The Good News You Might Have Missed
Syndicated from, Jun 07, 2024

5 minute read

The world feels scary right now. The planet heats. The clock ticks. The red lines climb. Death stalks the fields of Ukraine and the streets of Gaza. Famine looms in Sudan. And in the Middle East, the drums of war sound louder by the day. Habitats shrink, democracy's flame sputters, authoritarianism and intolerance rear their ugly heads. Millions flee disaster and persecution. The debts mount. International cooperation falters.
Everywhere we look, there are reports of decline. Are we headed for disaster? Well, your answer to that question probably depends on where you've been getting your news, because here are some other stories from the last 12 months. Some other reports of decline that you may not have heard about.
Last year, extreme poverty declined to its lowest level in human history, an estimated 8.4 percent. Deforestation across the entire Amazon basin declined by 55 percent and violent crime in the United States declined to its lowest level since the 1960s.
In the last 12 months, a record number of countries have eliminated a disease, including, for the first time ever, Hepatitis C by Egypt and black fever by Bangladesh. And global AIDS deaths have declined to their lowest level since the 1990s, down by more than two thirds since their peak. When I was in high school, that was the world's deadliest infectious disease. And now we have the power to end it.
So maybe you've been feeling despair over climate change or the fear of fascism rising like Dracula from the coffin, of resource overshoots and political decay. But last year, carbon emissions in advanced economies declined back to the same level as 50 years ago. Cancer death rates in America and Europe declined again. And air pollution is now falling in 21 of the world's 25 biggest cities.
Alongside those declines, other things have been on the rise. There are 50 million more girls in school today than there were just under a decade ago.
(Cheers and applause)
And last year, 418 million of the world's children got fed at school. That is almost one in five. This year, it's going to be even more.
Since we were last all gathered here, millions of people have gained access to water. Tens of millions of people have gained access to electricity. Estonia and Greece have legalized same-sex marriage. It looks like Thailand and Japan are going to be the next two on that list. And at least ten countries in the last 12 months have passed laws expanding the rights of women, including France, which recently became the first country to enshrine reproductive rights into its constitution.
In 2023, we installed so much wind and solar that it changed the trajectory of our climate future, with China’s carbon emissions now predicted to start falling as early as this year. In 2024, we are going to install enough global solar manufacturing capacity to reach our net-zero targets by the end of this decade. A car powered by electrons was the world's best-selling vehicle last year, and batteries are now the fastest-growing technology since human beings made aircraft in World War II.
We have crossed the threshold. There is too much momentum now to stop the transition to clean energy from happening. I have two little girls, Lola and Cleo. Lola is four years old, Cleo turned three the other day. And the International Energy Agency says that based on current trends, by the time my girls are my age, the world's electricity and transportation systems are on track to be almost entirely fossil-fuel-free.
We are not doomed. Did you know that 2023 was arguably the greatest year ever for conservation? We protected huge tracts of land in Alaska, the Amazon, southern Africa, and the entire Tibetan Plateau, which is an area larger than all of Western Europe. We created new marine protected areas off the coasts of Mexico, Chile, Panama, Dominica, South Georgia, Spain, Ireland, the Congo, Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia.
In the last 12 months, there have been hundreds of stories of cities being regreened, of farmland being rewilded, of rivers being cleaned up, islands being restored. And the populations of every single one of these species is now either recovering or on the rise.

Look, I know that a lot of stuff is going wrong. You know that a lot of stuff is going wrong. This is not some weird attempt to cancel or balance out the bad news.
But here's an idea. If we want more people to devote themselves to the task of making progress, then maybe we should be telling more people that it's possible to make progress.
If you're halfway up the mountain, you don't just stare at the top and say, "Oh my gosh, it looks so steep." You look back and you remind yourselves how far we've already come. In the last 12 months, despite all of the challenges, we have climbed a little further. So don't bet against humanity.
In Nevada, they're using geothermal techniques to tap into the clean energy of our planet. On the border of Belgium and France, they're using bacteria to break down plastic. In Shenzhen, they're delivering blood via drones. And in space, new satellites mean polluters no longer have anywhere to hide. We are launching 5,000-ton starships. We are making seven-billion- kilometer round trips to collect stardust from asteroids.
We can perform miracles, enabling paralyzed people to walk by reading their brainwaves and sending the signals to their spine. We've mapped a quarter of the entire ocean floor, and NVIDIA’s new Blackwell chip has as many transistors in it as there are stars in the entire Milky Way. In the last year, we started using CRISPR, genetic editing, to treat diseases like beta thalassemia and sickle cell disease. And we created the largest-ever atlas of human brain cells.
We are using artificial intelligence to identify new drugs to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria, something that kills over a million people every year. Two years ago, I almost lost my life to a bacterial infection. I got lucky. In the future, many more people will be able to say the same.
I mean, we just used artificial intelligence to decipher the contents, the charred remains of the 2,000-year-old Herculaneum scrolls. And, I don't know, maybe this is all boring to some of you, but to me, it really is indistinguishable from magic.
Our scientific instruments are sensitive enough now to see plants speaking to each other. And to detect the gravitational waves from the collisions of supermassive black holes. All of a sudden, we know that we are humming in tune with the entire universe, that each of us contains the signature of everything that has ever been.
Progress is possible. Not all declines spell destruction. Not all rising levels result in loss. And sometimes there really are new things under the sun.
These are the stories of the brave and the brilliant, and they also deserve our attention.

This talk was originally published on

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