The argument can be made that a longer life expectancy is worse for the environment, yes, at least as long as the population continues to increase exponentially. The longer people live, the larger the population on Earth is at any given moment. The maintenance of this larger population then requires greater consumption of the Earth’s resources at every level – more minerals, more food, more land – over longer periods of time. Moreover, longer life expectancies also mean each individual has a greater carbon footprint. However, this is definitely simplifying the issue; scientifically, the link between longer-life expectancies (and remember, life expectancy varies dramatically based on country, from the US’ 78.4 years to Zimbabwe’s 44 years) and the environment is both more multi-faceted and less direct.
Just as food for thought: a small bright side did occur to me when you asked this question. The above answer is very thorough. But keep in mind that people who serve as environmental think tanks, if they can expect to live longer, may have the chance to better develop the world’s next genius contraption for recycling, or write a new trade agreement between countries that promotes green ideas, or to use their long experience to apply to environmental research. If we all lived to 35, we may be too busy surviving to observe the consequences of our actions, or care about the environment or protecting biodiversity. I’m oversimplifying, but you get the idea.
I think that the impacts on our environment are not only in terms of those discussed by hovers above (which is a very thorough well thought out answer) but also will be felt in our need for more pharmaceuticals and more intensive medical care, even for those who live a relatively healthier, longer life. There is the possibility for additional stresses on the environment and more when we have many people living longer lives, but maybe not better lives. For instance we may have many more people with Alzheimers, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis – in fact one study published in the Journal of Gerontology showed that average morbidity has increased in the last few decades. The average number of healthy years has decreased since 1998. So I think it will be important to work towards a healthier and better quality of life as we increase the length of our lives.
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