Taking up the Baton for the next Generation
Last week I made a trip to England for my grandmother’s funeral. She was approaching 103 years when she died. She had lived a long, happy and healthy life which spanned most of the 20th century and a full decade of the 21st. Her death marks the last of a generation in my family. She had a substantial impact on my life and that of my immediate and extended family over those many years and I will miss her.
Flora Moss was one of nine siblings, who between them had 14 children, 32 grandchildren (my generation) and 47 great-grandchildren (including my two daughters). So my two great-grandparents had nine children, more than quadrupling their numbers. But, in what I think is a model of broader population pattern in developed economies, two of the next three generations of my family didn’t replace their numbers and one generation added only a few extra to the family size.
We tend to look back with nostalgia and pride at large family units, but it is also a microcosm of the world populationgrowth that is such a challenge for the planet. During my grandmother’s life, world population grew from under two billion in 1900 to around seven billion today and a UN median estimate of nine billion by 2050.
My grandmother grew up in a time when cars were a hand built and rare novelty, aircraft were barely in flight, TV didn’t exist, telephones were unavailable to the general public. Health and education was much more limited than today, many diseases we barely hear of now were incurable, and, according to one of my antiquarian books “Other Worlds Than Ours” by Proctor (1898) we thought there was a good chance that there was fairly advanced life on Mars.
Some of these advances (especially health improvements) enabled the growth in population. Agricultural and other advances enabled the planet to support it. As our customs and education in wealthy countries have caught up we have removed some of the incentives that used to drive such large families. But other changes in technology coupled with our consumer behaviors and expectation have driven the rapid growth in use of energy and resources that so concerns us now.
And while we no longer think there is advanced life on Mars, we do hold high expectations that what were once thought of as science fiction type technologies will help mitigate climate change, and that other planets might one day provide the resources we need to support our population.
Which technologies will actually bear fruit in the next hundred years and save us from ourselves is no more predictable by us now than many of the developments of the 20th century would have been for my grandma, the young Flora Moss, in the 1910s and 20s. But what we can do is ensure we put sustainability front and foremost in our thinking and focus our attention on developing products and services that will preserve for our grandchildren the world we have inherited from our grandparents.
post script 30 December 2010 – The British Government announced that 1 in 5 people alive today are expected to live to over 100. http://bit.ly/eAT74A