Maybe the “Eskimo” solution to the problem of growing old could be deemed to be a bit harsh. When Grandma was past her use-by date, her family patted her on the head and bid her a fond farewell and left her sitting on the ice sheet. Then they all moved on to another camp-site. What the old lady was muttering as her kinfolk disappeared into the driving snow, is probably unprintable.
I was struck by a comment that Michael Collins made in a recent interview. Who is Michael Collins you might ask. He is the 85 year old former astronaut who was a member of the Apollo 11 crew that in 1969, deposited the first man on the moon. Collins said that his most vivid memory of the journey was when he looked out of the window of the command module Columbia and saw his home, the Earth, hovering in the immensity and blackness of space. The realisation hit him that isolation from his “3 billion fellow human beings” was absolute. He was alone and the tiny sphere looked distant, fragile and vulnerable.
Assuming such a highly trained scientist as Collins was aware of the world’s approximate population at the time, it means that the number of people on Earth has exponentially exploded during the 46 years since the lunar mission.
Today, the figure is approaching 7 ½ billion. That is, there are now more than twice as many people trying to survive on Earth, as there were when Neil Armstrong took his “one giant leap for mankind”. All this, in fewer than 50 years!
Population statistics show that there are approximately 132 million births (about 5 ½ times the population of Australia) and 56 million deaths in the world annually. Putting it another way, there are 15,000 births and 6500 deaths per hour, or 250 births and 105 deaths per minute. How about 4 births and 2 deaths per second?
About every 13 years there are an extra billion human beings that have been added to the tally. The ethereal blue sphere that Collins admired from afar, is quickly being smothered by a flood; a flood of people whom, in seeking a better life, demand more and more of their little planet’s finite resources.
I heard a Nobel Prize winning professor saying on the radio that, because of present and future advances in medical science, a child born today could anticipate living for well over a hundred years. I had difficulty replicating his enthusiasm.
Within the animal and plant kingdoms, “survival of the fittest” is the rule. If the organism isn’t adaptable and robust, then it doesn’t survive. In this way, a relatively efficient allocation of the Earth’s assets, as well as some maintenance of integrity within the gene pool, is ensured.
Therefore, throughout history, humans have had to accept these inviolable laws of Nature…but not now. Now, we are intent on overwhelming the natural edicts instead of abiding by them.
Humans are not allowed to die. They must be kept alive at any cost. A doctor once told me that about 75% of the health budget is spent on keeping 10% of the population alive for an extra few years. Whether his numbers were accurate or not isn’t that important but the underlying sentiment is worth contemplating.
Considering the statistics on population growth, it is quite likely that the admirable intentions of scientists to keep people alive longer, instead of being beneficial, will create colossal problems for future generations of Homo Sapiens to contend with.
Maybe the “Eskimo” option will have to be revived.