OPINION: Welcome to 2014! The sun is shining, the birds are tweeting, the barbecue is getting hot and there is a good supply of cold ones in the fridge. But just in case the rain has moved in, here are some other good reasons to be cheerful:
Today the world is richer, safer, healthier, more literate and more peaceful than it has ever been. It also has more television channels, more powerful gaming consoles and more flavours of icecream.
Despite the global financial crisis, the world last year was wealthier than ever before. Global GDP is up 16 per cent on five years ago. Recessions in a handful of rich countries were more than offset by growth in many poor countries. So inequality between nations has actually declined too.
The World Bank reports that the percentage of people living in extreme poverty in 2013 was less than half of what it was in 1990. That's about a billion people better off.
Fewer people were killed in wars last year than almost any year in the last century, and the past decade has been the most peaceful ever. Weeping sores such as Syria and South Sudan have become exceptions to the trend.
Crime is down. Over the last three years, reported offences in New Zealand have declined by 17 per cent. Other developed countries have experienced similar declines.
People are living longer. The World Health Organisation says that in 1900, the global average lifespan was just 31 years, and below 50 years in even the richest countries. Now it is over 65 years and the gap between rich and poor countries has closed dramatically.
In New Zealand, life expectancy has hit 81 years, up from 71 in the 1960s. Across a similar period, infant mortality has plunged from 25 per 1000 births to just 4.2.
Ghastly diseases such as smallpox, polio and leprosy have been all but eradicated, worldwide. Even Aids is in retreat, with the number of Aids-related deaths declining steadily over the last decade.
The new census shows fewer New Zealanders are smoking, with the number dropping by nearly a quarter since the previous census in 2006. Across most of the developed world the smoke is clearing.
In 1970, just 63 per cent of the world's population were able to read. Now that number is 84 per cent.
These claims of a better world may seem at odds with our experience. For that we can blame the media.
Yesterday, the world's 400 billion-odd trees each grew by (maybe) one millimetre, on average. A billion seedlings emerged into the light and began to reach for the sky. No newspaper or TV news reported this. But if a storm knocks over 100 of those trees, that will get reported, with pictures. Which is actually the bigger event?
That is the nature of the world. Billions of tiny good things happen every day. The bad things that happen are fewer in number but more spectacular, and they help sell newspapers. How often have you heard a newsreader announce: "Nothing happened today, here is our reporter in Belgium with that story."
It is human nature that when we solve one problem, we go seek another problem to worry about. The apparent size of this problem then expands to fill the problem-shaped hole in our minds. And wars expand to fill the available space in the newspapers.
Once, we worried about where the next meal was coming from. Now we worry about eating too much.
Our mothers and fathers and grandparents have made a better world for us to live in. We will make a better one for our children and grandchildren.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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