Checking on the news can be pretty depressing, but that’s only because bad news makes money. Doom-and-gloom headlines grab the attention and get people talking. Good news just doesn’t have the same effect and is barely reported on.
There is an old saying: “No news is good news”.
What this really means is: “Good news is not profitable news.”
The chase for money has left humankind’s biggest achievements under a mountain of bad news. The world is a much healthier, happier; better place than the news would have you believe. Things are getting better all the time, and at a rapid pace, too.
It’s time to forget about the bad news, and enjoy the good news; the ways of the world you never got to hear about. Join us in our celebration of progress, prosperity, and health and well-being.
1) In 1997, the ways of the world was that 29% of the global population lived in extreme poverty. Now that number is 9%.
Most people don’t know this. They think little has changed. That poverty is still as widespread as it always was.
But the world has changed a lot in the past 20 years. (Just think how much of your own life has changed in that time.) Today, thanks to remarkable efforts all round the world, almost everyone has escaped the hell of extreme poverty.
Defining poverty. What is ‘extreme poverty’?
If you’re old enough, you might remember learning about ‘third world’ countries in school.
This is an outdated idea. It is an oversimplification and generalises huge numbers of people. For example, it might be easy to say Africa is the ‘third world’. But Africa is a big place. Many times bigger than Europe, with many different people living in it.
A new way of looking at the world is to divide everyone up into four levels of earnings, or income. We call these Levels 1 – 4. The very poorest — the 9 per cent still in extreme poverty — are on Level 1. The richest and most prosperous people are in Level 4. There are big differences in how people eat, sleep, and get about on the different levels. Here is a handy visual to illustrate the fundamental differences (each ‘person’ represents about a billion people on Earth today):
Here is what life is like on each of the income levels.
Level 1: The poorest of the poor. Life on Level 1 is a life earning as little as $1 a day. Much of the day consists of walking, barefoot, to the mud hole with the underground spring for a bucket of water. Breakfast and dinner is the same grey porridge as it’s always been, and people on this level often go to bed hungry.
Level 2: There is a big difference between Level 1 and Level 2. A person on Level 2 may be earning $4 a day — four times the income as a person living in extreme poverty. The extra money is buying power for a mattress instead of a blanket on the floor. It’s also useful for buying a bicycle and extra plastic buckets to fetch the groundwater. Cooking is with a gas stove, instead of with firewood. Life can be precarious, though. A single illness can force a Level 2 person back to the nightmare of Level 1.
Level 3: On this level, income is as much as four times higher as the level below. About two billion people are at this level today, working almost all day, every day for their money. But at this stage, people can afford taps in the home. So they no longer have to collect water from a spring or well. Stable electricity is also available, so reading and homework is possible during evenings. People on Level 3 can save, too. Save for a motorbike to get to work or maybe even a holiday. Those who are money smart will save and, in the event of an emergency, will not be thrown back a level.
Level 4: About a billion people live at this level today, mostly in the Western world. Those on Level 4 are consumers. They can afford to eat in restaurants, travel by airplane on holiday, and enjoy a hot shower in the home. An extra few dollars a day is neither here nor there in most cases, even though it could be lifesaving for people on Level 1 and 2.
Leaving Level 1
Using these metrics, we can see how massively rates of extreme poverty has reduced in China and India. Both are powerful emerging countries, with more than a billion citizens. In 1997, both recorded approximately 42 per cent of their populations as among the poorest on Earth.
India’s rates of extreme poverty has fallen from 42 to 12 per cent. And China’s has plummeted all the way down to a stunning 0.7 per cent over the same time period:
2) The global population has already stopped increasing (almost).
Today, almost everyone seems to worry about sustainability. A common fear is that the world’s increasing population is unsustainable. This fear is down to the straight line instinct . People look at charts that show how quickly the population is going up and they panic.
