From our current vantage point of just-barely-begun 2018, I feel like we can take a little breather. Since the year is only three days old, there’s a natural limit to how much crazy (new) stuff we need to be facing. And it’s nice to think of 2017 as safely in the rearview mirror.*
The pace of worrying events last year was hard to keep up with, but I think that was partly due to the kind of news we were served up. As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease–the loudest complainer gets the attention. The way the media is currently configured, bad news pulls in readers, viewers and ad revenue, so that’s what we get.
In fact, though, there were some positive happenings from 2017 that we might have missed in the midst of the negative news that seemed all too available. Quartz published a list of The 99 Best Things That Happened in 2017, and I found it mighty encouraging. It doesn’t undo the worst events of the year, but it does help to put them into perspective.
Some of my favorites, in a variety of categories:
In public health:
The World Health Organization now has an inexpensive vaccine powerful enough to end cholera, one of the deadliest diseases of all time.
You may not know much about Guinea worm infestation, but it’s truly horrible. Last year saw only 26 cases of Guinea worm, in contrast to 3.5 million cases in Africa and Asia 30 years ago.
You might know more about measles; a recent study indicates that between 2000 and 2016, the measles vaccine is estimated to have saved 20.4 million lives.
In global conservation and renewable energy:
Brazil began the largest tropical reforestation project in history. Pakistan announced it had planted a billion trees in two years, in response to devastating flooding in 2015.
In the US, the cost of solar energy plants decreased by 30% in one year and in the UK, the price of offshore wind dropped by half in less than two years.
A decrease in pollution in the Ganges River brought back from the brink of extinction one of four freshwater dolphin species in the world.
On decreasing violence and crime:
Since 1990, rates of both violent crime and property crime have fallen by about 50% in the US. (The fact that a majority of people think crime has gotten worse is discouraging.)
Crime has decreased to such an extent in the Netherlands that the government has begun repurposing prison buildings into housing and cultural centers for tens of thousands of refugees.
On better living conditions:
In the past 16 years almost 1.2 billion people worldwide have gained access to electricity.
About 25 years ago more than 40% of the people in Bangladesh lived in extreme poverty. By 2017 the percentage was down to 14%; that’s 50 million fewer people living in extreme poverty.
If you’re interested in the other 89 pieces of good news (or in the sources for those I featured), you can read about them here. While bad news can come very quickly, good news often takes time to develop. I welcome this chance to think about so many healthy and happy changes, and hope to be able to remember them amidst the loud squeaks of the noisy bad-news wheels that are bound to come rolling into view in the coming months.
*If only ringing in the New Year were enough to turn back the clock and give us another chance to get some things right that I fear we got badly wrong….
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