More On: environment
Because our senses have changed over time, we worry and feel down more than we should.
Do you think the end of the world is coming? If so, you're not on your own.
In 2021, experts at the University of Bath surveyed 10,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 from Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, Great Britain, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, Portugal, and the United States. The researchers found that, on average, 83 percent of people thought that "people have failed to care for the planet." Seventy-five percent of people said that "the future is scary." 56 percent of the people thought that "humanity is doomed." Fifty-five percent thought that they would have "less opportunity than [their] parents." Lastly, 39% of them said they were "hesitant to have children."
The study is still one of the most thorough looks at how young people feel about the state of the planet's environment. But is this kind of pessimism fair? The following data about the world show a very different picture:
Taking inflation into account, the average income per person rose from $4,158 in 1950 to $16,904 in 2020, or 307 percent. The average life expectancy rose by 43.2 percent, from 50.9 years in 1960 to 72.9 years in 2019. (Because of the pandemic, that number is now only 72.2 years.)
The number of murders fell by 16 percent, from 6.85 per 100,000 people in 2000 to 5.77 per 100,000 people in 2020.
From a high of 596,000 deaths in interstate wars in 1950 to a low of 49,000 deaths in 2020, a drop of 92%. However, the war between Russia and Ukraine is likely to raise that number.
Extreme poverty rates have dropped dramatically, with the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day dropping from 36 percent in 1990 to 8.7 percent in 2019. Again, though, the outbreak has made that number a little bit worse for the time being.
Between 1969 and 2019, the average rate of baby deaths per 1,000 live births went down by 77 percent, from 89.7 to 20.9.
From 1961 to 2018, the number of calories in a day went from 2,192 to 2,928, which is a 34% increase. Even in Africa, there are more and more people who are overweight.
From 1970 to 2018, the gross primary school attendance rate went from 89 percent to 100 percent. During the same time period, the number of people who went to high school jumped from 40% to 76%. Lastly, the number of people who went to college after high school went up from 9.7% to 38%.
In 1975, 74% of men ages 15 and up could read and write. In 2018, 90% of men ages 15 and up could read and write. From 1976 to 2018, the number of 15-year-old and older women who could read and write went from 56% to 83%.
In 2018, 90% of women between 15 and 24 years old could read and write. Among guys the same age, that number was almost 93%. The difference between men and women in how well they can read and write is almost gone.
There is also a lot of good news about the world's environment:
Over the last 100 years, the chance of dying in a natural disaster like an earthquake, flood, drought, storm, wildfire, collapse, or disease has dropped by almost 99 percent.
From 1982 to 2016, the world's tree canopy grew by an area that is bigger than Alaska and Montana put together.
In 2017, the World Database on Protected Areas said that protected areas covered 15% of the land surface of the Earth. That's almost twice the size of the United States.
In that year, nearly 7% of the world's seas were protected by marine protected areas. That's a bigger area than South America by more than two times.
Another good thing for fish is that since 2012, more than half of all seafood eaten came from aquaculture instead of fish caught in the wild.
Even though the total amount of CO2 released around the world is still going up, both the total amount and the amount per person are going down in rich countries.
Why are we so sad when there is so much good news around us? We have evolved to look out for danger. When the world was much more dangerous, that was the best way to stay alive. But our genes haven't changed, even though the world has. That's why the most terrible news always makes it to the front page of the newspaper. If it hurts, it's news.
Even worse, the media have to fight with each other for the same limited number of eyes. So, telling stories in the most exciting way possible pays off. Or, a recent study found that for an average-length headline, "each additional negative word increased the click-through rate by 2.3%." So, in a race to the bottom, the news has gotten a lot worse over the last 20 years.
We are actually scaring ourselves to death. In some parts of the world, the number of people with anxiety, depression, and even suicide is going up. Follow the trends, not the news, to keep your head on straight and keep things in perspective. You will find that the world is in much better shape than it seems. You'll feel happier and, most importantly, you'll know more.