Amidst the negativity, President Obama offered some uplifting facts.
In his final United Nations General Assembly address, President Barack Obama used the moment to encourage a sense of optimism and positivity about the state of the world.
Addressing the hall on Tuesday morning, Obama spoke about foreign policy and domestic policy successes, the value of spreading liberal democracy, and the obstacles to global peace and unity.
Throughout his speech, though, the president referenced a few remarkable facts, statistics and perspectives that resonated with us as being overwhelmingly positive. Below, we’ve aggregated a few of them and included any relevant data to support his claim.
In a campaign season full of dark premonitions about nuclear war, division, and the loss of freedom, Obama’s speech was a refreshing reminder that there is a lot to celebrate out there.
1. More people than ever before are choosing their leaders.
“The collapse of colonialism and communism has allowed more people than ever before to live with the freedom to choose their leaders,” Obama said. “Despite the real and troubling areas where freedom appears in retreat, the fact remains that the number of democracies around the world has nearly doubled in the last 25 years.”
He’s right. Not only has it doubled in the last 25 years, it’s quadrupled since 1975. In fact, earlier in his speech Obama referenced Aung San Suu Kyi, a democratically elected leader of Myanmar the U.N. welcomed to the assembly this year.
2. The world is less violent and safer than 25 years ago.
“A quarter-century after the end of the Cold War, the world is by many measures less violent and more prosperous than ever before,” Obama said. Later on, he remarked that “our international order has been so successful that we take it as a given that great powers no longer fight world wars.”
And it’s true: according to Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, war has been on a downward trend for thousands of years. In 2014, Politifact reported that “despite some peaks and troughs, there have been fewer battle deaths over the last decade than any other 10-year average since World War II.”
While we’ve seen a slight uptick in deaths related to conflict because of the Syrian Civil War, 2011 saw the least amount of people killed in wars since 1946. Generally speaking, Obama is right: the world is a less violent place than it was 25 years ago.
3. The number of people in extreme poverty has been seriously reduced.
“Over the last 25 years, the number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut from nearly 40 percent of humanity to under 10 percent,” Obama said. “That’s unprecedented.”
In October of last year, CNN reported that the world poverty rate had fallen below 10 percent for the very first time. That still leaves 702 million people in poverty, but Obama accurately contrasts it with much more frightening times just 25 years ago. The World Bank, which tracks world poverty, defines global poverty as living off of anything less than $1.90 a day.
“It’s not an abstraction,” Obama said. “It means children have enough to eat, mothers don’t die in childbirth.”
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) September 20, 2016
4. A person born today is better off than at any time in human history.
“And in medicine and manufacturing and education and communications, we’re experiencing a transformation of how human beings live on a scale that recalls the revolutions in agriculture and industry,” Obama said. “And as a result, a person born today is more likely to be healthy, to live longer and to have access to opportunity than at any time in human history.”
Most people born in 1900 did not live past the age of 50. Now, Americans are expected to live until they are 79 years old. If life expectancy keeps increasing in America at the current rate — three months for every passing year — it will be 100 years by the year 2100.
Across the globe, life expectancy has increased an additional five years since 2010. Babies born in 2015 can expect to live to 71.4 years of age.
5. The Internet is connecting us in ways we’ve never been before.
“I have seen that spirit in our young people who are more educated and more tolerant and more inclusive and more diverse and more creative than our generation, who are more empathetic and compassionate towards their fellow human beings than previous generations,” he said. “And, yes, some of that comes with the idealism of youth. But it also comes with young people’s access to information about other peoples and places and understanding unique in human history, that their future is bound with the fates of other human beings on the other side of the world.”
You can watch his full speech below:
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