An Older Generation: the New Normal
In the near future, the median age of people around the world will be in their 50s. It is projected that in 2050, the global population will reach 9.7 billion people and 1 in 6 people will be over the age of 65.
This entails that there will likely be a significant shift from our current youth-obsessed society to one which may be dominated by people 50+ and older. The future will belong to seniors.
Tom Cruise, who will turn 60 next month, is at an age where most people begin to think of retirement. However, the actor continues to stun and impress people around the world, not only by his universal sex appeal, but by doing his own stunts in movies in which his latest, Top Gun: Maverick has become the top grossing film of 2022. Photo still: Paramount Studios
In 2050, it is projected that 1 out 4 people in China will be over the age of 65 whilst 1 out of 6 people globally will be over the age of 65. Many governments have been preparing for this increase in the ageing population through policy changes. Nations such as China have developed a three tier system of social services for seniors: home-based care which in the future will also be supplemented with social credit, community based services as backing and institutional care as support. However, all these policies are based on the irrevocable declining health of the elderly and offer increasing support whether through the community or via institutions.
Social isolation is one of the causes of a rapid decline in health according to many studies. Photo: Shironosov, Getty Images.
However, we must consider another option that currently governments have been overlooking: the accelerated development of longevity research and technology. Currently, many elderly people are segregated into senior homes and rest care centres where they have little to no interaction with the rest of the population. This kind of isolation further leads to accelerated decline in health and what puts a significant stress on our health care system. What if in the future, instead of thinking of ageing as an inevitable signal that quality of life will continue to decrease, what if in the future a 60 year old has the same physical stamina and overall health of a 30 year old?
Instead of solely focusing on the expansion of the senior health care system, govts around the world must also consider another alternative: to increase the quality of life and human health span so that seniors will potentially become just as active and integrated in the community as the youth population of the future.
The Current Landscape of Longevity Research
A lot of contemporary research in longevity focuses on the lengthening of telomeres, either through epigenetic changes from substances, viral manipulation or genome editing. Telomeres are a region of repetitive DNA sequences at the end of a chromosome which become shorter as a cell divides. When telomeres become short, the cell can no longer divide and the cell dies.
Elongating telomeres (the caps on chromosomes) have been the focus of most longevity research. However, the elongation of telomeres also may cause cancer cells to proliferate and prevent its cell death.
The rationale for the lengthening of telomeres is its progressive shortening leads to senescence (ageing) and apoptosis (cell death) which affects the health and and also lifespan of a human or animal. Shorter telomeres have been associated with increased incidence of diseases and poor survival.
Many substances such as the enzyme telomerase prevents telomere shortening after many rounds of cell division. However, the problem with this treatment is that often cancer cells also avoid cell death by maintaining their telomeres despite repeated cell division, and telomerase adds genetic units onto telomeres to prevent them from shortening, hence avoiding the natural destruction of cancer cells.
Other research has focused on genome editing, and some controversial figures have injected themselves with untested gene therapeutics in order to prevent deterioration of muscles and other age related issues with the most prominent being Elizabeth Parrish of BioViva.
Elizabeth Parrish who is 44, has injected herself over 100 times with untested experimental gene therapy in order to modulate her genes from muscle deterioration. Another method to prevent muscle deterioration is engaging in regular exercise. Photo: mindmaps
These experimental gene therapeutics often have long term side effects which may be entirely unknown, or otherwise have negative consequences since the nature of interaction between different genes are complex and still relatively unclear. There is also the aspect of epigenetic changes that occur in which genes could be switched on or off without the necessity of genome editing. The question then is there an off switch in our DNA to senescence? Are we overlooking something so simple and elegant in our evolutionary design, and could the answer be right in front of us?
In fact, how we age might be directly correlated to the development and maintenance of two organs: the thymus and the pineal gland.
The Thymus and Pineal Gland Axis
The thymus gland is a butterfly shaped organ in between the lungs, located in the upper chest region below the thyroid, although in some people it is located in the neck. In most people, the thymus gland reaches its maximum size when one is a teenager, then begins to shrink, a process called involution. When the average person turns 75 years old, the thymus gland entirely disappears and turns into fat, although during active infections and conditions like diphtheria, the thymus gland tends to shrink in young people and also when exposed to adrenocorticosteroids.
The thymus, a key component of immunity and longevity. Photo: Nerthuz, Shutterstock
The thymus gland is also a key component of immunity as it produces T-cells. As the thymus shrinks, immunity also decreases. Many scientists believe that the shrinking of the thymus is directly correlated to ageing and there has been research to prevent the shrinking or involution of the thymus.
