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2023 in review
Analysis
Educational exposure of ideas, assumptions or hypotheses, based on proven facts" (which need not be strictly current affairs) Value in judgments are excluded, and the text comes close to an opinion article, without judging or making forecasts , just formulating hypotheses, giving motivated explanations and bringing together a variety of data

The world is not getting worse, it’s getting better: 35 good news stories to start 2024 with optimism

EL PAÍS data expert Kiko Llaneras has put together a list of data points that show that — contrary to what we may believe — we are making progress in a number of important areas

Buenas noticias para empezar 2024 con optimismo
Areso's now classic illustrationDiego Areso (EL PAÍS)
Kiko Llaneras

To close out the year, I have put together a list of data points — neither exhaustive nor impartial — that involve only good news.

I do this to combat a paradox: most people believe that the world is going backwards, and that we are heading towards chaos, even though the data makes it clear that this perception is false. The world is not getting worse, it is getting better. This doesn’t mean it’s a perfect place, nor even a good place. We are suffering from wars, injustice, hunger and disease. A minority of the population owns most of the wealth, while 8.4% survive on less than $2 a day. Poverty is commonplace. But of all the global scenarios we have known (not imagined or desired, but known), this is the best.

Recognizing that we are making progress worries many people, because they fear that it will make us conformist. But I think it’s the other way around: to keep walking, it’s useful to feel like you’re moving forward.

Happy New Year,

Kiko

The good news

❤️ 1. Lives are getting longer again. After a hiatus due to the pandemic, global life expectancy grew again in 2023: today it is 73 years, up to 12 years more than in 1980. | United Nations

👬 2. More people believe their city is a “good place” for gay or lesbian people to live. In 2005, only 20% of the world’s population thought that and now it is 50%. For example, in Mexico, the figure has risen from 39% to 64%. | Gallup

🆘 3. The pandemic made us more altruistic. The percentage of people who “helped a stranger” rose 10% in 2021 and 2022. | Happiness Report

👶 4. Malaria vaccines have arrived. The first vaccine was proven effective on the ground: infant mortality (from any cause) dropped by 13% where it was administered. In addition, a second, cheaper vaccine was approved. | EL PAÍS

🧬 5. The first CRISPR therapy for DNA editing was also given the green light. It is still a crude tool, but with a promising future: there are dozens of trials underway. | EL PAÍS

🏦 6. Tax evasion fell (a lot). How? Thanks to banking information exchange systems. In 2013, hidden assets worth 10% of global GDP, almost all in the hands of the rich, were in tax havens and had not been declared to the tax authorities of any country, but in 10 years, that figure has been reduced to 3%. | Tax Observatory

💰 7. World GDP per capita has almost doubled so far this century. It has gone from $10,000 in 1997 to $17,500 in 2022, adjusted for inflation and the cost of living. GDP per capita rose on all continents. | World Bank

⚖️ 8. And inequality was also reduced. The 10% of people with the highest income have 55% of the total income, which is a lot, but less than in the year 2000. | WID

🎮 9. 68% of Australian retirees play video games. Most of this figure is made up by women who want to “have a good time,” “face challenges” and “improve mental health.” | IGEA

👵 10. Dementia cases fall. The incidence of Alzheimer’s and similar diseases has decreased by 30% in 15 years. The drop is not due to a drug — although there are promising ones — but the higher educational level of the new generations, which protects their minds from decline. | EL PAÍS

🧑‍🎓 11. University students have doubled in 20 years. Some 39% of boys and 45% of girls of study age are enrolled in tertiary education. | World Bank

😀 12. New emojis were released. My favorite ones are the jellyfish and the shaking head.

👩‍💼 13. There are more women in National Parliaments. Women occupy 27% of seats, double the number in 1990. | IPU

🧑‍🚀 14. The record for the number of people in space was broken. In May, 17 humans were in orbit at the same time. | Planet4589

🌖 15. India became the fourth country to land on the Moon (gently). The Chandrayaan-3 probe landed on the Moon on August 23, a feat that has only been achieved by the Soviet Union (1966), the United States (1966) and China (2013). | Nature

🤖 16. Generative artificial intelligence continues its amazing advances. It got better at a lot of tasks that we felt were impossible for an algorithm: it writes, it paints, it animates, it understands images, it reasons (in a sense) and it is creative (in a sense). It certainly makes you think. | EL PAÍS

🌦️ 17. An AI program outperformed conventional weather forecasting models. It is a paradigm shift: current numerical calculation models, based on simulating known equations, will now be combined with black box models that learn on their own from data. | FT

🧠 18. New brain implants gave a voice to people who cannot speak. The idea is to measure the brain’s electrical signals and use an AI capable of distinguishing the patterns associated with each phoneme. | FT

