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Good News for the Holidays

by bdietrich on December 24, 2015

Happy holidays! 2015 had its share of tragedy, absurdity, cable news pessimism and presidential candidate complaint, but compared to most of human history – or even just American history – it was a year with a lot of good news.

Given what now seems to be our habitual grumpiness and orchestrated outrage, I thought I’d pluck a few examples to buck up our spirits.

Speaking of spirits, when scientists at the University of Alberta announced that the health benefits of a glass of red wine are equal to an hour at the gym, how bad can 2015 be?

Beer, chocolate, and naps get similar health praise in a variety of studies. And a 2013 survey of 188 countries found global life expectancy up by six years just since 1990. What’s not to like?

Polio didn’t show up in Africa this year, meaning the only two countries that still have cases of the disease are Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Gates Foundation estimates global measles cases are down two thirds since 1988.

And the early use of an Ebola vaccine has had promising results.

Money? After the United States lost 8.7 million jobs from 2007 to early 2010, it has added 13.7 million since then, at a rate of about 200,000 a month. Unemployment has fallen from as high as 10 percent to 5 percent. American savings rates are up, and our debt load is down. Not as robust as we’d like, maybe, but we’ll be nostalgic for the economy of 2015 when the next recession hits.

Gas is cheap.

Billionaire philanthropy became chic. Following the example of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg pledged to give 99 percent of his fortune away. Alibaba’s Jack Ma bought 28,000 acres of Adirondack forest to protect it.

Women got to vote in Saudi Arabia, gay marriage became pretty much legal in the United States, marijuana is well on its way to being decriminalized, and a liberal-conservative coalition is pressing for prison reform. For most people in most places, the long-term trend is toward more inclusion and tolerance. As a progressive, I say thumbs up.

Unlike an earlier meeting in Copenhagen, negotiators from around the world announced a climate-carbon accord in Paris this year. Not a solution, but progress. And a combination of clean energy and a slowing world economy left carbon emissions flat in 2014 and in slight decline this year, instead of the usual increases.

Alternative energies keep getting cheaper, and everything from cars to light bulbs more efficient.

Yes, terrorism is bad, ISIS worse, and the Middle East continues to be a mess. But an American’s chance of being killed by terrorists is still in the range of the proverbial lightning strike or shark attack. Heart disease is 30,000 times more likely.

We’ve rarely been so safe, with violent crime in America down by 35 percent just since 1995. Globally, the percentage of human deaths attributable to murder, war, terrorism, and disaster combined is somewhere between just 1 and 2 percent. The chance of an American, European, or affluent East Asian being killed is way below that.

The most dangerous thing Americans do overseas is to get on the roads.

There’s also been progress in normalizing relations with countries like Iran and Cuba. I’d prefer visiting them to fighting them.

We once again enjoyed record numbers of books, songs, movies, plays, and sporting events delivered more easily and often more cheaply than ever before.

We also had ringside seats on an age of exploration that would make Columbus envious. A Pluto flyby. Mars rovers. Detection of earth-like planets around other stars. A fabulous sunken galleon off Columbia.

Humpback and blue whales were reported to have rebounded to healthy levels off the West Coast of America. Orcas in Puget Sound had a surge of babies. Some Pacific Northwest salmon runs were encouragingly robust.

Species making comebacks in the Northwest where I live include sea otters, fishers (a small weasel-like mammal), wolves, lynx, and eagles. Experiments with dam removal and river rehabilitation so far seem a success.

You want problems and protest? Turn on the tube. There are a lot of talking heads paid big bucks to keep you angry, anxious, discontented, and fearful.

But we live in cushy cocoons compared to almost any other period of human history. Worry if you must, but keep problems in perspective.

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