Annus horribilis—was 2016 all that bad?

By Frederic Friedel

Go through the news, read the blogs and the forums — 2016 was the worst year in most people’s living memory. And that was not only because of the US election, Brexit, or that beloved celebrities (David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Prince and in late December both Carrie Fischer and her mother Debbie Renolds in the course of two days) were dying like flies. Read Slate for other bad things that happened, making 2016 worse than all the previous bad years. In the poll at the end of their article 31% called it the worst ever, ahead of 72,000 BC, when a volcanic super-eruption on the island of Sumatra reduced the world-wide human population to less than 10,000 people (from which all seven billion people on Earth today are descended). 22% voted for Sumatra, 18% for the year 1348, when in the space of 18 months the Black Death killed at least a third of the population of Europe. Fourth in line with 11% of the votes is 1943, when World War II was raging and Nazis had systematically deported and killed more than 1.3 million Jews by the spring of that year. 2016, the annus horribilis (as Queen Elisabeth famously called 1992), was worse than all of that.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

Elsewhere others showed similar gloom (see lawn sign posted by Consuela on Twitter) or this cartoon by Dave Granlund. But two days ago Swedish author and historian Johan Norberg posted the list of good things that happened in 2016. Norberg is a classical liberal and the author of In Defense of Global Capitalism (2001) and Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future (2016). Here’s the list he posted on his Twitter page:

10. Giant pandas, the symbol of endangered species, were removed from the endangered species list.
9. The Ebola emergency, that many thought would turn into a global epidemic, was declared over by WHO in March 2016.
8. Several big rich world health problems continued a steep decline, like colon cancer, dementia and hip fractures.
7. The Americas was declared free from measles, a disease that killed 200 million.
6. Global Terrorism Index 2016 reported that the number of annual worldwide deaths from terrorism declined by 10%.
5. Acidic pollution returned to almost 1930 levels. CO2 was flat for a third year.
4. Maternal deaths declined to almost half of the 1990 level.
3. Peace in Colombia means that the Americas is now a continent of peace. Remaining wars in the world are a quarter as deadly as wars in the 1980s.
2. The WHO reported that malaria deaths are down around 60% since 2000. 1. Around 100 million people rose out of extreme poverty, so every second you count down to midnight on New Year’s Eve, three people rise out of poverty.

If you are into optimism simply google “Good things that happened in 2016” for a heart-warming series of articles and newspaper reports.

Written by

Frederic Alois Friedel, born in 1945, science journalist, co-founder of ChessBase, studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store