Book Review Factfulness by Hans Rosling
These range from the fear instinct (we pay more attention to scary things) to the size instinct (standalone numbers often look more impressive than they really are) to the gap instinct (most people fall between two extremes). With each one, he offers practical advice about how to overcome our innate biases. The framework Hans enunciates is one that took me decades of working in global development to create for myself, and I could have never expressed it in such a clear way. I’m going to try to use this model moving forward. Why does it matter? It’s hard to pick up on progress if you divide the world into rich countries and poor countries. When those are the only two options, you’re more likely to think anyone who doesn’t have a certain quality of life is “poor.” Hans compares this instinct to standing on top of a skyscraper and looking down at a city. All of the other buildings will look short to you whether they’re ten stories or 50 stories high. It’s the same with income. Life is significantly better for those on level 2 than level 1, but it’s hard to see that from level 4 unless you know to look for it.
The book contains graphs on positive changes in protected nature, and good news on the conservations status of a few flagship species such as black rhinos, pandas, and tigers. However, it contains no information on the drastic decline in global biodiversity including a widespread decline of virtually all wild vertebrates, which researchers describe as the sixth mass extinction (Ceballos, G., Ehrlich, P, 2015).
He is exceptionally good at it, and Factfulness will penetrate the hide of the most determined pessimist. It is the corrective we all need as we head off on holiday, listening to fake news, and melting under a raging climate.
Ceballos, G., Ehrlich, P., Barnosky, A., García, A., Pringle, R., Palmer, T. 2015. Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction, Science Advances, Vol. 1, no. 5, DOI.
Pennisi, E. 2016. We’ve destroyed one-tenth of Earth’s wilderness in just 2 decades. Science Sept. 8.
Steffen, W., Broadgate, W., Deutsch L., Gaffney, O., Ludwig, C. 2015. The trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration. The Anthropocene Review, Vol. 2, 1, 81–98, p. 82.
Laestadius, S. 2018. Klimatet och omställningen (Climate-induced Transitions). Umeå: Borea.
Steffen et al. 2015. Planetary Boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 347 no. 6223.