Saturday, January 14, 2017

Reasons to Look Forward to 2017

Things are looking pretty bleak these days, no?  Trump's election, Brexit. the Orlando shooting, the tragedy of Aleppo, global warming, and the collapse of Venezuela.  It’s been a rough year.  But, before you decide that the world  is going to hell in a handcart, think again.  On New Years eve, retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield laid out a series of tweets identifying 46 positive things that have happened in the last year -- some of them quite spectacular, like halving the number of veterans in the US who are homeless in the past 5 years, with a nearly 20% drop in 2016, or having the fewest per capita deaths in aviation of any year on record, or India planting 50 million trees in a single day.  And many of them I knew nothing about.  He concludes with "There are countless more examples, big and small. If you refocus on the things that are working, your year will be better than the last."  See Looking Up (You'll need to keep hitting the "Show More" button to read them all.)

Hadfield is not the only one looking up these days.  Swedish writer Johan Norberg argues in his new book Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future that the doom and gloom forecast is not just incorrect, but is directly the opposite of what is actually happening in the world.  See Why 2016 Is Actually the Best Time in All of History to Be Alive; also Better and better.   Norberg says that we misperceive what is happening in the globe because of the unrelenting parade of negative news stories promoted in the media -- if it bleeds it leads -- and we have been duped into believing the worst.  Norberg says that the problem with advocating that "everything is going downhill" is that this message is exactly what feeds populist politics like Trump and Brexit.  The world is in turmoil and we must circle the wagons.  I also worry that all this talk of impending catastrophe will discourage people laboring in the field improving the world, since its all pointless, and the doom prediction becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And, by the way, other remarkable things are happening.  As I discussed with Lainie at our New Years Eve gathering, the costs of renewable energy sources are steadily dropping and will soon undercut the cost of fossil fuels.  Consequently, as a matter of economics, renewables will end up being the preferred choice.  Renewables are already cheaper than coal, and wind energy (with tax credits) narrowly beats out natural gas.  There is every reason to believe that the cost of renewables will continue to drop.  Trump Can't Stop the Energy RevolutionFossil fuels are dead – the rest is just detailWind and solar energy to be cheaper than fossil fuels by 2018 People are worried Trump will stop climate progress. The numbers suggest he can’t.

Meanwhile, the World Bank has announced that, for the first time in known history, less than 10 percent of the global population now lives in extreme poverty (i.e., earning less than $1.25 a day).  According to the The Economist, "Between 1990 and 2010, [the number of people in extreme poverty] fell by half as a share of the total population in developing countries, from 43% to 21%—a reduction of almost 1 billion people.  Towards the end of poverty.  The UN has targeted 2030 as the year that we eliminate all extreme poverty in the world.  Here's the progress so far:

More people than ever are being fed around the world.  Famine deaths are increasingly rare and the proportion of the world’s population that is undernourished slipped from 19 percent to 11 percent between 1990 and 2015.  Add to that the fact that global child mortality from all causes has more than halved since 1990. That means 6.7 million fewer kids under the age of five are dying each year compared to 1990.  Worldwide life expectancy is also shooting up:  

Likewise, the world's children are becoming better educated.  We've seen the lowest-ever proportion of kids out of primary school according to the UN—less than one in 10. The number of kids out of school has fallen from 100 million in 2000 to 57 million in 2015. Consequently, literacy is rising.  Almost 90% of the world's population can now read:

And girls are not being left out of education:

And finally, if you are worried about overpopulation, fertility rates are dropping.  Go forth and multiply a lot less.

From where I stand, the future's looking mighty good.

1 comment:

James R said...

Great year! Looking forward to this next one! I have just one question—no, two, two questions. If a tree falls in the forest where no one hears it, does it make a sound? If a great year goes by and no one notices, is it really great?