It was discovered that the gene Forkhead Box N1 (FOXN1) transcription factor in epithelial cells contribute to the development of the thymus, and that the thymus gland can be regenerated to a degree. In addition, thymic humoral factor-γ2 (THF-γ2) has been recognised to enhance the proliferative activity in human bone marrow and peripheral myeloid and erythroid progenitor cells, essentially what drives the creation of new cells. Perhaps one of the key factors to longevity is not the artificial lengthening of telomeres, but to enhance the body’s ability to produce new progenitor cells.
Current longevity research has mainly focused on the lengthening of telomeres, but perhaps a key factor of longevity is to enhance the body’s production of progenitor cells via THF-γ2. Whilst stem cells have indefinite replication (left) progenitor cells can at most differentiate into multiple types of specialized cell (right).
The pineal gland, or the "third eye" is located next to the thalamus and hypothalamus. Photo: bodynbrain
The pineal gland is a small pea shaped gland in the brain which regulates circadian rhythm (the sleep-wake cycle) and also produces melatonin, a hormone that enhances both innate and cellular immunity. Children produce the most amount of melatonin, and as one ages, this production tends to significantly decrease. As one ages, the involution (shrinkage) of both the pineal gland and thymus have shown to be linked in many studies and multiple interactions between the circadian system, oxidative stress, immune system and melatonin have become apparent.
Despite that metformin (a diabetic drug) and rapamycin (an immunosuppressant) are currently trending as leading drugs of treatment to prevent ageing, with millions of dollars of corporate funding for its marketing and research, it can’t be overlooked that melatonin is the key factor in both the circadian rhythm and immune system, which is correlated to maintenance of the thymus and pineal gland axis, hence it appears that it is actually the hormone melatonin which is a significant factor in longevity.
Overpopulation, Population Collapse and Ecology
Elon Musk recently caused a stir when he warned of a potential population collapse in various media interviews.
Ghost towns in Europe, a growing trend. Photo: Chris McGrath, Getty Images
For a nation to maintain its population, it has been extrapolated that it needs a birthrate or fertility rate of 2.1, which is how many children each woman needs to have in order to replace the current population. This birthrate has been declining in many nations, such as in China, South Korea, Japan and many other European nations and is well below the replacement birthrate. However, if we consider that because we are living longer, this decline in birthrate could be directly correlated to longer lifespans.
Bowhead whale and baby calf. Bowhead whales have an average lifespan of 200 years and females give birth to a calf every 1-3 years whereas in other species such as rabbits which only have a lifespan of 9 years, have a much higher fertility rate and give birth between 1-7 litters each year. In nearly all animal species, a longer lifespan is correlated to lower fertility rates. Photo: NOAA Fisheries
In many species, lower fertility rates can be directly correlated with longer lifespans and whereas an increase in birthrates is correlated with shorter lifespans. In general, those species who have fewer offspring live longer.
Currently, in human evolution, lifespans are getting longer resulting in a natural correction in lower birth rates. If we examine the nation with the highest birthrate, Chad, on the African continent, has a birthrate of 5.65, which is well above the replacement birthrate, one will notice that that the life expectancy in Chad is 54. 24 years, which is significantly lower than in other nations whereas South Korea, which has a life expectancy of 83.23 years and is one of the highest in the world with also one of the lowest fertility rates or birthrate of 0.92.
As people live longer, it is inevitable that the birthrate or fertility rate will decrease. What poses a danger that could cause population collapse is if the birthrate is falling whilst there is also a simultaneous decrease in life expectancy. This could have significant unknown consequences in which we do not yet know the full ramifications. It could very well be that humanity could undergo a mass extinction event if both birthrate and lifespans begin to fall in unison.
However, although a potential population collapse is probably not likely, scientists have been warning of the opposite for many decades: Overpopulation.
Overcrowded passengers in Bangladesh. When people think of overpopulation, they think of conditions in which there are not enough resources or infrastructure support to maintain the growing number of people, such as in overcrowded urban centres. Photo from yahoo! news
Overpopulation is defined as an undesirable condition where the number of the existing human population exceeds the carrying capacity of Earth. According to Conserve Energy Future, overpopulation is caused by several factors: 1) reduced mortality rate, 2) better medical facilities and 3) the depletion of precious resources. The organisation also states that increased lifespan is a direct cause of overpopulation.
