Tuesday, June 02, 2015

200 Million Fewer Hungry People

I grew up with pictures like this one from Biafra. My children have not.

From National Public Radio (NPR):
A U.N. report has noted that 795 million people were hungry in the year 2014. That's a mind-boggling number. But in fact it's 200 million lower than the estimated 1 billion hungry people in 1990.

The improvement is especially impressive because the world population has gone up by around 2 billion since the '90s.

And the rate of hunger is also declining. Only 12.9 percent of the population in developing regions are hungry today, compared to 23.3 percent a quarter century ago. 

Back in 2003 I made a 10-year Long Bet with Steven Kurz in which I predicted that:

"Over the next ten years, we will make measurable global progress in all five areas of the human condition: food, access to clean water, health, education, and the price of energy.”

I let Steven pick the actual metrics from a list of long term international data sets that would still exist 10 years into the future. The deal on this bet was simple: If I lost on any metric, I would lose the entire bet. Whoever won, the money would go to charity.

I won this bet. The agreed metrics were:

  1. Absolute number of malnourished children. Source: UNICEF data.
  2. Number of people without access to clean water as determined by U.N. Millennium Indicators 
  3. Average life expectancy at birth as determined by United Nations stats.
  4. Literacy of those aged 15-24 as determined by U.N. Millennium Indicators.
  5. The amount of energy required to produce a $1 worth of GDP, Data source: UN Millennium Indicators per World Bank.

Why did I win this bet?  For the simple reason that humans share information across time and space for the betterment of their species -- a point first suggested by the Marquis de Condorcet in 1795.  For over 500 years, human misery has been in a steady and rapid decline, and Malthus and the Jeremiads have been provably wrong.

Does this mean that every single thing is better? No. The world is not better today for the African lion than it was 100 years ago, nor is is better for the sage grouse. From tropical reefs to arctic tundra, parts of the the natural world have taken a beating even as more and more areas are being set aside for protection. Animals do not vote and do not pays taxes, and so their lot will be last to improve.

That said, things are getting better for humans, and for a great deal of the natural world as well. And, as the Marquis de Condorcet suggested, humans are learning and self-regulating in a way that would amaze the yeast, the ant, and the butterfly.

1 comment:

jeff hays said...

That being said we could use a shakeout of about 5 billion , lest we end up with a world of nothing but us.
I like to think of it as the population time bomb, at some point , we become too many,inevitably I would think. SURELY that will come after all the interesting animals and habitats are extirpated, but it must come.
I will not be here when the world consists of humans rats and pigeons only, and you have to travel to parks to see trees, but it is coming unless we can somehow cap humans at 7 billion or so.
Are we smart enough to do it? I hope we are, but I have my dark side that says,no we are not.