Comparing the Life Extension Era with the Pre-Life Extension Era

Life extension has been happening for over 100 years. It doubled in the UK from 40 years to 80 years from 1850 to 2015. It has almost tripled in India from 24 to 69 from 1920 to 2015. An article written by Matthew Bacher on increasing life expectancy is like many other articles that do not have the proper context of the big picture. Bacher laments the possibility that 4 years of life expectancy will be added from 2018-2030.

Possibly adding 4 years to life expectancy from 2018-2030 and would be a 6% boost over 12 years. This is NOT highly unusual for the past 140 years. This is slower than the pace of improvement in life expectancy from 1880-1980.

A commenter at Nextbigfuture felt it was uncivil and not cool for me to mock Bacher. It was suggested that I should not be giving life choices to people who want to make life choices for others. I disagree. Bacher was telling others not to live longer and not to be happy with their lives and work. It also was not cool for Bacher to not take the time to determine the history, context, and effects around global increases in longevity.

Adding four years of life expectancy from now to 2030 would be countering the impact of the pandemic. Not increasing the life expectancy is letting a pandemic occur by default and inaction.

Let us compare 1740-1880 with 1880 to 2020. From 1740 to 1880 there was no significant increase in global life expectancy. Globally the world life expectancy did not really start increasing until 1880. World life expectancy was at about 30 years and then has increased to 72.6 in 2019.

Which had more pollution? What had more habitat destruction? which had more starvation?

Air pollution was increasing in London from 1700 to 1900. Air pollution was decreasing from 1900 to 2020. This is in spite of the fact that there was the London Fog air pollution event of 1952 where 12000 people died over 2-3 weeks when air pollution was trapped by a weather event.

Dirty old Victorian Era London was famous for its filth and pollution.

Victorian London was the capital of the largest empire the world had ever known and it was filthy. It had choking, sooty fogs. The Thames River was thick with human sewage and the streets were covered with mud. By the 1890s, there were approximately 300,000 horses and 1,000 tons of dung a day in London. What the Victorians did, Lee says, was employ boys ages 12 to 14 to dodge between the traffic and try to scoop up the excrement as soon as it hit the streets.

Throughout the 19th century, London experienced frequent and severe fogs. Such fogs were often so dense that they halted railway journeys, interrupted general economic activities, and even contributed to London becoming a breeding ground for crime (crime rates rose sharply during these fog periods). London averaged 80 dense fog days per year, with some areas recording up to 180 in 1885. Air pollution caused a severe economic price and significant health costs. Air pollution deaths throughout this period rose steeply. In London, mortality from bronchitis increased from 25 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in 1840 to 300 deaths per 100,000 in 1890. At its peak, 1-in-350 people died from bronchitis.

Cleaning up the water and sewage was critical to increasing life expectancy. This was true in London in 1870-1920 and beyond to the 1950s and 1960s. Los Angeles from 1900-1960s and London in the 1800s-1960s had visibly bad air quality. It is happening now in China and India. Industrialization made air quality worse but there is the funds to build the plumbing and water and air treatment systems. Africa is getting clean water and sanitation systems.

Increasing life expectancy from 30 to 60 goes together with having toilets, plumbing, clean water and clean air.

Living longer and healthier goes to together with increased productivity and increased per capita wealth.

Fixing the problems with the pandemic will require new vaccines and medicines and a new level of hygiene.

Where is it better to live shorter lives on a population or national or regional scale?

People who say it no good for people to live to their 70s can move to certain African countries and live shorter lives. Those short life choice people can also indulge in overeating, cigarettes, drugs, alcohol and other lifestyle choices that are known to shorten lives.

People who say it no good for people to live to their 80s can choose to live in poverty in a developed country. Those short life choice people can also indulge in overeating, cigarettes, drugs, alcohol and other lifestyle choices that are known to shorten lives.

People who are affluent or rich in a developed country who make healthy lifestyle choices have a good chance to live to their 90s.

Cars and trucks are being electrified and this will eliminate about one-third of the world’s air pollution by the 2030s.

The world is making a transition to clean energy. This will take a few decades but the transition is happening.

Globally people are getting wealthier. The extremely poor with money below one dollar a day used to be over 50% of the world and it is now about 10%. By the 2050s, over 90% of the world will be at $10 per day or more.

