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Global Reality Check: How Is Our Planet Actually Doing?

California is going up in smoke. Scandinavia, which includes some of the coldest countries on the planet, has been hotter and dryer this summer than ever before. One billion people are living in extreme poverty, while the rest are using up non-renewable resources at an unprecedented rate.

The impression we often get from the mainstream media, and perhaps even more from the progressive media, is that the world is not only in trouble, it’s actually getting worse. But is that truly the real state of the world? Aren’t we doing better than 150 years ago when kids in Dickens’ London worked 12 hour days and lived in squalor?

To find out how we are actually doing as a human society, I consulted an expert fact finder, namely Hans Rosling, the Swedish author of the book Factfulness.

To understand where we are at as a species compared to some decades ago, let’s start off with a quiz taken from Rosling’s book. Write down your answers and compare them to the correct answers below. You may be in for a surprise.

  1. Where does the majority of the world population live?
    1. Low-income countries
    2. Middle-income countries
    3. High-income countries
  2. In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has
    1. Almost doubled
    2. Remained more or less the same
    3. Almost halved
  3. What is the life expectancy of the world today?
    1. 50 years
    2. 60 years
    3. 70 years
  4. There are 2 billion children in the world today, aged 0-15 years old. How many children will there be in the year 2100, according to the United Nations?
    1. 4 billion
    2. 3 billion
    3. 2 billion
  5. How many of the world’s 1-year-old children have been vaccinated against some disease?
    1. 20%
    2. 50%
    3. 80%
  6. How many people in the world have some access to electricity?
    1. 20%
    2. 50%
    3. 80%

(This is just half of the quiz, but it will do just fine for our purposes.)

Ready? Here are the real facts: 1-b, 2-c, 3-c, 4-c, 5-c and 6-c.

If you got more than two correct answers, you should be proud. Most people score worse than if they had made a random guess, which, on average, would have given two correct answers.

Yes, the situation is still bad

Presently humanity faces many problems, including a systemic financial crisis, a rise in inequality, global warming, the rise of neo-fascism, and an increased risk of world war. It would be foolish to disregard these enormous threats and challenges and pretend that things are just good and rosy. Especially with the threat of global warming and climate change, we are facing the risk of destroying life on planet earth as we know it. Have no doubt about it, the human predicament is serious.

But we have made many improvements

We are often so inundated with negative news about global problems that we neglect to recognize the progress made in the past 50 years, not to speak of in the past 100 years.

If we look at history, we’ll realise that if the situation is bad now, life on average was much worse in the past. One reason for this oversight is our tendency to romanticise the past as the “good old days,” but they were often not so good. Maybe our expectations have increased, and this is naturally a good thing. But in order to create a better future, we need to have a more objective understanding of the past and appreciate all the good that already has been achieved.

Here are some undisputable facts: Poverty has decreased; there is far less starvation; more children go to school; fewer people die in natural disasters; and though there has been an explosive population growth, it is already slowing down. From an average of 5 children born per woman in the 1960s, there are today 2.5 births per woman globally. And the trend is going further downward. If this trend continues, the population of the planet will cap at around 11 billion people. This fact seems to be of special interest for people who have followed the writings of P.R. Sarkar, since he predicted this trend decades before it became an obvious fact.

In addition, when it comes to human values, there has also been progress. Slavery, suppression of women, exploitation of children, intolerance and many other terrible things still exist today, but are not as commonplace as in the past. Even more importantly, we openly discuss these human problems and most people denounce them.

Will the improvements continue?

So where does this leave us? Is the future guaranteed to be rosy? Unfortunately not.

Just because things have been improving in the past 100 years, it does not mean that the trend will continue. The earth is reaching the limit of pollution and greenhouse gases it can absorb without a catastrophic rise in temperatures. There are signs of a shifting movement toward intolerance. Fascistic strongmen are rising up in all parts of the world and the risk of conflict and war are also increasing. With the amount of sophisticated weapons at our disposal, a Third World War could kill more people and create more environmental and material destruction than ever before.

Power is also shifting. Corporations, whose main interest is to make money, are often more powerful than nations. Will this trend continue? And with the rise of the extreme right, will Neo-Nazi groups come to power in some countries? The expanded global cooperation that made the many improvements humanity made possible should not be taken for granted.

What about the gains in health care, improved literacy and reduction in poverty? To a large extent these improvements have been made due to increased food production and various scientific innovations, but with climate change looming and global warming a stark fact, the amount of arable land will reduce and our capacity for food production and increased material progress will decrease.

We must therefore realise how fragile our gains are, how global our problems are, and how little it would take to reverse all our gains. Worse, with atomic weapons at our disposal and global warming looming as an unpredictable crisis, we could potentially destroy life on earth as we know it, something which previous generations did not have the capacity for.

What Kind of Future Awaits Us?

It is common knowledge that we must envision the future we want. Gloom and negative projections will certainly not save humanity. We must therefore be confident and positive that a better future awaits us. A world where the gains of the past are safeguarded, and where the Proutist goal of guaranteeing the minimum necessities of life to all can be realised in a sustainable way.

But given the enormity of the problems that face humanity, we must also not be complacent. The right attitude is that if we all join in our efforts and work hand in hand for change, we can build on the past and create a beautiful and just society for all people, and avoid the pitfalls of nuclear destruction, environmental catastrophe, and massive human suffering. But if we take progress for granted and just allow the present course to move on, a bleak future will certainly await us.

The future is indeed in our hands. Which path will we choose?

Global Reality Check: How Is Our Planet Actually Doing?