Thinktanks around the world, including the Population Council founded by John D Rockefeller III in 1952, have asserted the same conclusions; that it is the increased lifespan of humans that have caused overpopulation and that there will not be enough resources to accommodate the population in the near future. In addition, many scientists began a campaign to warn governments around the world of the impending "overpopulation crisis” since the early 1980s.
In the second version of “World Scientists Warning to Humanity” (1992) signed by 21,000 scientists:
Scientists pleaded that we needed to stabilize the human population, describing how our large numbers—swelled by another 2 billion people since 1992, a 35 percent increase—exert stresses on Earth that can overwhelm other efforts to realize a sustainable future. -World Scientists Warning to Humanity (1992)
However, we must consider that these are hypothetical assumptions and not fact. If we were to believe anything population scientists said without impunity, we would be forced to bear the grave consequences of drastic actions based on short-sighted assumptions without a clear understanding of human and animal evolution. We have already seen the effects of what had happened in Australia recently, when scientists had been calling to cull the wildcat population in which the Australian government announced that it would kill 2 million feral cats between 2015-2020, which inadvertently caused a mouse plague.
Australian scientists blamed the wildcat for the loss of diversity of rare species in Australia, but after the govt killed 2 million feral cats, this action resulted in an unstoppable mouse plague. Photo: CSIRO
Hence, we must question shaky science based on statistics without the comprehensive understanding of the multidimensional facets of evolution, and refrain from launching drastic actions without ethical consideration that could inevitably lead to our own demise.
If we know anything about human evolution, it is that human ingenuity finds a way to solve our most pressing problems. We have to also consider that it is not longevity nor the increased lifespan that is causing the current ecological crisis. The reasons for our global ecological crisis may be complex and varied, but the declining birth rates in many developed nations such as Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, Germany, China, Russia and many other nations paint a very different picture. In fact, it is the lack of access to education and lack of access to healthcare which causes birth rates skyrocket whilst life expectancy decreases.
Millions of people in India live without a sewage system. Photo by Amit Chakravarty
If we examine a nation such as India, a nation that currently has a population of 1.38 billion people, a significant portion of the people, 68.8% of the people live on less than $2 a day, without access to education and the government has been slow to modernise its infrastructure and areas of living. Millions of people live without sewage systems and running water, and there is a lack of a justice system for people who commit crime, with some people waiting decades before they see their day in court, and the local governments allow all sorts of abuses to occur in regards to child labour and also to the destruction of the environment by the corporations that have made India the destination site to dump all their waste.
We must also consider the United States, in which lobbyists convinced legislators that the environmentally unsafe practices of fracking were somehow a “gateway to green energy”, and now the US is one of the top nations with the most superfund sites (toxic waste dumping areas) in the world.
Is it overpopulation that is causing the ecological crisis or is it the unchecked tenets of neoliberal economics in which we allow corporations to unscrupulously destroy all our resources and dump toxic waste on our planet?
Chloera notice in the US from the 1830s warning people not to drink cold water. Multiple cholera epidemics in North America during the 19th century were caused by meat industries that dumped animal byproducts from slaughterhouses into nearby rivers, contaminating the fresh water supply in which farmers used to water crops and where many people utilised as a water source. When corporations are unchecked and put profit over the welfare of the people and environment, what generally occurs is the destruction of the environment and the launching of plague events.
Hence, the ecological problems we have today may have its root causes, not in overpopulation, but in our inherent economic system. Beginning in the 1950s, the tenets of neoliberal capitalism have created a consumption society in which corporations bear no responsibility in the amount of waste they create, nor have no compunction in the amount of resources they are willing to utilise and destroy, all for profit.
An endangered species in Australia: the wildcat. On the urging of Australian scientists, the Australian government killed 2 million wildcats, which they blamed for loss of rare species, however, their actions have launched a mouse plague and accelerated the further loss of biodiversity of rare species. Photo: newsbeezer
Australia can’t undo the millions of wildcats they have killed which launched a mouse plague. A mouse plague that is spreading and accelerating the decline of other exotic species and creating a breeding ground of disease and waste with millions of organic farmers who have lost their livelihood, causing another financial crisis. Yet this is what their scientists actively researched and promoted, they were so certain that Australia’s loss of biodiversity was the fault of the wildcat population.
"Science without ethical consideration isn’t science. It is akin to witchcraft."
