The improving planet

Some useful data from Watt’s Up on humanity’s improvement in recent decades:

  • Between 1990–92 and 2014–16, despite a global population increase of 35% (or 1.9 billion), the population suffering from chronic hunger declined by 216 million.[1],[2] 
  • Even in low-income countries, life expectancy, probably the single best indicator of human wellbeing, increased from 25–30 years in 1900 to 42 years in 1960 and 62 years today.3
  • Between 1950 and 2013, the average person’s standard of living measured by GDP per capita, increased from $2100 to $8200 (in 1990 international PPP-adjusted dollars).3,[5] This statistic understates the relative increase in the standard of living because long term changes in GDP per capita do not properly account for the fact that some goods and services available today — e.g. cell phones, the Internet, personal computers — were simply unavailable at any price a few decades ago. Nor do they account properly for improvements in the quality of others; compare the bulky, grainy black-and-white analogue TVs of yesteryear with the light, 80-inch HD 3-D colour models of today.
  • More importantly, the global population in absolute poverty declined from 53% to 17% between 1981 and 2011.[6] There were about 847 947 million fewer people living in absolute poverty in 2011 than in 1981, although the developing world’s population increased by 2.5 billion.[7] 
  • Education and literacy, once the domain of the clergy and the wealthy, have advanced. Between 1980 and 2012, enrollment in secondary schools in low-income countries increased from 18% to 44%.3
  • The average person has never had greater and faster access to information, knowledge and technology to help them learn, adapt and solve whatever problems they face. Mobile (cell) phone subscriptions have risen from 0% of population in 1997 to 55% in 2013 in low-income countries, while Internet users rose from virtually nil to 7% of the population over the same period.3
  • Global death rates from all extreme weather events have declined by over 98% since the 1920s.[9]
  • Crop yields have improved steadily across the world. From 1961 to 2013, cereal yields increased by 85% in the least-developed countries and 185% worldwide, and show no sustained sign of decelerating, let alone reversing.[10]
  • Despite population increases, which theoretically should have made clean water less accessible, the number of people with access to a safe supply has actually increased worldwide. Between 1990 and 2012, the population with such access increased from 75.9% to 89.3% 
  • The global mortality rate for malaria, which accounts for about 80% of the global burden of vector-borne diseases that may pose increased risk under global warming,[11] declined from 194 per 100,000 in 1900 to 9 per 100,000 in 2012, an overall decline of 95.4%.[12],[13]


Worth reflecting on this. Quite incredible advancements in a relatively short period of time.

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