Feature Data Briefing

How long can we expect to live?

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f331 (Published 22 January 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f331

Re: How long can we expect to live?

Appleby’s comments on aging populations (1) may be agreeable to readers in the West, who lead financially secure lives, with assured access to food, leisure and pleasure. Billions in developing nations, whose days are taken up in the struggle just to survive, might not agree.

Many such nations have a huge disproportion of young people, yet to have children themselves. The African continent ceased to feed itself more than thirty years ago.

Appleby concludes that it is “very unlikely” that we will “find our aged selves scrabbling for resources as the world’s population explodes”.

Tell that to children and adults who scrabble to find arable topsoil, or walk many miles in search of firewood and water, that have to be carried home by undernourished, tired, usually female, legs.

“Resources”, whether they appear , magically, as food on supermarket shelves, or as energy, when electricity and petrol flow at the flick of a switch, depend on remorseless planetary plunder, rather than on the sustainable use of the planet’s animal and vegetable ecosystems, and it’s finite minerals.

Appleby’s brand of uninformed optimism may be comforting to some, but it does a sad disservice to your readers if it encourages them to limit their perspective to that of an ant, hardworking, but seeing no further than the next blade of grass. With our education, and access to information, we should aim a little higher, to enjoy the view of a sparrow, even an eagle.

Not forgetting, as E O Wilson pointed out, that humans would not survive if all the ants died, although ants do not need us.

There are a plethora of organisations, who have warned us for decades that human activity is destroying ecosystems, depleting finite resources, and polluting the sea and the air.

Readers who yawn at the mention of such titles as the UN Environment Programme and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, might be rewarded by studying the work of two respected colleagues, Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein, editors of “ Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends upon Biodiversity “. (2)

Chivian and Bernstein, demonstrate, in the course of a book that is beautifully produced and amazingly cheap, the full extent of the devastating effects we are having on the planet’s life systems, at our childrens’ peril.

The Lancet’s review of “ Sustaining Life” concluded, “ damaged ecosystems are the greatest danger to global health “. (3)

1 BMJ 2013;346:f331

2 Oxford University Press 2008

3 Lancet Vol 272 July 12, 2008

Competing interests: No competing interests

29 January 2013
Noel Thomas
GP semi retd
Bronygarn, Maesteg, CF34 9AL