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(DeviantArt/luuqus)

11 Reasons Why 2015 Was a Great Year For Humanity

We are living through the most astonishing period of human progress in history. And nobody’s telling us about it.

Angus Hervey
Dec 14, 2015 · 13 min read

As 2015 draws to a close, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d claim that it’s been a good year for the human race. The bad news has been relentless: war in Syria, a refugee crisis in Turkey and Europe, earthquakes in Nepal, terrorist attacks in Paris, mass shootings in the US, floods in India. With the media screaming blue murder and social media feeds filled with complaints about how selfish/materialistic/shortsighted our fellow human beings are, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

You’d be wrong though.

Franklin Roosevelt once said, “the test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” And if we apply that criteria to the world as a whole then 2015 was a very good year indeed. Here’s why.


1) We got a lot closer to global, universal education

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Nepalese teacher and schoolchildren in Pokhara (Dmitry A. Mottl/Wikipedia)

2) Extreme poverty dropped below 10% — the lowest rate ever

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3) More people got connected to the internet than ever before

2015 showed us that the next billion people coming online will do so from cheap mobile phones. There have been no courses, no tutorials, no NGOs showing up to ‘deploy’ phones or to train people. The mobile internet is so intuitive, and so obviously useful, that it’s become the quickest technology uptake in human history. For every 10 people who gain internet access, about one person is lifted out of poverty and about one new job is created. And remember… thanks to our successes in education, all of those new users can read and write. They represent tens of trillions of dollars of new economic buying power, and an extra billion people who’ll have the networking ability of the internet at their fingertips.

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4) Millions of people gained access to finance for the first time

This matters, because access to financial services is widely perceived to be a driver of development, especially in low-income countries where 54% of the population have no access to traditional banks. That’s why the mobile explosion has been so important. For the 700 million people that just gained access to finance, digital payments, through a mobile phone or a point-of-sales terminal create opportunities to provide more convenient and affordable payment options. It means they’ll be able to start businesses, save and transfer money, invest in education and deal better with financial shocks.


5) AIDS deaths came down for the 15th year in a row

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UNAIDS says that 41% of all people who are HIV positive are now being treated, nearly double the percentage in 2010. There were 2 million new HIV infections around the world in 2014–15, the lowest since 2000. Deaths are also coming down, from a high of 2 million in the early 2000s to 1.2 million this year. The goal of UNAIDS is to end the epidemic by 2030. It will take more money, more political support and more work. But what we saw this year was that the possibility of an HIV-free generation is now within sight.


6) Malaria death rates are at an all time low

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Mozambican villagers receiving malaria nets (Lutheran Church in Mozambique)

Mortality rates have declined by 85% in southeast Asia, by 72% in the Americas, by 65% in the Pacific, and by 64% in the Middle East. While Africa continues to carry the highest malaria burden, over the last 15 years, mortality rates fell by 66% among all age groups, and by 71% among children under five, a population particularly susceptible to the disease. Globally, the number of malaria deaths fell from an estimated 839 000 in 2000 to 438 000 in 2015. That means we’ve saved an estimated 6.2 million people from malaria in the last 15 years — an amazing achievement no matter which way you look at it.


7) Polio is about to be eradicated forever


8) Fewer people went hungry this year than ever before

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9) More people have access to clean water

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10) Child mortality plunged for the 43rd year in a row

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This means that about 19 000 fewer children died per day in 2015 than in 1990, the baseline year for measuring progress. Since 2000 alone, we’ve saved the lives of 48 million children. Think about that for a second. That’s higher than the combined totals from all deaths from war and violence around the world during the same period. It means that fewer parents, as a proportion of the world’s population, had to bury their children this year than at any other time in human history. It’s one of the most astonishing news stories of our time, and yet it was outnumbered 100–1 by stories on terrorism.


11) We reached a tipping point in the fight against climate change

The second thing is that thanks to sharp declines in Chinese coal burning and a continued surge of renewable energy worldwide, 2015 looks set to be the first year ever that CO2 emissions declined during a year when the overall global economy grew. That follows from 2014, where emissions flatlined. The Chinese data is particularly important. Whether their energy transition is permanent is not clear yet, but the signs are encouraging. In wealthy, developed countries on the other hand, the signs are obvious. They’ve hit a peak in overall fossil fuel consumption and are now making the transition to cleaner forms of energy.

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The third, and most important thing that happened for climate change this year was the signing of the Paris Agreement. At its core is a so-called ‘long-term goal’ that commits almost 200 countries to hold the global average temperature to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”. The long-term goal also states that in the second half of this century the world should get to a point where the net emissions of greenhouse gases should be zero.

Sure, it isn’t good enough. There’s a long way to go before the pledges match up to that target. But it’s still a lot better than expected, and a triumph for diplomacy. The largest gathering of world leaders ever, on the biggest issue humanity has ever faced, and it ended in a legally binding instrument that all countries agreed to. Jonathan Chait sums it up perfectly:

Those who have consigned the world to its doom should reconsider. The technological and political underpinnings are at last in place to actually consummate the first global pact to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. The world is suddenly responding to the climate emergency with — by the standards of its previous behavior — astonishing speed. The game is not over. And the good guys are starting to win.


The world is not a perfect place. Many things went wrong for humanity this year. You’ve heard a lot about them. We still have major problems, in particular around environmental degradation, international migration, political extremism and economic inequality. These are the big challenges of our time. And it’s also true that the surge of progress has not reached everyone. Far too many people still live in extreme poverty, 6 million children still die every year of preventable diseases and hundreds of millions of people cannot exercise basic freedoms. But as one of my favourite statisticians Hans Rosling says, “You have to be able to hold two ideas in your head at once: the world is getting better and it’s not good enough!”

It’s easy to be cynical and maintain that nothing is ever getting better. The empirical evidence flatly contradicts this view; looking at what what we’ve already achieved as a species should give us confidence going forward into the future. We constantly underestimate humanity’s abilities to work cooperatively, meet new challenges and expand global prosperity and basic freedoms. We now have a window of opportunity to create the greatest era of sustainable progress in human history. Doing so will not be easy, just as it has not been in the past, and it will take courage, sacrifice and strong leadership. But the potential gains are staggering. And if we can pull it off, we might just be on the cusp of a golden age for the human race and for the earth we live on.

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Enjoyed this? Want optimistic, evidence-based stories in your social media feeds? You can follow me on Twitter (below), where I’ve got plenty more of this.

I also run a small, Melbourne-based think tank called Future Crunch, which sends out a regular newsletter covering everything interesting we’ve seen on the frontiers of science and technology, along with our view on what it means, and a digest of our blog posts.

We sift through the best content online to discern the signal from the noise, so you can discover the things that really matter.

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Future Crunch

Intelligent, optimistic thinking for the future.

Angus Hervey

Written by

From Melbourne and Cape Town, with love. Political economist and journalist, and co-founder of futurecrun.ch

Future Crunch

Intelligent, optimistic thinking for the future. We help people understand what's on the frontiers of science and technology, and what it means for human progress.

Angus Hervey

Written by

From Melbourne and Cape Town, with love. Political economist and journalist, and co-founder of futurecrun.ch

Future Crunch

Intelligent, optimistic thinking for the future. We help people understand what's on the frontiers of science and technology, and what it means for human progress.

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