Is the world becoming a worse place, or have we lost all hope?

12 Let hope keep you joyful; in trouble stand firm; persist in prayer; 13contribute to the needs of God’s people, and practice hospitality.

Romans 12:12-13 – REB

In 2016, the polling company YouGov asked people in 17 countries this question:

          ‘All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?’

58% of those answering thought that the world was getting worse and only 11% thought that it was getting better. In the United States, the results were even more startling, with only 6% of respondents thinking that the world was getting better.

After six months of lockdown, with the approach of winter imminent, with the government’s senior advisers saying that we are potentially headed into a massive increase in COVID ‘cases’, with our media full of unrelenting misery and forecasts of doom, with reports of massively increased incidence of anxiety and depression and with many businesses potentially not going to survive the next few months, I suspect that many would agree with those who think that the world is getting worse.

Which is precisely why I feel the need to provide the readers of this blog with some good news. All that follows comes from a book that I have just read called Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person should know by Ronald Bailey and Marion L Tupy, published by the Cato Institute, Washington DC. I recommend the book, or for those who just want to explore the issues a little deeper, the website gives routine articles which represent ‘Good News’. The book includes the following facts, all of which are referenced back to original research by learned organisations (there is insufficient space to list them all here):

  • In the 300 years between 1500 and 1820, world economic ‘gross product’ grew by 0.3% per year, to $1.2 trillion. In the following 80 years, between 1820 and 1900, it grew by 1.3% per year to $3.4 trillion. In the last 118 years, between 1900 and 2018, growth averaged 3% per year and the figure reached $121 trillion. The world is getting massively richer.
  • At the same time, between 1820 and 2018, those living in absolute poverty have reduced from 84% of the world’s population, to 8.6%. In the next ten years to 2030, the level could fall to 5% and the prospect of eradicating extreme poverty altogether is considered possible within a decade or two.
  • In 1968, the food supply in 34 out of 152 countries amounted to less than 2,000 calories per person per day. That was true in only 2 out of 173 countries in 2017 and famines have all but disappeared outside war zones.
  • The chance of a person dying in a natural catastrophe: earthquake, flood, drought, storm, wildfire, landslide or epidemic declined by nearly 99% between the 1920s and 2018. People today are much more likely to survive natural disasters because of increased wealth and technological progress.
  • Global income inequality between countries started to decline in the 1980s, primarily due to faster growth in non-Western countries. It is still declining.
  • In 1990, 47% of the world’s urban population lived in slums. That figure fell to 30% by 2014 and is still trending downwards.
  • In 1820, nearly 90% of the world’s population was illiterate. In 2016, nearly 90% of women and 93% of men between the ages of 15 and 24 were literate. The literacy gaps between rich and poor countries and men and women, are closing.
  • In 1820, global average life expectancy was about 30 years, as it had been for most of human history. The World Bank estimated the figure to have risen to 72 by 2018. Life expectancy is anticipated to continue to rise steeply to the end of this century, but at the same time, because of access to birth control, global peak population is expected to be reached before 2100.
  • Infant mortality rates globally have dropped from historically approximately 30% to 2.9% in 2017, about the level that the UK and the US reached in 1950. Vastly fewer children are dying young.
  • The malaria death rate globally has dropped from 12.6 per 100,000 people in 1990 to 8.2 per 100,000 in 2017. Progress in fighting malaria is steadily being made.
  • At the same time, global Cancer rates are also falling, from 161 per 100,000 people in 1990, to 134 per 100,000 in 2016 – a reduction of 17%. We are winning the war on cancer
  • Global CO2 emissions per $1 of output fell from 0.84 kgs in 1960 to 0.5kgs in 2014 – a 41% improvement. Absolute reductions in CO2 have not yet materialised other than during economic recessions, but the good news is that production processes are becoming more environmentally friendly.
  • Global oil reserves nearly tripled between 1980 and 2017. Despite production rising, new discoveries have exceeded the increase in demand. In addition, peak demand for oil is expected to be reached within 30 years.
  • Access to clean drinking water globally has massively improved from 76% of the world’s population in 1990 to 91% in 2015

As an antidote to COVID bad news, and other more general bad news, that our media outlets delight in depressing us with, I can strongly recommend this book. It includes a total of 78 positive trends, with easy-to-understand graphs in every section. It is surely good to hear, particularly at this moment, that the negative view of the prospects for human beings and the natural world are, in large part, badly mistaken.

Human beings can be characterised by their inventiveness, and whilst we’re currently struggling with a global pandemic, there is a great deal of evidence that gives cause for hope for the future.

A priest once told me that in his opinion, the whole of Christian belief could be summed up in a single word: Hope.

Heavenly Father, it is, of course, reasonable that we should worry about loved ones who may be threatened by this pandemic. But please help us, both for ourselves and for others, to maintain our Christian hope and our optimism for the future. It is what you would want. Amen

Note: I am grateful to the publishers for the information included in this post

2 thoughts on “Is the world becoming a worse place, or have we lost all hope?

  1. Hi James
    Recently I listened to the radio 4 Sunday Worship service from the virtual Greenbelt Festival. One of the speakers was truly inspirational. Becky Tyler is a 17 year old with quadriplegic cerebral palsy, she used an eye-gaze machine and a voice synthesiser to share her thoughts on the Parable of The Great Banquet. She talked about plan A and plan B for our lives, and that despite other people regarding her disabilities as relegating her to plan B that is not how God sees her – or any of us whatever our circumstances.
    Whatever the state of the world, however long this pandemic continues, we should always know that God is leading us from where we are now and it is always Plan A.
    If that isn’t a message full of hope and encouragement, I don’t know what is.
    Thank you for your positive thoughts.


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