Let’s not forget the world’s successes
Last year was “notably grim”, says Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times, from war in the Middle East to carbon emissions “cooking our planet”. But it may still have been “the best year in the history of humanity”. Global child mortality fell to yet another record low – a million fewer children died last year than in 2016. It’s the same with extreme poverty, out of which around 100,000 people are emerging every single day. Developments in medicine are similarly encouraging. Two horrifying diseases – polio and Guinea worm disease – are close to eradication, and new jabs have been approved for RSV and malaria, which will save the lives of countless children. The US government recently approved new CRISPR gene-editing techniques for sickle cell disease, and scientists hope similar approaches can “transform the treatment of cancer and other ailments”.
The truth is, I do a version of this column at the start of every year – and every year, readers complain. They think it’s offensive to hail progress “when the future seems so bleak to so many”. But people “tune out and give up” when the news is unremittingly gloomy. “Despair is paralysing, not empowering.” If we want to tackle the likes of climate change and the Israel-Hamas conflict, “it helps to know progress is possible”. That’s why it’s always worth stepping back and acknowledging all the things we’re getting right. Not to distract people from what’s going wrong, but to remind ourselves that “when we try hard enough, we can accomplish amazing things”.