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The Year in Good News 2019 (and the Bad News About Good News)

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2019

From Future Crunch, 99 Good News Stories You Probably Didn’t Hear About in 2019. Here are a few representative entries:

8. In Kenya, poaching rates have dropped by 85% for rhinos and 78% for elephants in the last five years, in South Africa, the number of rhinos killed by poachers fell by 25%, the fifth annual decrease in a row, and in Mozambique, one of Africa’s largest wildlife reserves went an entire year without losing a single elephant.

16. China’s tree stock rose by 4.56 billion m^3 between 2005 and 2018, deserts are shrinking by 2,400 km^2 a year, and forests now account for 22% of land area. SCMP

38. Type 3 polio officially became the second species of poliovirus to be eliminated in 2019. Only Type 1 now remains — and only in Pakistan and Afghanistan. STAT

We definitely don’t hear enough good news from most of our media sources. It’s mostly bad news and “feel good” news — that’s what sells. (Note that “feel good” news is not the same as substantive good news and is sometimes even bad news, e.g. heartwarming stories that are actually indicators of societal failures.) In the past few weeks I’ve also posted links to Beautiful News Daily and The Happy Broadcast, a pair of sites dedicated to sharing positive news about the world.

But at this point I feel obligated to remind myself (and perhaps you as well) that focusing mostly on positive news isn’t great either. A number of thinkers — including Bill Gates, Steven Pinker, Nicholas Kristof, Max Roser — are eager to point out that the world’s citizens have never been safer, healthier, and wealthier than they are now. And in some ways that is true! But in this long piece for The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman addresses some of the reasons to be skeptical of these claims.

But the New Optimists aren’t primarily interested in persuading us that human life involves a lot less suffering than it did a few hundred years ago. (Even if you’re a card-carrying pessimist, you probably didn’t need convincing of that fact.) Nestled inside that essentially indisputable claim, there are several more controversial implications. For example: that since things have so clearly been improving, we have good reason to assume they will continue to improve. And further — though this is a claim only sometimes made explicit in the work of the New Optimists — that whatever we’ve been doing these past decades, it’s clearly working, and so the political and economic arrangements that have brought us here are the ones we ought to stick with. Optimism, after all, means more than just believing that things aren’t as bad as you imagined: it means having justified confidence that they will be getting even better soon.

See also other critiques of Pinker’s work: A letter to Steven Pinker (and Bill Gates, for that matter) about global poverty and The World’s Most Annoying Man.