We must consider that in our global world, science without ethics isn’t science at all. It is akin to a contemporary type of witchcraft in which we exploit the tenets of science in order to make sacrificial rituals of those we unethically experiment on. From giving Tunisian scientists nearly $400,000 USD to torture beagles in the infamous Dr. Fauci experiments to the Australian govt’s wanton lack of ethics in murdering 2 million wildcats, we cannot consider this “science” at all but more akin to the sacrificial rituals indicative of modern day witchcraft that have been deluded under the guise of statistical science.
We must think of what would happen if human life spans decreased and reverted back to levels of the 1800s-1900s, when most people died by 40 or 50. Is that the kind of world we would want to live in? With increased health spans, we have developed more innovation, retained more knowledge and applied wisdom and a potential for future generations to develop and solve our most pressing social, economic and ecological problems. In every generation, mainstream scientists simply cannot predict the ones who will become the black swans that change our world. Hence, we must understand that the ecological problems we face today are not due to overpopulation, but inherent in our economic system which is leading towards our destruction.
The Era of the Centenarian: What if “retirement” became obsolete?
83 year old Barbara Peters of the UK received the British Empire Award in 2022 as a ballet teacher. She recently passed the Royal Academy's most advanced ballet exam in 2020 as an octogenarian. Photo: Dan Rowlands, SWNS
99 year old Roy Englert began running at 60 and won numerous gold and silver medals since and recently participated in the 2022 National Senior Games. Photo: Doug Mills, NYTimes
Marita del Carmen Camacho, 111 years old, former first lady of Costa Rica, in a birthday celebration last year. Photo from the110club.com
If we were to extend the health span of humanity, people could be active for their entire life without the concept of “retirement”. Retirement is a concept developed in the second industrial era in which a person worked his entire life for one corporation, then looked forward to retiring at 60 and leading a life of leisure, but numerous research has shown that overall, people are not happy with this system and that many people often suffer from depression after retirement. In fact, people have been studied to be happiest when they were active, contributing to their communities and continuing to pursue education or have fulfilling jobs in which they continue to socialise with people. Despite that it might initially seem appealing, a life of delayed leisure is what most people really don’t want at the end of their lives.
"Retirement is a toxic word, it sends the signal that your productive life is over and now you begin a life of repose. If you have a sense of purpose and engaged with the world, there's a psychosomatic effect. Your body rises to it." -Dr. Thomas Perls and Dan Buettner, researchers on centenarians.
By reducing the health span and also the lifespan of humanity, we could be making a grave mistake which may have many unforeseen consequences. As humanity continues to evolve, we must envision a different kind of economic system for future generations, one in which we live in a no-waste society, one that holds corporations accountable for the use of resources and dumping of waste, and one that launches the kinds of societies in which lifelong education, and not profit is the goal of every individual.
The ideal population chart for a neoliberal economic system is one in which there are more young working age members in the population which resembles a pyramid (LT) . However, due to longer lifespans, the population chart is now beginning to resemble a reverse pyramid in many nations, in which there are more people 50+ over within a population (RT), which has concerned global governments around the world.
GDP, or Gross Domestic Product rating of nations is the universal determinant of “wealth” in our current economic system. However, because of GDP, we have launched a consumer society in which corporations often go unchecked and use all available resources in a continuous stream of output, often to the demise of our ecological harmony. From fast food to fast fashion to new versions of smartphones we need to buy every few years, all of our resources are used to produce mass amounts of products in order to gain profit, and not for the benefit of humanity which is causing the destruction of our planet.
Logan's Run (1976, dir: Michael Anderson) depicts a future society in which people are only allowed to live to the age of 30, then forced to die by their government. Two rebels, played by Michael York and Jenny Agutter, escape their domed society to see elderly people for the first time, happily living outside in a hidden sanctuary.
Many governments around the world are concerned about what would happen when the number of people 65+ and older outnumber young people, and how it would affect their GDP and various other social and pension programmes. One simple solution would be to increase the healthspan of every individual, so that in the future, a 60 year old would have the same health and stamina as a 30 year old, making “retirement” obsolete.
It would also eradicate the kind of health care system we have today, as we send off and isolate the elderly into hospitals and rest homes. Instead, we should envision a future society in which the elderly are just as active as young people, and continue to contribute and participate in society. As birth rates around the world decrease, it is preparing our planet in which we should expect to live longer, healthier lives. In the next step of human evolution, it is likely that in the Age of Longevity, our lifespans will increase above 100 years and governments around the world should prepare for a future in which an increase in healthspan would make the concept of “retirement” obsolete.
By Sierra Choi