Three Things Superpowers Are Good For
Reversing Climate Change, Improving Global Health and Eradicating Poverty
Superpowers, by their nature, are useful for many things. I’m especially inspired by the people who use theirs in three areas: reversing climate change, improving global health and eradicating poverty.
The pandemic has brought global public health to the front of our minds. Interestingly, I see many people are done with covid. Even the New York Times published a piece today that referred to taking a “post-pandemic” vacation. Of course, while we may be done with the pandemic, covid isn’t done with us.
Over the past decade, I’ve written rather extensively about polio eradication. The world is on the cusp of complete eradication. It didn’t happen by accident. It is the result of what may be the biggest global public health initiative in history—prior to the coronavirus. Billions of dollars have been spent to get us to the point that no cases of wild poliovirus have been reported since January anywhere in the world.
We can beat covid, too. One key lesson from polio: vaccines work. Vaccines are an essential part of getting the world back to normal. And those vaccines need to be distributed affordably in the developing world. There is no return to normal if global travel remains as risky as it is now.
When we truly are living in a post-pandemic world, much will be written in the form of postmortem. We’ll be wise to study the science to learn our lessons well. For now, we need to use superpowers like patience, love and perseverance to get through what’s left of covid.
Climate change has been looming ever larger during my lifetime. Climate science was well understood when I was born in 1965, but most of us didn’t really begin to understand it until the 1990s. Global warming tragically became a divisive political issue in the early years of this century, which sadly persists today.
The good news is that US carbon emissions peaked more than a decade ago, and global emissions have also peaked. We have proven we can grow the global economy without increasing emissions.
Climate change is different from poverty and global health in a critical way. Many of the solutions to climate change will generate savings, profits and even luxury. It is much more difficult to profitably invest in poverty eradication than in climate solutions. For instance, because you save money with solar panels an entire industry has sprung up making and installing them.
Superpowers that are especially helpful for reversing global warming are skills like bridging vision to action to radically scale proven innovations. We can use our optimism to avoid fatalistic arguments that somehow it is too late. When optimism fails, we can use hope to find it again.
Eradicating poverty is fascinating to me because we have been so successful. I often hear people say that we must be doing it wrong because so many people live in desperate conditions. Here’s the thing. When I was born, between 50 and 60 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. Today, less than 10 percent of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty using widely accepted definitions.
Put another way, even as the planet's population has nearly tripled, the actual number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half. In effect, every person born since I was is living above that extreme poverty line.
Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that our work is done. To the contrary, there is much more to do. For instance, more than 2 billion people on the planet don’t have a toilet. Given the dramatic progress, as measured in decades, however, we’re on the right track.
Finishing the work of eradicating poverty will require that we use superpowers like empathy, love and altruism. Once we have eradicated extreme poverty, we need to persist in the work to help everyone on the planet lead the fulfilling, self-actualized life we all aspire to. No one should be left to a subsistence existence when prosperity is possible.
How will you use your superpowers? Please share in the comments. (You can also reply to this post from your inbox, and it will go straight to mine.)