The world will be cleaner, richer and healthier. This is the same trend that the 1800s were richer and healthier than the 1700s. The 1900s were richer and healthier than the 1800s. The 2000s are richer and healthier than the 1900s. China, India and the UK and the US have gone or are going through a higher polluting industrialization phase.

The overall global trends are to cleaner, richer and healthier.

The world is heading to a state where all energy and transportation will be clean and where the average person will have income equivalent to todays millionaires. This will be a sustainable situation.

There are now about 50 million millionaires in the world. There were 13.7 million millionaires in the world in 2000.

Famines and Overpopulation

Famines are mainly man-made now. The famines of the 20th century are clearly attributable to political causes, including non-democratic government and conflict. The major famines of the 20th century were the outcome of wars or totalitarian regimes.

The life expectancy in the UK started around the 1850s. The UK did not have famines after 1850 but had them before. The UK did not have a famine even during World War 2 when Nazi Germany was destroying ships bringing food to the UK.

Life expectancy increases as the region is made cleaner and as people are well fed.

Life and the world improved as life expectancy more than doubled.

Why do people believe that the next doubling in life expectancy will suddenly make the world worse? Do those who make that claim even understand what happened globally over the last 200-300 years?

If the world suddenly becomes worse does not long lives self-correct? A worse world would cause life expectancy to decrease.

Doubling life expectancy has less population impact than increasing family size by one or two children.

Per person resource usage and environmental impacts can be reduced or increased far more by technology and technology usage. Which causes more pollution and resource usage.

1. Four people who live to 200 years with an electric car and a solar-powered home and gets most food from a local greenhouse. Solar or nuclear powers the car.
2. Two people who live to 80 but uses a personal jet 50 times a year and helicopter to commute to work.
3. One person who live to 60 but uses a 1990 SUV and heavy truck and the home grid is supplied by a coal plant
4. Ten people who live to 40 but use slash and burn agriculture and each burns 1000 pounds per year of wood and grass to cook and heat their home.

SOURCES – Our World in Data, Wikipedia, NPR, ValueWalk
Written By Brian Wang,

40 thoughts on “Comparing the Life Extension Era with the Pre-Life Extension Era”

  1. We have to separate life extension that comes from reducing injuries in birth and those very early years, from life extension from reduction of wear and tear, toxins, nutritional deficiencies, pathogens, major injury, incompetent doctors, side effects of medications or treatments.
    Losing less babies and mothers is great, but has nothing to do with aging.
    Any projections of increases in life expectancy and how well we are moving forward on that in regards to "aging", has to adjust those curves to look at what is actually being analyzed or it is useless. Hearing starts to decline around 25. And they say 25 is also when the brain is finally fully developed. So that looks like the best starting point. Seems early for "over the hill"…but the other side of the hill is less steep.

    And I suppose the real question we want to answer is: "How old are people who are dying of what we would call "old age"?"
    If you have auto accidents, murders, suicides (other than terminal people), poisonings, drownings, fire, bee stings, war deaths, and genocides thrown in, that really does not tell you about aging either. Stuff that affects everyone in an area should count like water and air quality, or bad habits like tobacco and alcohol damage…even if people can avoid that.
    The most relevant thing to address is cardiovascular health. If we can solve that, the gains could be fairly large. And the gains would not be limited to the obvious. Kidney, brain and liver health will also improve.

  2. Like ssbaker305 – there is a big difference between life extension beyond their life expectancy & life extension towards their maximum life expectancy
    Currently, the only certainty we had, have & will have is that hygience + meds = humans reaching their maximum life expectancy (~ 120-130 years).
    Into the future, humanity faces the technological/AI revolution which will advance their maximum lifespan beyond that encoded by evolution.
    In my mind there are 2 available options:
    (i) genetic manipulation (+ meds) -> extend life to 200 (arbitrary number, initially more likely 130% of max ~ 160-170 = meds only)
    (ii) transfer of mind to artificial body eventually leading to a "human clone" i.e. ALL humans who choose this path will have a basic blue print of knowledge that is programmed when you are "born / created" & the rest (your life) is "experience".
    Part (i) will be achieved 1st & adopted by those who wish to live "organically"
    Part (iia) will take longer and will only occur once we solve the algorithmic problem of inserting "I want to live" in the code
    Part (iib) may lead to "artificial" worlds where we are all essentially computer programs – refer to Kurzweil's predictions
    Regardless, it is an interesting time to be alive (assuming the next pandemic doesn't wipe us out)

  3. Because a large % of the public would not accept food grown near nuclear power plants, regardless of any level of safety testing that might occur.