💊 19. We have revolutionary anti-obesity drugs. We already knew that Ozempic and Wegovy regulate satiety and achieve dramatic weight loss. Now they have also been shown to reduce the risk of heart failure and stroke. | Science

🎉 20. HIV drugs have prevented 21 million deaths since 1996. The number of deaths has been reduced by a third. | UNAIDS

🥇 21. Katalin Karikó won the Nobel Prize and embodied the promise of our progress. Karikó grew up in Hungary in the 1960s, with no hot water, no television or refrigerator, sharing the only warm room with her family. She planted seeds in the garden, loved school and was the first of her family to go to university. In 1985, she immigrated to the U.S., hiding a little money in her two-year-old daughter’s stuffed animal. Then, for two decades, she was an under-resourced researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. She was never made a professor. She was an RNA expert when interest in that molecule languished, but Karikó did not let up. In 1997, bored in line at the printer, she struck up a conversation with immunologist Drew Weissman, and so began a collaboration that eventually bore fruit, half by determination and half by chance, with a technology that will go down in the history books: RNA vaccines. | Joe Walker Podcast

🦟 22. Releasing rare mosquitoes stopped dengue in three Colombian cities. How? They are purposely infected with the Wolbachia bacteria, which prevents them from transmitting this disease. | Saloni Dattani

🐯 23. Iberian lynxes continue to bounce back. In 2002, there were only 94 specimens left and now there are 1,600. | EL PAÍS

🐶 24. Many pets were healed. A reader wrote to me to tell me that his dog Canela survived five admissions to the animal hospital this year (which did not bode well): “She is here now, happy and content, and strong as an oak.”

🌤️ 25. There are fewer suicides in the world. The suicide rate per 100,000 people has dropped 35% in 25 years. | WHO

🌊 26. Deaths from drowning (in water) have fallen by half since 1990. Thousands and thousands of children have been saved. | Future Crunch

☀️ 27. China has tripled its renewable energy. In 2007, it accounted for 6% of all its energy and now that figure is 18%. | OWiD

🕶️ 28. Chile was the country that extracted the most energy from the sun. It was followed by Australia, Israel, Greece and Spain. | OWiD

🌞 29. Solar energy is growing exponentially. The world has doubled installed capacity in four years. | BloombergNEF

🥳 30. We discovered that chatting makes us happy. If we rate our happiness as a 6 out of 10, after chatting with a friendly stranger, that number rises to 7. | Science

⛽ 31. Global energy coming from burning fossil fuels has fallen from 90% to 82% since 1980. And the pace promises to accelerate to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. | EL PAÍS

☢️ 32. SO₂ emissions have fallen by a third since 1980. This curbed acid rain that damages the lake and stream ecosystems. | Work in Progress

🌎 33. And the ozone layer will completely recover. Thirty-five years ago, the Montreal Protocol decreed the elimination of 96 chemical substances (aerosols and refrigerants) that were opening a hole in the barrier that protects us from ultraviolet radiation. It was a success. | EL PAÍS

🏥 34. Infant mortality has fallen more than we can conceive. For millennia, half of children died before reaching adulthood. As late as 1950 — not even 75 years ago — one in four children died before they were adults. Today, 96% of babies in the world grow up healthy, strong and smart.

I have known this statistic for a long time, but in 2023 I felt it first hand. We had a healthy baby, who is growing up happily and without complications. But could I have said the same thing 100 years ago? Luna was slightly turned, and after 20 hours of labor (to the monitored rhythm of her small heart), three pediatricians judged it safer for her to be born by cesarean section, in a routine operation that may have saved her life. We have immunized her against diseases whose names I cannot remember, and even against bronchiolitis, with a (non)vaccine that did not exist last year. Luna made it through a hot summer without knowing it, and when winter came, she always had a warm blanket, a fluffy crib and an artificially warm room. We even made sure she sleeps on her back, because it has proven to be safer, and although probably nothing would have happened if she slept faced down, that knowledge saves babies every day.

We enjoy everyday wonders — in the form of technology, institutions and wisdom — the success of which goes unnoticed by us, because the misfortunes we dodge are invisible bullets.

👔 35. It’s a treasure to live to discover amazing things, such as that babies are born with fashion judgment. A nice example was told by Alok Morarka: “My 20-month-old daughter, Siya, was crying and whining after a long day at daycare. When it was time to change her clothes, she kept insisting: ‘Blue shirt! Blue shirt!’ I pulled out three different blue onesies, which she shoved away, almost in disgust. Siya kept pointing at me. Finally, I understood: I was wearing a blue striped shirt. ‘Can you wear this one,’ I asked, holding up her blue striped onesie. ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes!’ she shouted. She wanted to match her dad.”

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