Five reasons to be cheerful this summer
Summer is here. Upheaval and tragedy may have dominated the news this year. But we should not forget that the human race has also made some important strides: solid reason for good cheer.
Today parliament goes into recess and many schools break up.
So far, 2016 has brought plenty of unsettling news: wars and terrorism in the Middle East; migrants drowning in the Mediterranean; bloodshed and an attempted coup in Turkey; terror attacks in Europe and the USA. The political and economic order has been rocked by the UK’s vote to leave the EU and the rise of fringe candidates. An MP has been murdered.
But the news is not all bad — and here are five reasons why not.
This month, the World Bank said they believe less than 10% of the global population now live in extreme poverty. Despite current uncertainty, the world economy is expected to grow by 3.8% this year. Fraser Nelson of The Spectator has called this ‘the greatest story of our age’.
Theresa May is the latest of a series of women taking powerful positions. In her first week in charge, she has met two more. By the end of the year, a woman may have been chosen as the most powerful person in the world. These are important steps towards including half the world’s population more fully in decision-making processes.
UK voters’ decision to leave the EU presents an opportunity. The referendum has raised awareness of ordinary people’s concerns. It could be, as Brexit campaigner Michael Gove predicted, ‘a galvanising moment of patriotic renewal’. The rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the USA could have a similar impact.
Several discoveries have given a glimpse of the human race’s potential. NASA has released pictures of Pluto, put a probe into Jupiter’s orbit and confirmed that 104 new planets exist outside our solar system. Artificial intelligence is a step closer. New technology is leading to medical breakthroughs; the US president has committed America to a ‘moonshot’ to try to cure cancer.
And the human race may be making progress on one of our most significant challenges — climate change. The International Energy Agency says global emissions from the energy and transport sectors peaked in 2014 and 2015. This could mean the world meets a target to keep warming below 1.5°C.
Ray of sunshine?
We should be optimistic, say some. Great change is underway in science, politics and economics. With change comes opportunity. We are discovering more than ever before. Things may be chaotic in the short-term, but the upheaval is a uniquely exciting chance to reshape the world.
Not so fast, reply pessimists. Rapid change brings great risks. This has been the year when politics and economics fell out of the experts’ control. There is a growing sense of anarchy. Our leaders command little respect. And scientific advances will mean little if our species continues to destroy itself at such a rapid rate.
- Do you feel optimistic as the summer begins?
- Do the current upheavals in world affairs provide opportunities to be relished or risks to be feared?
- Take one minute in silence on your own. Write down as much as you can remember about 2016 so far. Then discuss in groups of three: why did you remember these things? What do they reveal about you, and the world?
- Prepare a one-minute talk about three things you are looking forward to this summer, explaining what they are and why they matter to you. Are you feeling optimistic?
Some People Say...
“Great change requires great uncertainty.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- I’m just looking forward to going to the beach. Will these stories affect me?
- They may not have much impact on you in the next few weeks, but they will all inform your life — and causes you care about — in years to come. The growing world economy means people are getting richer; the march of female leaders may inspire you to public service. But some issues may come into conflict with each other: for example, if you care about the environment, you may think economic growth is an obstacle to it.
- What will the rest of the year bring?
- The news has proven very changeable in recent weeks, so it is tough to tell. But in politics, the Labour Party has another leadership election and the US presidential election is now approaching. For a bit of lighter relief, the Olympics start on August 5th.
- Since 1990, the world’s population has grown by two billion — but there are over a billion fewer people classed as poor.
- The IMF says global GDP will rise by this amount in 2016.
- Other female leaders in politics and economics include Christine Lagarde (the head of the International Monetary Fund) and Christiana Figueres (who is running for secretary general of the UN).
- Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, and Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany.
- Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party nominee for US president — and the first woman to gain such a nomination.
- Global studies suggest organisations perform better when they have a mix of men and women in charge, perhaps because they bring different experiences and perspectives to bear on their positions.
- These include four that could have earth-like surfaces, as they are within the ‘habitable zone’ around other stars.
- In January researchers at Harvard University began a project to understand the brain which could make artificial intelligence more complex and realistic.