CO140 Amanda Starbuck on Protecting Necessities

Amanda Starbuck is a senior food researcher and policy analyst at Food & Water Watch.


I’ve talked about the other thing a couple of times already, but I’m sure you’ve heard enough about it by now, and there’s nothing extra that I can say that hasn’t already been said, so let’s talk about something else.

Let’s talk about the state of the world and its people. Bear in mind that life expectancy in the US in the year 1900 was about 48. Thinking of all the countries in the world, taking into account the huge populations of the poor countries in Africa and Asia, what would you guess is the average life expectancy of people today? 50 years? 60 Years? No, the average across the whole world is now 70.

And again, across the whole world, what percent of the population do you think has access to electricity? The answer is 80 per cent. And if you had to guess what percent of children had at least some of their vaccinations? Again, across the planet, the answer is 80 per cent.

Finally, if you had to guess, over the last hundred years, taking into account the massive population explosion we’ve had, what has happened to the number of people – the absolute number, not the proportion – the number of people who die each year in natural disasters; has it more than doubled? Stayed the same? In fact, that number has more than halved.

All these figures come from a book by the Swedish academic Hans Rosling, and he formulated them to show us that sometimes, things are much better than we think they are, and in particular, for all our cynicism, things can and do get better. Lots better.

By those metrics that he chooses, the average person in the world today is vastly better off than the average person was in the United States a hundred years ago.

More children – much, much more children – are getting educated, much more people are getting basic healthcare, much more people have access to the basics of comfort that the whole of humanity went without for almost all of our existence.

Sometimes we can be terribly stupid, but on the whole, humans are clever and creative. We can solve problems. We can make our lives better. That makes it all the more tragic when we don’t, but on the whole, we’re doing better, lots better than we were, and often way better than we actually think we are doing. Sometimes we create terrible problems, but we can solve problems too, and we do solve them, and maybe with that whole loss aversion thing in our mentality, we remember our failures better our successes.

That music you can hear in the background is the Italian resistance anthem, Bella Ciao. It’s being played by the National Theatre Orchestra of Serbia.

But this is a recital with a difference. They’re playing together, but they’re not together. The recital was recorded over a live video call with a conductor, and dozens of musicians each playing from their own home.

This technology would have been unimaginable just a decade ago, now we take it for granted that it’s in billions of people’s pockets. Wash your hands.