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  (Curtis Lantinga)

 

(Curtis Lantinga)

MARGARET WENTE

Dare to be an optimist! Add to ...

It’s easy to overdose on the news. Take too much, and you’ll swear the human race is in terminal decline. Today, we interrupt our regular programming of doom and gloom to offer you an antidote – a cheery list of ways in which the world is reported to be getting better and better, or at least not much worse. Don’t worry. Be happy for a change! The usual news cycle will resume all too soon.

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We live longer than ever

Since 1900, life expectancy in the West has risen 50 per cent and is still rising, says Princeton’s Angus Deaton. Even the poorest people in the world now live longer than the richest Victorians did. In OECD countries, average life expectancy at birth now exceeds 80 years – an astonishing gain of 10 years since 1970. Canadians who’ve reached 65 can expect to live another 18.5 years (men) or 21.6 years (women). The longest-lived province is, of course, mellow B.C.

Global inequality is falling

Your income may stagnating, but other people’s incomes are not.

Between 1988 and 2008, many millions of people in China, India, Brazil and Mexico took a giant step up the economic ladder, according to the World Bank. As recently as 1981, more than 40 per cent of the world lived on less than $1 a day. Today, despite huge population growth, that share is down to 14 per cent.

You probably haven’t done so badly yourself. Since 1981, Canadians’ personal disposable income has gone up 50 per cent in real terms.

Innovation hasn’t stopped

Have you heard of graphene? It’s a new super-material that could one day be used for anything from high-speed electronics to desalinating seawater at a fraction of the current cost. It is very, very thin and very, very strong – the strongest material yet discovered. It could be as revolutionary as plastics, Scott Barlow has written in his Globe blog.

We’re beating malaria

Deadly diseases kill more people than all wars combined. Malaria is especially pernicious because it kills children and saps societies of their productivity. The good news from the UN’s World Malaria Report 2013 is that since 2000, childhood malaria rates have been cut in half. A cheap, accurate new diagnostic test and an inexpensive new therapy – less than $1 for a full course of treatment – are saving millions of people in Africa. Credit is attributed to new technology and U.S. leadership.

Storms aren’t getting worse

Despite the rise in global temperatures and the devastation in the Philippines, the incidence of hurricanes and cyclones hasn’t increased. Nor has the death toll. As British journalist Matt Ridley observes, “The killing power of hurricanes depends more on wealth than on wind speed.” In fact, since the 1920s, the death rate from weather-related natural disasters has declined by 99 per cent.

Dementia rates are falling …

Dementia is the cruellest affliction of old age. And among the more depressing prospects we face in the next few decades is a wave of boomers going gaga. But dementia rates are falling sharply. A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that the rate of cognitively impaired people 70 or older fell from 12.2 per cent in 1993 to 8.7 per cent in 2002. Better health care, healthier lifestyles and higher education levels get the credit. The boomers will not only live longer than ever, but they’ll enjoy it more.

… as are U.S. GHG emissions

Environmentalists are reluctant to say so, but U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have fallen dramatically in recent years – down 12 per cent since 2005, according to the Energy Information Administration. The main reason is a massive switch from coal to natural gas, which is now abundant thanks to new drilling technologies. (A weak economy and increased energy efficiency were other factors.) And the good news is likely to continue. Because of more fuel switching and other efficiencies, total gross U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are projected to remain below their 2005 levels through 2030, says the U.S. State Department.

Biodiversity is flourishing

This year alone, researchers at the California Academy of Sciences discovered 91 new species of plants and animals, including 38 different ants, 12 fishes, 14 plants, eight beetles, two spiders, one reptile and an amphibian. They believe we’ve discovered less than 10 per cent of all life forms on Earth. Ants are especially underappreciated, entomologist Brian Fisher said in an academy release. “If they were bigger, they would be the most studied type of organism, but people don’t see them.”

Happier days are here again …

At last, some good economic news to end the year. The U.S. budget deficit fell sharply – its biggest decline since the end of the Second World War – and should continue to decline. The American economy created two million jobs, and fewer of them were part-time. U.S. industrial production has finally surpassed its prerecession peak, according to the American Enterprise Institute, and consumers don’t feel so strapped.

… and you may be feeling it

Age brings an increase in well-being, according to a study in Psychological Science, although nobody is quite sure why. Maybe it’s maturity. Maybe it’s changes in our brain chemistry. Or maybe we just don’t give a darn any more. Whatever the reasons, the turning point reportedly happens around age 50. People over 50 are less angry, less stressed and less worried than at any time since they were kids. Some studies even show that the happiest people of all are in their 80s.

So now that the last boomers are turning 50, there’s more happiness in the air than ever. We may be getting wrinkled, but, hey! We’re mellow.

 

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