    As Adam Smith observed way back in 1776: You can't run your national economy in the most effective manner, you can only run it in the most effective manner that the population will accept. (And that was long before universal suffrage.)

  4. Slash and burn agriculture, when performed on a typical slash and burn scale, ie. where actual land under cultivation is a small % of the total (often less than 1% from my limited observations in New Guinea) is less destructive than industrial scale farming where the land under cultivation is 90% + of the total.

    But that doesn't work if you want to produce the same amount of food from the same amount of land.

  5. Thanks, but as someone who eats plenty of meat, I should be getting plenty of vitamin B-12. Could start eating more nuts, I guess…

  6. I mostly agree with you, but I think we have gotten some notable increases in healthspan.

    My father (now 69) had bursitis problems in his 50's that made it difficult for him to walk for more than a mile. A medical treatment and anti-inflammatory diet has changed that and now he regularly walks around the neighborhood for an hour or more. He used to have difficulty sleeping for more than three hours, but had a procedure to shrink his prostate. The improved sleep improves his health in many ways. My mom would be deaf by now – but she has a cochlear implant. Many elderly people have cataract surgery. We get fillings and tooth implants. These are legitimate healthspan improvements.

  7. The average life expectancy only goes so far. Then an individual's life will begin overlapping other technologies to further extend it. At that point, you can only say that life expectancy is indeterminate.

    At some point, regeneration should enable true rejuvenation, at which point, there is no longer any concern about geriatrics. It is not necessary to figure out what ailments a 200 year old individual might be apt to get, and how they could be dealt with, if no one's body ever gets past middle age, at most.

    A possible problem is whether the "operating systems" that are our minds (that we develop as infants) can handle a lifespan significantly longer than, say, 120.

    In that case, we would have to turn to looking at machine uploads, and artificial implants, potentially like neuralink. Then we start running into existential issues about who we are doing this for: the individual, who may no longer be the one we started with, or for those who want that individual alive (or something almost indistinguishable) to spare them the grief and loss.

    SF author, Larry Niven, theorized that one of the changes in the enormously old (with everlasting young bodies) was that they would become so incredibly graceful in movement that they would have to deliberately hide it to avoid giving themselves away. He has a point. When was the last time you, say, smacked your funny bone? Used to happen to me all the time when I was a kid, but now, maybe once every couple of decades.

  8. I've often wondered why, in cold climates nuclear plants are not surrounded by square kilometers of greenhouses using the waste heat. Even during the summer, some of the heat could be dumped into the soil under the greenhouses.

  9. What about the huge amount of energy wasted because of zoning? When I was a child piedmont NC was full of small factories, many of them textile factories. Every factory would have residential areas surrounding it, so that workers could walk to work, and even return home for lunch. Pretty much zero energy, other than meals was used to travel to work. Sometimes factories would have their own power generation facilities, and power the homes. In cold climates district heating could use waste heat, creating additional savings.
    This is now impossible because of zoning laws. Unless you're talking about some thing truly hazardous(explosive, or highly toxic), like a petroleum refinery, or chemical plant, why not allow employees to live near by?
    Of course, federal, and federal reserve policy has forced most manufacturing offshore, so huge amounts of oil must be used to ship products to the US by ship, or air cargo. Consider how much carbon would not be emitted if the the gold standard was readopted, and international trade was not subsidized by an artificially strong dollar.

  10. Actually you are correct. Generally, people become richer and richer as they grow older. The difference is huge and explains much of the "wealth gap" between people in general. I.e. most "poor" people are just young people who have not have had the time to save any capital or aquire skills required for a hig paying job.

