With the economies of the industrialized world on the verge of another collapse, the U.S. government increasingly resembling that of the late Weimar Republic, and the worst drought in decades afflicting Texas, central China, and eastern Africa, it's hard to imagine that there's any good news in the world. Late last year, however, fiction writer Charles Stross noted some cause for good cheer, which is worth recalling now:
1. During the first decade of the 21st century, sub-Saharan Africa averaged 5 percent economic growth every year. The continent still has serious problems, but the standard of living has steadily improved for the majority of its people.
2. Disease and famine are somewhat less serious problems in Africa today than they were ten years ago. Several nations, like Ethiopia, have become much more adept at feeding their populations since the 1980s, despite the aforementioned drought, and the advent of cheap anti-retroviral drugs has converted HIV from an automatic death sentence into a manageable chronic illness for most. Several West African nations (like Ghana) have meanwhile made major strides in eradicating polio and guinea worm.
3. India and China have experienced 10 percent annual economic growth since the turn of the century. The Indian middle class is now larger than the population of the United States, and China is en route to becoming the world's largest economy within a decade or so. Overall, the percentage of human beings living in abject poverty has fallen by 50 percent since 2000.
4. Sometime during the first decade of the twenty-first century, the world passed the threshold referred to by energy analysts as "peak oil" - but it was during that decade that the percentage of human beings worldwide who live in cities passed the 50 percent mark for the first time in history. Roughly speaking, the second development should help mitigate the second, since city-dwellers are less energy-dependent, per capita, than country-dwellers with the same standard of living.
5. And, while democracy may be on the ropes in the United States, it - or some reasonable facsimile, anyway - seems to be on the march in a place with which one usually does not associate it, namely the Middle East.
Also, there are still puppies.