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10 Calming Antidotes To Terrifying News Stories
Some days, it feels like the news is on a mission to paralyze us with fear. Terror attacks in the Middle East, viruses engulfing Southeast Asia, war enveloping Eastern Europe . . . faced with such an onslaught, it can seem like the only sane option is to start stockpiling and prepare for the end of the world.
But there’s another, less-reported, reassuring side to the news. The outlook might be sunnier than you expected, even regarding some of the scariest stories of all.
(Note: Everything below is true at time of writing. If you’re reading this in 2019 as the house burns around you and the zombie hordes descend, don’t try to pin the blame on us.)
10ISIS, Boko Haram And Al-Qaeda Are Doomed
In the decade after 9/11, Al-Qaeda gained a reputation as the most evil group on Earth. Then in 2009, an even worse set of people emerged. Boko Haram made their name enslaving schoolgirls and razing entire villages. In 2014, they were topped by the still-worse ISIS. With all three currently running amok, no wonder we’re scared.
They might not be around for much longer. A comprehensive study of terror groups since 1968 revealed that most sputter and die in less than a decade.
In 2009, political scientist Audrey Cronin analyzed 457 different terrorist campaigns. She found that not one group succeeded in conquering a state, and 94 percent failed to achieve even a single stated goal. On average, each group lasted a mere eight years and usually collapsed after its leaders died horrible deaths.
We already have evidence that this is happening. We told you recently how ISIS is growing significantly weaker in Syria. In Nigeria, Boko Haram is being beaten back by a sustained military offensive. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda insiders are saying the group has lost its spirit, is losing recruits, and has been torn apart by the arrival of ISIS. The Guardian claims that, after being the most feared organization on Earth, the group is now “on the verge of collapse.”
9We Can Still Avert A Sixth Extinction
The recent news that human behavior has triggered a mass extinction was chilling. The last five great extinctions spiraled into the death of nearly every creature on Earth. The third one killed an incredible 96 percent of all known species. In their prediction for the upcoming sixth extinction, researchers noted “our species itself would likely disappear early on.”
That’s the well-reported bad news. The much worse-reported good news is we still have time to avert catastrophe.
As Scientific American pointed out in 2014, we humans aren’t just ecological killing machines. We can be saviors, too. In North America, species like the black-footed ferret and condor have been brought back from the edge of extinction. Reforesting the Eastern Seaboard has allowed habitats and local populations to flourish again. Under the right circumstances, large numbers of humans have proven themselves capable of living alongside fragile ecosystems for hundreds of thousands of years.
According to the report’s authors, fast and concerted action could still halt this next extinction in its tracks. While it would require a huge amount of political will, it is far from an impossible dream.
8Russia Is Unlikely To Start A War
From a poster boy for unintentionally hilarious homoeroticism, Vladimir Putin has evolved into Europe’s new bogeyman. His recent threat to use nuclear weapons against the continent has left Eurozone members in a state of anxiety. Yet there’s very little real threat of Putin deploying nukes or any other weapons against EU member states, for the very simple reason that it’s completely against Russia’s interests to do so.
Firstly, Russia is in a phase of severe decline. Its economy is both tanking and lacking in diversity. Its exports are falling. Its population is shrinking and dying younger. It’s losing friends at an astonishing rate. As Harvard’s Joseph Nye has noted, Putin’s games in Ukraine are also holding Russia back from accessing Western technology that could save his failing state. Drop the belligerence, and the benefits would be significant.
Secondly, NATO have made it clear they won’t accept Putin expanding west. Defense spending is up, and coordinated shows of strength have been arranged to discourage further Russian adventurism. Lastly, the Ukraine conflict has cost Putin many natural allies and strongly strengthened the EU’s hand in Eastern Europe. From a 2013 approval rating of 88 percent, Russia’s standing in Ukraine has fallen to a mere 30 percent. Meanwhile, support for the EU is at an all-time high.
7Ukraine May Be Getting Back On Track
For over a year now, the news coming out of Ukraine has been dire. Some 6,400 people have been killed, and cease-fires have been repeatedly broken.
All this carnage hides that the conflict seems to be shrinking. Mere months ago, the leaders of rebel-held Donetsk and Lugansk had the stated goal of setting up a Novorossiya republic. Stretching from Kharkiv to Odessa, it would carve Ukraine in half and justify continued rebel expansionism. Then on May 20, 2015, the fighters suddenly abandoned the project. Indications say the Kremlin pressured them to drop it in favor of keeping the Crimea and securing the current Donetsk and Lugansk borders. With the Novorossiya state effectively DOA, the rebels theoretically have no need to expand further westward.
The conflict has been further hampered by other regions not taking up arms in support of the rebels. Donetsk itself has even seen one substantial anti-separatist protest. With the EU planning to boost Ukraine’s economy with a trade deal set for 2016, stability may soon return to the embattled country.
6We’ve Finally Discovered A New Class Of Antibiotics
From a world where a simple infection could kill you, the discovery of antibiotics propelled us into one where nearly every illness was treatable. Unfortunately, doctors doled out so many that drug-resistant bugs emerged. By 2013, a resistant strain of tuberculosis was killing 150,000 every year.
While antibiotic resistance could still destroy us in the long run, we recently bought ourselves some time. In January, US scientists discovered the first new class of antibiotics in 30 years.
