It’s easy to feel like the world is ending.
Climate Change, Deforestation, COVID, Political upheaval… need I go on? Since being a child, I have felt sick to the bone about these things.
‘I was born at the end of the world.’ I used to think to myself. ‘How terrifying.’
It’s completely valid to feel sad, angry and scared about some of the things happening in the world. It is a good idea to put pressure on governments to stop wiping out ancient woodlands and to question why the world’s richest 1% have more than 86% of the world’s wealth (Oxfam).
But it is also a good idea to stand back and question this idea that the world is crashing down around us. Because actually, there has always been a great deal of suffering and uncertainty in the world. Let me give you some examples.
120 years ago, the infant mortality rate in the UK was 16.3%.
That means that 1 in every 6 children were likely to die as a baby or toddler. In London, the problem was even worse, and parents rarely named their babies for the first couple of years of their life, because it made it all the more painful if they were lost.
Only 3 generations later, only 1 in 278 people die as an infant in the UK. That’s 46 times less infant mortality in 3 generations. This level of positive change is unheard of in all of human history, until now.
Now let’s look at war and violence.
The Truth About Terrorism
‘There are so many terrorist attacks, now’ we say to each other over a beer. ‘What is the world coming to?’
Actually, terrorism in the UK is significantly lower now than it was even in my father’s youth. In 2020 so far (and we are in December), there have been 2 terrorist attacks in Britain killing a total of 3 people. (Sky News).
Perhaps it would be more appropriate to use the example of 2017 though, when 22 were killed in the Manchester bombings.
So in 2017, there were a total of 5 terrorist attacks in the UK, killing 35 people. This is of course, absolutely tragic and horrendous. But if we start believing that terrorists are going to kill us all, they have won.
Because we are actually much less likely to die in a terrorist attack now than we were 50 years ago. In the 1970’s, the Irish Republic Army killed 1,700 people (including up to 644 civilians) in over 300 attacks.
A few decades before that, up to 80 million people lost their lives in concentration camps and on the battlefields of WW2. That is in living memory. Just over 20 years before WW2, around 40 million people had already died in WW1.
Can you even imagine that? To have barely survived the most deadly war in human history, just to find yourself being conscripted again 2 decades later?! It was supposed to be ‘the war to end or wars,’ but finally it was just ‘a terrible war leading up to another terrible war.’
Can you imagine not having the chance to say goodbye to the love of your life because he only got 24 hours notice that he will be fighting on the other side of the world? My grandma doesn’t have to ‘imagine’ that, because it really happened to her. Lionel was shot dead in Burma and at the age of 16, her fiancé was snuffed out like a candle.
As well as the terrorism and the wars going on in my Grandmother’s childhood, we had thousands of people dropping dead in the smog of London, and contracting cancer mining for coal in dangerous conditions. Children had sandpits filled with asbestos, for goodness sake.
A Remarkable Bubble
Most European people alive today were born into this remarkable bubble of safety and good health. After hundreds of thousands of years of death in childbirth, starving in the winter and challenging women being packed off to insane asylums, we got to spend all of our life so far in peace and prosperity.
‘I’m not rich!’ you might think.
But the poorest people in Britain today are wealthy compared to the poorest people of my Grandmother’s childhood. A time when getting sick meant crossing your fingers because no one could afford the doctor and the phrase ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’ came from the fact a whole family had to share one bath of water. It got so filthy by the end that you couldn’t see the bottom of the tub.
That might seem far off, but my grandparents grew up with outside toilets and washing with a jug and basin.
Even in the 1960s, many homes in Britain didn’t have a bathroom. Considering humans have been around for 200, 000 years, we can see how frickin’ amazing and luxurious our lives are compared to 99.99% of human beings that have ever existed.
It doesn’t mean we don’t have our challenges. Christ, there is a lot of work to do.
Peace is fragile and planet earth has been abused for far too long. But we can’t deny that the vast majority of people in Europe have enough food to live well. The vast majority of people in Europe will lead a long and healthy life. The vast majority of people in Europe are not conscripted to fight in other people’s wars or forced to marry against their will.
So, it seems strange that us Europeans feel like the world has suddenly become a terribly violent and frightening place. In fact, violent crime and infant mortality are lower than ever before.
What about social justice?
Did you know that being gay was illegal in the United Kingdom until 1967? Alan Turing was the brilliant mathematician that invented a machine to break the German enigma code in WW2, essentially saving the lives of 2 million people. In 1952, the British Government found out that he was a homosexual and had him chemically castrated. 2 years later, he killed himself. (Or he was murdered, the verdict is still out.)
So here is a sum up of what we can expect in 2021 in the UK:
- Our babies will probably not die
- Gay people will probably not be tortured by the Government
- Our lives will probably be nearly twice as long as they were a few generations ago
- We are less likely than ever to die in violent circumstances
We still have some epic challenges to get through, don’t get me wrong. When I see the amount of plastic being thoughtlessly consumed or the number of toxic pesticides being sprayed over the food we eat, it makes me shudder.
A Mountain To Climb
I realise that sexism, homophobia and racism still exist, and problems like slavery in the UK are more prolific than ever.
FYI: There are more people being bought and sold as slaves now than ever before – but more on that in another article.
It is true that biodiversity has taken a nosedive since the 1900s, but it is also true that more people than ever before care about this. You would never have seen an article about the council polluting rivers on the front page of a newspaper a few decades ago. But crimes against nature are being taken increasingly seriously.
NB: It’s worth pointing out here that Indigenous People have lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years, whereas Western Culture has managed to eradicate biodiversity and poison soil, air and water in just a couple of hundred. So we should be careful when patting ourselves on the back about this, we are just realising that we screwed up big time, but that doesn’t make us heroes.
Sure, there are things to be frightened of in 2020.
But there is also so much to be grateful for. Our lives will be longer and healthier than the vast majority of human beings could ever have dreamt of. So I know that it’s easy to feel frightened, but let’s not waste this life we have with false perceptions about how bad the world really is.
The World Needs You
The world needs brave, kind and determined people to help create a safer and healthier place for all living beings. It needs us to keep doing all that we can to protect vulnerable people and habitats. It needs a massive shift in priorities to protect mother nature. We need to return to indigenous knowledge and stop filling the oceans with plastic and our soil with nerve agents.
But if we can keep making things as better for people as we have in the last few decades, the future’s looking bright for us and for the earth. Because we can’t really take care of ourselves unless we start taking better care of Mother Nature too.
I hope you enjoyed this article! If you are interested in how the health of the planet and people might be linked, the following article may interest you:
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If you enjoy reading my work, you might also like to read The Highly Sensitive Nomad Book.
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