It was been a tough week, month, year, yeah whatever. Some friends invited me over for tea, ah, just to visit. They were courageous enough to ask “So, how are things?” Silly people. I actually answer questions like that, but only with close friends.They heard a lot. One of my main hopes is to visit and share good news, which is something that can happen at any time. Crises, however, are easier to notice. Crises are more dramatic, can require more thought and action, and trigger those skills our species has developed to continue the existence of the species. It is how we’ve gotten this far. But. There have been so many obvious crises that it is not a surprise that people are experiencing crisis fatigue. Hope and progress happen, too; but we’re so accustomed to crises that sometimes hope and progress are met with criticism and scorn. This all made me go, hmm. How do we get by? How do people plan and live?
One of my almost-daily tasks is searching for “news for people who are eager and anxious about the future” to feed one of my other blogs, Pretending Not To Panic. The traffic has slowed over the last five years because too much of the news doesn’t fit the criteria of socially significant, factual, apolitical, and based on logic. After the first few years, some of the news is so repetitive that it has already been covered. There’s more news, but too little of it is new.
Maintaining that feed can be demoralizing, especially as a lack of morals and compassion in the world has become evident.
As we sipped our tea and the conversation slid into some current crisis, I realized that crisis has become our norm. It was easy to create a list that covers the past sixty years.
Great Recession (Second Great Depression)
Iran Contra/Iran hostage crisis
Cuban Missile Crisis
You are welcome to add to the list, but my list already convinced me that I’ve always lived in crisis. Even when I was too young to notice, I paid attention to the location of Fallout Shelters and the likelihood of my neighborhood getting nuked. So much for a Disney childhood.
And yet, despite those crises or maybe because of them, we continue on. Here are some observations. (I limited the sources to one aggregator OurWorldInData.Org simply to keep my life simple.)
Life expectancy is up. “Globally the life expectancy increased from an average of 29 to 73 years in 2019.” An optimist says, “Yay!” A pessimist cries, “Overpopulation!”
Child deaths are down. “In less than three decades child mortality has more than halved…” That’s a hard one for folks to complain about, though it is part of that overpopulation issue, but it also ties into people no longer needing to have larger families.
Diseases are down. Some diseases are not only down but are eradicated. Vaccines can do that. I still have the scar from my polio vaccine and am glad for that small price.
Famines are smaller. Famines continue to exist, but in the past they have been ten times worse, and that was in a smaller population so the percentages were higher.
Sanitation has improved. Globally, it has almost doubled in about twenty years, from 28.6% to 54.0%.
Air pollution is down. We continue to pollute the air, but that, too, is down by about 40% in just over two decades.
Renewable Energy is up, way up. Since 1965, about the time of the first Earth Day, renewable energy has risen seven-fold and is growing.
Fossil Fuel use also grew during that time, but recently fossil fuels are finding themselves caught in a financial spiral. As renewables gain market share, the large fixed costs of fossil fuel production and distribution are spread over fewer customers, thereby raising their per-capita costs, which make renewables more competitive and attractive.
War is killing fewer people. War, what is it good for? Nothing. And governments are learning that. War gets the headlines, but even if governments think war is necessary, people and businesses have learned that peace is cheaper, lasts longer, and is good for jobs. Investors might like stocks in weapons companies, but even some governments are realizing that commerce is a better way to make a change.
Literacy is up. More people can read. What they read may be worrisome, but this may just be a phase in the maturation of our society as we communally learn who to trust and respect for important information. Within the last two hundred years, the world’s population has gone from 20/80 where only ~20% are literate, to 80/20 where ~80% are literate. Whether we agree on anything, well, we’re still human.
Optimism and Pessimism continue to be about the same. The balance of the two has not changed much compared to the dramatic shifts in some of these other issues. Is that a sign of how adaptable we are, or how much we don’t pay attention outside personal bubbles?
Happiness is making progress. Happiness is improving, more in some places than others; which shouldn’t be a surprise. Some places are in deeper crises while others may be farther along in recovery from theirs.
I see news like billionaires going to space and watch the technological progress and the backlash. I think billionaires launching themselves out of the atmosphere is proof that there’s a need for a lot more maturation; but I’m glad they’ve able to do so. Elon Musk is a better model, as silly as that sounds. He focuses on orbital issues, even if it is launching a car to(wards) Mars. Collectively they are taking the steps necessary for the lifeboats we may need, as well as enabling the advance of more sustainable and less-polluting industries. There are businesses that are turning threats (asteroids) into opportunities. Why dig up the planet when we can turn potential colliders into raw materials?
I think back to where we would be with resources, pollution, and global overshoots if we hadn’t abandoned progress in space made in the 60s and 70s. Imagine if Earth Day had inspired today’s level of action fifty years ago? If civil rights for all hadn’t stalled? If the UN had been given authority (and maybe a different structure) at its inception? I’m sure you can add your own to the list.
We can all list optimisms and pessimisms; things we are eager and anxious about. And yet, such thoughts distill down to what will you do about them, as well as what will you do with decisions in your daily life?
At some point such issues come down to the personal level. When I am in financial crisis, I have to concentrate on the basics of personal finance: assets, liabilities, income, expenses. As I come out of crisis it becomes easier to think and act more broadly. When I come out of crisis it is also easier to see the basic optimism that our society and civilization have always been in crisis, and somehow we manage to continue and grow. Past performance is no guarantee of future performance, but it is encouraging.
Now, pardon me as my mind deep dives into choices I’ve made through all of these times, what I’m in the midst of, and how I hope things will go – and how silly and important decades of plans can be.
(Isn’t it amazing what can come from a visit with friends and some cups of tea?)