10 reasons why things are better than many people think

Many people think that the world is getting worse. But many people are wrong. Yes, there’s Climate Change, the threat from nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, terrorism, rogue asteroids, super-volcanos, anti-biotic resistance, solar flares, future pandemics, AI and perhaps robot uprisings to worry about. Granted, 2020 was a terrible year, and 2021 isn’t looking much better at the moment either, but things will improve. Overall, life is getting better, not worse. Here are ten good reasons not to worry and to be happy.

1. Life expectancy
During the first industrial revolution, people in Europe generally died before they were 40 years old. Many died before they were 35. Now the average is almost twice that at around 70 rising to 80+ in some nations. And women don’t routinely die during childbirth these days either. Yes, you are going to die one day. But every other day you will not.

2. Infant mortality
100 years ago, childbirth was a hugely risky undertaking. Even if the mother made it through unharmed, around 10% of infants, even in relatively wealthy countries such as the UK and US, didn’t. Even 50 years ago, 2 in 3 parents had a child die before its 5th birthday.

3. Income inequality and poverty
There is still much work to be done with regard to inequality, especially inequality within countries, but the trend is most definitely in the right direction. Thanks to extraordinary economic gains, especially in China and India, about half the world can now be described as having middle-class living standards. At a UN Summit in 2000, countries around the world pledged to halve extreme poverty by 2015. The goal was achieved 5-years ahead of schedule, in 2010.

4. Democracy.
OK, there are worrying signs, not only in China and Russia, but in countries such as Hungary and Poland too. Nevertheless, throughout most of human history most people lived under oppressive, authoritarian, non-democratic control. Now the figure is around 50% (with 90% of those still under authoritarian control living in China). This figure has been on an upward trend since the mid-1970s.

5. The world is a safer place
At least two of the world’s superpowers have been at war with each other at least 50% of the time since the year 1500. The early and middle parts of the 20th Century were especially nasty in terms of conflict, but since then a more stable international order has emerged. With the possible exception of the former Yugoslavia, there hasn’t been a war in Europe for three generations and while countries constantly bicker with each other, they rarely fight, at least in the conventional sense. Even in gun-obsessed America, homicide rates have dropped precipitously versus a few decades ago (just compare New York City now with the 1970s). But it’s not just wars and murder. Over the last 100-years or so, it’s become 96% safer to travel in a car, 99% safer to get on-board an aeroplane, 95% safer to go to work and it’s 89% less likely that you will be the victim of a natural disaster.

6. Clean water, clean energy and cleaner air
Too many people in the world still don’t have access to clean water or proper sanitation, but around 300,000 people per day do gain access to clean water with a further 325,000 per day gaining electrical power for the first time. Meanwhile, clean energy is getting cheaper, more cost-effective and more popular. Oh, and remember Ozone depletion? A study in 2005 revealed that Ozone depletion, which the world was very worried about 20 years ago, was slowing down. By 2018, the ozone layer had started to heal. We did that. Air quality remains an issue, especially in eastern mega-cities, but air pollutant concentrations and emissions have fallen significantly since 1970. The combined emissions of six criteria pollutants monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency in the US have fallen by 71% over this period. Toxic air releases meanwhile are down 56%, lead concentrations are down 99% and carbon monoxide levels are down 77% since 1990.

7. Medical marvels
Yes obesity (a largely self-inflicted condition) is a huge problem, and it’s getting bigger, but the number of people being disfigured by leprosy or blinded by trachoma has declined significantly. Since 1990, the lives of over 100 million children have been saved by vaccinations alongside other simple measures ranging from proper breast feeding to effective diarrhoea treatment. We’ve more or less eradicated measles, mumps, rubella, lymphatic filariasis, guinea worm, river worm (onchocerciasis) and smallpox. We’ve also come close to eradicating Polio (down 99% since 1988), while HIV/AIDS infections have fallen globally by 35% since 2000 while deaths have declined by 42% since 2006. Meanwhile, between 2000 and 2015 we halved the global death rate for Malaria. This disease, which used to kill around 2 million people each and every year, is on the way to extinction, partly due to the investment of time and money from the Gates Foundation (Not all rich people waste money on superyachts or move to Monaco to avoid tax).

8. Literacy
A recently as 1960, the majority of human beings were illiterate and lived in abject squalor. Now as few as 15% remain illiterate (and only 10% live in extreme poverty). In another 10-20 years, both of these deprivations could be a distant memory. The global ratio of male to female literacy has improved too, moving from 59% in 1970 to 99% in 2010.

