These past few weeks have not been great for the human race. Deadly police violence in America, political turmoil in Europe, rising xenophobia in Britain, a renewed civil war in Sudan and increased violence in Iraq have created a climate of anxiety and fear over our future. Combined with the relentless dire effects of climate change, one could be forgiven for thinking we have reached the point of no return.
However, it is worth remembering this: humanity is actually less violent, more peaceful and better off than it has ever been.
An article in The Atlantic last year broke down the data we have on all things deadly to human life and found the following:
To start with acts of violence in America, despite its epidemic of mass-shooting events, the country is still far safer than it was in the past. The latest FBI statistics, reported this September, suggested that the trend toward lower rates of violent crime in the United States that began in the early 1990s continued at least through 2014: There were nearly 3,000 fewer violent crimes that year than the year before and more than 600,000 fewer than in 1995—that’s a 35 percent decline over the period. The latest data from the UN suggests that this is part of a global trend—to take one category of violent crime, homicide rates have droppedby an estimated 6 percent in the countries for which data was available between 2000 and 2012.
The same is sadly not true of terrorism and war worldwide, both of which, according to the most recent available data, took more victims in 2013 and 2014 than in the few years immediately before. Beginning in 2011, Syria helped reverse longer-term progress toward ever-fewer global battle deaths—while 2015 may be marginally better than 2014 in terms of Syrian deaths reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that still suggests more global battle deaths this year than in 2010. But the Iran nuclear deal struck this summer provided some evidence that progress toward peaceful settlement of disputes was possible, both in the region and worldwide. And, across the globe, the numbers of ongoing wars and battle deaths are still far below their levels of the 1970s and 1980s.
Famine and Disease
While the risk of major food shortages in 2016 is high, the fear hasn’t materialized yet, at least. Famine deaths are increasingly rare and increasingly limited to the few areas of the world suffering complete state collapse. Related to that, the proportion of the world’s population that is undernourished has slipped from 19 percent to 11 percent between 1990 and today.
Or look at disease: Through the course of November 2015, only four cases of Ebola were confirmed in the three West African countries at the epicenter of the 2014-2015 outbreak. Roughly 11,315 people were either known or believed to have died in that epidemic worldwide, but compared to a 2014 Center for Disease Control forecast that, absent intervention, there might be as many as 1.4 million Ebola cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone alone by mid-January 2015, the world got off lightly, with total cases resulting from the outbreak standing at around 29,000 today. An Ebola vaccine that underwent trials in Guinea this spring proved 100 percent effective, suggesting future outbreaks of the disease should be far less deadly. The world has also seen progress toward a partially effective malaria vaccine this year.
Of course we shouldn't get too complacent -- there is still much wrong with the world and much to do about it. But the reality is that the world isn't getting worse, our perception of it is - likely due to the effects of mass media. This may actually turn out to be a good thing as it has the net effect of increasing our awareness of the bad and hopefully prompting us to do something about it. And as the statistics appear to show, as a species we may actually be in the process of getting our act together.
If you are still feeling crap about it all, then put aside 4 minutes and watch this stunning short film of our natural world, Human Nature 4K, shot by photographer and filmmaker Amon Barker director at Après Visuals:
The world is still a beautiful place. Sometimes we just need reminding of it.