2014 Best Year Yet? But Not Best Ever!

The Telegraph reports that 2014 our best year in some ways.

ScienceStars

I am impressed that Drudge made this story his top headline. He was right to do so. Fraser Nelson writes in the Telegraph: “Good-bye to One of the Best Years in History.”

Judging the world through headlines is like judging a city by spending a night in A&E – you only see the worst problems. This may have felt like the year of Ebola and Isil but in fact, objectively, 2014 has probably been the best year in history. Take war, for example – our lives now are more peaceful than at any time known to the human species. Archaeologists believe that 15 per cent of early mankind met a violent death, a ratio not even matched by the last two world wars. Since they ended, wars have become rarer and less deadly. More British soldiers died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme than in every post-1945 conflict put together.

The Isil barbarity in the Middle East is so shocking, perhaps, because it comes against a backdrop of unprecedented world peace.

Does all this seem completely unbelievable? Why do we not realize how great we have it?

The answer does not lie merely in the media’s need to find sensational headlines. Our governments also have a vested interest in pushing bad news in order to get us to allow them to empower themselves to rescue us from the new threats they tell us about. Also, Nelson is writing about current stats and international trends when most of us are more concerned with domestic political problems and our fears about the new future getting worse.

[See also, “The Future of Christmas.”]

There are reasons for our worries about the future and our focus on domestic problems. But Nelson’s perspective is a helpful counterbalance.

A study in the current issue of The Lancet shows what all of this means. Global life expectancy now stands at a new high of 71.5 years, up six years since 1990. In India, life expectancy is up seven years for men, and 10 for women. It’s rising faster in the impoverished east of Africa than anywhere else on the planet. In Rwanda and Ethiopia, life expectancy has risen by 15 years.

This helps explain why Bob Geldof’s latest Band Aid single now sounds so cringingly out-of-date. Africans certainly do know it’s Christmas – a Nigerian child is almost twice as likely to mark the occasion by attending church than a British one. The Ebola crisis has led to 7,000 deaths, each one a tragedy. But far more lives have been saved by the progress against malaria, HIV and diarrhea. The World Bank’s rate of extreme poverty (those living on less than $1.25 a day) has more than halved since 1990, mainly thanks to China – where economic growth and the assault on poverty are being unwittingly supported by any parent who put a plastic toy under the tree yesterday.

Britons don’t need to look abroad for signs of progress. The Lancet report showed that, since 1990, life expectancy in Western Europe is up by five years – thanks, mainly, to fewer deaths from cancer and heart disease.

This doesn’t change the fact that current trends may be about to converge in a way that stops or even reverses some of this progress. Nelson admits as much. But if there have been hidden blessings growing all around us through 2014, they may still be growing even in the midst of the crises that might seem overwhelming to us in 2015.

All of this should remind us of what God has begun and has promised in and through Christmas. Even though we are going through trials, God has not forgotten his plan to show mercy to humanity.