2017 the best year in human history

Most world news and a lot of international political news we hear is bad or negative. Nicholas Kristof annually looks at the better side of modern life.

Why 2017 Was the Best Year in Human History

2017 was probably the very best year in the long history of humanity.

A smaller share of the world’s people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before.

The proportion disfigured by leprosy, blinded by diseases like trachoma or suffering from other ailments also fell.

Every day, the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty (less than about $2 a day) goes down by 217,000, according to calculations by Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs a website called Our World in Data.

Every day, 325,000 more people gain access to electricity. And 300,000 more gain access to clean drinking water.

As recently as the 1960s, a majority of humans had always been illiterate and lived in extreme poverty. Now fewer than 15 percent are illiterate, and fewer than 10 percent live in extreme poverty. In another 15 years, illiteracy and extreme poverty will be mostly gone. After thousands of generations, they are pretty much disappearing on our watch.

Just since 1990, the lives of more than 100 million children have been saved by vaccinations, diarrhoea treatment, breast-feeding promotion and other simple steps.

The ‘good old days’ were decidedly worse for many people.

If that was, say, the 1950s, the U.S. also had segregation, polio and bans on interracial marriage, gay sex and birth control. Most of the world lived under dictatorships, two-thirds of parents had a child die before age 5, and it was a time of nuclear standoffs, of pea soup smog, of frequent wars, of stifling limits on women and of the worst famine in history.

What moment in history would you prefer to live in?

My lifetime for sure.

So, sure, the world is a dangerous mess; I worry in particular about the risk of a war with North Korea. But I also believe in stepping back once a year or so to take note of genuine progress — just as, a year ago, I wrote that 2016 had been the best year in the history of the world, and a year from now I hope to offer similar good news about 2018.

The most important thing happening right now is not a Trump tweet, but children’s lives saved and major gains in health, education and human welfare.

There’s a lot of bad in the world, and a lot of potential risks, and unlike any time in history humans are easily capable of wiping everyone out and destroying much of the planet.

But generally things have never been better for most people and continue to improve.

28 Comments

  1. Gezza

     /  January 8, 2018

    Musn’t grumble.

    • Gezza

       /  January 8, 2018

      (Please don’t let that stop others tho. :))

  2. PartisanZ

     /  January 8, 2018

    ” … humans are easily capable of wiping everyone out and destroying much of the planet”.

    While we have the capacity via nuclear arms to do this in minutes, we are doing it anyway in much smaller steps, by tiny though exponentially expanding increments …

    The very last thing anyone ever seems to contemplate is applying the same radically contrasting timescales to improving the lot of the starving, the poor and the underprivileged of our world …

    Instead we improve their lot by minuscule increments like 217,000 per day – essentially as they ‘come into line’ with capitalist ideology – while 360,000 people are born on Earth each day [not all into poverty obviously, only perhaps 90%?] – when in reality we have the capability to remove the world’s inequality and iniquity in a matter of months, years or perhaps a generation at most …

    Michael Kristof’s “better side of modern life”, all things considered, is just a little better when it could be a whole lot better …

    • Gezza

       /  January 8, 2018

      Yes, it could be a whole lot better, and the points you make are valid, but looking around the globe we’re a long way off from getting anywhere near doing this on a global scale. An odd side-effect of capitalism is that it improves the lot of millions of others faster than any other alternative system so far.

      People whose lives have been improved from what they were previously are most likely to want to change eventually to a more leisured, less stressful system of life and governance. The millions still living limited, subsistence existences in grinding poverty prefer to leave their farms, jungles and slums and move to where jobs, money & technological progress are, given the opportunity.

      The way the former Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, have all ended up embracing forms of capitalism, even if it’s state-controlled, shows what an engine for improving standards of living quickly.

      • PartisanZ

         /  January 8, 2018

        Rather depends what you call an “improved lot” doesn’t it Gezza?

        Former agrarian ‘peasants’ who may have lived relatively healthy subsistence lives probably don’t feel that squalid slum life and indentured sweatshop labour eek’d out on < $1.90 per day is any particular improvement …

        … especially if they find out the fruits of their labours are sold for massive profits and make capitalist owner/exploiter/shipper/traders filthy rich …

  3. There are more people, less topsoil, fewer fish.

    • David

       /  January 8, 2018

      PolPot had the right idea….

      • PartisanZ

         /  January 8, 2018

        Correction: PolPot had the ‘Right’ idea …

    • phantom snowflake

       /  January 8, 2018

      Yup; not such a good year/decade/era etc. for flora and fauna as the Sixth Mass Extinction continues apace…

      http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/elements_of_biodiversity/extinction_crisis/

      • DaveK

         /  January 8, 2018

        Sixth mass extinction eh…..yes indeedy, the sky is falling, the sky is falling…..sure sounds scary, especially given its effects will be compounded by the impending climate apocalypse.

        However, maybe, just maybe, it could be advisable to be slightly cautious about forecasts of impeding doom being promoted by the likes of Paul Ehrlich(https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/11/sixth-mass-extinction-habitats-destroy-population)…..that is if you haven’t already become a victim of the mass starvation that has been on-going for the last 30 (….or is it closer to 50?) years now (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Population_Bomb).

        (Just for chuckles, here’s a money quote from Ehrlich’s opus (published 1968) “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…” Certainly a prescient intellect in action there.)

