What a time…
The final weeks of 2022 marked the birth month of the 8 billionth citizen of planet earth. Vinice Mabansag, a baby girl born in Tondo, Manila on 15 November was chosen to symbolically mark this milestone.
Vinice was born in a truly remarkable time:
On average, she arrived twice as wealthy as a baby that was born 16 years ago (measured by GDP per person, in global real purchasing power parity terms). She opened her eyes in a world in which around 91% of its inhabitants have escaped extreme poverty. When her mother was a toddler, 38% of people on earth were still trapped in deep destitution, not to speak of 120 years ago, when an estimated 75% of people on the planet were desperately poor. Indications are that desperate poverty will be totally eliminated during Vinice’s teenage years.
Famine and its consequences is something Vinice will probably only be exposed to in a history class lesson. For her forebears, it was a universal, regular and devastating phenomenon. In the past two decades, only 0.5 people per 100 000 died due to famine per decade, against between 30 and 80 people per decade in the first half of the twentieth century. Today, global undernourishment is estimated to be around 9% (compared to 50% as recently as 1945).
Vinice arrived in a world in which the average under-five mortality rate fell to below 4%, down 61% since 1990. In 1800, nearly 50% of children died before their fifth birthday. Life expectancy in her part of the world is 74 years today, compared to 41 in 1950; The time-saving technologies of her time probably means she will live at least ’10 times longer’ than her grandmother.
She will grow up in a world in which life-saving vaccines will be developed in months instead of the traditional 10 to 15 years; in which ‘-isms’ are called out and prejudice and attitudes of inequality are vigorously opposed. In the year 1900, women only had the right to vote in New Zealand; women now have the right to vote in every country and territory in the world except for one.
The new-born would not have been happy if she could have been told that she inherits a region in which air pollution is causing nearly 20% of deaths; but she will spare a thought for the fact that it has come down by 6 percentage points since 1990 – and take comfort in the fact that her birth coincided with the 27th UN Climate Change Conference, where world leaders were held responsible for solutions to turn around the damage her forefathers had done to the planet she became heir to.
Fortunately, Vinice entered a much more peaceful world: Over the last 1 000 years, an average of two new conflicts between European countries broke out every single year. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Great Powers were at war more than 75% of any given year. The rest of the world was not much more peaceful. Miraculously, conflict has become an exception rather than a rule.
There are so many more relative blessings in which our 8 billionth citizen had been born, aside from all the daily challenges of our time. Suffice to say that President Barack Obama’s words of a few years ago offer a valid reprise in a lullaby to Vinice: “If you had to choose blindly what moment you’d want to be born, you’d choose now’. Let’s hold thumbs that she will not allow herself, as she grows up, to be overcome by the bleak view of the world that dominates headlines every day.
As you reflect upon your experiences of 2022 and contemplate the project of living a significant life, may you spare a moment to pause in gratitude; realising that you are also sharing in so many of the under-published comparative privileges of our time; that most of the challenges of those of us who read this Mindful today are those of flourishing, not survival.
And may you accept the responsibility to turn these favours into magic and momentum – as an individual, family member, citizen and business owner; commit to be most of who you can be, and so express appreciation for the stroke of luck to live in this time.