Much has been written about our current state of discontent—there is an ongoing, brutal war on terrorism; the economy has not recovered as swiftly as expected; we’re witnessing growing consequences of income inequality, climate change, political gridlock, and systemic injustice, among a myriad of other issues. For Baby Boomers and Gen Xers who have experienced the boom of the 90’s, it may appear as a downward slope—it’s easy to feel disillusioned and disenchanted with what 2015 and the future are offering.
Yet it is vital to frame the year in the perspective of not just recent history, but the entirety of human existence. 2015 is, unequivocally, the best year to be alive as a human thus far.
To approach 2015 on a micro level, there have been major shifts in policy that will inexorably shape the future in progressive ways. The Supreme Court ruled in July that same-sex marriage was constitutional, ending debate that has spawned decades—a landmark ruling, equivalent to the magnitude of Brown v. Board or the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Just days ago, over 200 nations entered an agreement at the COP21 Conference in Paris to keep global temperatures as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible—a pact unparalleled in its ambition and scope of global interest. President Obama also enacted a noteworthy Clean Power Plan in August 2015, which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a third in the next 15 years. Feminism made strides as the U.S. vowed to introduce a woman on the $20 bill and various industry women spoke out against the gender pay gap. $240 million was committed to STEM advancements and research.
If we widen our reach just a bit further and examine 2015 on a global level, numerous, incredibly significant milestones were reached. Due to persistent vaccination, Rubella (German measles) has been eliminated from the Americas. Africa experienced its very first year without any new cases of polio—a remarkable feat only possible thanks to thousands of oral vaccines administered to young children (In 1988, there were 125 countries with polio, and now only 2 remain: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Complete eradication is almost here.) Nigeria banned female genital mutilation, a prevalent issue more than a quarter of Nigerian woman experienced. Saudi Arabia held its first elections with women. Both HIV protection and Ebola vaccines proved to be very effective in Africa. Colombia entered a peace deal that will end one of the longest civil wars in the world. Costa Rica sustained itself for an entire year using 99% renewable energy.
Both national and global progress is undeniably possible, and these accomplishments exemplify the hope that exists for the future. But to truly grasp how 2015 compares to centuries of civilization, it is important to go macro, to broaden the scope of today’s realities.
In the U.S. alone, violent crime has decreased 35 percent since the 1990s, and according to the UN, this is indicative of a global trend. Homelessness has decreased 11 percent since 2010 and the rate of uninsured Americans is now at an all-time low of 11 percent.
On a global scale, for the first time ever, less than 10 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty ($1.90 a day). Global child mortality has been cut in half since 1990, as has the proportion of undernourished people in developing regions. The youth literacy rate has increased from 83 to 91 percent since 1990, new HIV infections have fallen by 40 percent since 2000, and 2.1 billion new people now have access to improved sanitation and clean water.
All these statistics generally measure the last few decades, but in a larger sense, these numbers demonstrate we are in a better condition in terms of health, education, life expectancy, and mortality than ever before. For an average human, 2015 is one of the best times to be alive.
Of course, there is enormous progress still to be made. Civil conflicts, dictatorships, gun violence, terrorism, deforestation, and climate change all must be combated, as must inequality, poverty, disease, and hunger. But given what has been accomplished, change and hope for both 2016 and the future appear more inevitable than ever.
Banner Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Herman Hiller