Eden and immortality: new in bookstores

Just another day in Eden; credit:  Țetcu Mircea Rareș

Just another day in Eden… Credit: Țetcu Mircea Rareș

Man, Adam and Eve had no idea how lucky they were. No botox, no mortgage, no shame, no global warming. You name it. This summer, the superb publishing firm Palgrave MacMillan is bringing us two books that illustrate in dramatic, sometimes bleak terms what we’ve lost (besides Paradise) and what the future holds for us in terms of ourselves and our environment.

First, some myth-inspired longevity numbers:

–Methusaleh was 969 years old when he died
— Moses was 120 years old when he died
— “Twilight’s” Edward Cullen is (I think) 17 on the outside, and  (I think) about 105 or 106 years old on the inside

Alex Zhavoronkov’s new book “The Ageless Generation: How Advances in Biomedicine Will Transform the Global Economy” suggests people today are doing fairly well when it comes to longevity. Soon, he suggests, you won’t have to be a legendary biblical figure — or a teen vampire — to make it well into the triple digits.

ageless generation coverJust consider a couple of facts, courtesy of the author. A hundred years ago, in 1913, life expectancy was the age of 47. And what about prehistoric man? 22 years!

What’s helped us today, says Zhavoronkov, who heads a bio-gerontology research institute, are many things, including: the rise of democracy, the concept of retirement, the information age, medical advances. All of these have fostered new possibilities for the elderly.

If your uncle or grandma complains about their Medicare coverage, you might remind them, as he says, that “the medical advances of the twentieth century dramatically increased life expectancies the world over.”

What are some of these advances?

Thanks to potential new methods to regenerate tissue and address organ failure — man-made stem cells and artificial organs are two of several subjects he surveys in his book — we might all have a better shot at Methusaleh-dom one day. It requires a massive shift in world views about aging and medicine, but Zhavoronkov sounds an optimistic note as he asks all of us to join him, via social media and the internet, in a campaign to raise awareness about the possibilities ahead:

“By New Year’s Eve 2099, many of the promising breakthroughs discussed in this book will be ancient history. Some will have been surpassed by even more exotic life-extension therapies. Extreme longevity will be common throughout the developed world. Millions of healthy, active centenarians will celebrate the arrival of a new century. I plan to be one of those healthy seniors. Choose to join me. There are dark clouds on the horizon, but the distant future promises to be bright.”

At first, it’s harder to hear the optimistic note — or see the bright distant future — in Amy Larkin’s “Environmental Debt: The Hidden Costs of a Changing Global Economy,” but it’s there. The author, a former Greenpeace activist who now runs a consulting firm called Nature Means Business, provides us with precious information about what’s going on at the front lines of the global environmental debate.

environmental debt coverThe title of her book points to her main argument: Pollution shouldn’t be free. Why not? The future cost and damages of pollution — in other words, the environmental debt — is “just like any other debt, at some point the bill will come due.” Her book looks at ways of making business and government more accountable by connecting “the profitability of business with the survival of the natural world.”

Like Zhavoronkov, she’s arguing for a massive shift in public understanding, especially when she says, for instance, that the fossil fuel industry  should embed the costs of its pollution “in its profit and loss statements.”

Larkin’s book supplies an intriguing overview of the issues and arguments, along with some openminded efforts by some corporations — PepsiCo, for instance,  which has worked on improving sustainability practices at its factories, and McDonald’s. In the past decade, in fact, the Golden Arches worked with Greenpeace on a moratorium for soybean production on deforested Amazon land (in case you didn’t know, soybean is fed to all those chickens turned into six-piece and 20-piece orders of McNuggets).

I know both books certainly don’t fit under the category of “easy beach read,” but if you’re interested in updating yourself on such issues this summer before the fall begins, both are an excellent place to start.

They’ll remind you, as they did for me, that we really don’t have the opportunity of sailing off, like King Arthur or Frodo Baggins, to Avalon or Valinor to find our Paradise. It’s here, it’s now; we have to work with the world we’ve got.

3 responses

  1. My husband and I talk about these issues quite a bit, so thoughts:

    1) Perhaps one benefit of living longer is realizing that we need to take better care of our environment because we’re in this for the 100+ year haul

    2) Retirement age is going to increase along with life expectancy. Otherwise, we’d be destitute long before we die.

    For some reason, I wave of depression just rolled over me. :o)

  2. Now, I definitely didn’t want to depress you, Jil! Zhavoronkov’s book also goes into all that too. I just didn’t feel like I should bang on about it. If people are healthier longer, money normally spent treating all the ailments associated with aging could be directed at ways of assisting all those new centenarians out there. That’s one of several scenarios the author suggests. Definitely optimistic!

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