At first, it seems to make sense for people to worry about population growth. After all the population is increasing — and very fast. These two maps show where the people of the world live today, and how the population will increase in just two decades. Remember, one person represents a billion people:
The areas with the booming populations are Africa and Asia. It is forecast that, in 20 years time, there may be an additional billion Africans and Asians on Earth. Frightening, isn’t it!
This is how the UN forecasts population growth, right to the end of the century:
Note how the population is growing, but slowing. More importantly, look at the number of children.
The number of children being born has already stopped increasing. We have already reached ‘peak child’.
In fact, the average number of children a woman has is 2. That’s taking into account the entire global population. That figure includes the USA, South Africa, Bangladesh, Iran, China, and so on. As people get wealthier, they choose to have fewer children. With more money, parents concentrate on giving what few children they have the best shot in life. They put the money towards clothing, education, and hygiene.
Sure, there are still women on Level 1 who have 6 or even 7 children. But these women are a tiny minority of the global population.
Because poverty is dropping so sharply, it is putting the brakes on population growth. Here’s how birth rates (or ‘fertility rates’) have dropped, globally, over the world:
The population is still growing, yes, but the number of children will stay the same. Only the number of adults will increase. The extra adults will come from the children and young adults who have already been born .
The rapid population increase is down to what’s known as the fill-up effect . Birth rates were, until recently, extremely high. But in the early 2000s the number of new children stopped increasing, like the turning off of a tap. But the “water” (number of children) has already left the tap, metaphorically speaking.
Looking at the projections for 2075, we can already see this “fill-up effect” starting to wear thin. The number of new adults has increased, but so has the number of the elderly. This is where the population will balance out. Estimates put the global population of 2100 at anywhere between 10 – 12 billion.
(As a side note:This will also mean our world will have to adjust significantly for a growing elderly population. Meaning countries — and especially countries with significant Level 1, 2 and 3 populations — will have to think about accessibility for their future selves. Especially as they are likely to require wheelchairs, rollators, and more.)
3) Wellbeing, The world is continually improving.
Paul McCartney sang “It’s getting better all the time” on the legendary album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band . The album released around the time extreme poverty dipped to under half of the world’s population. How right he was. Since then, more than half a century ago, things have only continued to improve.
The worst things ever to afflict the Earth have either gone, or are disappearing:
And many great things are improving. Nowadays, most people can read and write. Many live in countries that are democratic or moving towards democracy. And more and more of the world’s natural beauty is falling under the protection of governments, to preserve for future generations:
Most people — wherever they are in the world, even if they’re on Level 1 — have access to the basic needs of life. This includes the necessary vaccines to ward off disease. Access to clean water, the internet, and better survival rates against cancer.
And what better way to encapsulate this than with the increase in life expectancy. Taking into account the entire world population, including even the poorest, the median life expectancy is: 72 years old.
Even a simple metric like the sales of guitars can indicate so many things: for example, more disposable income; increased leisure time. The number of guitar sales has doubled since around the 2000 mark.
4) The World All-Over Is Getting Richer.
For the past 500 years the Western world (that’s Europe, North America; Australia and New Zealand) has enjoyed global dominance in wealth and power. But the balance of power is shifting as the rest of the world gets richer.
As more people move from Levels 1 – 4, their average daily income doubles exponentially. As this bar chart reveals.
Currently, about 60 per cent of the world’s Level 4 population lives in the Western world. But by 2040 that will decrease to about 40 per cent.
This means that, for the first time, there will be more wealthy citizens living outside of the West than in it. Most of these new Level 4 citizens will be in Asia. For the first time, the West won’t have majority influence over the global market. It may even be that the Indian Ocean becomes the prime area for sea trade.
Conclusions -- Tomorrow's World Will Be Older and Richer
The world is getting better; there’s no doubt about it. But there are questions about sustainability. If people are having smaller families, and living longer, and if we have already reached “peak child” — then that means there will be a lot more elderly people around.
In fact — as we saw in Section 2 — there will be three billion people over the age of 60 by 2025. That means we will have to address issues such as healthcare, the age of retirement — we may even have to redesign our towns and cities to that in ways never previously imagined for accessibility.