A breakdown of the TedX talk by Steven Pinker, Cognitive Scientist.

If you're anything like me, you don't even watch or read the news anymore because most of it is just doom and gloom. It's all about global warming, the poor economy, terrorism, crime, and natural disasters. It's almost surprising when you avoid the news that the world doesn't look so bad anymore.

Sure, there are still many problems, some of which you may be experiencing yourself, but you can look around and find a lot to be grateful for even through the tough times.

Avoiding the news is tough, it's all over the headlines on the side of the road and the radio too. We can't ignore that there is a great big world out there and overall, things seem to be going downhill. But are we getting all of the facts?

Were Things Really that Good in the Past?

When people think of the past, they see kids playing outside in the streets, homes with picket fences, no one locking their doors or cars, and less fear. Overall, they see a better and happier life. In this TED talk which will change the way you see the world, Steven Pinker, the author of Enlightenment Now, says that we look at the past with rose tinted glasses.

30 years ago, there was no Twitter or YouTube or any other social media sites. Nowadays, most of us have access to news reports and social media sites with the opinions and news from people and places all over the globe.

There was still crime, poverty, and injustice, just as there is now, but decades ago, it just wasn't as well publicised. Considering all that's happening these days, that can be hard to believe.

Is the World Really Getting Worse?

This may surprise you, but the world really is a better place than it was a few decades ago, and certainly much better than it was a century or two ago. Looking further back at the dark ages, of course, the way we live now is much better. But the distinction isn't so obvious when we consider the more recent past.

The standard of living and the problems of the world, however, have been improving even into the 2010s. Here are a few of the statistics that Steven Pinker mentioned in the talk:

  • In the US, poverty is at 7% which is down from the 12% that it was 30 years ago.

  • Pollution is down from 35 tons of PM (particle matter) and 20 million tons of SO2 (sulphur dioxide) to 21 tons of PM and 4 million tons of SO2.

  • Wars are down globally from 23 to 12 and autocracies down from 85 to 60.

  • Nuclear weapons are down from 60,780 to 10,325.

  • We are 96% less likely to die in car accidents and 99% less likely to die in plane crashes.

  • We are even 89% less likely to die due to natural disasters.

  • In developed countries, the literacy rate is 100% and in developing countries, it's at around 85% compared to only around 15% in the 1400s.

Medical care, health, technology, and education keep improving. Our cars, our appliances, and cities are becoming more environmentally friendly. The stats above are just a few. The video is filled with even more stats that are inspiring and reassuring.

But, What About the Future?

Clearly, there are still many problems in the world and it's human nature to assess threats and risks by looking at negative circumstances and bad events. We also tend to remember bad things better than good things. But, we can use this for good.

Yes, scientists will keep researching, tech giants will keep inventing, but you can make a difference too. It starts by treating the world and people around you with kindness and respect and teaching your kids to do the same. Even if that's all that you can do, you will be making the world a better place.

Take it a step further and make your home a green household by recycling and saving water and electricity. Donate your old clothing to homeless shelters. Make sure the food on your plate is from sustainable sources, for example, eat less fish and meat and eat more veggies. Donate time or money to causes you care about. These are simple things that everyone can do.


If you've been feeling down about the state of the world we're living in, we hope that these facts help you feel more optimistic about the future. As we learn more about ourselves and the world around us and use that knowledge to improve our communities and the lives of ourselves and our families, progress will be a trend that continues well into the future.

Author: Cheanné Lombard

Author: Cheanné Lombard