealthy, and denying others the chance to move to where the good jobs are — the cost of property in Japan’s capital has hardly budged.

This is not the result of a falling population. Japan has experienced the same “return to the city” wave as other nations.House_Prices_2

How is this possible? First Japan has a history of strong property rights in land:

Subject to the zoning rules, the rights of landowners are strong. In fact, Japan’s constitution declares that “the right to own or to hold property is inviolable”. A private developer cannot make you sell land; a local government cannot stop you using it. If you want to build a mock-Gothic castle faced in pink seashells, that is your business.

But this alone cannot explain everything because there was a huge property price-boom in Japan circa 1986 to 1991. In fact, it was in dealing with the collapse of that boom that Japan cleaned up its system, reducing regulation and speeding the permit approval process.

…in the 1990s, the government relaxed development rules, culminating in the Urban Renaissance Law of 2002, which made it easier to rezone land. Office sites were repurposed for new housing. “To help the economy recover from the bubble, the country eased regulation on urban development,” says Ichikawa. “If it hadn’t been for the bubble, Tokyo would be in the same situation as London or San Francisco.”

Hallways and public areas were excluded from the calculated size of apartment buildings, letting them grow much higher within existing zoning, while a proposal now under debate would allow owners to rebuild bigger if they knock down blocks built to old earthquake standards.

Rising housing prices are not an inevitable consequence of growth and fixed land supply–high and rising housing prices are the result of policy choices to restrict land development.

The policy choices were made–they can be unmade.

tokyo-japanThis post first appeared at Marginal Revolution.

Alex Tabarrok is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen.

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It’s Time to Postpone Your Appointment with the Grim Reaper – Article by Gerrard Jayaratnam

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Categories: Philosophy, Science, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatGerrard Jayaratnam
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How long would you like to live for? Is there a limit to how long we can live for? These are not questions you hear often, but do not be surprised if they are repeated more frequently in the future. The reason? Life extension. It is the concept of living well beyond the average lifespan. [1]

Humans are already living longer due to vaccines and improvements in sanitation. [2] The World Health Organization reported that the average life expectancy at birth increased from 48 years in 1955 to 65 years in 1995, and is projected to rise to 73 years by 2025. [3] As medical techniques continue to improve, we are more inclined than ever to pursue life extension. [1] Indeed, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to China’s First Emperor, prolonging life has been an ever-present thought in society. [4, 5] Both individuals failed to escape death, but the idea of life extension ironically lives on. Even so, is it truly possible and what should upcoming doctors and scientists consider if they are to join the most ambitious of quests?

The “Horcruxes” of reality 

In the fictional Harry Potter series, “Horcruxes” were objects where people could hide a fragment of their soul in an attempt to take one step towards immortality. [6] Of course, humans cannot split their souls and hide them in objects, but there are several proposed means by which life extension may be achieved. [1] This is a testimony to the progress within the life extension field, but there remains much room for improvement.

Eat less, live more

Caloric restriction (CR) is one proposed method for life extension. [1] In the CALERIE (Comprehensive Assessment of Long term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy) trial, 218 non-obese humans were randomised to either a control group or an intervention group. The latter aimed for a 25% reduction from baseline energy intake. At the end of the 2-year study period, the intervention group had significantly greater reductions in circulating levels of TNF-α – an inflammatory marker involved in many age-related diseases. [7] Dr Alexander Miras, winner of the 2014 Nutrition Society Cuthbertson Medal for his research on bariatric surgery, acknowledges that the study was a “good first step,” but argues that “the evidence in humans is lacking.” “A definitive RCT (randomised controlled trial),” Dr Miras continues, “would be very hard, if not impossible.” He also spots a glaring consequence of CR. “My personal approach is to avoid caloric restriction as this leads to hunger which is an unpleasant feeling. I would rather live a shorter life, but enjoy my food.”

Manipulating telomerase

One alternative is modulating telomerase activity – as attempted with the anti-ageing TA-65MD® supplement. [8] Telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes [9]; they resemble the aglets on the ends of shoelaces. Just as shoelaces would unravel without the aglet, chromosomes would lose vital DNA sequences in the absence of telomeres. [9] Our cells divide over time, causing telomeres to shorten. Once the telomere becomes too short, cell division ceases, and short telomeres correlate with cellular ageing. [10] Telomerase is an enzyme that can oppose telomere shortening [10] – it was what Hamlet was to King Claudius; what exercise is to obesity; and what junior doctors, in England, will be to Jeremy Hunt.

Reactivating telomerase in telomerase-deficient mice reversed both neurodegeneration and degeneration of other organs. [11] This proved the concept that boosting telomerase activity could have anti-ageing effects, but there is little proof that this occurs in humans. While the mice were telomerase-deficient, humans normally have some telomerase activity. It is like giving food to someone who has been fasting for hours and to someone who has just eaten a three-course meal – the starved individual would unquestionably benefit more. A 12-month long RCT, involving 117 relatively healthy individuals (age range: 53-87), found that low-dose TA-65 significantly increased telomere length when compared to placebo. High-dose TA-65, however, failed to do so. [12]

Dancing with the devil

What is more worrying than treatments that may be ineffective? Side effects. Telomerase is a double-edged sword and by reducing telomere attrition, it can promote unlimited cell division and cancer. [9] Elizabeth Blackburn, co-winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her role in the discovery of telomerase, has doubts about exploiting the enzyme. Speaking to TIME magazine, she said, “Cancers love telomerase, and a number of cancers up-regulate it like crazy. . . . My feeling would be that if I take anything that would push my telomerase up, I’m playing with fire.” [13]

A cauldron of rewards

CR and boosting telomerase activity are just a small sample of life extending techniques, yet there is the notion that such techniques will be intertwined with risks. However, risks are always weighed against rewards, and Gennady Stolyarov, editor-in-chief of The Rational Argumentator and Chief Executive of the Nevada Transhumanist Party, believes life extension would bring “immense and multifaceted” rewards. “The greatest benefit is the continued existence of the individual who remains alive. Each individual has incalculable moral value and is a universe of ideas, experiences, emotions, and memories. When a person dies, that entire universe is extinguished . . . This is the greatest possible loss, and should be averted if at all possible.” Stolyarov also envisages “major savings to healthcare systems” and that “the achievement of significant life extension would inspire many intelligent people to try to solve other age-old problems.”

Former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, Leon Kass, disagrees with this view and argues that mortality is necessary for “treasuring and appreciating all that life brings.” [14] Hence, increased longevity could lead to an overall reduction in productivity over one’s lifetime. Perhaps Kass is correct, but the array of potential benefits makes it seem unwise to prematurely dismiss life extension. In fact, a survey, which examined the opinions of 605 Australians on life extension, highlighted further benefits – 23% of participants said they could “spend more time with family” and 4% cited the opportunity to experience future societies. [15]

Learning from our mistakes

Conversely, life extension may result in people enduring poor health for longer periods. 28% of participants in the Australian survey highlighted this concern. [15] Current trends in life expectancy reinforce their fears. Professor Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, explains, “Currently, in most countries in the developed world, life expectancy is increasing at approximately 2 years per decade, but healthspan (the years spent in good health) is only increasing at 1.7 years. This has major consequences . . . as more of later life is spent in poor health.” This is a consequence of treating “killer diseases” – according to Dr Felipe Sierra, director of the Division of Aging Biology at the National Institute on Aging. “The current model in biomedicine,” says Dr Sierra, “is to treat one disease at a time. Let’s imagine you have arthritis; cancer; and are starting to develop Alzheimer’s disease. So what do we do? We treat you for cancer. You now live longer with Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis.” A better approach is clear to Dr Sierra who stresses the importance of compression of morbidity – “the goal is to live longer with less time spent being sick.”

