Staying Optimistic: Happy New Year!


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It is easy to feel pessimistic at the end of 2018. CO2 emissions are still climbing rapidly and reached an all time high in 2018, with severe weather events accelerating globally. Facebook and Twitter continue to be used for manipulation and their approaches to moderation are just as problematic. And the political response to all of this is largely one of chaos dominated by strongmen politicians, including the recent election of Bolsonaro in Brazil.

So how can one stay optimistic? One way is to look at things that happened in 2018 that can be seen as early signs of positive change. Signs that we can and will do better over time. Here are just some examples:

Climate

We have evidence that when we get our act together on an environmental issue, then a recovery is possible. While on an admittedly smaller scale, the ozone layer is on track to complete recovery. The aggregate growth in CO2 emissions hides real progress that’s being made, such as the UK going for 1,000 hours without coal or global deployment of solar and wind energy reaching 1 TW in capacity. In the US, the Tesla Model 3 became the fastest selling car (by revenue) and China is leading the world in electric vehicle sales with a commitment to going all electric by 2040.

Networks

It also turns out that we do not need to be slaves to online networks. In 2018 Apple released Screen Time as part of iOS 12 and Google released Digital Wellbeing for Android to help people track and limit their usage of apps like Instagram. 2018 was also the year when Facebook engagement in the United States started to decrease for the first time (important footnote: Instagram which also belongs to Facebook is still growing). Regulators globally started to take more serious interest in online networks in 2018 including a US congressional hearing and an EU hearing among many other inquiries and court cases.

Politics

The congressional class elected in 2018 is the most diverse ever elected with a record number of women entering politics. Voter turnout in the midterm elections was much higher than in the last three decades including many more young voters. In general young people started to engage in politics more in 2018 including organizing the March for our Lives. We are also starting to make long overdue improvements to the democratic process starting at the state level. Maine carried out its first ranked-choice voting in the midterms and several states including Colorado, Michigan and Missouri adopted anti-gerrymandering amendments.

For 2019 let’s continue to build the momentum of these positive developments. And in that spirit: Happy New Year!

PS If you have developments from 2018 that give you reason for optimism please share them in the comments or on this Twitter thread.