2015: The Best Year in History for the Average Human Being

Source: atlantic.com, December 18

Violence dominated the headlines this year. But by many measures, humanity is in better shape than it’s ever been.

From Paris to Syria through San Bernardino to Afghanistan, the world witnessed obscene and unsufferable tragedy in 2015. That was on top of the ongoing misery of hundreds of millions who are literally stunted by poverty, living lives shortened by preventable disease and malnutrition. But for all of that, 2015 also saw continued progress toward better quality of life for the considerable majority of the planet, alongside technological breakthroughs and political agreements that suggest the good news might continue next year and beyond. Tragedy and misery are rarer than they were before 2015 – and there is every reason to hope they will be even less prevalent in 2016.

To start with acts of violence in America, despite its epidemic of mass-shooting events, the country is still far safer than it was in the past. The latest FBI statistics, reported this September, suggested that the trend toward lower rates of violent crime in the United States that began in the early 1990s continued at least through 2014: there were nearly 3,000 fewer violent crimes that year than the year before and more than 600,000 fewer than in 1995 – that’s a 35 percent decline over the period. The latest data from the UN suggests that this is part of a global trend – to take one category of violent crime, homicide rates have dropped by an estimated 6 percent in the countries for which data was available between 2000 and 2012.

The same is sadly not true of terrorism and war worldwide, both of which, according to the most recent available data, took more victims in 2013 and 2014 than in the few years immediately before. Beginning in 2011, Syria helped reverse longer-term progress toward ever-fewer global battle deaths – while 2015 may be marginally better than 2014 in terms of Syrian deaths reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that still suggests more global battle deaths this year than in 2010. But the Iran nuclear deal struck this summer provided some evidence that progress toward peaceful settlement of disputes was possible, both in the region and worldwide. And, across the globe, the numbers of ongoing wars and battle deaths are still far below their levels of the 1970s and 1980s.

Furthermore, terrorism, war, and murder together remain a minor cause of death worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that 119,463 people died in incidents of “collective violence and legal intervention,” such as civil war, and 504,587 died from episodes of “interpersonal violence,” such as homicide, in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. In the same year, according to the Global Terrorism Index, 11,133 people died in terrorist attacks – suggesting terrorism accounted for about 1.8 percent of violent deaths worldwide. And for all that terrorism deaths have increased since 2012, they remain responsible for perhaps three hundredths of one percent of global mortality. All collective and interpersonal violence together accounted for around 1.1 percent of total deaths in 2012. Rabies was responsible for three times as many deaths as terrorism that year. Stomach cancer killed more people than murder, manslaughter, and wars combined. And the good news about many of the more important causes of global mortality is that the world continued making progress against them in 2015.

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One response to “2015: The Best Year in History for the Average Human Being

  1. David Schatzky

    The years may roll by, some realities change, but the feeling remains the same. Charles Dickens captured it so well: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

    Happy New Year to you, Eric, and to your faithful readers. We’re fortunate to be witnesses to and participants in whatever 2016 brings us.