Learning from our successes

Even with Dr Sierra’s approach, individual boredom and social implications, including overpopulation, would still be problems.[16] According to Stolyarov, the boredom argument does not hold up when facing “human creativity and discovery.” He believes humans could never truly be bored as “the number of possible pursuits increases far faster than the ability of any individual to pursue.”

In his novel Death is Wrong, Stolyarov explained that the idea that society could not cope with a rapidly expanding population was historically inaccurate. The current population “is the highest it has ever been, and most people live far longer, healthier, prosperous lives than their ancestors did when the Earth’s population was hundreds of times smaller.” [16] If it has been achieved in the past, who is to say our own society – one far more advanced than any before it – cannot adapt?

The verdict

Life extension research is quietly progressing, and there is a good chance that it will eventually come to fruition. Although there are doubts about current techniques, Dr Sierra draws attention to novel interventions, such as rapamycin, which “delay ageing in mice.” He concludes that the next challenge is to “develop measures than can predict whether an intervention works in a short-term assay.” Such measures would provide the scaffolding for future clinical trials that test life extension techniques.

Given what may be gained, it is no surprise that artificially prolonging life is exciting some in the same way the Tree of Knowledge tempted Eve. The impact on society? Impossible to predict. It would undoubtedly be a big risk, but perhaps in this complex and uncertain scenario, we ought to remember the words of the poet Thomas Stearns Eliot: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” [17]

Gerrard Jayaratnam is a student of Biomedical Science at Imperial College London.

References

  1. Stambler I. A History of Life-Extensionism in the Twentieth Century. Ramat Gan: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2014.
  2. National Institute on Aging. Living Longer. 2011. https://www.nia.nih.gov/research/publication/global-health-and-aging/living-longer.
  3. World Health Organization. 50 Facts: Global Health situation and trends 1955-2025. 2013. http://www.who.int/whr/1998/media_centre/50facts/en/.
  4. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Epic of Gilgamesh. 2016. http://www.britannica.com/topic/Epic-of-Gilgamesh.
  5. Lloyd DF. The Man Who Would Cheat Death and Rule the Universe. Vision. 2008. http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/history-shi-huang-emperor-china/5818.aspx.
  6. Rowling JK. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury Publishing; 2005.
  7. Ravussin E, Redman LM, Rochon J, et al. A 2-Year Randomized Controlled Trial of Human Caloric Restriction: Feasibility and Effects on Predictors of Health Span and Longevity. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2015;70:1097-1104.
  8. A. Sciences. What is TA-65®? (n.d.) [Accessed 3rd April 2016]. https://www.tasciences.com/what-is-ta-65/.
  9. De Jesus BB, Blasco MA. Telomerase at the intersection of cancer and aging. Trends Genet 2013;29:513-520.
  10. A. Sciences. Telomeres and Cellular Aging. (n.d.) [Accessed 3rd April 2016]. https://www.tasciences.com/telomeres-and-cellular-aging/.
  11. Jaskelioff M, Muller FL, Paik JH, et al. Telomerase reactivation reverses tissue degeneration in aged telomerase deficient mice. Nature 2011;469:102-106.
  12. Salvador L, Singaravelu G, Harley CB, et al. A Natural Product Telomerase Activator Lengthens Telomeres in Humans: A Randomized, Double Blind, and Placebo Controlled Study. Rejuvenation Res 2016; ahead of print. doi:10.1089/rej.2015.1793.
  13. Kluger J. The antiaging power of a positive attitude. TIME. 2015.
  14. Than K. The Psychological Strain of Living Forever. Live Science. 2006. http://www.livescience.com/10469-psychological-strain-living.html.
  15. Partridge B, Lucke J, Bartlett H, et al. Ethical, social, and personal implications of extended human lifespan identified by members of the public. Rejuvenation Res 2009;12:351-357.
  16. Stolyarov II G. Death is Wrong. 2nd ed. Carson City, Nevada: Rational Argumentator Press; 2013.
  17. The Huffington Post. 11 Beautiful T.S. Eliot Quotes. 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/26/ts-eliot-quotes_n_3996010.html.

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The Role of Aging in Society – Article by Demian Zivkovic

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Categories: Culture, Philosophy, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatDemian Zivkovic
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Take the following situation. We discover an extremely contagious virus. It infects you and your loved ones, and quickly propagates through all of mankind. As a result, 150,000 people die every day. It kills more than twice the number killed in the Holocaust every three months, and in 30 years, it will have killed 1.5 billion, around one in six people. How high would this score on a list of global priorities? There’s no doubt the situation would be grave. Most people would demand immediate action.
***
But that’s just a thought experiment, right? Not really. Every day, 150,000 people do die from age-related disease. Not only the cost in lives is monumental; societal and economic costs are also on the rise. According to the Dutch Statistics Authority (the CBS), the amount of people older than 65 (retirement age) will have increased to 27% in 2040, from the current 19%. As more people are born, this also means more people die from age-related disease, taking all their knowledge, expertise, and productivity with them. In short: If we don’t do anything about the consequences of our aging population, we face severe consequences.
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So what is the best way to deal with the problem of our society aging?

There is no simple solution. More conventional healthcare barely improves quality of life, while just letting people die is not an ethical option. Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian and philosopher, argues for thinking more radically about solutions to societal problems. According to his essay “Een pleidooi voor de utopie” (A plea for utopia) in the Dutch magazine “De groene Amsterdammer”, we have lost the ability to think in such a way; We only look at marginal improvements, instead of looking at changes that could radically improve and change our society. So if we do explore more radical solutions, what can we do?

Professor Aubrey de Grey, Ph.D. in biology, Chief Science Officer of the prestigious SENS Research Foundation, and partner at the Gerontological Society of America, argues that we could look at a radical intervention in human aging. According to de Grey, the best way of solving many of these problems is to cure aging at its source. De Grey is not the only one who holds that opinion. Alphabet, Inc.‘s biotechnology subsidiary (Calico) also views the problem from this position. This point of view obviously raises quite a few questions. Critics claim that de Grey’s vision is impossible or undesirable. Proponents point to the massive advantages of curing age-related disease.

One of the arguments put forward is that short-term thinking causes many economical and societal problems. Economist Joseph Stiglitz speaks about rent-seeking (“Rent-Seeking and the Making of an Unequal Society”, 2014), economically destructive behaviour in which an individual or business enriches itself while harming the entire economy in the process. Environmental concerns are also a very large issue. Since people (if they are lucky) don’t get to live much longer than a hundred years old, many people find it very uninteresting to think about what our behaviour is doing to the environment on the long term. But what will it mean for these problems if we have to let go of short-term thinking, because we live for a much longer time? One thing is for sure: If de Grey’s vision becomes reality, a lot will change in our society.

Economy, Environment, and Overpopulation
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Short-term thinking has a catastrophic effect on our economy and environment.

The previously mentioned economist Joseph Stiglitz claims in his article that our economy is suffering serious problems, since rent-seeking is causing society-wide destruction and inequality. For centuries, economists, philosophers, and ethicists have been considering how to stop such unethical behavior. Usually, they looked at different moral developments, better regulations, or restructuring society as solutions.

