Posts Tagged ‘Factfulness’

With the release of the late Hans Rosling’s essential book, Factfulness, we have a new opportunity to embrace a bird’s eye view of the world … and its changing … based on the hard data rather than conjecture. This is sorely needed in a time of free-wheeling exaggeration and distortion of reality as it is.

Starting with population statistics numbering in the billions we are provided with a larger lens through which we may actually see global changes – many for the best – that have taken place since 1800. This includes poverty, infant mortality, education, war and more. Our assumptions are challenged by actual shifts that are measured over decades.

To get us there Rosling had to identify the distortions that create an untrue worldview. These distortions are many times due to human nature; our second nature mechanisms to survive. But also the way that very long trends of a positive nature – which can be fairly boring – are missed as the short term negatives are more dramatic and interesting.

He helps us be on guard against defining by the extremes vs the majority, bracing against a solely negative critique, challenging projections assumed to continue in the same way, moving beyond fear-based assessments, getting things in scale or proportion, avoiding generalizations, taking note of slow change, stopping blaming one source for complex problems, and looking for long-term solutions when everything seems urgent.

Here is a person who looked the facts in the eye and did not turn away. He never said that events were not bad when they were or underplayed tragedy. But at the same time he counseled the long-view, one that is more encouraging that it might seem. For example, just one statistic – in terms of children dying worldwide before their fifth birthday, in 1800 44% of children before age five died. Today that number is 4%. That is a huge shift. And of course that statistic varies depending on the level of poverty where the sample is taken from.

With all of those measures seen differently and often more positively, Rosling still identifies what he defines as the “mega-killers.” These are the very big global risks that we should worry about and for which much can be done. They are five and are likely to transpire because they either have before or are occurring right now:

Global Pandemic. An example is the Spanish flu following the First World War that killed 50 million people – more than the war itself. Pandemics can be controlled with adequate early prevention health care and careful monitoring by agencies like the World Health Organization to coordinate global responses.

Financial Collapse. In a globalized world the consequences of huge financial meltdowns are catastrophic. They create instability, poverty, suffering and conflict. They are notoriously difficult to predict and those who can often will not because they choose not to or profit from runaway markets or artificial bubbles.

World War III. We need to offset the terrible human inclination to violence, retaliation and escalation in war. Every means possible should be employed to create international understanding, cooperation and the eradication of poverty which generates conflict. Diplomacy and denuclearization is more important than ever before.

Climate Change. It is happening now. Only a global response can create the right impacts to offset the pace of climate change. It is already happening as evidenced by things like avoiding leaded gasoline. Most of the CO2 emissions come from the most affluent countries so they bear more responsibility for the greatest action.

Extreme Poverty. This is present misery that affects about 1 billion people. It fosters epidemics because of lack of health services. War and terrorism hide in its desperate shadows. Poverty leads to civil war which creates more poverty. A relative world peace since World War II has enabled growing prosperity in most of the world. There is no guessing as to the solutions: peace, schooling, universal basic health care, electricity, clean water, toilets, contraceptives, and microcredits to get market forces started. As those in extreme poverty become more affluent they will have less children and the quality of life with improve, regardless of the country in which they live.

This is a book that every person who cares about understanding our real world, finding hope where we are, and the ways to continue making slow improvement must read. For me, it is one of the most important books I have read in the past few years.