9. Women in education and employment

The number of women (aged 16-64) in employment in the UK stands at around 76%. Back in 1971 this figure was 52%. The Economist magazine had even equated the economic impact of increased female participation in the global workforce with the economic impact of the internet. There are many more women in education too and globally, between 1980 and 2008, the gender gap narrowed from 32% to 26%. Gender barriers remain, but the world is moving in the right direction.
(Don’t forget that throughout most of recorded history, women were more or less regarded as property owned by fathers or husbands and did not even have the right to buy a house or vote).

10. Sex, race and tolerance
Cast your mind (or dusty text books) back to the US in 1950. A paragon of development and progress, which Winston Churchill described as standing “at the summit of the world”, North America still had racial segregation, McCarthyism and polio, interracial marriage was illegal and so too were gay sex and birth control. There was also anxiety about total nuclear annihilation (still present, but now far less probable). It seems that we’ve always had something to worry about.

I will end with some wise words from a fellow futurist named Jamais Caiso, whom I met many years ago. I hope he won’t mind me using this.

“Things start with a global economic downturn, one lasting much longer than anyone expects. We slowly come out of this, and see an explosion of new technological developments; but in concert with that, more economic instability. Regional conflicts grow and there is an almost accidental war, which escalates to the point of fighting all over the world. Chemical weapons get used.
Just as the war ends, we see the rise of a global pandemic. The combination of conflict and disease leads to what some call a “lost generation”, millions of people die. We finally see an economic boom though, and for parts of the world this becomes a glorious time. It doesn’t last, of course; an economic collapse even greater than the one a few decades earlier takes hold, driving inflation in some countries, mass unemployment in others. Governments fall, and totalitarian regimes take over, some using ethnic cleansing as a rallying cry. This inevitably leads to another global conflict, even greater than the last, which ends in a shocking nuclear attack. I’ve just described 1895 to 1945.”

He ends: “This is why I am, ultimately, hopeful about our future. We have lived through terrible, almost unimaginatively awful times. We have faced brutality from nature and from ourselves. And we always come back. We learn. We build. We live.”

If that doesn’t get you out of bed in the morning, frankly I don’t know what will. Stay healthy, stay happy, and remember that the future is built upon whatever you and I, individually and collectively, decide to do next. The future always remains open and especially belongs to those curious and courageous souls who dare to dream of something better.

Related articles:

Related books:
Progress by Johan Norberg
Factfulness by Hans Rosling
The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley
Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker


Office, December 2020

Trying to totally re-work a new book called Not Busy. Can’t seem to get the opening lines right. Perhaps I should heed the advice of Chris Martin from Coldplay. I was watching a doco over Christmas and he said he doesn’t write songs as much as receive them. Maybe I need to shift my perspective by shifting my geopgraphy – somewhat difficult in tier 4 when I’m not supposed to move!!!!

An American Trilogy

Smug takes on a whole new dimention (and then he goes rogue)

OK, so the US election. I can think of three broad scenarios.

1. Biden wins by a significant margin. The US economy crashes in late 2020, but eventually recovers. Everyone blames Trump, who moans for a bit and then either ends up in prison or goes bankrupt (again). Or maybe not (ex-Presidents generally don’t go to jail in the US). In this scenario, it’s more or less business as usual, largely because people can’t face any more upheaval, change or uncertainty.

There’s a spin on this, of course, which is that Trump says the election has been unfair and simply refuses to step down or he just leaves without a fuss (not really in his character).

2. Trump wins by a significant margin. The US economy crashes, the president goes rogue and possibly starts a war, most likely with China, in a hopeless attempt to regain domestic support. The war probably starts with an argument about Taiwan, Tibet , Hong Kong or the South China Seas. Whether there’s a war or not, the outcome of a second Trump term would most likely lead to chaos and social upheaval on a scale not seen since ’68. It would represent an ongoing victory for popularism and would certainly be exhausting mentally.

3. The election is too close to call (possibly because it’s been hacked again by Russia). It’s a re-run of the 2000 election with things ending up in the US Supreme Court. If Biden then wins things could turn really nasty for a while, but one suspects sanity would eventually prevail. If Trump wins, and especially if he wins having not won the popular vote, things could really turn weird and unstable, although one suspects that the US would not be alone in clinging onto democracy by a thread. This (what’s percieved as being a stolen election) would be the worse possible outcome in a sense, because it would give a giant thumbs up to every dictator around (notably Russia, China, Hungary, Turkey etc.) and question the role of democracy. If you can’t run a free election in the US, where can you run one?