One hundred years ago, a citizen in China or India would be lucky to reach 30 years old. Today, average life expectancy in India is about 70; in China, it’s almost 80.
What happened? If you have time for one long read this week, make it this one: “How Humanity Gave Itself an Extra Life,” the story of how the average human life span doubled in the last century. As Steven Johnson writes in it, “There are few measures of human progress more astonishing than this.” The piece covers transformative inventions that we would never think to thank anymore—hello, pasteurized milk—and meditates on why progress, which occurs in such fits and starts and over such a long period of time, is so hard to keep track of in real time.
Because Johnson does, toward the end of the article, raise serious worries about the climate crisis, we’re also pointing you toward Rebecca Solnit’s cautious case for climate optimism, which covers, among other developments, a new report from Carbon Tracker that declares the fossil fuel era over. (Defying our usual expectations of reports, it’s both a short and exciting read.) And then there’s this beautiful conclusion from Solnit’s article that is worth quoting in full:
“If we see how impossible our current reality might have seemed 20 years ago—that solar would be so cheap, that Scotland would get 97% of its electricity from renewables, that fossil fuel corporations would be in freefall—we can trust that we could be moving toward an even more transformed and transformative future, and that it is not a set destination but, for better or worse, what we are making up as we go. Each shift makes more shifts possible. But only if we go actively toward the possibilities rather than passively into the collapse.”
In the meantime, coffee addicts can breathe a sigh of relief: a new coffee plant that grows in hotter temperatures was discovered in Sierra Leone. (A climate crisis we may have, but at least we can face it with our caffeine addiction fully satisfied.) In Montana, Arizona, and elsewhere, schools are putting the millions saved by installing solar panels into pay raises for their staff. And nature-lovers can enjoy this photo tour through Mozambique’s new national park, a country comeback, environmental success, and travel bucket list story all wrapped into one.
How likely are you to die from a terrorist attack? About as likely as the space this blue square takes up relative to the gray one:
As TPN Member Steven Pinker pointed out on Twitter last week, “Islamist terrorism, despite the massive fear it sowed, was never a major form of violence outside war zones.” Now it’s something to worry about even less. Deaths from terrorist attacks have declined 59% since their peak in 2014, writes TPN Member Fareed Zakaria in his most recent column. Radical Islam’s influence, too, is on the decline, and it’s no longer a global threat.
Two potential advancements for treating mental illness were published this week. We’re on the first step of developing a method to keep all the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics while skipping their hallucinogenic side effects. And a new trial has shown that MDMA, given in conjunction with talk therapy, helped patients recover from trauma. We’re not exactly sure where we lie on the question of psychedelic- or MDMA-based mental health treatment, but the personal stories in the second article in particular are powerful. We welcome your thoughts!
From us: What do university students in Britain have in common with Trump voters in the US? Loneliness. Check out our interview with TPN Member Noreena Hertz, who explains why loneliness is the defining feature of this century and offers solutions—individual, governmental, and entrepreneurial—for reconnecting us.
We ignore ideas’ impact to our detriment, but understanding their movement through the world can be difficult to do. On May 12, join Joan Blades, cofounder of Living Room Conversations, and public intellectual Steven Pinker, author of Enlightenment Now, as they discuss today’s most relevant ideas and how to best harness their power for progress. RSVP to attend.
Other good stuff in the news 💉
- I looked for a country that got the economic response to Covid-19 right. I found the US. | Vox
- Moderna joins COVAX program to vaccinate developing world | WSJ
- EPA to sharply limit powerful greenhouse gases | NY Times
- The Gambia eliminates trachoma, a tropical eye disease (h/t Future Crunch) | WHO
- Pfizer vaccine for adolescents to get FDA authorization | USA Today
TPN Member originals
- Ten years later, Islamist terrorism isn’t the threat it used to be | Fareed Zakaria
- We need a more powerful WHO to prevent the next pandemic | Charles Kenny
- American health depends on exporting COVID vaccines | Ezekiel J. Emanuel
- America united: finding common ground | Archon Fung & Deb Roy
- We’ve been enmeshed with our technologies. How about a tech Shabbat for everyone? | Krista Tippett
- How to live like ancient royalty (spoiler: in many ways, we already are!) | Jason Feifer
- The conscience of Silicon Valley | John Wood, Jr.
- Amy Klobuchar on the future of antitrust | Scott Galloway
- The former mayor of New Orleans reflects on rebuilding after Katrina | Richard Florida
This Changes Everything: The World-Turning Power of Ideas | Joan Blades & Steven Pinker | May 12
On Our Bookshelf
Statistically, loneliness is as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s also an economic crisis, costing us billions annually. And it’s a political crisis, as feelings of marginalization fuel divisiveness and extremism around the world. But it’s also a crisis we have the power to solve.
Combining a decade of research with firsthand reporting, TPN Member Noreena Hertz’s The Lonely Century offers bold solutions ranging from compassionate AI to innovative models for urban living to new ways of reinvigorating our neighborhoods and reconciling our differences, forming a hopeful and empowering vision for how to heal our fractured communities and restore connection in our lives.
Learn more about the book here, and listen to our interview with Noreena here.