Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Giving Thanks ... the Secret Peace continues

It's the week after Thanksgiving, and there's a lot to be thankful for in our world.

When I published The Secret Peace in 2009, the headlines looked bad. The world was mired in the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression. But all the underlying data, the long-term data, told a different story: Sure, the world is a terrible place, but it used to be much worse. Slowly, inexorably, through the cumulative day-to-day efforts of millions of people, it keeps getting better.

Today, it seems like the headlines are even worse. Clearly, not everything gets better all the time, and history repeats itself - or echoes itself, at least. But the spiral of repetition also rises up, if slowly. Nothing I have seen in the past decade has changed my mind about the overall Secret Peace thesis - not when you look at the world as a whole.

I've posted on this blog for 10 years now, whenever I find positive articles - hidden gems that are often overlooked because they're not as immediate, salacious, or urgent. These articles aren't "positive" in that they're uplifting slice-of-life stories, like a dog rescuing a kidney donor or schoolkids punching cancer. Those type of stories - while fine and even necessary - are just as anecdotal as the many negative stories the media often covers: plane crash, school shooting, wildfire, shark attack, political scandal. And anecdotal evidence is never going to give us a true sense of the state of the world.

Rather, the best articles I've found tend to have clues that corroborate particular long-term positive trends. Indeed, almost all positive change tends to be very long-term, and that makes it very hard to see.

I've taken a hiatus from writing here for a while, and this post wraps that up more formally. I've had too many other busy strands of life going on. But I hope you'll continue to keep an eye out for these type of articles yourself, while treating the "regular" news with a bit more skepticism. Look at what you're reading and watching, and try to get just the facts. If you want some opinions, too, look for them from both sides of the aisle. This extremely useful chart is the best guide I've found to help us all control our media diet.

I've rounded up a last batch of Secret Peace articles for now - each with a statistic to make us stop and think:

2018 is the 10th-year anniversary of posting on this blog. I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to everyone who has taken the time either to read my book, or read these articles here, share, and comment. One exciting final trend to mention is that there are now enough people writing about positive trends that our group has a label: the "New Optimists". Personally, I'm optimistic that this group will continue to grow.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Continuum of Hate

I was speaking with a good friend who was lamenting how much kids today are overly sensitive and "snowflakes" and too easily offended. He doesn't believe in "microaggressions" and thinks a lot of comments today are blown out of proportion. This person is by all accounts very tolerant and kind, and probably not someone who would ever actually offend all those sensitive snowflakes.

This isn't an uncommon point of view. And it's logical. Particularly if you grew up in an earlier time, it seems weird that a lot of our public discourse and media focus has suddenly shifted to picking apart words and endless offend-and-apologize cycles. Aren't there more important things to focus on?

But I think this point of view is based on a misunderstanding, and one that the other side [mine] hasn't done a good job of communicating - if they even understand it themselves.

This misunderstanding is that we shouldn't fight offensive comments because they hurt people and are the worst evil in and of themselves, but because they are the underlying root of the worst evils. Which means that fighting them is a way - perhaps the only long-term way - to fight bigger things like hate crimes, domestic violence, rape, and murder based on racism and sexism.

Many of the people fighting these offensive comments and microaggressions understand this concept, but many others are just offended personally as well. We should fight them for both reasons.

A problem that arose in recent decades with the exposing of the worst horrors of racism and sexism is that it let society group the people who committed those horrors as officially "racist" or "sexist". Meaning, no one else is. Now, we all instinctively view people as either "racist" or not, and either "sexist" or not. This isn't helpful, because it allows us to excuse ourselves into the "not" category as long as we aren't actively raping and killing people. Instead, we are all, any of us that have been raised on this planet, racist and sexist to some degree. Unfortunately, this makes rooting out the problem much harder.

I created the below list, which I dramatically call the Continuum of Hate. It's a spectrum with five categories of racist/sexist things, ranging from mild at the top to horrible at the bottom. You could imagine it horizontally, too, if you want.

