How 2020 enters the history books

2020 could go down as the worst year since 1918 for the metric that counts most, even if it pales in comparison to pre-Industrial examples.

The big picture: 400,000 more Americans are expected to die in 2020 than 2019, a 15% spike surpassed only by 1918’s astounding 46%, writes Axios” Bryan Walsh.

  • In 1918 it was the trenches of WWI and the Spanish flu.
  • In 2020 it’s COVID-19 and drug overdoses.
  • Life expectancy dropped by nearly 12 yearsin 1918, compared to a likely three-year decline in 2020.

By the numbers: The global economy is projected to contract by more than 4% this year, and as many as 115 million people could fall back into extreme poverty.

  • That would still leave an economy twice as largeas 30 years ago, when more than a third of the world’s population was in extreme poverty.
  • Today, even with COVID-19, that figure is closer to 9%.

The big picture: 2020 will enter the history books among other anni horribili, which tended to concentrate disease and starvation.

  • Take 1816, known as the «Year Without a Summer» thanks to a massive volcanic eruption in 1815, which caused what one historian called«the last great subsistence crisis in the Western world.»
  • Or 1349, perhaps the worst year of the Black Death pandemic, which would eventually kill a third or moreof Europe’s population alone.
  • Don’t forget 536, which the journal Science memorably called«the worst year to be alive.» A volcanic eruption in Iceland early that year cast Europe and parts of the Middle East and Asia into a literal dark age.

The bottom line: As 2020 has painfully demonstrated, just because life has been getting better all the time doesn’t mean it will continue to do so.

  • Industrialization enabled us to escape the Malthusian trap, but it also put us on the path to catastrophic climate change — likely the biggest headwind we’ll face in the decades ahead.


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