    So this means that in a world whith a longer health span, most people would be well of and youthfull…

  11. Slash, and burn agriculture as it is generally practiced is not environmentally damaging. The wood of trees cut is generally used in one way or another, what is burned fertilizes the soil with potassium salts. After a few years fertility declines, and the growing area is replanted with trees, or allowed to naturally return to forest.
    It's generally less destructive than current industrial scale farming.
    If there is plenty of forest, and steep slopes are avoided, it's not a bad practice. The problems come when forests are depleted.

  12. What you say is true, but what is also true at the same time is that sometimes generations really do become worse. The morals of the Roman empire did "degenerate" and this did (eventually) lead to the downfall of the Roman empire. It is not like corruption or level of education is a universal constant…

    The question is if there is hard evidence that the 60's or 70's generation was "better" or "worse" than Gen-Z or millenials. I think there is overwhelming evidence that millenials have less skills in math, writing and reading comprehension all over the western world compared to the immediatelly preceeding generations.

    As for the question of morals.. Well, it's not as clear cut as education…. What is more important, "green instincsts" or work ethics/bravery/defence of the freedoms? A question of preference, I guess…

    Funny detail. The lowering of education has lead to – at least according to Flynn – to a reversed Flynn effect since the nineties, i.e. new generations perform worse and worse on IQ-tests. So if Flynn is correct, the deterioration of the educational system has led to worse skills/knowledge and lower "brain power" of the millenials…

  13. People think that when we solve aging all other so called "problems" will
    remain – overpopulation, environment etc. When our tech will reach stage
    to be able to stop, reverse aging I am sure we will also figure out how
    suck up carbon from athmosphere, manipulate weather( we already can do
    that, but we will have even more sophisticated, efficient, fast, cheap,
    advanced methods in near future) cheap spaceflight(SpaceX is just the
    beginning), end poverty and scarcity in general, we'll have more advanced engineering so we will be able to build comfortable super high buildings, safe
    buildings underground, undewater and easily fit trillion people(assuming we will reach such numbers), "boredom problem"(full dive VR, erasing memories) etc. and it won't take long time, we may have all this in 2020's.

    Returning to overpopulation (probably fakest problem of them all), more advanced
    we are, less children we will have, we may even stop at 10B.

    Progress is exponential, those things that you think will happen in 100,
    will happen in 10 years, capabilities which you think we could have in
    20 years, we will have in next 3 years

  14. I tell my son, he is 16, there is a good chance he could live 150+ years. He could be alive in the year 2150! The possibilities are endless. Thank you, Brian, for your positive view of the future.

  15. Stop comparing the present and the past to the future!
    We are living in exponential times.
    There will be an inflection in longevity through age reversal, we will radically extend lifespans.
    At the same time, we will generate all the energy we need through a combination of fossil fuels, solar, nuclear etc. Solar is on an exponential trend.

    Carbon can be captured via biological means using engineered plant life.

    What's more our expansion to off world colonies such as Mars will free space and give rise to new technologies and resources such as metal rich asteroids and helium 3.

    If all that weren't enough, brain computer interface chips like Neuralink will vastly increase the productive value and capacity of any single individual.

  16. Every generation blames the previous for their problems. "If those old people would just get out of the way so MY generation can take over, we'll set right all the bad stuff they've tolerated." The 60's/70's generation thought the same thing.

    Also, as each generation reaches elder status, they come to believe they need to hang onto power because the younger generation appears to be composed of fools who would let slip away the progress gained at great cost by the older generation.

    In the age before life extension, this problem solved itself in sad due course. In an age with even today's minor life extension, we need to look to things like term limits for all political offices, to insure adequate turn-over and new ideas (or at least a focus on different problems) getting a chance.

  17. 2. Find a way to have or adopt a child, maybe 2. Adoption, of course, does not add to population. It's debatable whether the "right" kind of people are having children, though the older I get, the less it seems like that. But I'd like to give back. It is too late to start now, though, and money, energy, and time remaining are all limiting factors. You'll see.

    There are other things, but decreasing time left puts a limit to all of them.

  18. One interesting difference between the increase in life span up to now and in the future: up until now, average life span has been achieved by removing causes early death, but not actually increasing neither the health span nor the maximum life span. The oposite will be true for future gains.

    A rich citizen of Rome could live about as long as our old people, if they were not murdered and survived childhood…Say, 70 years compared to 80 years today. And that was 2000 years ago… A gain of 10 years over 2000 years….

