The end of the decade stocktake
How has 2019 been for you? Or rather the whole decade?
Did you come far? Achieved all that you wanted to achieve?
Or was it a terrible decade with all its economic doom and gloom, crazy heads-of- states (surely there are more than one), drought, natural disasters and with climate change thrown in just for fun.
I have good news for you.
He has been watching closely and this is what he has observed:
We are living through the greatest improvement in human living standards in history. Extreme poverty has fallen below 10 percent of the world’s population for the first time. It was 60 percent when I was born. Global inequality has been plunging as Africa and Asia experience faster economic growth than Europe and North America; child mortality has fallen to record low levels; famine virtually went extinct; malaria, polio and heart disease are all in decline.
Does that make you feel better?
It didn’t to me. I am more concerned about the things that aren’t going well.
Matt’s response to bad stuff is: “Bad things keep on happening while the world still keeps on getting better. It has done so over the course of this decade at a rate that has astonished even starry-eyed me.”
Perhaps one of the least fashionable predictions I made nine years ago was that ‘the ecological footprint of human activity is probably shrinking’ and ‘we are getting more sustainable, not less, in the way we use the planet’. That is to say: our population and economy would grow, but we’d learn how to reduce what we take from the planet. And so it has proved. An MIT scientist, Andrew McAfee, recently documented this in a book called More from Less, showing how some nations are beginning to use less stuff: less metal, less water, less land. Not just in proportion to productivity: less stuff overall.
In 2011 Chris Goodall, an investor in electric vehicles, published research showing that the UK was now using not just relatively less ‘stuff’ every year, but absolutely less. Events have since vindicated his thesis. The quantity of all resources consumed per person in Britain (domestic extraction of biomass, metals, minerals and fossil fuels, plus imports minus exports) fell by a third between 2000 and 2017, from 13.7 tons to 9.4 tons. That’s a faster decline than the increase in the number of people, so it means fewer resources consumed overall.
I can definitely relate to this. I know I am on the starting point of (just starting point) of reducing my footprint. Although it will take me another decade to reach the optimum point. But the change has begun and that is a positive sign.
Minimalism is one thing Syd Robinson lists the 18 Things This Decade Will Be Remembered For along with the rise of smartphones, Netflix, Meme culture, social media, Millennials, beginning of automation, social and political change and of course Obama and Trump.
It is hard to believe how much has changed in the last ten years ago but it’s even harder to fathom how much more is going to change in the next decade.
Change is coming faster than any of us can predict. Which makes life hard as well as interesting. How will it turn out for you will depend on how do you respond to the interesting times.
The best way is to become an interesting person in interesting times.