Although there are plenty of global and U.S. threats to worry about these days, three demographic trends offer grounds for long-term optimism.
World population tops the list. Overpopulation has long been a disaster. It took Homo sapiens 10,000 years to grow from perhaps 5 million at the beginning of the agricultural revolution to our first billion in 1800. It then took only one century to reach our second billion, 50 more years to reach 4 billion, 25 more years to reach 6 billion and another 25 years to reach 8 billion a few weeks ago.
It would have been healthier to stop at 2 billion, but human sexual instincts, lack of sex education, male dominance and the Catholic Church, along with other religious institutions, prevented this. Among other disasters, this out-of-control growth has fueled global warming (a population of 2 billion would release 75 percent less carbon), food scarcity, widespread water shortages, dangerously high population densities in places like India and Bangladesh and militarized conflict in the Mideast and elsewhere. The only bright spot has been China's one-child policy which, despite its inhumane implementation, reduced births by perhaps 400 million. This has reduced the present population by considerably more than this amount because the 400 million would have expanded exponentially.
Today, women's emancipation, contraceptives, sex education, global news and freedom from religion are bending the population curve downward. It's projected to reach 9 billion in 2048, peak at 10.4 billion in 2088, and then drop. This is welcome news indeed for future generations.
The second trend involves national demographics: The U.S. electorate is rapidly becoming more supportive of progressive policies such as Medicare for all, a Green New Deal, abortion rights, Biden over Trump and gun legislation. This is because Generation Z and the Millennials, born since 1981, are more progressive than Generation X, born 1965-1980, and Generation X is more progressive than Baby Boomers and the World War II generation, born before 1965. The younger generations are more progressive partly because they tend to be more tolerant of gay rights, minority rights and women's rights, and partly because they are a more culturally diverse group, including many immigrants and their descendants.
Millennials and Gen Z made an impact on the 2018 and 2020 elections and by 2022 larger numbers of these generations could vote. In addition, some of the World War II and Boomer generations had died. It's generally agreed that these younger generations prevented the predicted Republican sweep this year.
The progressive views of Gen Z and Millennials and the reduced significance of the World War II generation will have an even stronger influence on the 2024 elections. This trend appears to be permanent.
The third trend concerns religion, or perhaps I should say anti-religion. Recall these lines from John Lennon's anthem to human happiness:
"Imagine there's no countries
"It isn't hard to do
"Nothing to kill or die for
"And no religion, too."
Although wars continue, there is hope that Lennon's other target, religion, is declining.
The religions of the world offer much to admire: social services, a sense of community, psychological counseling,\ and solace for grief and suffering, for example. But religion, especially fundamentalist religions, supports many traditional cultural values that wreak havoc: male dominance, bitter divisions and inflexible belief systems, for example.
Worst of all is the damage that fundamentalist and even liberal religions do to the rational pursuit of truth and happiness. Once you force yourself to believe improbable miracles, you have set yourself up to accept all sorts of nonsense such as that Donald Trump won the last election. As we see in, for example, the Mideast, you have also set yourself up to shackle or slaughter those who disobey your preferred religious customs.
In America, and perhaps the world, the generations are trending away from religion. National surveys show that every generation is less religious than the generations that preceded it. For example, only 9 percent of the World War II generation claims to be religiously unaffiliated. But 18 percent of Boomers, 25 percent of Gen X, 29 percent of Millennials, and 34 percent of Gen Z are religiously unaffiliated. Furthermore, studies show that once a person becomes unaffiliated, they tend to stay that way.
In another recent poll, 8 percent of the World War II generation claimed to be atheists or agnostic. Nine percent of Boomers, 11 percent of Gen X, 16 percent of Millennials and 17 percent of Gen Z claimed this.
According to Bob Dylan, "The times, they are a-changin'." In fundamental ways, they are changing for the better.