Last night those of us lucky enough to get the BBC were served up a real treat. A Swedish statistician (Hans Rosling) giving an ‘as live’ lecture on demographics isn’t your usual prime time TV (no one cooked, no house was renovated and no one was murdered). I found it fascinating and urge you all to go and take a look – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03h8r1j .
Maybe I should give a spoiler alert but the key points were that fertility rates have fallen and taken across the planet the average woman has 2.5 children. There are now 2 billion children worldwide and the UN expects that number will remain constant. This is a result of improving healthcare (family size only starts to fall when the children are expected to survive) and improving education (especially of girls). 80% of the worlds population is literate. With a stable fertility rate the rapid expansion in population is starting to slow and should stabilise at around 11 billion (currently 7 billion). Whilst there are huge differences between rich and poor, the end of extreme poverty may be in sight. The UN are launching a campaign to eradicate this within 20 years.
Of course there are huge problems ahead and 11 billion is a lot of mouths to feed but it is a hopeful future. It is easier to galvanise support when there is hope than when all seems lost. After all if we are all doomed why not enjoy the moment? But inaction in the face of hope seems much more cowardly.
One point made in the programme was that there is a huge amount of ignorance about these statistics. It seems that we don’t update ourselves. When I was young Bangladesh was always in the news with awful pictures of starving babies and to my shame that was still the image I had. I would have said it was a poor country of illiterate subsistence farmers having huge families. But in fact average family size is 2.5, literacy rates are high and girls outnumber boys in schools .
Maybe this is in part due to media coverage – ‘no famine this year’ or ‘things slowly getting better’ are hardly an editor’s dream headlines. However this is true in much of our lives. We develop a view of the world and unless we work at it it becomes fixed. For example, as most of us get older we stop listening to new music and change radio stations to ones that play oldies – all this new stuff is just noise! It’s not just music or fashion it’s everything and those of us with experience and maturity tend to be in senior positions and so make big decisions about all our futures.
And sometimes those fixed views are not just outdated, they might have never been true or were gross exaggerations, simplifications and distortions of the truth to start with.
What is it that you have fixed views about that may no longer be true? And most importantly, what are you going to do to get a fresh perspective? How will you update yourself?