In his work “The Power of Context”, Malcolm Gladwell makes the claim that the environment and the context we live in have a large impact on our behaviour. Human life knows a few certainties; one of them is that you will die within a century. One may have children or grandchildren, but very few people are concerned about the fate of their heir several hundred generations down the road. In my interview with him (2014, Nakedbutsafe magazine), Professor de Grey argues that many people would be much more concerned with the long term if they knew they would still be around in several centuries, and there’s a lot to be said about that. Instead of waging a fruitless and hopeless war on selfishness, it may be more prudent to use it to improve the world.

De Grey’s solution essentially means inventing the fountain of youth through advanced biotechnology. He wants to do this through a method called “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence” or SENS. SENS essentially involves periodically repairing accumulated damage from aging, so it never reaches a critical point where it turns into a specific illness. De Grey is not the only one who is looking for a solution for aging: Google Ventures heavily invests in such technology.

In 2013, Google founded a company called Calico, which entered a partnership with AbbVie. With a record investment of two billion dollars, most money ever put into a start-up, the ambitious firm wants to create a fundamental understanding of aging and use said understanding to eventually cure said aging. Bill Maris, president of Google Ventures, has already made the famous claim we will be able to have technology to live 500 years within our lifetimes. Another actor in the corporate sector is BioViva, whose CEO, Elizabeth Parrish, has become the first human on the planet to get treated with a combination of in vivo gene therapies to slow down aging.

The approaches of Calico, SENS, and BioViva look at the problem from different angles, but they have one thing in common: they are not looking at ways to extend the lives of sick, disabled seniors. Instead, they are looking at a method to not simply extend life, but to extend health. They are looking at methods to stop this biological aging from happening. Life extension is merely a side effect. After all, if a 200-year-old has the vitality of a 40-year-old, why would an aging population be a problem? Even though the population will age, the percentage of “elderly” people will decrease, and so will age-related suffering and related economic pressure.

However, not everyone is optimistic about these changes. Critics are concerned about what a radically extended life will mean for overpopulation. They argue that if nobody dies, we will have so many people that we will either have to kill people, or make reproduction illegal. While such a top-down approach may seem like “common sense”, there’s a lot to be said about why such drastic top-down measures will be unnecessary. Steven Johnson, a best-selling popular science author and media theorist, introduces the concept of emergence (Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, 2001). Emergence refers to patterns in complex systems which can’t be reduced to the properties or behaviours of an individual element of the system. Johnson uses the ant colony as an example: while no single ant coordinates the behaviour of the colony, the entire system is self-organizing and thus functions perfectly. An ant colony, but even more so human society, is a good example of an emergent system.

A simple example of this self-organization is the distribution of bread. There is no central authority that plants where bakeries should be located, how much grain should be produced, what logistic solutions should be used for bread transport to people’s homes, or what bread prices ought to be. In fact, such central planning has been tried several times in history. In communist dictatorships such as the Soviet Union and North Korea, centralized attempts at steer society have had catastrophic results. However, if emergence of self-organisation does its job, a society flourishes. We can see this same effect work on overpopulation and birth rates. According to the World Health Organisation, the fertility rates plummet as life expectancy skyrockets. Countries that have the highest life expectancies have the lowest birth rates. Japan, which has one of the highest life expectancies has a negative birth rate; its population is in decline, even though no central planning has intervened in any way.

This hypothesis is also supported by virtually all historic trends. Every widespread average life-expectancy spike was met with a plummet in birth rates. When our life expectancy went up because of the invention of antibiotics, our birth rates hit historic lows. We see the opposite in countries where life expectancy is very low. The country with the highest birth rate is Nigeria, while it’s one of the poorest countries in the world. The average life expectancy in Nigeria is below 55. According to the United Nations, countries with low life expectancy have by far the largest effect on overpopulation.

Regulation of population is therefore unnecessary; a complex system such as modern society self-regulates and corrects itself. This idea is in line with Gladwell’s theory of context-dependent behavior; the context largely defines our behavior. And as a self-organizing system, society demonstrably changes the context to steer our behavior in effective patterns. A dystopia where government has to regulate reproduction or death is very unlikely.

Philosophical Arguments

If Gladwell is right about context as catalyst of behaviour, what will the effects of a society devoid of biological aging be on our humanity? Not all arguments against radical life extension are pragmatic in nature. The conservative bioethicist Leon Kass is one of the opponents of radical life extension pondering this question. He argues that indefinite life extension is unnatural and thus undesirable. Kass also claims that we won’t appreciate life if we life “forever.”

“Time is a gift, but the perception of endless time or of time without bound in fact has the possibility of undermining the degree to which we take time seriously and make it count.”

~ Leon Kass (Aging Research, 2004).

Kass makes a comparison with the ancient Greek gods to argument why life’s shortness gives it purpose.

Homer in The Iliad and The Odyssey presents human beings whom he names as mortals. That is their definition in contrast to the immortals. And the immortals for their agelessness and their beauty live sort of shallow and frivolous lives. Indeed, they depend for their entertainment on watching the mortals who, precisely because they know that their time is limited, and that they go around only once, are inclined to make time matter and to aspire to something great for themselves.

~ Leon Kass (Aging Research, 2004)

While these arguments may seem somewhat of a philosophical take on many common criticisms, they are easily debunked. Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of BioViva and a pioneering entrepreneur in the field of gene therapy, argues against the idea that we should accept something because it’s considered “normal.” (“Liz Parrish speaks at People Unlimited on transcending the aging paradigm with gene therapy”, 2015). She argues that “normal” is a situational opinion which constantly changed throughout the entirety of history. In 1665, dying of infectious disease was normal. During this time only one percent of all humans died from aging: Infectious diseases were responsible for more than three quarters of all deaths before we developed the first immunization therapies – the development of which is similar to the process to defeat aging with gene therapy today. Just like today, there was criticism of the development of vaccines and antibiotics, even though lifespans and health were greatly improved by the use of these advancements – and the arguments have stayed very much the same.

Parrish is not the only one who provides a strong argument against the vision of Kass. Reason, creator of the Fight Aging! blog, is another intellectual who is very skeptical about Kass’s position. In his rebuttal of Kass (“Leon Kass, Mystic” by Reason, 2004), he compares Kass with an alchemist, a modern mystic:

“The alchemists of old stood atop what little knowledge of chemistry they had and built a speculative religion of hermetic magic, transient wishes, celestial signs and hidden gold. Leon Kass stands atop what little biotechnology we have today (and seems to have a good grasp thereof), building his own structures of fanciful thought, equally disconnected from the real world. 

All of Kass’ arguments against longer, healthier lives are essentially mystical and devoid of real substance.”

In “Leon Kass, Mystic” (2004), Reason wonders if Kass’s philosophical musings are enough of a reason to condemn billions of people to a slow and painful death. Just like the alchemists, Reason argues, Kass’s vision is based upon ancient texts and his own subjective knee-jerk reactions, instead of researching the world around him. Reason postulates that this is the fundamental difference between a mystic and a scientist: The mystic is immune to impractical facts, consequences, and reality.

De Grey also argues against the bioconservative position. He rejects the idea that longer lives will somehow lower our appreciation of life. We will be able to start a new major when we are fifty years old, or a new career when we’re a hundred and fifty. The very fact that we have so little time causes us to experience “lock-in” in our careers and choices. This causes boredom and stress. The amount of time we lose switching to doing something we may enjoy a lot more is too radical, because we have so little time to begin with. Radical life extension seems more likely to actually cure the problems its critics claim it will cause (such as boredom, stress, or disenchantment with life).

Conclusion

Treatments for age-related diseases are on their way, and curing aging is big business. The first people are already getting early treatments, and the prognoses are positive. Society will have to adapt to the changes that come with these treatments. It is very important to explore options for adequately engaging public opinion in favor of curing age-related disease, to mitigate massive economic and human losses that these diseases currently cause, and to create the legislation and framework needed to implement these technologies in a fair, responsible, and sane way.

