Pay attention to the news and it’s nearly impossible to be optimistic. Lives shattered by terrorism, poverty, conflict, and prejudice. The Earth herself endangered by greed and ignorance. It’s enough to stomp out hope altogether.
Don’t let it.
There’s no denying we have work to do to heal one another and our lovely planet, but let’s pause to consider where we’re already improving.
We’re overcoming diseases at extraordinary rates.
- AIDs related deaths have continued to drop for the last 15 years in a row and new HIV infections among children have dropped by 58% since 2000.
- Malaria, one of the world’s top killers, is on the decline. Last year 16 countries reported zero indigenous cases of malaria. Globally, mortality rates from the disease have fallen from an estimated 839 000 in 2000 to 438 000 in 2015. In other words, an estimated 6.2 million people have been saved from malaria-related deaths over the last 15 years .
- The incidence of polio, which once crippled over a thousand children every day, has now been reduced by 99 percent. Only two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, continue to experience wild polio cases.
- The painful parasitic disease, Guinea Worm, has effectively been eradicated.
Many more children are surviving childhood.
Mortality rates for children younger than five have been cut in half since 1990 in virtually every country around the world. That’s about 19,000 fewer children dying every day this year compared to 25 years ago.
More people than ever have access to safe water and bathroom facilities.
Over the last 25 years, an average of 47,000 more people per day were able to rely on a source of clean drinking water. Now 91 percent of the world’s population has safe water. This saves countless people from suffering or dying from water-borne illnesses.
Over two billion people have gained access in the last 25 years to what the World Health Organization politely calls “improved sanitation facilities.” In other words, 68% of the global population has access to a toilet — critical for health and improved living standards.
Fewer people are hungry.
The number of chronically undernourished people has dropped by 200 million in the last 25 years. That’s particularly impressive considering the world’s population increased by 1.9 billion people during that time. (The world produces enough food to feed everyone, but poverty, conflict, and harmful economic systems perpetuate hunger.)
Today, four out of five people are able to read. In many regions of the world the majority of children and young adults are more literate than their elders, demonstrating that global literacy is rapidly increasing. At this point, nine out of ten children are learning to read.
Female literacy rates haven’t risen as quickly due to inequality and poverty, but in some areas, particularly East Asia, 90 percent more girls are able to read than 10 years ago. As female literacy goes up, other overall positive indicators tend to follow including decreased domestic violence, improved public health, and greater financial stability.
In the U.S., twice as many people are reading books for pleasure than they were in the mid-1950’s.
Internet access is spreading across the world.
There’s been an eight fold increase in the number of people with access to the net in the last 15 years. Right now, there are two Internet users in the developing world for every user in the developed world. With this access comes better opportunities to network, build knowledge, create jobs, and stay connected with others.
The average person’s standard of living has gone up.
Twenty-five years ago, nearly half the world’s population in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day. Today, that proportion has declined to 14 percent. Around the world, the number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped by half.
In the U.S., homelessness continues to decline. Over the past five years the number of people without shelter has dropped by 26 percent.
Right of indigenous people around the world to protect their land and their identity are, in many cases, beginning to be upheld.
For example, the Makuna, Tanimuka, Letuama, Barasano, Cabiyari, Yahuna and Yujup-Maku peoples of Columbia have won the right to preserve a million hectares of Amazonian forest where they will continue to act as guardians of the land.
Sustainability is accelerating.
The U.S. and Europe, over the last two years, have added more power capacity from renewables than from gas, coal, and nuclear combined. Renewable energy jobs more than doubled in ten years, from three million jobs in 2004 to 6.5 million in 2013, and continue to grow. Dramatic improvements in renewable energy technology have lowered costs while improving performance for hydropower, geothermal, solar, and onshore wind power.
Wind energy prices in the U.S. have reached an all-time low and there’s enough wind power installed in the U.S. to meet the total electricity demands of Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, and Wyoming. Investments in wind power are becoming mainstream, including projects being built for Amazon.com, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and Wal-Mart.
Protected areas of land and water have substantially increased in the last 25 years. For example, protected lands in Latin America and the Caribbean have risen from 8.8 percent in 1990 to 23.4 percent in 2014.
In fact, more of the planet found protection in 2015 than ever before. In the U.S., President Obama has designated 260 million acres as protected public lands and waters – more than any previous president.
This year nations are setting aside one million square miles of “highly protected ocean,” more than any prior year. This area is larger than Texas and Alaska combined. These fully protected marine reserves are off-limits to drilling, fishing, and other uses incompatible with preservation.
Much more needs to be done to raise these standards and to deal with the political extremism, economic inequality, and environmental destruction that causes so much suffering. Much, much more. But taking a moment to consider these and other positive changes can empower us to accomplish even more.