politics

Bad News

9 August 2018

CONTENT WARNING: EUGENICS, HOMOPHOBIA, TERRORISM

The world didn’t end in 2012, but sometimes it feels like we would be better-off if it had.

Two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef are bleached due to climate change—and the Adani coalmine may soon be its neighbour. The president of the world’s most powerful country has sexually assaulted numerous women. Fascism is on the rise globally, with alt-right groups cropping up all over the world. And maybe none of this will even matter, because North Korea could end everything with nuclear weapons. Any time we go near the internet we are bombarded with news that proves this is the worst time in history and the end is surely near.

This is hardly surprising. The media relies on shock value to generate income and popularity. We are all hooked by appalling headlines, with their provoking language choices and sensationalism. The greater the astonishment or horror on the part of the reader, the more likely they are to follow the link or purchase the newspaper.

The media doesn’t exist to cause havoc—it exists to communicate recent events. But this means unpleasant stories are more likely to surface because terrible events occur quickly, while positive occurrences usually build gradually. It is also important to note that the media reports what is happening, and not what isn’t happening. While a war is understood as something that is happening, we consider peacetime the baseline, and therefore it is not reported on. In this way, terrible events dominate media space.

Globalisation plays a part, furthering the reach of news. In one of the most peaceful periods in history, we constantly hear about global conflicts, making them seem more likely to happen when they never would have reached us centuries before. For example, terrorist groups seem incredibly powerful because we hear about incidents all around the world, due to quicker communication. Any potential terrorist attack is labelled as such and shown on repeat, making it seem like a constant threat. In truth, ISIS has lost its financial base, administration, training standards and geographical strongholds. The most powerful, organised and wealthy terrorist organisation of recent years is on the decline.

Good news doesn’t sell. Fortunately, Farrago is not-for-profit, so here it is.

We are living in the best time in history. Eighty-four per cent of the population lived in poverty two centuries ago. Now it’s down to 10 per cent, the same percentage of children who don’t go to school. Fifty years ago, that statistic was 41 per cent. The great killer smallpox is gone, and polio is on the way out. Crime is decreasing, along with malnutrition, child mortality, war casualties and discrimination. As the alt-right, nationalism and men’s rights activists are on the rise with never-ending hatred to share, it is important to remember that this is a small portion of the population. Though we may feel like discrimination has increased, in reality legislation is improving and the bigotry is, at least, less explicit.

The future of science is now. The first synthetic womb has been created for lambs, and its success will aid premature human babies. Genetic editing removed a heart disease gene from a human embryo. However, ethical debates about this technology have already emerged as the idea that disability can be edited out is predicted to add to the prejudice already faced. It is a similar debate to the one around “curing” sexualities, removing uniqueness and enforcing a hierarchy. Still, it is thrilling to know in cases like heart disease, it can help. Australian scientists successfully brought back an extinct species of frog for a short while, and their work may extend to Tasmanian tigers, woolly mammoths and dodos. We must consider why we are bringing these species back (Entertainment? Guilt?) and how they will exist in a world transformed by human activity. However, humans caused vast extinction and while the priority must be on preventing more, these could be important steps towards returning nature to how it was and should be.

Climate change may not be the end of days we predict, due to tough policies and goals. The UK will stop coal usage by 2025, while Sweden will run purely on renewable energy by 2040. Costa Rica already generates 99 per cent renewable energy, and plan to ban fossil fuels entirely in three years’ time, providing a pioneering example for all countries. China is working towards the world’s largest renewable energy system, and has already reduced green energy costs globally. The US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a voluntary agreement where countries set their own goals anyway, did little but further harm Trump’s reputation, and 16 individual states retain their own strict goals. Colorado, America’s tenth biggest coal mining state, has some of the best environmental policies. It may not be the solution, but it’s a start. While the US leaving makes a point, nearly every other country in the world is now working towards lower emissions. Science is investigating radical proposals like geo-engineering. In this case, the aim would be global temperature control, achieved through releasing sulphur dioxide to reflect sunlight. Sulphur injections are politically contentious: a country could seek to manage the temperature or use it as a bargaining tool. It could also damage the ozone layer or cause drought and provides no solution to other issues, like ocean acidification. Repairing harms rather than preventing them is not ideal, but science is proving that we need not live in endless despair. Solutions that have barely been conceived will someday be the possibilities we never imagined. These solutions fight against the constraints of time and denial, but they still represent hope.

Politics is where good ideas go to die (see also: the carbon tax, the welfare state). Yet even in politics there is optimism for the future. Universal basic income is a model where everybody would be provided with enough government income to live off. It’s an alternative to welfare without stigma and a means to address growing inequality in a capitalist world. It is heating up: Finland and Kenya are conducting experiments while globally researchers are exploring potential funding plans, fashioning a genuine prospect. Things are also (gradually) improving for the LGBT community: Pakistan recently introduced internationally progressive and protective transgender and non-binary laws. Problems remain everywhere, but we have proved we can conquer injustices. Death penalties for homosexuality have existed since 486 BCE, but now same-sex marriage is legal in 25 countries. Politics is not defined by doom but global change, and even within today’s precarious political climate, positive changes transpire.

We are constantly moving towards a better world. While backwards steps feel grave, progress and improvement have always been the story of the human condition due to persistence and arduous work. The issues we face seem abstract and overwhelming, but we must harness the energy of those who came before us to create change. Our cynicism is justified but it must be used to create something better. The media’s silence on good news is not reason to remain silent as well. The instant shock of horrific events cannot be compared to long term peace and good which is occurring all around us, all the time. It is not perfect, but we are living in the best time in history. May we work to ensure the coming years are even better.


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