Up until I was about 20, I bought in when people talked about years back when “things were better.” As I passed 30 I started becoming suspicious because I was getting old enough to remember those better days and they didn’t seem better to me. After 40 it became a pet peeve of mine and I tired of hearing predictable comparisons to the bygone days when things were better. I could now remember “the good old days” and there were plenty of problems and challenges then, too. From my 40s to mid 50s, I’ve been appreciative of our ever-improving world.
Recently, science writer Matt Ridley got my attention with his article in the April edition of Reader’s Digest which underscores the reasons it is great to be alive now. It’s called “Cheer up! 17 Reasons it’s a Great Time to Be Alive.” Compared with 50 years ago, when I was seven, the average human now earns nearly three times as much money (corrected for inflation), eats one third more calories, buries two thirds fewer children and can expect to live one third longer. It’s hard to find any region of the world that’s worse off now than it was then, even though the global population has more than doubled over that period. Between 1980 and 2000, the poor doubled their consumption. The Chinese are ten times richer and live about 25 years longer than they did 50 years ago. Nigerians are twice as rich and live nine more years. The percentage of the world’s people living in absolute poverty has dropped by over half. The United Nations estimates that poverty was reduced more in the past 50 years than in the previous 500. In the United States, rivers, lakes, seas, and air are getting cleaner all the time. A car today emits less pollution traveling at full speed than a parked car did from leaks in 1970. This generation has experienced more peace, freedom, leisure time, education, medicine, and travel than any in history.