Bibliography

Bregman, Rutger (2013). Dromen is niet eng; Essay Pleidooi voor de utopie. De Groene Amsterdammer, jaar 137, week 20. https://www.groene.nl/artikel/pleidooi-voor-de-utopie.

Gladwell, Malcolm (2000). The Power of Context. In R.E. Miller & Spellmeyer (Eds.), The New Humanities Reader (Fifth Edition, pp. 148-167). Print.
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Stiglitz, J. E. (2012). Rent Seeking and the Making of an Unequal Society. In R.E. Miller & Spellmeyer (Eds.), The New Humanities Reader (Fifth Edition, pp. 148-167). Print.
 *** 

Johnson, Steven. ‘Emergence: The connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software’, 2001. In ‘The New Humanities Reader’, Richard E. Miller, Kurt Spellmeyer, Wadsworth, 2011, pp. 151 – 165

De Grey, Aubrey D. N. J. (2005). Resistance to debate on how to postpone ageing is delaying progress and costing lives. EMBO Reports, 6(Suppl 1), S49–S53. http://doi.org/10.1038/sj.embor.7400399

Kass, Leon (2004). Aging Research.  http://agingresearch.org/sage/Default.aspx?tabid=60

Reason (2004). Leon Kass, Mystic. FightAging.org. https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2004/04/leon-kass-mysti.php
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Parrish, Elizabeth (2015). Liz Parrish speaks at People Unlimited on transcending the aging paradigm with gene therapy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87OUb8TBwX0
 *** 

Demian Zivkovic is the president of the Institute of Exponential Sciences  (Facebook  / Meetup) – an international transhumanist think tank / education institute comprised of a group of transhumanism-oriented scientists, professionals, students, journalists, and entrepreneurs interested in the interdisciplinary approach to advancing exponential technologies and promoting techno-positive thought. He is also an entrepreneur and student of artificial intelligence and innovation sciences and management at the university of Utrecht.

Demian and the IES have been involved in several endeavors, such as organizing lectures on exponential sciences, interviewing experts such as Aubrey de Grey, joining several of Mr. Stolyarov’s futurism panels, and spreading Death is Wrong – Mr. Stolyarov’s illustrated children’s book on indefinite life extension – in The Netherlands.

Demian Zivkovic is a strong proponent of healthy life extension and cognitive augmentation. His interests include hyperreality, morphological freedom advocacy, postgenderism, and hypermodernism. He is currently working on his ambition of raising enough capital to make a real difference in life extension and transhumanist thought.

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Overpopulation: Pictures vs. Numbers – Article by Bradley Doucet

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Categories: Politics, Science, Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatBradley Doucet
June 15, 2015
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Two hundred years ago, there were about a billion humans in the world. Today, there are seven billion and counting. This fact has some people concerned that we’re going to run out of food, energy, or other important resources in the foreseeable future. Some worry that we’re going to pollute the natural environment so much that we render it uninhabitable, or at least much less habitable.

As an example of such concerns, a friend of mine recently posted a link to a series of photographs purporting to show that the planet is overpopulated. The first shows “Sprawling Mexico City roll[ing] across the landscape, displacing every scrap of natural habitat.” Another shows greenhouses “as far as the eye can see” in Spain. Another still, a surfer threading the eye of a wave that is littered with garbage.

Some of the photos in this series are actually quite beautiful, but some are indeed ugly, and all are arresting. Yet as evocative as these images are, the scenes they depict are just tiny snippets of an enormous planet. Mexico City, sprawling though it is, covers an area of about 1,500 square kilometres. That may sound like a lot, but it’s just 1/100,000 of the Earth’s 150 million square kilometres of land area. The things illustrated by these photos may be bad—although some are frankly neutral—but they tell us nothing about how widespread the specific problems they allude to may be. To determine the scope of the population issue, pictures are not sufficient; we need the help of numbers.

How Many Is Too Many?

“We undeniably face huge challenges,” admits Hans Rosling in the opening minutes of Don’t Panic: The Truth about Population, “but the good news is that the future may not be quite as gloomy and that mankind already is doing better than many of you think.” In this hour-long documentary, Rosling, a Swedish professor of global health and a renowned TED-talk speaker, makes the numbers behind population growth come alive. And while not denying that human activity does indeed often cause pollution as a side effect, and does indeed use resources, he challenges the narrative of the doomsayers.

Most importantly, he drives home the fact that population growth is already slowing. Yes, Bangladesh’s population has grown dramatically in his lifetime, he tells us, tripling from about 50 million to about 150 million. But do we need to convince Bangladeshis to have fewer children? No, because the job is already done. Although still a poor country, Bangladeshis have grown richer in recent decades. As many of them have moved out of extreme poverty, child mortality rates have plummeted, and birth rates have fallen in turn. Bangladeshi women now have just over two children each on average.

There are still places in the world with much higher birthrates, of course, primarily in rural parts of Asia and Africa. But contrary to public perception, much work has already been accomplished. And as more of the poorest nations move out of poverty in the coming decades—Africa and Asia being home to the fastest growing economies in the world—birthrates will come down everywhere. The best estimates are that we will hit about 9 billion by mid-century, and top out at around 10 or 11 billion by 2100. After that, no more population growth.

But 11 billion is still a lot. Can the Earth sustain even that stable population?

We should of course try to limit our negative impact on the environment as much as we can, within reason. But that is precisely what we have been doing as we have gotten richer and have been able to afford to care more about the state of the natural environment. And contrary to what doomsayers like Paul Ehrlich predicted in the 1960s and 1970s, there has not been mass starvation in the industrialized world, and there has been less and less of it in the poorer parts of the planet. If you think the future nonetheless still looks grim, you may not be looking hard enough, because there are in fact many reasons to be optimistic.

Are there now, or will there soon be, too many of us? Part of your answer to that question depends on whether you think of each new human being as just another mouth that needs feeding, or whether you recognize that those mouths generally come attached to human minds—the ultimate resource.

 

Bradley Doucet is a writer living in Montreal. He has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also is Le Québécois Libre’s English Editor.

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Humanity Doomed, Says Chicken Little – Article by Bradley Doucet

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Categories: History, Technology, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
January 5, 2015
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A study by a team of NASA-funded researchers has been getting a lot of play in recent months. Headlines scream about the “irreversible collapse” of civilization if we don’t smarten up. In order to stave off disaster, the study says, we need to a) reduce economic inequality, and b) reduce resource consumption, both by using less and by reducing population growth. But a closer look suggests that reports of humanity’s future demise may have been greatly exaggerated.

There are many contentious ideas in the snippets of the forthcoming study excerpted in the various articles I read, but one of them trumps the rest: the time frame. Though some articles fail to get specific, others report the study’s predictions of when we can expect the sky to fall. The best-case scenarios apparently give us 1,000 years before it all comes crumbling down, whereas the worst-case ones give us just 350.

Are you kidding me? Your mathematical models predict collapse in three to ten centuries, and I’m supposed to take you seriously? To quote Michael Crichton, if people in the year 1900 had been worried about their descendants just one hundred years in the future, they probably would have wondered, “Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horse [manure]?” Today, of course, horse manure in city streets is not a very big problem, thanks to the widespread use of motorized vehicles. A hundred years from now, today’s specific problems will have been replaced by other as yet undreamt of challenges. Three hundred years from now? Please.

