27/05/2016 05:34 BST | Updated 25/05/2017 06:12 BST

If I Live to 96

My nan died last week, age 96; a 'good innings' as they say. According to best estimates, when she was born she joined approximately 1.8bn people alive that day, and when she died she left behind 7.3 bn. That is over 4 times the population in less than a century; the proverbial population 'hockey stick' after thousands of years of a straight line.


As I sat with her a few days before she passed away, I wondered what Nan was thinking. She had lived through a world war, the establishment of the welfare state, the start of the space race, the domination of globalization and the advent of the Internet. Despite living on a council estate till she went into a local authority care home, Nan felt like life had been good to her, and she was delighted that her son and all 5 of her grandchildren went to university.

But she also grumbled about the price of cod with no hint of irony as she watched endless natural history stories of the decline of polar bears and the destruction of the amazon rain forest. She stopped watching the news; it was just too depressing, she said. The noise, the pollution and the killing made her wonder about the price of progress.

If I live to be 96, it will be 2065. There could be over 9 billion people by then. We will have fought the war on terror, but will we have won? We will replaced fossil fuels, but will we have eradicated fuel poverty? We will have automated virtually everything, but what will everyone be doing? We will have put people on Mars, but what for?

In our globalized world, we really are all in it together, and I reckon my Nan signed out just as things are about to get really tricky. If we are to survive climate change, natural resource shortage, soil degradation, ocean acidification, and biodiversity loss, the next 10 years are possibly the most challenging, important, crucial decade in human history. It is time for a fundamental challenge to what we mean by prosperity, and we must take a radical look at our definition of progress. Two sides of the same coin - not a left versus green debate - and as I sat looking at my Nan there were two things that I 'knew'; we must tackle global inequality and we must regenerate "the only home we have ever known".

In memory of Barbara Joyce Coles. 1920 - 2016. RIP Nan.