Life Expectancy and Why Science Won’t Turn You Into a Tortoise

life-expectancy-tombstoneThe life expectancy of us Canadians has been rising at a fairly consistent rate of around two years per decade ever since 1920. So whereas back in the “Roaring 20s” a Canadian male was expected to live until age 59, today – almost 10 decades later, a Canadian male is now expected to live until age 79. Pretty good progress indeed! Note the important point that this trend is almost perfectly “linear”.

Interestingly, the average age of death of a Canadian in the year 2005 was actually 74.2 years old. From what I understand, the discrepancy is to do with the fact that the older you are, the more likely you are to live longer. If that makes sense?? So for example if you were lucky enough to make it through the stage where you learned how to drive, you are more likely to live even longer than before. Or something along those lines.

But back to the concept of life expectancy, let’s assume for a minute that the current linear trend continues, which really is not an illogical thing to do, given the long stretch of data we have to rely on. Five more decades from now the life expectancy of a Canadian male should have eked out an additional 10 years, somewhere around age 89. At that point in time I will be 88 years old and thus about ready to call it quits. Assuming of course I made it past the above mentioned average, which may not be the case given how much I like riding on minibuses in the developing world.

Why Science Won’t Turn You Into a Tortoise

Over the years I’ve heard a number of people tell me they think science will allow them to live well into their hundreds. And given the way I see so many people pretty much killing themselves at their unpleasant jobs for so many years, I have to assume there are a lot more out there with that same assumption. But we will get to why I assume that soon!

There is no doubt that science has advanced in the medical field. And I know “they” are researching things like stem cells, and nanobots, and a host of other things seen on the front covers of Popular Science magazines. And I know we are in the Information Age, and the Science Age, and whatever Age comes next. But just because computer processor speeds and population growth have been exponential over the past 100 or so years, does not mean life expectancy is going to get all exponential on us too.


Because the human body has it’s natural limits. And the ripe old age of 90 is somewhere right around those limits. And here’s the kicker: because us First Worlders’ life expectancy is getting very close to the human body’s natural limits, all that exponential trending in science and research is now required to even attempt at keeping up the linear trend in life expectancy we’ve been enjoying over the past century.

Simply put, it is no longer as simple as learning about hygiene to stop moms and babies from dying at birth. The low hanging fruit has been harvested!

An Analogy

If you are looking for a simple but effective analogy for what I mean, the oil and gas extraction industry is a perfect example. Back around the time when we were dying at age 59, it was much simpler to get oil out of the ground. Often all you needed to do was dig a hole in your backyard in Texas, and poof – you were an instant millionaire! The Energy Return on Investment (EROI), or, the amount of energy required to get at the oil back then was somewhere around 1200:1. Meaning for every $1 invested, you would get $1200 in return.

Since the 1920s, the world’s thirst for oil has been going up somewhere in the neighborhood of one to two million barrels per day, per year. Another very important linear trend, just like our life expectancy.

But oil extraction is no longer as easy as digging a hole in the ground and having it spew out! It would seem another natural limit has been met. As a result we are having to use all sorts of expensive and high-tech techniques to get at the stuff, many of them also appearing on the front cover of Popular Science magazines. We are even revisiting old wells to get at the tough stuff that we missed the first time around. To put it in perspective, the EROI of the tar sands in northern Canada is down around 5:1, or even as low as 3:1 according to some reports.

The result of all our technical prowess in the industry? A continued linear trend of an extra one to two million barrels per day per year, or so.

Does the analogy make sense?

Life Expectancy and Current Lifestyle

So where the hell am I going with all this morbidity, and talk about the oil and gas industry? The truth hurts sometimes, and I know how people hate facing the facts, so lets get to the point!

As I alluded to earlier in the post, I see so many people slogging it out at a job they don’t want to be at. Day in and day out. 40 (or more) out of 112 conscious hours a week, plus 10 commuting to and fro. 49 (or more) out of 52 weeks a year. 50 (or more) out of 90 years of their lives. But not just any years, the best years. The ones where they are healthy, and full of life. The ones where they have children. And can travel the world. Build a house. Climb mountains. Go skydiving.

I can’t imagine any sane person would give all their best years away to some company they work for, knowing that they will only have 10 or maybe 20 less functional years at the end of it all to finally live how they want. No, they must be assuming they’re going to have a lot more time at the end than that. Right?

I’m almost 40 years old right now. The bad news is I am close to being half-dead already. The good news for me? I’ve given up on my old ways and am working on ensuring that the next 40 or so years will be spent the way I want. And if I may be so bold, perhaps you too should give some thought to your current situation if you aren’t already doing so.

People often need a medical scare of some sort to kick them in the butt. One that makes them realize how short and precious life is. And then sometimes they act on that realization.

My hope is that this post might fill that role for a few of it’s readers.

Time is ticking, you ain’t getting any younger, no one gets out of here alive, and you can’t take anything with you, so get to it and make that good life happen now!


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6 Responses to Life Expectancy and Why Science Won’t Turn You Into a Tortoise

  1. Shirley Cameon says:

    So, are you hoping to live longer than the average, or just to enjoy and make meaningful the life you have to live, no matter how long? I hope it is the latter. Luv. Shirley

    • mzungu says:

      Well sure, I suppose I’m hoping to live longer than the average. I think most people would hope for that. But the point I’m really trying to make is I have no reason to expect that to happen, and I don’t think anyone else does either. So as you say we should all really be making the most out of everything while we can. Starting now!

      • Penny says:

        What about genetics? You do come from a long lived family on your maternal side.

        • mzungu says:

          Well, true, it is possible I will get lucky and live longer due to genetics! But working a job I don’t enjoy until I’m 65 or 70 under the assumption that I will live to be over 100, is sort of like going “all in” at the poker table, and hoping for a Full House :)

          • Penny says:

            For a guy on vacation promoting a different, more relaxed lifestyle, you actually sound pretty intense. Maybe it’s time to send the Noble Anarchist on his own vacation so you can chill and get back to your old self. Just sayin……

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