        The unfortunate thing is that the gross exaggeration promulgated by the likes of Ehrlich has a significant downside wherein folks become habituated to the potential for impending environmental destruction by a constant stream of dire messages, so it requires bigger and bigger hits of catastrophe to get anything to happen (….or alternatively nothing happens because the message loses currency due to forecasts that never actually come to pass).

        A cynic could draw parallels with the politicisation of climate science.

        • Griff

           /  January 8, 2018

          The only thing political about climate scince is those who deny physics because it gets in the way of their ideology.

          Spatial and temporal patterns of mass bleaching of corals in the Anthropocene
          Not enough time for recovery
          http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6371/80
          Coral bleaching occurs when stressful conditions result in the expulsion of the algal partner from the coral. Before anthropogenic climate warming, such events were relatively rare, allowing for recovery of the reef between events. Hughes et al. looked at 100 reefs globally and found that the average interval between bleaching events is now less than half what it was before. Such narrow recovery windows do not allow for full recovery. Furthermore, warming events such as El Niño are warmer than previously, as are general ocean conditions. Such changes are likely to make it more and more difficult for reefs to recover between stressful events.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  January 8, 2018

        A typically dishonest environmentalist account of the situation. The truth is that the extinction crisis occurred with humanity’s colonisation of the whole planet several centuries ago. There have been no species extinctions in NZ in the past 100 years. Worldwide current extinctions have been confined to remnant and sub species on small islands.

        • Patzcuaro

           /  January 8, 2018

          Just because there haven’t been as many extinctions in the last 100 years doesn’t mean that the flora & fauna of the earth is in good shape. In reality we have more of few species, less diversity, more humans, mice, rats, sparrows, pigeons etc, fewer lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes etc.

          I guess you could call it evolution, survival of the most adaptive. Hopefully we will be ok but have we cut down too much rain forest, spoiled too many rivers, not too mention the oceans.

          • Patzcuaro

             /  January 8, 2018

            I wish the conservatives would concentrate on conservation.

        • Griff

           /  January 9, 2018

          “There have been no species extinctions in NZ in the past 100 years.”
          When you say things that are easily found to be untrue it makes you look like someone who makes up whatever supports your world view
          Also know as a fantasist unsurprising for a trump supporter
          This makes all your contributions questionable to a rational person.
          Extinct Fish
          New Zealand grayling (about 1940)
          Extinct Bats
          Greater Short Tailed Bat (Last seen Solander Island 1967)
          http://www.nhc.net.nz/index/extinct-new-zealand/extinct.htm

        • Blazer

           /  January 9, 2018

          Griff mounts another Trophy caught out…..bullshitting .So much for facts…eh..Al.

  4. Corky

     /  January 8, 2018

    President Trump was elected. At least something happened in the world.

    • PartisanZ

       /  January 8, 2018

      Yes but not good, and certainly not “the best in human history” …

    • Gezza

       /  January 8, 2018

      Technically, Trump was actually elected in 2016 (on 8 November).

      He was inaugurated in 2017 (on 20 January).

      (Not that I’m ordinarily one to quibble, as you know Corks … )

    • Patzcuaro

       /  January 8, 2018

      Something is always happening in the world, at least Americans elected a genius whichever year it was.

      Trump is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the world.

  5. Conspiratoor

     /  January 8, 2018

    Good post. The world appears to be shrinking and with the exception of a few holdouts, more civilised. Ive followed the round the world bike scene for several years and it’s now entirely possible and relatively safe to jump on a motorbike and travel through Russia from vlad to Samaria via Mongolia and all the Stans, the silk road, even China’s opening up to the adventure rider with the exception of Tibet and xianchau. Burma give it a go. Iran great fun. Africa’s safer than South Auckland now although Sahara and northern nigeria can be dodgy in parts. Beheading appears to be a dying art

    • PartisanZ

       /  January 8, 2018

      May I translate this? The world is ‘shrinking’ due to ever more sophisticated fossil-fueled, resource depleting air travel with its associated culture destroying tourism and, with the exception of a few ‘holdouts’ attempting to save the last genuine vestiges of their cultures, more thoroughly Westernized …

      • Gezza

         /  January 8, 2018

        I have had an opportunity to compare your two posts. Yours appears to be an adjunct, rather than a translation?

      • Conspiratoor

         /  January 8, 2018

        I suppose you could sit on your arse all day and be angry but I do have some sympathy for your view partisanz. However my post was more about folks seeking a bit of adventure and who can blame them. I recall an old zen master’s words ‘All men die ..but not all men live’ 

        Here’s one you might enjoy. This mad rooster rode from Sydney to London on a postie …and burned a handful of fossils in the process

        • Patzcuaro

           /  January 8, 2018

          One person on a postie from Sydney to London is adventure, everybody on a postie from Sydney to London is madness.

        • PartisanZ

           /  January 8, 2018

          I suppose you could assume and say incorrectly that another person sits on their arse all day and is angry … then in the next breath say you have some sympathy for their view … but what would be the point? Some kind of ad hom one-upmanship?

          Nobody’s “blaming” people for seeking a bit of adventure. However it’s interesting to ask adventure-seekers why they do it …?

          You seem almost gleeful that “Africa’s safer than South Auckland now” … and I wonder what evidence you base this assertion on?

  6. Gezza

     /  January 8, 2018

    God, you think we had it tuff?

  7. PDB

     /  January 9, 2018

    This sad sack doesn’t agree…..

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/100220542/new-zealand-isnt-working

    So full of inaccuracies & outright lies Blazer could have written it with input from PZ.