This serves as a giant kick in the teeth for bugs like MRSA and resistant tuberculosis, which haven’t had a chance to build up immunity to these new drugs yet. According to New Scientist, this latest discovery has likely put off the rise of drug-defying superbugs for as much as another three decades. If we’re lucky, that’s enough to buy us the time to discover even more antibiotics or think up a new method of dealing with infections altogether.
5Kim Jong Un May Lose Power
The roundest dictator in Asia, Kim Jong Un has proven even crazier and more bloodthirsty than his nutjob dad. In April, China warned that North Korea’s nuclear capabilities were rising at an alarming rate. Thanks to Kim’s belligerence, many consider the hermit kingdom a direct threat to global peace.
Kim might not be around much longer. A lot of analysts see signs that the party faithful may soon knife him in the back.
Under Kim Jong Il, the military received primacy in North Korea. Those who reached the top were set for life. By contrast, his son has been killing the high command with the zeal of a CIA plant. High-ranking generals have been disappeared, murdered, or executed with anti-aircraft gunfire. Previously solid posts have become so liquid that South Korean intelligence can’t tell who’s in charge. With so much upheaval, Kim’s making himself desperately weak. If the long-term generals decide there’s nothing in the Kim regime for them, a palace coup becomes almost inevitable.
There’s already been speculation Kim has missed appointments abroad because his position is so weak. Add to this reports that the army is desperately hungry and demoralized, and the DPRK starts to seem less like a credible threat and more like a failed state on the verge of collapse.
4Colombia Will Almost Certainly Reach A Peace Deal
Since 2012, Colombia has been negotiating with leftist rebels FARC to end the 51-year civil war tearing apart the country. In April, a particularly vicious FARC attack saw the cease-fire break down and large-scale killings resume. As a result, the US now considers the peace talks at a critical stage, with many expecting the rebels to completely break off and possibly attack the capital.
These dire warnings mask an unavoidable reality. As an organization, FARC is completely broken.
Less than 15 years ago, the rebels commanded 18,000 troops. They were active in Bogota, had nearly taken down the state, and even managed to shell the president’s 2002 inauguration ceremony. Today, they number less than 7,000. Their popular support is at its lowest ebb, and the Colombian military is exceptionally strong. They have nowhere to go but the negotiating table, which might explain why they’ve dropped nearly all of their revolutionary aims and even agreed to their leaders being jailed.
From the government’s point of view, talking is much easier than fighting and less costly in lives. Things are definitely wobbly at the moment, but an end to the world’s longest current civil war is almost certainly in sight.
3Violent Crime Is About To Bottom Out
Incidents like the recent biker shoot-out in Texas, the Baltimore riots, and the Charleston attack have made a lot of people start to question why the US is so violent. The country truly is violent compared to other wealthy democracies. But compared to the 20th century, American violent crime is falling to an inexplicable low.
In 2013, the FBI reported that violent crime had dropped to levels not seen since 1978. This followed on from a sustained two-decade drop that started in 1991, before finally picking up speed around 2008. This included plenty of cities that were once hotbeds of crime. The year 2014 saw the murder rate in New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Phoenix hit new lows. San Jose, the nation’s 11th-largest city, saw a mere 19 murders in the year.
No one knows why this might be. Plenty of seemingly reasonable explanations have been discounted by researchers. Nor is the trend unique to the US. In 2014, UK crime levels hit their lowest point since nationwide records began.
2The Eurozone Won’t Implode
At time of writing, the EU and Athens are deadlocked in talks that could see Greece booted out of the single currency. With Athens seemingly ready to default on billions of euros it owes, people are starting to wonder if the Eurozone can survive such a catastrophe.
The short answer is “yes.” The chances of Athens taking the continent down with it are next to zero. For one thing, Europe has restructured itself since the dark days of 2011, and contagion is now unlikely to spread from a toxic Greece. For another, Greece is tiny in comparison to the rest of the EU. Its economy accounts for barely 2 percent of the Eurozone GDP, and it imports very little from its neighbors. The EU could absorb a Greek shock without breaking stride.
Finally, losing Greece may make the Eurozone even stronger. No longer shaken by market fears of a Grexit, the euro may well settle down and eventually return to its former glory.
1MERS Isn’t The Next Pandemic
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is currently making deadly waves in South Korea. Brought over from Saudi Arabia, it has killed 31 people and infected nearly 200. Many are now worried it will cause the next global pandemic or at least prove a rerun of the 2002 SARS outbreak.
Science says otherwise. Unlike Spanish Flu or SARS, MERS has one major evolutionary disadvantage. It’s very difficult to catch.
For one thing, it very rarely makes the jump from one human to another. Most victims catch it from animals, and the only environment where we’ve ever witnessed it act like a human pathogen is (ironically) in hospitals. This is thanks to undiagnosed patients being given treatments to help them breathe. Rather than stay in the depths of the lungs like it usually does, the virus is then pumped out and into the atmosphere. Thankfully, this happens only very rarely and is easily contained.
MERS is much less likely to cause severe illness in healthy people. Most fatalities have been among the elderly and those with serious pre-existing medical conditions. While undoubtedly horrible for those infected and their families, it does mean a world-destabilizing super-pandemic is highly unlikely. So stop worrying, take a deep breath, and relax. You’re safe. At least, until the next media panic arrives.