Believe it, a better world is already here
There are some very good reasons to pay close attention to Bill and Melinda Gates. First, they are the world’s richest good Samaritans. Second, their predictions are infinitely cheering in a world that seems to be constantly reeling from bad news – war, hunger, epidemics, a warming planet. Mr and Mrs Gates say that tomorrow is going to be a whole lot better: by 2030, child mortality will have halved, several major diseases will have been eradicated and Africa will be able to feed itself. In their annual letter, which lays out goals for the Gates Foundation’s next 15 years, they outline four “major breakthroughs”, which they believe will drastically change tomorrow’s world. “A sceptic would look at the world’s problems and conclude that things are only getting worse,” they write, “but 15 years on, most people in poor countries will be living longer and in better health, with unprecedented opportunities to get an education, eat nutritious food, and benefit from mobile banking.”
Is that overly optimistic? Many might be sceptical, but the Gates’s predictions are founded on the facts. In fact, a better world is already here. In the last century, human beings have demonstrably achieved the following: improved life expectancy, lower infant mortality, greater gender equality, cleaner air. The data exists.
Last year, Bjorn Lomborg, the controversial and cerebral Copenhagen professor, published what he called a human “scorecard” spanning 150 years. With 21 of the world’s top economists, he assessed 10 areas, including health, education, war, air pollution and biodiversity. In each, the question to be answered was: what was the relative cost of this problem in every year since 1900, all the way to 2013, with predictions to 2050. The results showed that we’re much better off than before.
Across the world, life expectancy has improved dramatically since 1900 (32 years then, 69 today). Fewer children are dying of measles, tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria and polio. Even in 1970, just five per cent were being vaccinated against these diseases; by 2000, it was 85 per cent. Then there’s illiteracy. It still afflicts 20 per cent of the world’s population, but is down from an estimated 70 per cent in 1900. And using an analysis of military spending, they even discerned a “permanent peace dividend”. It all sounds very comforting. Two-and-a-half cheers then.
Updated: January 22, 2015 04:00 AM