Continuum of hate

  1. Unconscious bias
    • over-emphasis of differences
    • gender assumptions of our language
    • assumptions of gender differences
    • internal stereotypes
    • snap judgements
  2. Microaggression
    • comments
    • interruptions
    • preferences
    • jokes
    • exclusion
  3. Discrimination
    • strict gender roles
    • hiring discrimination
    • limited opportunities
    • voting rights
    • active hatred
  4. Harassment
    • slurs
    • graffiti/vandalism
    • catcalling/street harassment
    • sexual harassment
    • police brutality
  5. Violence
    • domestic violence
    • sexual assault
    • rape
    • slavery
    • murder, lynching

So instead of an underlying id of "racism" or "sexism" in people's minds that then comes out in all of those above things, the items at the beginning/top of the spectrum are the causes themselves of the things at the end/bottom.

Children start with no bias and no assumptions. All of the unconscious bias of adults, media, and society that kids are exposed to leads to continuing that unconscious bias in them. As they're exposed to any item on this list, it can reinforce the hatred. And for every incident of severe violence, there are thousands of small microaggressions, so they're exposed to a lot more of those. Then, depending on the amount of this reinforcement, it can lead to conscious bias, and eventually lead to the other items in the list.

Earlier waves of feminism and racial justice fought to bring awareness to and end the dire items at the end of the spectrum, and they were partially successful. But in addition to continuing that work, the goal of today's current wave of feminism and other social justice movements, often by young people, is not just because they are each offended personally (although they are and should be), but also because they believe that addressing and solving the small things at the top of the list is the only way to eventually end the larger ones.

And the solution to solving the ones at the top is to bring awareness to them, and increase empathy.


On the other hand, when all is said and done, we don't need to understand all of this theoretical stuff in order to motivate ourselves to use the right words and not offend people. The motivation should be simply: not wanting to hurt people. The only thing it costs you is your word choice. When it's that easy to change something, why would you ever want to knowingly hurt people?

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Hawaii leads the way with renewable energy AND universal basic income

One of the positive benefits of having such an absurdly regressive federal government in place right now is that it has spurred the states to take matters into their own hands. This, of course, is closer to what the US was founded on, and throughout its history the states have often pioneered initiatives that have then spread nationally.

So, Hawaii is going nuts right now. Not one but TWO amazing explorations.

First there's Universal Basic Income. This is an idea that's been picking up speed recently. It's not that Hawaii has suddenly implemented it, but they've become the first state to start evaluating what it would mean and what it would take to put it in place. You can read more here about Hawaii's steps, and about the fascinating concept of UBI in general.

Then there's energy. The Hawaii legislature right now is considering a bill that would require all transportation in the Aloha state to run on renewable energy by 2045. Hawaii's climate is very sensitive to the changes from climate change, and because of their remote location they also spend billions on imported oil. This push would address both those major issues.

And that's just ground transportation. A bill is already in law in the state that all electricity must be generated by renewable means by 2045. The law passed last July. With an abundance of water and a sunny environment, Hawaii is primed to harness renewable energy in many ways.

Even better, officials in the state say that the goal could actually be reached ahead of schedule, as early as 2040. Personally, I think it will be sooner, as it's hard to accurately predict and account for the snowballing effects of leaps in technology.

Read more here om Global Citizen.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The innovation of green roofs

I've been in the Javits Center a ton of times (yes, mostly for Comic-Con) but never knew they had implemented a green roof a few years back. Our NYC apartment actually looks down on a really cool green roof, of the new Stuyvesant Town management office. Check out this NPR video to see how turning roofs green can benefit cities in lots of surprising ways.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Looking at life expectancy in detail

The New York Times published this U.S. life expectancy chart in an article a year ago:

In my book, I had published a similar chart showing the shrinking life expectancy gap between classes in Britain, and we see the same trend here. The gap between white and black life expectancy in the U.S. is now 3.4 years, down from 7 in 1990, and even wider going back farther.

