X-Message-Number: 2568
Date: Thu, 20 Jan 1994 13:15:52 -0800
From:  (Franz G. Amador)
Subject: CRYONICS Overpopulation (Re: #2536)

In message #2536, David Stodolsky asserts:

  How many people are even in a mental position to seriously consider
  cryonics? Most people think one of the world's major problems is
  overpopulation. (There appears to be no objective basis for this idea
  what so ever.) To them, people dying is a plus. This is one aspect of
  the moral question that must be confronted before cryonics can be
  widely accepted.

To claim that there is "no objective basis" for the idea that
overpopulation is a problem leaves me a bit stupified.  However, I
suspect David isn't the only one here to believe this, so I shall
attempt to rationally say why I believe otherwise.

It seems abundantly clear that a major (perhaps THE major) problem
facing humanity is damage to the environment (i.e. the various systems
that support human and other life on this planet).  Perhaps this is
the part you disagree with, but here I will take it as given.  It
seems also clear that human activity is causing such damage.  The
most recent issue of the NRDC's "Amicus Journal" offers the following
(admittedly crude) equation for quantifying this:

Damage = Population * Consumption per person * Damage per unit consumption

The third factor is a measure of the "environmental friendliness" of
the technology producing the things being consumed.

Using this equation, people have attempted to find at whose doorstep
we may lay the blame for various environmental ills.  For example,
third-world desertification results mostly from population increase
(because consumption and technology haven't much changed, but
arid-lands population has substantially increased), whereas increases
in ozone-damaging chemicals in the stratosphere results mostly from
increases in consumption (because consumption has increased more than
has the population of CFC-users, and technology has actually become
less damaging).  (Warning: I may not be remembering these examples
quite right, but you get the general idea.)

While it thus seems possible to offset temporarily the damage
potential of population increases by decreasing the other two factors
(as indeed we have for many human activities), given that population
tends to increase exponentially, it seems hard to believe that we
could really keep up with it.  This is, of course, a version of
Malthus's argument, but I see no reason to doubt its validity, at
least in the long term.  Are we willing to accept consumption tending
toward zero?  Do we really think we can invent damage-free technology?
What about the simple issue of living space: are we willing to co-opt
all other species' habitat for our own?  Are we willing to keep
crowding ourselves into ever-smaller living quarters?  I, personally,
love to go to wild places where I don't see other people, and
ever-increasing numbers of other people (especially those in crowded
cities) feel likewise.  Given continued growth in the population
factor, the other two must tend toward zero, or damage will continue
and increase.

While I find the idea of cryonics (and life extension in general)
compelling, I think overpopulation is a significant issue with which
society will have to deal if these technologies become successful.
Eric Drexler (in _Engines_of_Creation_) offers a technological fix:
Nanotechnology will bring us such cheap space travel that excess
population will just leave.  Perhaps he's right, but if not, I don't
see how substantial increases in lifespan could avoid forcing matching
decreases in birth rate, and immortality would mean no children at
all.  This would be a real loss to humanity, and the thought
distresses me.

Franz Amador


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