improvement around the world

I kicked off 2020 with my sixth annual post on how our world keeps getting dramatically and relentlessly better and better and better. As in the five years before that, Lose those News Blues and Leave the Dark Side: The World’s Never Been Better, listed over 30 major improvements and 24 sources for further reading. I introduced that January newsletter with Don’t Start the New Year Losing Touch With Reality. This discussed how “headline stress disorder” fuels the pessimism and even despair that make us sick, hurts our mental health, and reduces happiness.

It sure didn’t feel like the world got better this year. With the COVID-19 pandemic and all its fear, death, and destruction, it’s very easy to lose perspective. And all those wild, unfounded conspiracy theories throw jet fuel on our burning fears.

I was brought back to reality and the truth of just how much better our world’s becoming — despite this year’s major setback — by a new book published this fall. Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know goes well beyond their top ten, with a total of 78 trends showing humanity’s huge improvements. Each trend has a graphic and research source to illustrate the tremendous progress we’re making.

Harvard professor, Steven Pinker, author of Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (click here for my review of this outstanding book and Thoughts That Make You Go Hmmmm on…Enlightenment Now), said, “There are two ways to understand the world: a constant drip of anecdotes about the worst things that have happened anywhere on the planet in the previous hour, or a bird’s-eye view of the grand developments that are transforming the human condition. The first is called ‘the news,’ and for your wisdom and mental health I recommend balancing it with the second. Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know is a pleasure: gorgeous, self-contained vignettes on human progress, which you can sample at your leisure or devour in a sitting.”

Just reading these chapter outlines of all 78 trends is an inspiring dose of reality:

  1. The Great Enrichment — world economic growth on steady upward trajectory.
  2. The End of Poverty — only 8.6% — and falling — of humanity now live in poverty.
  3. Are We Running Out of Resources? — spoiler alert; NO. They’re more abundant than ever.
  4. Peak Population — world population growth is rapidly slowing and projected to peak this century.
  5. The End of Famine — famines have virtually disappeared outside of war zones.
  6. More Land for Nature — huge gains in the global tree canopy are offsetting declines in the tropics.
  7. Planet City — 55% of humanity now live in cities with higher wealth and lower environmental impact.
  8. Democracy on the March — democracies are increasing as autocracies decline
  9. The Long Peace — war between countries has become a rare event
  10. A Safer World — death by natural disaster has dropped 99% in the past 100 years

People Trends

  • Life options are expanding
  • Global happiness is rising
  • Global income is rising
  • Global income inequality is falling
  • Slum living is declining
  • Empowering women
  • Choosing smaller families
  • Achieving universal literacy
  • More kids in school
  • More years in school
  • IQ scores rising massively
  • Decriminalizing LGBTQ
  • Global free press progress, with setbacks
  • Life expectancy is rising

Health Trends

  • Global death rate is falling
  • Vastly fewer children die young
  • Mothers are living longer
  • Vaccines are saving lives
  • Overcoming HIV/AIDS
  • Trouncing tuberculosis
  • Malaria retreats
  • Winning the war on cancer
  • Tobacco’s last stand
  • Accelerating vaccine discoveries

Violence Trends

  • Global murder rate is falling
  • Capital punishment plummets
  • Battle death rate is declining
  • Genocides are disappearing
  • Military spending ratio is falling
  • Armies shrink as proportion of population
  • Nuclear arsenals dwindle

Work Trends

  • Working less for more
  • Work grows safer
  • Children labor less
  • Service sector work is growing rapidly
  • The wage gap between men and women is narrowing
  • Universal emancipation

Natural Resources Trends

  • Peak farmland
  • Conserving more land and sea
  • Decarbonizing the economy
  • No peak oil
  • Rising natural gas reserves
  • Using water more efficiently
  • Producing more with less

Farm Trends

  • Hunger retreats
  • Grain cornucopia
  • Yields increasing
  • Farming and eating more fish
  • Protein boom

Tech Trends

  • Increasing global access to electricity
  • Lighting costs near nothing now
  • Solar power ever cheaper
  • More access to clean drinking water
  • Improving sanitation
  • Mobile phone revolution
  • Internet explosion
  • Vastly cheaper computation
  • Global tourism rises (pre-pandemic)
  • Tariffs are falling

U.S. Trends

  • Share of spending on household basics declines
  • Lower cost and higher adaption of new technologies
  • Violent crimes are falling steeply
  • Declining racist attitudes
  • Air pollution is falling steeply
  • Bigger and better housing
  • Raising vaccination and plunging infectious disease
  • Air travel is getting cheaper
  • Cancer incidence and death rates at 26 year low

In explaining why they published this book in the midst of the pandemic, the authors write, “You can’t fix what is wrong in the world if you don’t know what’s actually happening…the dark view of the prospects for humanity and the natural world is, in large part, badly mistaken…of course, some global trends are negative…however, many of the global trends we describe are already helping redress such problems…the nature of news thus tends to mislead readers and viewers into thinking that the world is in worse shape than it really is…most of us attend far more to bad rather than to good news.”

As Steven Pinker says: “It’s essential to realize that progress does not mean that everything gets better for everyone, everywhere, all the time. That would be a miracle, that wouldn’t be progress.”