While the article highlights a lot of interesting small trends, and the current patterns, my book prefers to look at larger trends. And it's not hard to see what's going on here, in the 116 years shown. In 1900, whites had a life expectancy of about 50, and blacks about 35. Today, that's 79 and 75.6.

What's incredible to me is how little the world's largest events matter in the long term. Look at the trauma of 1918. It was a terrible time for millions of people, but in terms of life expectancy, it didn't stop the trend from continuing right back up as if the Spanish Flu and WWI had never happened. Same thing for WWII, the Great Depression, and Vietnam. On this chart - obviously removed from the terrible human impact on the millions of people it represents - those were all just blips temporarily slowing down an unstoppable trend./p>

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tesla finishes its positive feedback loop

I recently finished the Elon Musk biography, and I recommend it to everyone to understand what I think is perhaps the most innovative and positive trend happening in this country today, at a time when many other trends seem to be heading backwards.

This video introduces Tesla's new solar roof panels. These are ingenious. Tesla has solved the main drawback of solar panels on people's roofs: They're ugly. Not these - they blend in as regular roofs while also looking even more beautiful.

The positive energy flywheel that the company has created takes energy from the sun through the roof tiles, stores it in Tesla's home batteries, and then charges its cars from the batteries. That leaves us with perfectly renewable energy powering the cars, with zero emissions. Watch the video below to find out more.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

More and more of the world is protected

I looked at the stats of how much of the world was protected in my 2010 book, The Secret Peace, and that trend has continued. Today, almost 13% of all the world's land is officially protected, according to the World Bank.

That may not sound like a lot, but it's 25 million square miles, and more importantly, it's up from only 6% in 1990.

What's interesting too is to see the breakdown by country. Some have made incredible strides, and nearly EVERY ONE has made gains since 1990. Below is a sample of several countries I found exceptional, with some of the most impressive gains.

These trends are likely to continue, slow but steady. However, I think we're on the cusp of several technological breakthroughs that could accelerate them even more. Consider the following clues:

  1. Online shopping is replacing a lot of retail stores, especially big malls. This requires warehouses, but those take up less room than retail.
  2. 3D printing may lead to more goods being produced on demand as they're ordered, eliminating the need for storing excess goods. This is already true of print-on-demand books.
  3. When self-driving cars take off, they will eventually start replacing car ownership. People will be able to call a car, just like Lyft or Uber, at a lower cost since there are no drivers. These cars will not need to rest and can function 24 hours a day (perhaps shipping goods when passenger demand is low). We start to need fewer and fewer parking spaces. New shopping centers and offices will be built with numbered drop-off points, rather than huge parking lots.
  4. In addition, if Amazon succeeds at using delivery drones at scale, that's even fewer trucks on the road.
  5. Thanks to Tesla, energy-efficient electric cars will soon expand to a massive scale. Since these cars will also have the ability to be self-driving, even if that's not "turned on" yet, it will accelerate the switch to self-driving cars.
  6. As they have for 200 years, crops will continue to get more efficient and produce higher yields, accelerated by more acceptance of GMOs, finally.
  7. Vegetarianism has been another slow-burning trend in the developed world, and as the world eats less meat, less land is needed for livestock, which is much less efficient than crops.
  8. And even though the developing world is eating more meat, lab-grown meat is on the cusp of being released commercially. If it takes a while to catch on with consumers used to "real" meat, that might not be the case with other, newly meat-eating consumers. Lab-grown meat is real meat, indistinguishable from other meat, but using a lot fewer resources to produce and not harming any animals, to boot.

Those are all trends leading to less and less land needed by humans and their voracious needs. This frees up more land that, even if not officially preserved yet, may start to revert to a natural state. It'll be interesting to continue to track these trends in the years to come.