By all means, let’s do what we can to reduce economic inequality and use resources wisely instead of wastefully. I suggest greater reliance on markets for both objectives. Population growth is already slowing as people around the world get wealthier, and last I checked, was set to top out at nine or ten billion in the second half of the 21st century. But nobody has any idea what technologies will have been developed in a hundred years, much less three hundred. I don’t, you don’t, and those NASA-backed researchers don’t—whatever their models may say.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness.

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Longevity Logistics: We Can Manage the Effects of Overpopulation – Article by Franco Cortese

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Categories: Economics, Technology, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
November 5, 2013
Recommend this page.
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This is a more popularly-oriented version of a scholarly article in review for the Journal of Evolution and Technology.

By far the most predominant criticism made against indefinite longevity is overpopulation. It is the first “potential problem” that comes to mind. But fortunately it seems that halting the global mortality rate would not cause an immediate drastic increase in global population; in fact, if the mortality rate dropped to zero tomorrow then the doubling rate for the global population would only be increased by a factor of 1.75 [1], which is smaller than the population growth rate during the post-WWII baby-boom.

Population is significantly more determined by birth rate than by death rate, simply because many people have more than one natural child.

This means that we should not see an unsustainable rise in population following even the complete cessation of death globally for a number of generations. We will run into problems 3 or 4 generations hence – but this leaves us with time enough to plan for overpopulation before we’re forced to resort to more drastic solution-paradigms like procreation-bans and space colonization.

Moreover, there are a number of proposed, and in some cases implemented, solutions to existing, contemporary problems that can be utilized for the purpose of minimizing overpopulation’s detrimental effects on living space and non-renewable resource constraints. These contemporary concerns include climate change and dependence on non-renewable energy sources, and they are only increasing in the amount of public attention they are attracting.

While these concerns and their potential solutions were not created by overpopulation or with overpopulation in mind, the potentially negative effects of an increasing global population can be effectively combated all the same using such contemporary methods and technologies.

Thus we can take advantage of the solution-paradigms developed for such contemporary concerns as climate change and dependence on non-renewable resources, and borrow from such movements as the sustainability movement and the seasteading movement, so as to better mitigate and effectively plan for the negative repercussions of a growing global population caused by the emergence of effective longevity technologies.

In a session with The President’s Council on Bioethics (as it was composed during the Bush Administration), S. Jay Olshansky [2] reported calculations he performed indicating that complete cessation of the global morality rate today would lead to less population growth than resulted from the post-WWII “Baby Boom”:

This is an estimate of the birth rate and the death rate in the year 1000, birth rate roughly 70, death rate about 69.5. Remember when there’s a growth rate of 1 percent, very much like your money, a growth rate of 1 percent leads to a doubling time at about 69 to 70 years. It’s the same thing with humans. With a 1 percent growth rate, the population doubles in about 69 years. If you have the growth rate — if you double the growth rate, you have the time it takes for the population to double, so it’s nothing more than the difference between the birth rate and the death rate to generate the growth rate. And here you can see in 1900, the growth rate was about 2 percent, which meant the doubling time was about five years. During the 1950s at the height of the baby boom, the growth rate was about 3 percent, which means the doubling time was about 26 years. In the year 2000, we have birth rates of about 15 per thousand, deaths of about 10 per thousand, low mortality populations, which means the growth rate is about one half of 1 percent, which means it would take about 140 years for the population to double.

Well, if we achieved immortality today, in other words, if the death rate went down to zero, then the growth rate would be defined by the birth rate. The birth rate would be about 15 per thousand, which means the doubling time would be 53 years, and more realistically, if we achieved immortality, we might anticipate a reduction in the birth rate to roughly ten per thousand, in which case the doubling time would be about 80 years. The bottom line is, is that if we achieved immortality today, the growth rate of the population would be less than what we observed during the post-World War II baby boom.

We would eventually run into problems, of course, a century down the road, but just so you know the growth rates would not be nearly what they were in the post-World War II era, even with immortality today.

In other words we will only have increased the doubling-time of the global population by a factor of 1.75 if we achieved indefinite longevity today (e.g., a doubling time of 140 years in 2000 compared to a doubling time of 80 years). This means that we will have two to four generations worth of time to consider possible solutions to growing population before we are faced with the “hard choice” of (1) finding new space and resources or else (2) limiting or regulating the global birthrate.

An alternate study on the demographic consequences of life extension concluded that “population changes are surprisingly slow in their response to a dramatic life extension”. The study applied “the cohort-component method of population projections to 2005 Swedish population for several scenarios of life extension and a fertility schedule observed in 2005,” concluding that “even for a very long 100-year projection horizon, with the most radical life extension scenario (assuming no aging at all after age 60), the total population increases by 22% only (from 9.1 to 11.0 million)” and that “even in the case of the most radical life extension scenario, population growth could be relatively slow and may not necessarily lead to overpopulation.” [2]. The total population increase due to the complete negation of mortality given by this study is significantly lower than the figure calculated by Olshansky.

Finding innovative solutions to new and old problems is what humanity does. We have a variety of possible viable options to increase the resources and living space available to humanity already. Moreover, there are several other contemporary concerns that are invoking the development of technological and methodological solutions that can be applied to our own concerns regarding the effects of overpopulation. Surely we can conceive of optimal solutions to these problems (and the more pressing a given problem is, the more funding it receives and the faster the solution to it is accomplished) – and take advantage of the growing methodological and technical infrastructure being developed for related and convergent problems – within the time it will take to feel overpopulation’s effect on living space and resources.

We could, for instance, colonize the oceans [3, 4, 5], drawing from the engineering, construction techniques used to build, maintain, and safely inhabit contemporary VLFSs (Very Large Floating Structures). 75% of the Earth’s surface area is, after all, water. This would increase our potential living space 3-fold – and I say “potential” because we surely don’t currently maximize living space on the 25% of the Earth’s surface occupied by land. Furthermore, humanity has as yet barely ventured beyond the surface of the earth – which is a sphere after all. There is nothing to prevent society building higher and building deeper. Indeed, with contemporary and projected advances in materials science and structural engineering, there is no theoretical limit to the height of structures we can safely build – the space elevator being a case in point. And while there will indeed be a maximum size wherein building higher becomes economically prohibitive (a limit determined to a large extent by the materials used), contemporary megastructures [6] indicate that very large structures can be built safety and cost-effectively. Underground living [7, 8, 9, 10] is another potential solution-paradigm as well; underground structures require less energy, are protected from weathering effects and changing temperatures to a much greater extent than structures exposed to the elements, and are less susceptible to damage from natural disasters. Furthermore, there are a number of underground cities in existence today [11], with existing techniques and technologies used to better facilitate contemporary underground living, which we can take advantage of.

In fact, the problem of limited living space is a contemporary problem for certain nations like Japan, and active projects to combat this growing problem have already been undertaken in many cases. This means that there will be an existing host of solutions, with their own technological and methodological infrastructures, which we can benefit from and take advantage of when the problematizing effects of growing global population become immediate. Not only can we take advantage of the existing engineering methodologies developed for use in the construction of VLFSs, but we can also take advantage of the growing body of knowledge pertaining to megastructural engineering and even existing proposals for floating cities [12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18]. Another possible solution is artificial islands [19].

Furthermore, in recent years the topic of Very Large Floating Structures [21, 22] has experienced a surge of renewed interest occurring in tandem with the increasing interest in seasteading [23, 24], – that is, the creation of very-large-floating-structures for reasons of political sovereignty as well as to allow corporations to get around the laws of a given nation by occupying an area outside of exclusive economic zones. This renewed interest can only increase the amount of attention and funding these concepts receive, in turn increasing the viability of VLFS designs and their underlying structural-engineering and energy-production concerns.

