Is the human race doomed? You can be sure of it. If climate change doesn't get us, we'll go extinct some other way … eventually.
Meanwhile, there's a lot to celebrate. In spite of wars, plagues, population explosions, North Korean hackers and the Kardashians, we are living during a period of unprecedented human flourishing. Read on. And for the next few minutes, dare to be an optimist.
We're living longer than ever.
Forget wealth inequality. The true inequality is life expectancy. And that gap is narrowing fast.
Over the past two decades, global life expectancy has increased by about six years, according to a new study published in The Lancet. The biggest gains have come in poorer countries, such as India, where life expectancy at birth has increased from 57.3 years for men and 58.2 years for women in 1990 to 64.2 years and 68.5 years in 2013. Better disease treatment has dramatically reduced infant and childhood deaths in poorer countries. Neonatal death rates have plunged by 41 per cent since 1990, and deaths from diarrheal diseases are down 60 per cent. "The huge increase in collective action and funding given to the major infections diseases such as diarrhea, measles, tuberculosis, HIV-AIDS and malaria has had a real impact," says Dr. Christopher Murray, the lead author of the study. People in richer countries are living longer too, thanks to medical advances that have sharply cut deaths from cardiovascular diseases.
"By 2035, every country will have child mortality rates that are as low as the rate in America or the U.K. in 1980," predicts Bill Gates in his annual newsletter. He notes that a baby born in 1960 had an 18 per cent chance of dying before her fifth birthday. Today, the odds are less than 5 per cent, and by 2035 they're expected to shrink to 1.6 per cent. "I can't think of any other 75-year improvement in human welfare that would even come close," he writes
We're winning the war against extreme poverty.
Two centuries ago, more than 80 per cent of the world lived in extreme poverty, the World Bank estimates. (Extreme poverty is defined as living on $1.25 a day or less.) Today the percentage has dropped to under 20 per cent. Most of that gain has happened in our lifetimes. Since 1981, the global population has grown from about 4.5 billion to about 7 billion – but the absolute number of people in extreme poverty has shrunk by 721 million. China alone accounts for about 80 per cent of that reduction. In the rich countries of the world, the rate of extreme poverty is approaching zero.
The prospects of feeding all those people are looking pretty good.
Technology is making agriculture more productive and sustainable. How about a chip embedded in plants that will let farmers save water by precisely adjusting their irrigation schedules? It's on the way. GMOs and better agricultural equipment will also produce big efficiency gains. Scientists are now working on "plant factories" that can grow food far more efficiently than any outdoor farm. In Japan, plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura has teamed up with GE to open an industrial-scale farm that produces 10,000 heads of lettuce a day. It uses LED lights to simulate day and night, and controls the temperature, humidity and irrigation so that water usage is cut to just 1 per cent of what outdoor farms require. (Thanks for this information to The American Interest's Walter Russell Mead, who keeps track of these things.)
The world has escaped the Malthusian trap.
Get used to it.
Growing older isn't so bad after all.
A new body of research has yielded some remarkably cheery news about aging. Senility and decline are not inevitable. They're not even the norm. As Paul Costa, an aging expert at the National Institutes of Health, told The Wall Street Journal, those who fall into the "stereotype of being depressed, cranky, irritable and obsessed with their alimentary canal" constitute "no more than 10 per cent of the older population." Most of us can look forward to overall high levels of emotional well-being, meaningful friendships, productive work (if we want), and a better quality of life than young adults. And don't believe those tests saying that you're slowing down. "Typical laboratory tasks may systematically underestimate the true abilities of older adults," Lynn Hasher, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, told the Journal.
Crime is way down.
Canada is is the safest it's been since the 1960s, according to Statistics Canada. The murder rate dropped last year once again and is part of a long-term trend. Homicides involving firearms are at their lowest level since 1974, and the number of murders involving handguns are at the lowest level since 1998. No one really knows why murder rates have fallen, but the cancellation of the gun registry doesn't seem to have made any difference.
Canadians are richer than we've ever been.
Canadian net worth is at an all-time high. The average household was worth $232,200 in the third quarter of 2014, up 1.3 per cent from the previous quarter, Statistics Canada reports. The reasons: real-estate gains and the falling loonie, which pushes up the value of stocks and bonds that Canadians hold in U.S. dollars. And the longer-term gain is truly impressive. According to TD economist Leslie Preston, Canadian households' net worth is up 10.5 per cent over a year ago. On top of that, the household debt-service ratio – mortgage and non-mortgage interest paid as a proportion of disposable income – is down to an all-time low of 6.8 per cent.
In other words, contrary to popular belief, the middle class isn't withering away. In fact, it's never done better. So relax. Buy yourself a bottle of fine Champagne, toast your good fortune and have a happy New Year.