(The following is excerpted from the Reader's Digest, UK edition as told to John Dyson and offered by Diane Vernon as an inspiration at a recent meeting.)
"The world has never been a better place to live in", says science writer Matt Ridley, "and it will keep on getting better." Though this seems hard to believe after yesterday's elections and the long political process we have had to withstand, and the devastation from Super storm Sandy, Ridley, age 54, holds firm to his beliefs.
As an author, most recently of the Rational Optimist, Ridley says,"it is not insane to believe in a happy future for people and the planet." Ridley, who has been a foreign correspondent, a zoologist, an economist, and a financier, brings a broad perspective to his sunny outlook. "People say I am bonkers to claim the world will go on getting better, yet I can't stop myself."
He then makes the following points to illustrate why he feels this way.
1. WE ARE BETTER OFF NOW
He says compared to 50 years ago, when he was just 4 years old, 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.
He says, in fact, 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.
2. POVERTY IS NOSE-DIVING
The rich get richer, but the poor do even better. Between 1980 and 2000, the poor doubled their consumption.
The Chinese are ten times richer and live about 25 years longer than they did 25 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 last 50 years than in the previous 500.
3. THE IMPORTANT STUFF COSTS LESS
One reason we are richer, healthier, taller, cleverer, longer-lived, and freer than ever before is that the four most basic human needs- food, clothing, fuel, and shelter- have grown markedly cheaper.
Ridley cites one example: In 1800, a candle providing one hour's light cost 6 hours' work. In the 1880's, the same light from a kerosene lamp took 15 minutes' work to pay for it. In 1950, it was eight seconds. Today, it's half a second.
In these terms, we are 43,200 times better off than in 1800.
4. THE GOOD OLD DAYS WEREN'T
Some people argue that in the past there was a simplicity, a tranquility, a sociability, and a spirituality that has now been lost.
This rose-tinted nostalgia is generally confined to the wealthy. It is easier to express sorrow for something that is irrecoverably past, such as living the life of a pioneer when you don't have to use an outhouse.
5. GREAT IDEAS KEEP COMING
The more we prosper, the more we can prosper.
The more we invent, the more inventions become possible.
The world of things is often subject to diminishing returns. The world of ideas is not.
The ever-increasing exchange of ideas causes the ever-increasing rate of innovation in the modern world.
There isn't even a theoretical possibility of exhausting our supply of ideas, discoveries, and inventions.
6. OPTIMISTS ARE RIGHT
For 200 years, pessimists have had all the headlines - even though optimists have far more often been right. There is immense vested interest in pessimism. No charity ever raised money by saying things are getting better.
No journalist ever got the front page writing a story about how disaster was now less likely.
Ridley says - "Don't be browbeaten - dare to be an optimist!"
At every meeting, SILA's agenda is full and our opportunities are many. Our committees are focused on improving the lives of women and girls, and our ideas are flowing to help them live their dreams. Fellowships, Opportunity Awards, Christmas at 1776, education about relationships and respect, are just some of the projects that are directing our actions so that more women and girls may feel that yes, it's a great time to be alive.
Reader's Digest, Large Print, April 2012, pp. 172-181