A Positive View of the Last Two Decades
*This is a feature article by a Scholars' Life writer. To find out more about Western Scholars or to get involved in our programs, visit the content contributor page.
Written by: Christine Taylhardat
We often see the bad news reported by the media, which can sometimes make it difficult to be positive about the world. When I began writing this piece at the end of 2019, I wanted to capture the hope that many of us felt with not only a new year, but the start of a new decade. I have revisited the piece in light of some recent events, still believing however that we are in need of a positive outlook. This list includes only some of the great things that have happened both in 2020 and the past twenty years to remind us that the world is capable of changing for the better.
1. Female Leaders:
The world needs more females in leadership roles: only 23 women around the world served as either Heads of State or Government in 2019. The presence of female leadership is often indicative of a state’s more inclusive values, thus having a more diverse set of people making decisions. The scarcity of women in leadership is detrimental to the world since their take on issues often benefits many. In Canada, the number of female MPs makes up less than 30% of the House of Commons. However, this number has continued to increase in the last few elections. The gap varies, but in the last decade, there has been more females taking on leadership roles. For instance, in 2019, Finland elected Sanna Marin as their new prime minister, making her their third female prime minister.
2. Diversity in Hollywood:
In the last few years, diversity in blockbuster films has increased by including more women and people of different races and ethnicities, especially in lead and co-star roles. Other than having a good storyline, these films have often been successful because their diversity more accurately represents that of the audiences watching it. There is still a long way to go until equal representation is reached, both on and off camera, but big studios are getting the picture that a diverse cast is good for business.
3. Youth Activism and Global Climate Strikes:
In 2019, the injustices surrounding the inaction against climate change got individuals out on the streets to protest. The United Nations (UN) and non-governmental groups have been calling for lowering of emissions for years, yet things have largely remained business-as-usual. Youth climate activists like Greta Thunberg have shown the world that this generation is concerned over the uncertainty in their future. Youth are largely aware of what the implications of climate change will be, and now they are calling out politicians on their lack of political will and action.
4. Malala Yousafzai and Her Mission on Education:
A young advocate for a girl’s right to education, Malala became a prominent figure when she was shot on her school bus by the Taliban in Pakistan in 2012. After her recovery, she decided to take action and continue her advocacy for girls’ education by setting up the Malala Fund, which helps girls receive a good education. With over 132 million girls around the world not receiving an education, Malala’s work continues to be important.
5. Mental Health Awareness:
Over the last two decades, there has been an increase in awareness of mental health issues. Reducing the stigma of mental health issues has positive impacts such as making it more likely that a person will seek out help when they need it and creating public recognition of the need of mental health services.
6. Social Movements:
With the help of instant communication and the internet, social movements have spread widely and quickly among the public. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is a recent example of this. BLM, spurred after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin in 2013, calls out the injustices and systemic racism that black people are still facing in the 21st century.
Anti-police brutality protests sparked this year after the killing of George Floyd by police. Millions of protesters from small and large cities across the US and around the world are objecting to police brutality against Black communities. This recent wave of the movement has helped bring more awareness as to how privilege works in our society in a system founded on racism. Recent events mark this as one of the largest movements in the US, and as of now, protests are still ongoing, but a large amount of accomplishments have already been made in a short amount of time.
7. Paris Climate Agreement:
Signed by 196 countries in 2015, the Paris Agreement is an international climate change accord that set 1.5 degrees Celsius as the limit on planet warming and pledged to mitigate the effects of climate change. Among its achievements, it brought together countries from all over the world to work towards a common goal and to acknowledge that climate change is a legitimate problem that affects everyone.
8. Social Media:
Social media has disseminated with the growth of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Arguments can be made for both the positives and negatives of social media, but it is hard to deny one of its best parts: keeping us connected and aware of the rest of the world, something that has become rather important as we faced COVID-19 lockdowns and were unable to meet with family and friends. Social media is also an important outlet to voice issues, call for policy changes, and raise awareness.
9. Extreme Poverty is Decreasing:
As one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the decline in extreme poverty (people living on less than $1.90 a day) demonstrates the amount of progress that has been made towards the goal. The most recent SDG report by the UN stated that the extreme poverty rate was at 10% in 2015, an improvement from 36% in 1990.
