Do you think you know a lot about the world? About the most important questions in our time? Do you know about world population growth, about global health and about global terrorism?
I thought I did know quite a lot about all those things, as it turned out, I was not entirely correct. This comes back to three main reasons. First, many things we know, or believe to know, are actually distorted, they represent the worldview in which we are born and raised. Secondly, we often face the problem that the information is not entirely wrong, but that it is outdated and represents the world as it was 50 to 100 years ago. When we make decisions about today, though, it would be nice to have updated information. Lastly, and maybe this is the greatest challenge of all, we have to choose our own information. One of humankind’s greatest achievements probably is that we have more access to information than any generation before us. The problem is just that we do not seem capable of understanding it as what it is. Which information is correct and which one is wrong, which one is outdated and which one is the most recent or which one is objective and which one is simply a personal opinion?
What can we do about this? There are many easy things that we can change by ourselves very quickly. In order to get the right information we can look up reliable sources. Almost all questions about the abovementioned topics are analyzed by the experts of the UN and the World Bank. They have reliable sources on population growth, on global health and on the number of deaths by terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, often this data is presented in such a confusing way, that it is hard to follow and understand any of it.
Here we have young non-profit organizations which help to sort things out. Probably the best example is the Gapminder Foundation. They present the data from reliable sources on all those important questions in an understandable way and show reality in a way that makes one more optimistic.
So, let us start and see how much you actually now about the world. The Gapminder Foundation invites you to take the full gapminder-test on their website, but to give you an idea of it, I selected 3 questions.
- In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has …
- A: Almost doubled
- B: remained more or less the same
- C: almost halved
- There are 2 billion children in the world today, aged 0 to 15 years old. HOw many children will there be in the year 2100, according to the United Nations?
- A: 4 billion
- B: 3 billion
- C: 2 billion
- What is the life expectancy of the world today?
- A: 50 years
- B: 50 years
- C: 70 years
Before I will give you the answers, you have to wait a bit more though. Let us first start with the biggest misconcenption we follow, dividing the world in two. There are developing countreis and there are developed countries, correct? Not correct. The division of the world in two groups is not that easy any longer.
Here we can see how countries would be divided according to the criteria of babies per women and child mortality. Each yellow bubble represents a country in Europe, green are the Americas, red is Asia and blue is Africa. Child mortality shows us a lot about a country, as it is an indicator of how well a society takes care of their weakest members. Characteristic for a developed country is therefore a low child mortality rate. If all children in a family survive, then people tend to have less children and we see here many countries in the low-left corner, which have accomplished that, most of them are countries from Europe. The vast majority of countries of Africa and Asia has a high child mortality rate and women have more children.
The problem with this graph is its date: it is taken from the 1960s. When looking at today, the situation look salready quite different:
All the countries have moved furhter to the left (less children per women) and much further down (lower child mortality). In fact, the majority of countries is today already past the point Europe was in the 1960s and, even more strikingly, no countries infant mortality rate has increased during the last decades.
Now, how can we explain this change that has been going on? A lower amount of children per women and a lower infant mortality rate are the consequences of various actions taken by governments all around the world. Better health care mechanisms are established all around the world, more than 80% of children worldwide have been vaccinated against some basic diseases; this means basic access to health care services is guaranteed to more than 80% of today’s children and fewer of them die. Fewer women want to have many children. Worldwide the percentage of women in schools is at an all-time high. In fact, on average they have almost caught up with the average amount of years spend in school. This is amazing. When women are better educated they will go to work and a family earns more money to take care of their children. Moreover, parents who are able to read can read the inscriptions on basic medicine and many child-deaths can be prevented even where there no general access to hospitals.
The number of babies per women has another effect. Look at this graph:
Do you see how steep it is falling after the 1900s? Worldwide the average number of babies per women is almost down to 2. This is the world changing event we need to stop the population growth. When there are as many children as there are parents, it means that each generation is as big as the previous one. We might even say that for the first time in our history we seem to be at peace with nature. For most of our history there existed roughly 10 million humans worldwide. The average number of babies per women was 6 and on average 4 of those children would die. During the last two hundred years we have seen an explosion of innovation in technology and medicine that has allowed many parts of the world to rapidly decrease child mortality rates. Now people had many children and fewer of them died. This is how we went from 1 billion people in the 1800s to 7 billion in the early 2000s. The experts at the UN and the World Bank, whose job is to make predictions about world population growth, say today that they expect the number of children per women decreasing down to 2 children per women within just a few more years.
Many of these developments can also be explained by the poverty-curve you see below:
This graph shows the rate of people living in extreme poverty from 1800, when the vast majority of people lived in poverty. It slowly decreased until in 1970 half the world population lived outside of extreme poverty. From there on we can see this steep decrease in the amount of people who live in world poverty. When in 2000 the UN aimed at reducing the amount of people in extreme poverty by half everyone said that this was insane. In 2000 the proportion of people in extreme poverty was at around 30%. In 2015 it was around 10%. CONGRATULATIONS I say.
Despite this success the world public opinion seems as pessimistic towards the sustainable development goal aim to eradicate extreme poverty completely. This data shows us that it is not only possible, but that it is already happening.
Now, remember the answers you gave to the questions above? By now you probably changed your mind about a few of them.
The proportion of people living in absolute poverty in the last 20 years has in fact more than halved.
The UN experts say that the number of children (today 2 billion) will be still at 2 billion in 2100.
And the life expectance today is at 70 years on average worldwide.
Things are looking much better today as they used to 20 or 200 years ago. This does not mean that the world is a paradise though. Women still suffer under gender discrimination in many parts of the world. Children still die of diarrea and tuberculoses, diseases for which we have cures; those death would be easy to prevent. The world is not yet good, but it is for sure getting better. The trends all point in this direction. This, however, does not mean that we can lean back and watch the world become a paradise. This means that, maybe for the first time in our history, we have the chance to accomplish something great, if we all work together on this.