2016: the greatest year ever

2016-not-worst-year-ever-infographicLet us begin with poverty. At the time, 2015 was an astonishing year. The global target had been to cut extreme poverty in half from the 1990 level, which was 37%. The actual level fell below 10% for the first time in history: little more than a quarter of the 1990 level. This was a long term trend, and it continued in 2016. More than 100 million people were lifted out of poverty. That’s three people per second.

Let us consider health. Some estimates suggest that more than half the human beings who have ever lived were killed by malaria. The World Health Organization reported that malaria deaths are down 60% since 2000. Measles has been wiped out in the Americas.

These could be false dawns. DDT came close to eradicating malaria, but environmental concerns – some real, but some merely circumstantially linked to DDT – led to its agricultural use being banned, and our oldest enemy made a bit of a comeback from a low point in 1970. Fatuous – and hugely discredited – claims that the MMR vaccine is linked to autism could see a revival in measles.

There are real environmental risks today, but in 2016 global carbon emissions remained flat. This is just a start. Carbon emissions need to fall. They probably will, but timings are uncertain, and risks to our climate remain severe.

In terms of global wildlife, the giant panda has been removed from the endangered species list. The Worldwide Fund for Nature may have to find a new logo. In the last few days of the year, China joined the growing list of countries which has banned the trade in ivory. If properly enforced, this will lift huge pressure on the surviving population of African elephants. (Asian elephants are not endangered. They have much smaller tusks and are kept as working animals).

Colombia’s long-running internal armed conflict – not quite a civil war, but significant murderous unrest – was settled. Over five decades, around a quarter of a million people were killed: a large majority of them civilians. The Americas are now entirely at peace, and the sixty year standoff between the US and Cuba has also ended. There are still armed conflicts around the world, but the death rate from such conflicts is only a quarter of what it was during the 1980s.

There were some notable deaths from terrorism, including two truck attacks in Nice (in July) and Berlin (in December). But overall, terrorism deaths were down 10% from last year.

Many people are convinced that the world is getting worse. Conservatives believe that terrorism and crime are rising. Liberals think environmental threats and global poverty are increasing. Both seem to think that the American middle class is being devastated. Both are wrong. This was the best year ever; just as 2015 was. And 2017 will be better.

Yes, there were some notable deaths. Perhaps the saddest was that of Donald Henderson. He didn’t make any seminal albums or iconic films, but he eradicated smallpox, and that ought to count for something.

We should thank Johan Norberg and the Cato Institute for keeping bad news in perspective. 


Quentin Langley lives in New York and London and teaches at the University of Bedfordshire Business School. He is the author of Brandjack: How your reputation is at risk from brand pirates and what to do about it

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