Today, a pop can contains 13 grams of aluminum, and most of it is recycled.
That’s just one tidbit uncovered by science writer Matt Ridley in a recent edition of the British publication The Spectator.
Ridley’s argument is that we’ve just finished the best decade in the history of mankind.
He’s right. It’s also the latest in a long line of best decades.
Also, it doesn’t help that people in my profession, myself included, tend to focus on negative things. News is defined, broadly speaking, as something out of the ordinary or different. When the news media begins to report good news, you’ll know that bad things have become ordinary.
But don’t worry. The trend is decidedly in the opposite direction.
I first wrote about the ever-improving human condition in 2001, after reading a book titled, “It’s getting better all the time,” by Stephen Moore and Julian L. Simon. It was filled with statistics showing what many of us instinctively understand — that it’s much better to live today than a century ago. It also showed what many people don’t understand — that it’s better to live today than even 10 years ago.
For instance, the authors noted that in 1930, 38 people were killed on the job for every 100,000 workers. By 2000, that number had dropped to only 4 per 100,000. But if you look at the AFL-CIO’s report on worker safety in 2019, the number has fallen to 3.5.
Ironically, that report is subtitled, “The toll of neglect,” and focuses on the tragedy of workplace deaths rather than on the improvements. But even this is good. Our negative biases can keep us ever mindful of the need to improve, understanding that even one workplace death is too many.
It’s just that we’re on a slow and steady march in that direction, and it seldom gets noticed.
Ridley’s essay is filled with other evidence of good news. Less than 10% of the world now lives in extreme poverty, down from 60% in the 1950s. The economies of Africa and Asia are growing faster than those in Europe and North America, meaning the Third World is freeing itself from problems that have inhibited progress.
We seldom hear of famines any more, while diseases such as malaria, polio and heart disease are in retreat. Farms produce more and better food than before, and on less land.
In an unrelated opinion piece, New York Times technology writer Kara Swisher predicts tech entrepreneurs could begin solving climate change issues as they discover the money to be made. Well of course.
People consume less today. A single smartphone, carried in pockets or purses by many Americans, takes the place of a host of items we used to buy, from cameras to radios, flashlights, record (or CD) players and maps.
I can add to this list. Peruse just about any newspaper from 50 years ago and you’ll see reports of commercial airline crashes. The Boeing 737 Max notwithstanding, such things are extremely rare today.
And, as I have reported through the years, international efforts to fight infant and child mortality in Third World countries have provided astounding results. Childhood deaths from preventable diseases fell from 12.6 million in 1990 to 4.2 million in 2015, and are no doubt lower today.
Does this mean the world has no problems, or no negative trends? Of course not.
Ridley describes facing constant “what about …” questions having to do with a host of problems. His answer is that “bad things happen while the world still gets better. Yet get better it does …”
This is an important perspective at the start of a year that promises to be filled with the doomsayers of political campaigning. Yes, important issues remain to be decided. Evil still lurks and must be confronted. Freedom and liberty must never be taken for granted.
But it would be a shame not to realize the blessings that make life today much better than anything your ancestors experienced.