Another contemporary movement that will prove advantageous for our own concerns with the effects of overpopulation on living space, working space, and resource space is the growing green movement and sustainability movement. The problem of resource scarcity is already upon us in many areas, and there exists contemporary motivation for finding more resource-efficient ways of making energy and producing goods, and for lessening our dependency on non-renewable energy sources. Climate change has only become an increasingly predominant concern in international politics, and many incentives exist to lessen our dependence on non-renewable energy sources as well as to lessen the environmental impact of contemporary civilization, which is itself another oft-touted problematic concern possibly resulting from overpopulation. Developments in these areas are only set to continue, for reasons wholly unrelated to the effects of overpopulation, and when those effects come to the fore we will have a collection of existing methodologies that can then be harnessed to lessen the impact of overpopulation on living space and resource scarcity.

The predominance of these problems, as well as the amount of attention and funding they are expected to receive (and thus the viability of their potential solutions), will only increase as we move forward into the future. The solutions we have to the potential problems of overpopulation – namely resource scarcity and lack of living space – will not only increase as the effects of overpopulation get closer, but the technological and methodological infrastructures underlying those solutions will also become more tried, tested, and robust, fueled by contemporary concerns over decreasing living space, climate-change and resource scarcity.

While space colonization is the most frequently proffered technological solution to the possibility of future overpopulation, I think we will turn to various Earth-bound solutions to increasing humanity’s available living space, as well as the space available for agricultural labs, that is the manufacture of food-stuffs, or indoor farming systems [25, 26, 28], before colonizing the cosmos becomes an economically optimal option. I think these sorts of solutions will be employed long before humanity is forced to either regulate the birthrate or move into the cosmos.

Moreover, people who wish to have children will have incentive to support politicians running on policies promoting new solutions to decreasing living space. Consider the number of U.S. taxpayer dollars spent during the Space Race, with no immediate material or scientific benefit (other than to prove it could be done, as well as to maintain rough militaristic equality with the USSR to some extent, as the state of rocket technology was indicative of the state of ballistic technologies like missiles). If humanity is forced to choose between having children and receiving the medical treatments that will keep them from dying, surely people will be motivated to fund initiatives and projects aimed at solving the problems of decreasing living space and increasing resource constraints due to a growing global population.

It is important to remember that the largest increase in life expectancy we have experienced historically was followed by a drastic decrease in birthrate over the next few generations thereafter. Before the Industrial Revolution, English women had on average 6 children. In 2000 the average was less than 2.

Figure 1: Fertility Rates in England, 1540-2000

Note: GRR = Gross Reproduction Rate, NRR = Net Reproduction Rate
Source: Wrigley et al. (1997) p. 614. Office of National Statistics, United Kingdom.

The drop in birthrate following the industrial revolution has several causes. Chief among them is the fact that children were considered to some extent as assets, helping with maintaining the family livelihood, often by doing agricultural work on a family farm or helping with household chores (which were much more extensive then). Another large determining factor is a high rate of child mortality; thus families would have multiple children in anticipation of losing some to death. But with a rise in living conditions, the child mortality rate dropped drastically – and as a result we stopped having more kids in anticipation of some of them dying. Moreover, we started treating children less as assets and more as people to nurture and raise for their own sake. Longer lives, and less susceptibility to death in general, appears to have made us better parents.

Thus it is not only possible but probable that we will see a similar drop in the birthrate as a consequence of a significant future increase in average lifespan, with people having children much later in life, when they are more financially stable and when they have done all the commitment-free things they’ve always wanted to do. Without a looming limit on one’s available reproductive lifespan, there will be no pressing motivation to have children “before it’s too late” – and this alone could very well facilitate an unprecedented decrease in the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of the global population.

Evidence indicates that the drop in birth rate was neither limited to England, nor an isolated result of the Industrial Revolution. A net drop in the TFR seems to be a longer-term trend concurrent across the globe. It is likely that the drop in the TFR is due to the same factors as the drop in birth rate following the Industrial Revolution – increasing life expectancy and continually improving living conditions allow people to have children without expecting a portion of them to be lost to death, to have them for the sake of having children rather than as assets to aid in maintaining the family livelihood, and to have children later in life due to the increase in one’s reproductive lifespan that comes with increasing life expectancy. The fact that the drop in TFR is not an isolated historical event is advantageous because the global population is affected by birth rate much more than by the mortality rate. Hence we may see a continuing decrease in the TFR occur in tandem with increasing life expectancy, leveling out the imbalance created by a mortality rate of zero by a larger than has been heretofore anticipated. (Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, World Factbook.)

Let us suppose, for a moment, the worst: that indefinite longevity is achieved and we completely ignore (i.e., fail to plan for) overpopulation until its effects start becoming readily apparent. Even in this seeming worst-case scenario, overpopulation is not likely to result in any great tragedies. In such a case we would be forced to limit the global birthrate until we are able to implement the solutions that would allow us to sustainably procreate again. If people have a strong enough desire to continue having children, then they will express their demand and politicians will consequently base their policies upon deliberative initiatives to increase available living and agricultural space – and get elected if the desire to freely procreate is strong and widespread enough. Failing to plan for overpopulation will simply be a wake-up call, letting us know that we should have been planning for its effects from the beginning, and that we had better start planning for them now if we want to continue to freely procreate.

Thus while overpopulation is the most prominent and most credible criticism against continually increasing lifespans, and the one that needs to be planned for the most (because it will eventually happen, but it will lead to sustainability, resource, and living-space problems only if we do nothing about it), it is in no way insoluble, nor particularly pressing in terms of the time available to plan and implement solutions to shrinking living space and resource space (i.e., the space occupied by resources such as food, energy production, workplaces, etc.). We have a host of potential solutions today, ones we can use to increase available living space without regulating the global birthrate, and decades following the achievement of indefinite lifespans to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the various possible solutions, to develop them and to implement them.

So then: where to from here? Overpopulation is still the most prominent criticism raised against indefinite longevity, and if combated, the result could be an increase in public support for the Longevity movement. You might think that the widespread concern with overpopulation due to increasing longevity won’t really matter, if they turn out to be wrong, and overpopulation isn’t so insoluble a problem as one is inclined to first presume. But this misses a crucial point: that the time it takes to achieve longevity is determined by and large by how strongly and in how widespread a manner society and the members constituting it desire and demand it. If we can convince people today that overpopulation isn’t an insoluble problem, then continually increasing longevity might happen much sooner than otherwise. At the cost of 100,000 deaths due to age-correlated causes per day, I think hastening the arrival of indefinite longevity therapies by even a modest amount is somewhat imperative. Hastening its arrival by one month will save 3 million lives, and achieving it one year sooner than otherwise will save an astounding 36.5 Million real, human lives.

Thus, we should work toward putting more concrete numbers to these estimates. How much more living space can be feasibly created by colonizing the oceans? How deep can we really dig, build and live? How high can we safely build? Is there a threshold height or depth where building higher or deeper becomes too economically prohibitive to be worth the added living, working or resource space? What are the parameters (e.g., material strength/cost ratio, specific structural design) determining such a threshold?

