The great advances mankind has enjoyed in health, prosperity, food production and longevity are largely taken for granted. But they are remarkable. Around one billion people have been taken out of extreme poverty in the last 20 years. The march of progress in technology is astounding – the computing power in your mobile phone is many times that which first put men on the moon. Science, innovation, entrepreneurship and global free trade have raised prosperity, education, and opportunity around the world. The incidence of war is at much lower levels than in previous centuries. But we have a natural tendency to focus on the problems. Bad news features in our media because it grabs attention much more easily than steady progress.
The biggest environmental problem in 1900 was not air pollution or climate change. It was horse dung. In London alone there were an estimated 300,000 horses pulling carts, cabs, and buses. The muck piled up in the streets causing bad odours and health risks. Urban authorities were unable to come up with an effective solution. But within 10 years the problem disappeared as the internal combustion engine replaced the horse.
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