Morbidity, Peak Child, And Collective Pessimism : The Indicator from Planet Money Five interesting facts about our world that you probably didn't know.
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Morbidity, Peak Child, And Collective Pessimism

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Morbidity, Peak Child, And Collective Pessimism

Morbidity, Peak Child, And Collective Pessimism

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CARDIFF GARCIA, HOST:

Hey, everyone, I'm Cardiff Garcia.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

And I'm Stacey Vanek Smith. Welcome to THE INDICATOR, where every day we tell you a short story about the economy.

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GARCIA: Though on today's show, technically we're telling you five super short stories - five surprising facts about the world, with the help of two old friends of the show.

MAX ROSER: Hi, my name is Max Roser.

HANNAH RITCHIE: My name's Hannah Ritchie. I'm a researcher at Our World in Data.

ROSER: An online publication that shows how living conditions have changed over the very long run.

GARCIA: You might remember Max and Hannah and their delightful accents from a few months ago when they gave us the idea for a 50-year-old newspaper, showing some of the astonishing ways that the world has changed in the last half century - often without our noticing because the changes were so gradual.

VANEK SMITH: The analysis Max and Hannah and their colleagues at Our World in Data do is really rich and varied. So we asked them to just pick five things from their research - five amazing facts to share with us. And after the break, we share them with you.

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GARCIA: OK, let's get right into it - five amazing facts about the world. Fact number one is about how much of the world's land is built up for human use. Here's Hannah Ritchie.

RITCHIE: This is a really surprising fact that most people will overestimate. So only around 1 percent of global land area we actually live, work, or travel on. So only 1 percent of global land area is what we call built-up area, which is cities, towns, villages, roads, infrastructure.

GARCIA: The stuff that we use, the where we live.

VANEK SMITH: One percent? That does not sound possible. Is that true?

RITCHIE: Yes. So 1 percent is where we live and basically what we see on a daily basis. This really - the other really surprising fact here is that the majority of our impact in terms of land is based on food and specifically livestock. So 27 percent of land area we use for livestock, which is equivalent to the size of the whole American continent.

VANEK SMITH: So humans have built up only 1 percent of the world's land. That is about the size of the state of Alaska or the country of Libya. But 27 percent of the world's land is taken by the livestock that we raise to feed ourselves.

GARCIA: And as for the rest, most of it is either barren land, glaciers, forests or - and I'm not kidding here, Stacey - shrubs.

VANEK SMITH: Shrubs.

GARCIA: Shrubs are 8 percent. Humans only get 1 percent. Shrubs get 8 percent.

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VANEK SMITH: Fact number two - the cost of solar energy has fallen hundredfold since the 1970s. So a unit of solar energy that cost $1,000 back in the 1970s would only cost $10 now. And Hannah says right now solar only produces about 1 to 2 percent of the world's energy. But solar is also the fastest growing source of energy.

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VANEK SMITH: Now fact number three is a little bit morbid - literally. It is about the causes of death throughout the world.

RITCHIE: We're mainly dying from cardiovascular disease and cancers and other noncommunicable diseases. But the kind of piece that I wanted to focus on was the decline in HIV or AIDS death. So global deaths from AIDS have within the last decade halved. So when you look at global deaths from AIDs, you see this kind of bell-shaped curve, where, you know, in 1990, around 300,000 people were dying. This peaked in 2006 with 1.9 million.

VANEK SMITH: Wow.

RITCHIE: And in the last decade, that has nearly - I mean, approximately halved. So in 2016, about 1 million died.

VANEK SMITH: The reasons for this decline are better prevention and also better medicine that slows the progression of HIV.

GARCIA: Bonus fact for this category - in the United States in 2016, you had a better chance of dying from tuberculosis, which is itself now very rare, than of dying from a natural disaster like an earthquake or from a terrorist attack.

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VANEK SMITH: For fact number four, we turn to Max Roser who finds that the world is soon going to hit a big milestone called peak child. Here is what he means by peak child.

ROSER: That moment in global demographic history at which the number of children in the world stops increasing.

GARCIA: So it's the moment when the number of kids in the world under the age of 15 will peak and then start to fall. This is kind of a big deal, Max says.

ROSER: One big reason why it matters is that it just makes very clear that population growth, more generally, comes to an end while over the last 12,000 years or so we have seen an almost 2,000-fold increase in the world population - and then over the last two centuries, really a very, very rapid increase in the world population. This transformation is now coming to an end. And peak child...

GARCIA: So peak child matters essentially because it heralds the end of peak human - because it anticipates peak human, the end of rising population.

ROSER: Yeah, I think that's one way of describing it. It anticipates peak human.

VANEK SMITH: Max says, based on the demographic projections from the United Nations, we might hit peak child sometime around the middle of this century - though he adds these are just projections, and that might be off by a decade or two.

GARCIA: And the reason we seem to be approaching peak child is a rapid fall in fertility rates all throughout the world.

ROSER: Over these last 50 years, we've seen this very rapid reduction in the global average from five children per woman in the mid-1960s to 2.5 child per woman today.

VANEK SMITH: Improvements in child mortality rates account for some of this trend. And also women have more opportunities in the labor market than they used to, says Max, and therefore many families are choosing to have fewer children.

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GARCIA: And last, fact number five is a fun one. It's about something called collective pessimism.

ROSER: Yeah, there's this interesting research in psychology, and social sciences more broadly, that shows that there is this weird disconnect between how people think about their own future and about the future of the society that they live in. People are optimistic when it comes to their personal future, and they're often very pessimistic when it comes to the future of others.

VANEK SMITH: Really?

ROSER: Yeah, like you find this in all kinds of aspects. Like there's - like there are questions on...

VANEK SMITH: Like, I think I might be going places, but I'm like worried about Cardiff.

ROSER: Exactly, yeah.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter) Is that true?

GARCIA: I've got bad news for you, OK. We're stuck on the same show.

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GARCIA: Max says this disconnect applies to every single country that he studied. And for a real brainteaser, ask yourself if this is because people are loath to admit that they're unhappy that they end up projecting their unhappiness onto everyone else. Max says that might account for some of this disconnect but not all of it.

VANEK SMITH: So maybe it's somewhere in the middle. And people are less happy than they like to admit, but they're still happier than they think everybody else is.

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GARCIA: For more on these fascinating data points, we've linked to the relevant Our World in Data pages at npr.org/money. This podcast was produced by Darius Rafieyan and edited by Paddy Hirsch.

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