There are many predictions of doom and gloom, from global warming to water wars, from trade wars to AI taking jobs or even seizing control. One school of thought suggests that as we evolved, a keen sense of danger helped us to anticipate hazards and try to escape them. This could explain why prophecies of coming catastrophe far outsell those that tell of the progress we've made. By many measurements, the world is a better place than it was. An article by Dylan Matthews draws attention to some of them. For those who want to face the New Year and the future with optimism and a determination to keep things improving, here are a few indicators.
1. Extreme poverty is down to a record low. In 1987 35% of humanity lived below the internationally recognized subsistence line. That figure is down to 10% today.
2. There is far less hunger in the world. The continuing Green Revolution in crop yields has defied Malthus to give us a population that is both larger and better fed.
3. There is less child labour. Just this century it is down from 16% to 9.6%.
4. We have more leisure time than our ancestors did. Typically (1870-2000) it went down from about 65 hrs a week to about 37hrs for non-agricultural work. There has also been a spectacular decline in domestic work that has especially benefitted women.
5. Life expectancy has risen. Since 1770 it has gone up from 29 years to 72 years today. In Europe the rise was from 35 to 80. The last 25 years (1990-2016) saw a gain of 6 years.
6. Child mortality is down. Between 1990- 2017 for under-5s, it went from 90 deaths per 100,000 live births to 35 deaths per 100,000.
7. There are fewer deaths giving birth. Between 1990-2015 it fell from 392 per 100,000 to about 180.
8. Cases of guinea worm went down from 152,814 in 1996 to just 30 last year. Similarly, there have been steep falls in many other diseases.
9. Literacy is up from 11% in 1800 to 85% by 2015.
10. Renewable energy has become much cheaper. The cost of wind power is down from $140 to $45 per mwh (2009-2017), and solar power has dropped from $360 to $50 per mwh over the same period.
These indicators, among many others, show that humanity is dealing with many of the problems that have plagued it for millennia, and is overcoming some of its ancient enemies. Malaria will be conquered soon, just as smallpox was, and many cancers will be. Some people will nonetheless prefer to look to a future of fear, but for those of an optimistic nature, there is a past of progress and the hope of more it.