First, we need to collect and analyze the feasibility studies that have already been undertaken on floating cities, artificial islands, VLFSs and the new solution-paradigms that are emerging to combat the contemporary concerns of sustainability and resource scarcity. In short, we need to compile data from the feasibility studies that have already been done, and the projects already implemented. Then we need to plan and commission further feasibility studies, undertaken by engineers and geologists, to build upon the work already accomplished in feasibility studies pertaining to existing designs for floating cities and other Very Large Floating Structures. We need to put some numbers to the cost the additional space for food, resources, work and living necessitated by widely available life-extension therapies. We need to do some hard calculations to show that the effects of overpopulation are problems that can be solved using existing megascale engineering and construction techniques and materials, safely and economically. We need to show the world that it has more space than it ever thought it had, and that such solution-paradigms as cosmic colonization and procreative regulation are neither the only ones, nor necessarily the most optimal ones. We need, in short, to show them that, in this case, where there’s a will there’s a way, and that the weight of waiting is too high a price to pay.

Franco Cortese is a futurist, author, editor, Affiliate Scholar at the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, Ambassador at The Seasteading Institute, Affiliate Researcher at ELPIs Foundation for Indefinite Lifespans, Fellow at Brighter Brains Institute, Advisor at the Lifeboat Foundation (Futurists Board Member and Life Extension Scientific Advisory Board Member), Director of the Canadian Longevity Alliance, Activist at the International Longevity Alliance, Canadian Ambassador at Longevity Intelligence Communications, an Administrator at MILE (Movement for Indefinite Life Extension), Columnist at LongeCity, Columnist at H+ Magazine, Executive Director of the Center for Transhumanity, Contributor to the Journal of Geoethical Nanotechnology, India Future Society, Serious Wonder, Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. Franco edited Longevitize!: Essays on the Science, Philosophy & Politics of Longevity, a compendium of 150+ essays from over 40 contributing authors.

References:

  1. Presidents Council for Bioethics: Transcripts (December 12, 2002): Session 2: Duration of Life: Is There a Biological Warranty Period? 01.
  2. L. A. Gavrilov and N.S. Gavrilova. “Demographic Consequences of Defeating Aging”. Rejuvenation Research. 2010 April; 13(2-3): 329–334.
  3. Ibid.
  4. McCullagh, Declan. “Seasteaders” Take First Step Toward Colonizing The Oceans.” CBS News, October 9, 2009. 02
  5. Pasternack, Alex. “Bioengineer aspires to colonize the sea.” CNN, January 12, 2011. 03
  6. Banham, Reyner. Megastructure: urban futures of the recent past. London: Thames and Hudson, 1976.
  7. Tsuchiyama, Ray. “Ocean Colonies as Next Frontier.” Forbes, April 24, 2011. Accessed August 1, 2013. 04
  8. “Inside Underground Cities.” Before Its News. 2013 March. 05
  9. South, D. B., and Freda Parker. “Underground Homes – Good or Bad?” Monolithic, January 22, 2009. 06.
  10. Good Earth Plants & Greenscaped Buildings. “Underground Living.” Last modified May 6, 2013. 07.
  11. Kelly, J. “10 Amazing Underground Cities”. Listverse.com. January 22, 2013. Accessed August 1, 2013. 08
  12. Gammon, Katharine. “Building Artificial Islands That Rise With Sea.” PopSci, June 8, 2012. 09
  13. Cottrell, Claire. “A Survey of Futuristic Floating Cities.” FlavorWire, November 2, 2012. 10
  14. “Cities on the Ocean.” Technology Quarterly – The Economist. Q4 2011.
  15. Bonsor, Kevin. “How the Floating Cities Will Work.” HowStuffWorks. n.d. 11.
  16. DigInfo TV. “GREEN FLOAT – a Floating City in the Sky.” Accessed August 6, 2013. 12.
  17. National Geographic. “Pictures: Floating Cities of the Future.” Accessed August 6, 2013. 13.
  18. Emerging Technology News. “Self-Sufficient Floating Cities Planned for 2025: Japan.” Accessed August 6, 2013. 14.
  19. “An artificial island in Hambantota.” News.LK, August 2, 2013. 15
  20. Goodier, Rob. “The World’s 18 Strangest Man Made Islands.” Popular Mechanics, n.d. 16
  21. E. Watanabe, C.M. Wang, T. Utsunomiya and T. Moan. “Very Large Floating Structures: Applications, Analysis and Design”. CORE Report No. 2004-02. Centre for Offshore Research and Engineering National University of Singapore. 17
  22. C.M. Wang, and Z. Tay. Very Large Floating Structures: Applications, Research and Development. In The Proceedings of the Twelfth East Asia-Pacific Conference on Structural Engineering and Construction — EASEC12. Edited by LAM Heung Fai. Singapore: Department of Civil Engineering, National University of Singapore Kent Ridge, 2011. 18
  23. World Architecture News. “Seasteading, United States.” Accessed August 6, 2013. 19
  24. The Seasteading Institute. The Seasteading Institute Annual Report 2008. Rep. n.p., n.d.
  25. Nagy, Attila. “14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors.” Gizmodo, June 17. 20.
  26. Meinhold, Bridgette. “Indoor Vertical Farm ‘Pinkhouses’ Grow Plants Faster With Less Energy.” Inhabitat. Last modified May 23, 2013. 21.
  27. TerraSphere. “Urban farming 2.0: No soil, no sun.” Accessed August 1, 2013. 22.
  28. The Vertical Farm Project – Agriculture for the 21st Century and Beyond. “Vertical Farm Designs.” Accessed August 6, 2013. 23

 

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To Bee or Not to Bee? – Article by Paul Driessen

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Categories: Politics, Science, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Paul Driessen
September 9, 2013
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Activist groups continue to promote scary stories that honeybees are rapidly disappearing, dying off at “mysteriously high rates,” potentially affecting one-third of our food crops and causing global food shortages. Time Magazine says readers need to contemplate “a world without bees,” while other “mainstream media” articles have sported similar headlines.

The Pesticide Action Network and NRDC are leading campaigns that claim insecticides, especially neonicotinoids, are at least “one of the key factors,” if not the principle or sole reason for bee die-offs.

Thankfully, the facts tell a different story – two stories, actually. First, most bee populations and most managed hives are doing fine, despite periodic mass mortalities that date back over a thousand years. Second, where significant depopulations have occurred, many suspects have been identified, but none has yet been proven guilty, although researchers are closing in on several of them.

Major bee die-offs have been reported as far back as 950, 992 and 1443 AD in Ireland. 1869 brought the first recorded case of what we now call “colony collapse disorder,” in which hives full of honey are suddenly abandoned by their bees. More cases of CCD or “disappearing disease” have been reported in recent decades, and a study by bee researchers Robyn Underwood and Dennis vanEngelsdorp chronicles more than 25 significant bee die-offs between 1868 and 2003. However, contrary to activist campaigns and various news stories, both wild and managed bee populations are stable or growing worldwide.

Beekeeper-managed honeybees, of course, merit the most attention, since they pollinate many important food crops, including almonds, fruits and vegetables. (Wheat, rice and corn, on the other hand, do not depend at all on animal pollination.) The number of managed honeybee hives has increased some 45% globally since 1961, Marcelo Aizen and Lawrence Harder reported in Current Biology – even though pesticide overuse has decimated China’s bee populations.

Even in Western Europe, bee populations are gradually but steadily increasing. The trends are similar in other regions around the world, and much of the decline in overall European bee populations is due to a massive drop in managed honeybee hives in Eastern Europe, after subsidies ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, since neonicotinoid pesticides began enjoying widespread use in the 1990s, overall bee declines appear to be leveling off or have even diminished.

Nevertheless, in response to pressure campaigns, the EU banned neonics – an action that could well make matters worse, as farmers will be forced to use older, less effective, more bee-lethal insecticides like pyrethroids. Now environmentalists want a similar ban imposed by the EPA in the United States.

