It has been a challenging decade for humanity, with environmental catastrophes, lingering economic malaise, and ascendant political and religious extremism prompting protests across dozens of countries (many of them ongoing as we speak).
Yet it was also a decade of immense and irrefutable progress, a powerful sign of what we can do even amid crisis, chaos, and disunity, after 250,000 years of slowly grasping towards a more moral world.
Every single day in recent years, another 325,000 people got their first access to electricity, more than 200,000 got piped water for the first time, and 650,000 went online for the first time.
As recently as 1981—the decade many of us were born—42 percent of humans were in “extreme poverty”, defined as living on less than about $2 a day. Now that portion has plunged to less than 10 percent of the world’s population.
Every day for a decade, newspapers could have carried the headline “Another 170,000 Moved Out of Extreme Poverty Yesterday” or “The Number of People Living on More Than $10 a Day Increased by 245,000 Yesterday.”
Famine used to be routine and linger for years, but the last officially recognized case occured in just one part of one state in one country, South Sudan, and lasted for only a few months in 2017.
In our parents’ lifetimes, diseases like polio, leprosy, river blindness and elephantiasis were rife; now they are on the decline, with the WHO announcing the near-eradication of polio in all but three countries.
Global efforts since the start of the century have turned the tide on HIV/AIDS, which has slowed in both transmission and mortality, the vast majority of infected having access to drugs.
In the mid-20th century, half of humanity was illiterate; now, around 10-15 percent are, down from 18 percent in 2010.
Child mortality has declined from 43 percent two hundred years ago to less than four percent today. (Even in 1950, one out of five infants and children under five were dying.) Just over the last decade, the rate went down by more than one percent, meaning around 1.5 million fewer kids are dying before the age of five.
Obviously, there still remains appalling levels of death, misery, violence, and suffering, far more than their should be given our economic and technological resources. But these achievements show that progress is not linear and that we’re capable of great things as a species. Here’s to keeping this unprecedented momentum going into the next decade and beyond.