Aubrey de Grey, PhD, is Chairman and Chief Science Officer of the Methuselah Foundation. The core of his research is the identification of all forms of cellular and molecular damage whose accumulation contributes to human aging, and the design of interventions to remove, repair, replace, or render harmless all such damage so as to arrest or even reverse the biological aging process. He has published extensively on these and other areas of gerontology in the scientific literature, and is also Editor-in-Chief of the high-impact journal Rejuvenation Research, the only peer-reviewed academic journal focusing on intervention in aging.
Question: Are you worried about climate change or other disasters ending humanity before we defeat aging?
Aubrey de Grey: I think actually humanity’s attitude to big problems like climate change or, you know, world peace, things like that, are likely to benefit a great deal from progress in combating aging. Of course, we might get unlucky. You know we might be overwhelmed in some way by climate change or indeed by the next world war before we make decisive progress against aging or indeed before we get into a state of realizing that decisive progress is coming. But so long as we just hold off for a little while, I think that actually the situation will be the other way around. I think that progress in combating aging will really change humanity’s attitude to itself; humanity’s attitude to its ability to make decisive humanitarian progress in the long term because the fact is we’ve been trying to defeat aging for an awfully long time; ever since civilization emerged really, and we haven’t got very far, and it has, if you like, ground us down. It’s made us fatalists. It’s made us – it lowered our expectations about our own abilities. That’s all going to change when we make decisive progress against aging. It’s going to empower humanity and allow us to raise our sights and believe that we can actually address other hard problems.
I think at that the moment with climate change we have a very clear example of this. There’s clearly one problem above all that that’s the efforts to improve how we treat the climate facing and that is apathy. People just don’t want to get involved and active, and that’s because either they think, “well there’s nothing we can do; it’s all going to go to hell in hand basket anyway,” or they think, “well technology will come along and save us sometime in the future at the last moment; therefore, we don’t need to worry about doing anything now.” And of course sometimes both of those answers are correct, but sometimes we’re in that little gray area in the middle where in the middle where we can make a difference, and maybe that little gray area is not so little, and I think it’s very important for humanity in general to understand that they need to do what they can to improve the chances of success and the chances of making a big impact. It’s as I said not just climate change; it’s true for world peace; it’s true for all manner of things.
Recorded on: October 2, 2009