    The future added years will come with both increased health span and increased maximum life span. I just hope I will live long enough to benefit by it…

  19. Let's clarify the difference between more people living to their potential lifespan and actually increasing human lifespan. So far, no one has lived much beyond 120 that can be verified. The first time someone lives a healthy life to 150 will be a game-changer. They will gain a perspective and wisdom that is hard to imagine from our sub-centurion perch. If people start being born with the rational expectation of seeing a second century, healthy in mind and body, it will lead to all sorts of far-sighted plans for self and society.
    I'm part of the "straddle generation" – people who can realistically expect to live into their 80s, and spend as much of that in the 21st century as the 20th. That gives me another 20 years of relatively healthy living…maybe.
    But if I thought I had another 60 years of healthy living left, I would:
    1. Begin a new career. I'm almost doing that anyway, by trying to develop a KIND of building over the last 4.4 years:
    A number of experienced developers have asked me how old I am, because the project could take 7 years, or more. Just early modeling and trying to get permits has taken nearly half a decade. I'm 62 now. My capacity to learn big new things is getting limited. I am starting to forget important things and get tired if I bike more than 25 miles; it used to be 40 miles. I think I can still see the project through, but I'll never try something this big again.

  20. I also believe that dithering over life prolongation can become an unhealthy obsession. Especially if it's life without quality, suffering a long disease and other old age infirmities.

    This is basically the Tithonus objection to life extension. The idea of rejuvenation technology is to return people to youthful functioning, not prolong their decrepit years. I doubt life extension tech will come in time to save me (I'm over 30 now), but I hope it saves the next generation at least. I think Aubrey de Grey is a hero for working on this despite the attacks he receives.

  21. A factor that will increase life spans will be the self driving vehicles which reduce accidents by at least 90%. This is especially trues for countries like the US.

  22. This is not religion nor belief, but ancient global knowledge supported by multitude of testimony that has artificially been divisioned from dogma science. We need to consider all evidence and have all knowledge accessible to us in order to live a better life and move to a higher level of consciousness.

    Besides, religions, myths, folks knowledge have also been too quick to be discarded in the name of the dogma, some of them have already returned though, out of vital necessity, many others are waiting to return.

  23. Why do people believe that the next doubling in life expectancy will suddenly make the world worse?

    It's due to a naive extrapolation, there is no way to separate the normal people from the wicked so everyone being subject to attrition in order to remove the deplorable component is necessary. There would be be less suffering and the world will be better off in general if any would be doubling were postponed until ~80 years after the 60s or 70s generation. The decadal attrition of over 65 year olds is ~20M, how will American society progress if that went away. A lot of the people that caused this train wreck in America will not be around in another decade or 2, the human race will be much better off.

    "Society advances one funeral at a time"

  24. Religious piety and the belief there is something after death is not a new strategy to cope with our own mortality.

    It was embraced since day 0 by humanity, because the crushing, ugly reality of our own death has always been a thorn in the paw for our sense of self worth.

    We are conscious of our existence and can understand death while a dog or any other animal fear it, but don't really grok it, that we know.

    And truth is, we don't know yet, probably never will (only by dying we'll know and those passing don't say much). That question exceeds physics and goes beyond, into metaphysics.

    But it really doesn't matter, IMO.

    If there is a greater order of things beyond the physical, it won't be bothered by a few additional years of life we may get, while if there isn't, we can gain a few more years of the only life we will have.

    I also believe that dithering over life prolongation can become an unhealthy obsession. Especially if it's life without quality, suffering a long disease and other old age infirmities. So I'd probably not pursue obsessive treatment, when my time comes.

    But whatever applies for me, won't apply for others and it's even immoral for me to tell them "just accept it and let go", worse if it's mandated by law.

  25. It is quite natural for people not to want to live after a certain age. We come to this life to fulfill a certain contract, not to stay here for ever, we have other lives to complete, here and elsewhere before we are ready to live in complete harmony and proximity with the source. The reason the dogma is omitting this knowledge is to reinforce its fundamental erroneous premise, that everything can and must be understood in terms of materialistic empirical evidence. That does not allow for understanding of life beyond the existence of the physical body.


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