There has been a growing chorus of thought leaders, scientists, entrepreneurs and billionaires talking about human longevity.
While I have been skeptical about the potential for us to meaningfully extend human life, the evidence is growing that biotech and science is getting closer to breakthroughs that require some serious consideration.
Today I listened to the special episode on longevity on the Bankless crypto podcast. The conversations with three longevity experts was intriguing and compelling that breakthroughs in the science are coming. Discussions included not just the idea of slowing down the process of ageing so that humans increase their quality of life, but also increased optimism the science is catching up to substantially extend life expectancy to hundreds of years or even more.
The longevity researchers refer to this as rejuvenation and apparently the most promising emerging biotech involves mRNA (sound familiar?) to activate cellular reprogramming which could potentially allow an 80 year old to have skin, organ and brain cells rejuvenate to levels typically found of someone in their 20’s for example.
As someone who has been engaged in the climate arena for 15 years or so, my first thought was that the transition in the narrative about longevity from slowing ageing to rejuvenation seemed so similar to the growing narrative in climate change to go from net zero emissions plans towards regenerative economics. I.e. the next wave of climate action is not just about reducing the emissions we generate but actually regenerating ecosystems.
But the second thought, the one that scares me, is not whether longevity researchers can eventually reach the “holy grail” of rejuvenation enabling indefinite lifespans, but what would happen to our ability to sustain life on planet earth if people could live for centuries or more?
Every climate model I have seen, and the ones generally referred to by the multilateral stakeholders in climate negotiations, assumes global life expectancy to reach close to 80 by 2050. What if longevity researchers are successful and able to make the solution as readily available as the Covid vaccines have become by 2050?
Current population forecasts project global population will reach close to 10 billion by 2050. What if 30% of those living in 2050 have access to longevity bioetch and what would that do to our climate models?
I am not proposing that we should fight against longevity research. Rather, for me, it suggests we need to accelerate pathways for regenerative approaches that go beyond net zero, and fast. Longevity research will continue and eventually-I think-be successful. Net zero initiatives (for countries, cities and companies) are largely underperforming and fail to hit their targets as it is.
And now we have even more reason to accelerate going beyond net zero and towards regeneration. My hope is that because the capability and knowledge required to transform our extractive ways towards regenerative approaches across virtually every sector of our economy are here today, we can get ahead of the mainstream access to longevity in time so that a substantial increase to global population projections does not have to result in the end of any life on earth.
While longevity research is poised to become a reality sooner than most people believe, it will be fruitless if we have not managed to create the enabling conditions that support life on earth.
About the Author
Boyd Cohen is CEO and co-founder of Iomob, which is building the Internet of Mobility network and WheelCoin to gamify green mobility. He is a contributor on ReFi to CoinDesk. Since obtaining his Ph.D. in strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado in 2001, he has spent the past two decades focused on accelerating the path to a low-carbon sustainable economy. He has published three books, multiple peer-reviewed articles and started a handful of ventures in the smart cities and sustainability arena.