10. LGBTQ+ Acceptance:
In 2005, same-sex marriage was finally legalized in Canada. As a society, the LGBTQ+ community has become increasingly more accepted in the last few years. In a survey responded to by people in the LGBTQ+ community, the majority of respondents felt that Canada tries to include LGBTQ+ but has yet to fully accept people from the community. Every year, more steps are being taken towards inclusion and full acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.
11. Giant Panda Population in Recovery:
In 2016, Giant Pandas were downgraded from the 'endangered species' category to 'vulnerable' because the panda population increased by 17% from 2004-2014. This demonstrates that with concerted efforts, biodiversity can recover when it is protected, so more action needs to be taken towards other species that are at risk.
12. Public Health:
According to a UN report, life expectancy has continued to increase while both child and maternal mortality have declined over the last few years. The overall decrease of child mortality of 4.4 million deaths between 2000 and 2017 is good progress, showing that there is a growing access to good health care. The measures taken towards improving public health have been successful and need to continue over the coming decades by increasing quality care, trained professionals, and availability.
13. Online Education:
The spread of knowledge to the masses has been able to take place with the internet being available to practically anyone. There are many free and easily accessible educational resources that, while not able to give a degree, can still help supplement learning in school, or just help a person learn something of interest without having to pay for it. Such resources include Crash Course and Professor Dave on YouTube, edX, and Khan Academy.
14. Decline in Animal Testing:
The unnecessary practice of animal testing for cosmetic products has been phased out by several countries in the last few years, including those in the European Union. Consumer support and pressure from animal rights groups has largely driven these policy changes. Canada has still not passed a law on animal cruelty, even though the majority of Canadians support cruelty free products.
15. Artificial Intelligence:
Robots or self-driving cars may be what comes to mind when thinking of AI, but AI also includes assistants like Siri on your phone and the algorithms that generate the ads you see on social media. AI has grown a lot over the last few years. It already plays a large role in banking and health care, but it won't stop there. The future may hold a lot for AI.
16. Gender Pay Gap:
From 1998-2018, the pay gap in Canada narrowed with women earning about 87 cents to each dollar earned by males. Considering the number of women in the workforce and leadership roles in both public and private sectors, efforts towards full pay equality are expected to continue.
17. Youth Civic Engagement:
In 2002, a non-profit Student Vote program was launched in Canada to run a mock election for students under the voting age so that they could learn about politics and the voting process. Early civic engagement is important; getting youth involved and teaching them that their vote matters tends to encourage students to go out and vote once they turn 18.
18: Renewable Energy:
Global demand for energy continues to grow, but the increase cannot be met by fossil fuels if we are to achieve our climate targets. The good news is that in the last two decades, renewables have not only become more widespread, but are getting cheaper and are more competitive in the energy market.
The prospect of a world powered by renewables was shown in 2017 when Costa Rica powered their energy sector with 100% renewable energy for 300 days. Even though Costa Rica still uses fossil fuels for transportation, this is nonetheless an incredible achievement considering the small progress most countries have made in replacing their fossil fuel use.
19. Local Jurisdictions Taking Action in Climate Change:
Four-hundred seventy-five Canadian jurisdictions along with 786 others across 25 countries have declared a climate emergency. While many global leaders are having difficulty acting on climate problems, we are seeing more local level governments demonstrating the leadership that federal governments are lacking in. By declaring a climate emergency, cities can make sure that their policies will lead to a reduction of their emissions which can help the transition towards sustainable cities.
20. Communities During COVID-19:
Even during a pandemic there are good news stories happening every day. From a Canadian boy scout who created ear guards for masks, to artists painting portraits of essential workers, musicians holding live concerts, food donations to hospital workers, and neighbours helping each other out with groceries, these stories show how we can continue to help each other out in times of crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic shows us that we, as a global society, are in this together. Great things are happening all over the world and have been in the last two decades. Reflecting on our achievements and setbacks reveals the progress we still need to make as we move into the next twenty years.