Gvetch, gvetch, gvetch.
This blog — like so many other punditic ventilators — complains a lot. In the past year, it has grumbled about political correctness, Obama’s foreign policy, lawyers, and even college reunions. And those were just the lighter essays.
Negativity may attract internet traffic, but it is not humanity’s entire story. There are many positive stories lurking in the recesses of the news. Now, the afterglow of Thanksgiving, and on the threshold of the Christmas and Chanukah season, may be an appropriate time to pause and take note of five unreported or under-reported good news stories.
Our air is getting cleaner…
According to the American Lung Association, American air is getting cleaner, and the progress has been dramatic. Its most recent State of the Air Report found that between 1970 and 2011, emissions of six common pollutants fell nationwide by 68 percent. The improvement did not come at the expense of economic stagnation. On the contrary, during that same period, the economy expanded by 212 percent and vehicle miles traveled increased by 167 percent. Even areas facing the worst ozone pollution are reporting significant improvement. Los Angeles, for example, had one-third fewer days of unhealthy air last year than it did 15 years ago, when the American Lung Association issued its first State of the Air Report.
… While our energy economy is thriving.
The National Resources Defense Council Annual Energy Report finds that we are becoming more energy efficient. Oil and energy consumption remain well below levels seen a decade ago, renewable energy is surging, and growth in U.S. electricity sales continues to decline. American industry is getting more energy out of less oil, natural gas, and electricity.
As the American energy sector grows more efficient, American industry is growing more energy independent thanks to technological breakthroughs in shale gas and tight oil production. These breakthroughs occurred between 1998 and 2003, but the impact of those innovations has only recently become manifest. Energy expert Daniel Yergin characterizes that impact as a “revolution.” The U.S. is becoming far less dependent on foreign oil. Domestic crude oil production is up 50 percent since 2008. Coupling that increase with more energy efficient automobiles has caused petroleum imports to fall from their high of 60 percent in 2005 to 35 percent today. “Energy independence,” a slogan of every administration since Richard Nixon, is no longer a dream. We are on the doorstep of making that a reality.
The energy “revolution” has had beneficial consequences for the overall economy. IHS, Daniel Yergin’s consulting firm, reports that 2.1 million jobs were generated by this energy boom in 2012, which translated into $74 billion in federal and state revenues. IHS expects the boom to create 3.3 million new jobs by 2020. Lower energy costs will mean an increase of $1,200 in average household disposable income across the United States.
The “revolution” should also have beneficial consequences for American foreign policy, as the nation’s economy becomes less susceptible to the whims of foreign powers whose interests and values run counter to our own.
Crime is down. Way down.
“If it bleeds, it leads,” goes an old journalistic maxim. That saying certainly seems to guide cable news and newspaper coverage of violent crime.
But actual crime data reveal a different, much happier reality. The latest FBI statistics show that violent crime decreased 5.4% in this country last year. That’s encouraging … and it’s only the tip of an amazingly healthy iceberg. A wider perspective reveals that between 1993 and 2012, the violent crime rate (including homicide, robbery, rape and aggravated assault) in the United States dropped by 48 percent. In some locales, the improvement has been nothing short of astonishing. For example, during that same period, the violent crime rate in New York City dropped 71 percent.
Commentators differ on the causes for the decline. And some measures, such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s surveillance and Mike Bloomberg’s “stop-and-frisk” programs, remain controversial. But the numbers are indisputable, and they have fostered a social renaissance in the Big Apple and many other American cities.
Teens are “Just saying no” to drugs and alcohol.
Thirty years ago, Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no” campaign to discourage teenage drug use was ridiculed as naïve. But it turns out, a growing number of American teenagers are doing just that.
According to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health released by the Department of Health and Human Services, from 2002 to 2013, the number of teenagers making regular use of tobacco diminished by about half. So did recreational use of prescription painkillers. The rate of regular alcohol use among teens aged 12 to 17 fell from 17.6 percent to 11.6 percent over the same period. Marijuana use among teenagers is also declining, even though more states are legalizing its use.
In July, the Centers for Disease Control released a survey which also reflected a growing tendency among teens to just say no. Fewer than 16 percent of teens said they had smoked a cigarette in the previous month — down from 27 percent when the surveys first began. The number of youths who said they had drunk alcohol in the past month also declined, down from 39 percent two years ago to 35 percent today.
And it’s safer to be a child.
The media has lavished attention on the horrific Jerry Sandusky and Adrian Peterson stories. But overall, child abuse and accidents involving children are down. In other words, notwithstanding the widespread coverage of scandals, it’s increasingly safe to be a child in America.
According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, rates of physical and sexual abuse substantiated by child protection authorities declined 56% and 63%, respectively, from 1992 to 2011. Violence against youth aged 12 to 17 years, measured by self-report surveys such as the National Crime Victimization Survey, also declined substantially from the mid-1990s. onward. Incidents of bullying and school violence have also diminished significantly.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the rate of accidents involving children has fallen almost 30% from 2000 to 2009. Children’s deaths in car accidents fell by 41 percent, drownings by 28 percent, and falls by 19 percent.
If this post sounds like Pollyanna, that’s intentional. There is a lesson here. It is possible to scour the internet and ferret out hard, factual reports of positive news and optimistic trends. In other words, it is possible to read the news and smile. But it takes work. None of the stories mentioned above received front page, above-the-fold publicity. In fact, none received much publicity at all.
Good commentary should seek out the shortcomings in society. From time to time, it should disturb, embarrass, depress, and enrage.
But recognizing progress is not equivalent to inculcating complacency. One of the foundational purposes of this blog is to inform. And that includes information about good news. At least now and then. Unfortunately, we face no shortage of topics to outrage — as future posts will likely show.