That’s a terrible idea. The fact is, bee populations tend to fluctuate, especially by region, and “it’s normal for a beekeeper to lose part of his hive over the winter months,” notes University of Montana bee scientist Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk. Of course, beekeepers want to minimize such losses, to avoid having to replace too many bees or hives before the next pollination season begins. It’s also true that the United States did experience a 31% loss in managed bee colonies during the 2012-2013 winter season, according to the US Agriculture Department.

Major losses in beehives year after year make it hard for beekeepers to turn a profit, and many have left the industry. “We can replace the bees, but we can’t replace beekeepers with 40 years of experience,” says Tim Tucker, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation. But all these are different issues from whether bees are dying off in unprecedented numbers, and what is causing the losses.

Moreover, even 30% losses do not mean bees are on the verge of extinction. In fact, “the number of managed honeybee colonies in the United States has remained stable over the past 15 years, at about 1.5 million” – with 20,000 to 30,000 bees per hive – says Bryan Walsh, author of the Time article.

That’s far fewer than the 5.8 million managed US hives in 1946. But this largely reflects competition from cheap imported honey from China and South America and “the general rural depopulation of the US over the past half-century,” Walsh notes. Extensive truck transport of managed hives, across many states and regions, to increasingly larger orchards and farms, also played a role in reducing managed hive numbers over these decades.

CCD cases began spiking in the USA in 2006, and beekeepers reported losing 30-90% of the bees in many hives. Thankfully, incidents of CCD are declining, and the mysterious phenomenon was apparently not a major factor over the past winter. But researchers are anxious to figure out what has been going on.

Both Australia and Canada rely heavily on neonicotinoid pesticides. However, Australia’s honeybees are doing so well that farmers are exporting queen bees to start new colonies around the world; Canadian hives are also thriving. Those facts suggest that these chemicals are not a likely cause. Bees are also booming in Africa, Asia and South America.

However, there definitely are areas where mass mortalities have been or remain a problem. Scientists and beekeepers are trying hard to figure out why that happens, and how future die-offs can be prevented.

Walsh’s article suggests several probable culprits. Topping his list is the parasitic Varroa destructor mite that has ravaged U.S. bee colonies for three decades. Another is American foulbrood bacteria that kill developing bees. Other suspects include small hive beetles, viral diseases, fungal infections, overuse of miticides, failure of beekeepers to stay on top of colony health, or even the stress of colonies constantly being moved from state to state. Yet another might be the fact that millions of acres are planted in monocultures – like corn, with 40% of the crop used for ethanol, and soybeans, with 12% used for biodiesel – creating what Walsh calls “deserts” that are devoid of pollen and nectar for bees.

A final suspect is the parasitic phorid fly, which lays eggs in bee abdomens. As larvae grow inside the bees, literally eating them alive, they affect the bees’ ability to function and cause them to walk around in circles, disoriented and with no apparent sense of direction. Biology professor John Hafernik’s San Francisco University research team said the “zombie-like” bees leave their hives at night, fly blindly toward light sources, and eventually die. The fly larvae then emerge from the dead bees.

The team found evidence of the parasitic fly in 77% of the hives they sampled in the San Francisco Bay area, and in some South Dakota and Central Valley, California, hives. In addition, many of the bees, phorid flies and larvae contained genetic traces from another parasite, as well as a virus that causes deformed wings. All these observations have been linked to colony collapse disorder.

But because this evidence doesn’t fit their anti-insecticide fund-raising appeals, radical environmentalists have largely ignored it. They have likewise ignored strong evidence that innovative neonicotinoid pest control products do not harm bees when they are used properly. Sadly, activist noise has deflected public and regulator attention away from Varroa mites, phorid flies, and other serious global threats to bees.

The good news is that the decline in CCD occurrence has some researchers thinking it’s a cyclical malady that is entering a downswing – or that colonies are developing resistance. The bottom line is that worldwide trends show bees are flourishing. “A world without bees” is not likely.

So now, as I said in a previous article on this topic, we need to let science do its job, and not jump to conclusions or short-circuit the process. We need answers, not scapegoats – or the recurring bee mortality problem is likely to spread, go untreated or even get worse.

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Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death.

From http://www.daff.gov.au/animal-plant-health/pests-diseases-weeds/bee/honeybees-FAQs — What effect has Varroa had on the number of managed bee hives in other countries?

Bee_Figure_1

Figure 1. The number of managed honey bee hives in the world from 1961-2008 (FAO Stat, 2011).

Varroa had no perceptible effect on the number of hives reported in Europe. The number of honey-bee hives in Europe declined sharply in the early 1990s, coinciding with the end of communism, and the end of state support for beekeepers, in the previously communist bloc countries of Eastern Europe. The number of hives reported Western European countries remained unchanged over the same period of time.

Bee_Figure_2Figure 2. The number of managed hives in the whole of Europe, former Warsaw Pact countries and former EU 15 member countries from 1961-2008 (Food and Agricultural Organization Stat, 2011).

In the United States the number of managed hives declined steadily since the late 1940s, around 40 years before Varroa became established there. This decline reflects declining terms of trade for United States beekeepers as the result of competition with lower-cost honey-producing countries in South America. In contrast, due to their competitive advantage, the number of hives in South America has grown steadily since the mid-1970s, despite Varroa already being established there. However, the J strain of V. destructor in South America is less damaging than the K strain of V. destructor in the United States.

Bee_Figure_3

Figure 3. The number of managed honey bee hives in the Unites States and South American countries from 1961-2008 (FAO Stat, 2011).

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Illiberal Belief #9: It’s a Small World – Article by Bradley Doucet

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The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
January 11, 2013
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We have only one planet, it’s true, and there are ever more of us crowding onto its surface. With six billion humans and counting, surely we must be running out of land—if not on which to live, then on which to grow the enormous amounts of food required to feed us all. As evidence, we are reminded of the large swaths of the planet mired in poverty, a tragedy that is used to justify any number of illiberal policies, from Maoist one-child population control laws to Stalinist food rationing meant to stretch out our meagre and dwindling resources.

Thankfully, these fears are unjustified. The advent and improvement of air travel and modern communications technologies have certainly made the planet seem smaller—we can zip to the Far East in a matter of hours, or send electronic documents anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds—but it’s still the same gigantic ball of rock it has always been. The Earth is really staggeringly large; too large, in fact, to grasp intuitively. Of course, six billion is also too large a number to grasp intuitively. Only mathematics can help us understand if we are truly running out of space.

Our planet has a surface area of approximately 510 million square kilometres, of which just under 30% (149 million sq. km) is land area. How many people can the Earth support? According to Scientific American, “With current farming techniques, a little less than half an acre can grow enough food to feed one person.” One square kilometre contains roughly 247 acres, and so can feed approximately 500 people. If all of the land on Earth were suitable for food production, our planet could therefore support a population of some 73.5 billion people (149 million times 500). Of course, not all land is suitable for agriculture, but thankfully we don’t need it to be. Our current population of six billion could be fed on just 12 million square kilometres of agricultural land, an area slightly larger than the United States. Even at nine billion people (the downwardly-revised population peak we are set to hit by 2050)(1), we would only need 18 million square kilometres, representing just 12% of the land on Earth, or an area about the size of Russia. Furthermore, this figure assumes unrealistically that no further improvements in farming techniques will be invented over the next five decades.

1. Although it is true that there are more of us than ever, the 2004 UN projections show that population growth is slowing and total population is on course to top out at around nine billion by mid-century, far fewer than previously thought.

Bradley Doucet is Le Quebecois Libré‘s English Editor. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.