In terms of factual presenters my personal favourite over recent years has been the Swedish scientist and statistical sword swallower (that last bit really is true) Prof. Hans Rosling. His programmes such as BBC Four’s The Joy of Stats and BBC Two’s Don’t Panic – The Truth about Population make for eye-opening viewing.
His latest Don’t Panic episode, How to End Poverty in 15 Years, looks at the proposal by the United Nations to eliminate extreme poverty across the entire globe by 2030 – “extreme poverty” meaning the state of living on less than $1.25 a day. Rosling investigates if such a thing is possible and if so how it can be achieved. He does this by looking at the statistical information and presenting it in a clear and entertaining way, using a mixture of real-life footage from people living in both extreme and relative poverty in Malawi and Cambodia, and the use of animated and entertaining graphs and charts, ranging from computer animated models to a hand-crafted self-assembly graph (cue the custom Ikea joke from our Swedish host).
Rosling also tests his studio audience and viewers at home by asking them questions on poverty, resulting in the fact that what we generally believe is far worse than reality. This one of the joys of the professor – his shows are not doom-mongering scare stories. Rosling shows, using statistical evidence, that not only is the situation in the worst parts of the world improving, but also by how much, and how just simple changes in areas such as international aid can make the UN’s goal achievable.
It is also useful to see how the figures break down. Rosling for example shows a graphic of how extreme poverty has fallen from 1800 to 2015 in terms of the percentage of the world’s population, but then makes his graph more accurate by show his figures relative to growing population of the planet over that time. For me, the most shocking thing in the show was that in 1800, 80% of the world’s population, one billion people, were in extreme poverty. By 2015, only 12% of the world’s population is in extreme poverty, but because the world population is now over seven billion, the total number of people alive today in extreme poverty is one billion – the same as it was back in 1800.
Rosling also tries to make the viewer change their clichéd view of poverty, change the way that many richer people have that everyone in poverty is in the same state of poverty: not everyone is in “extreme poverty”. Lots of people, such as those earning $10 a day, are in “The Middle”, and are starting to make good progress.
Programmes such as this one remind us that while the world still faces many problems, many of them can be solved if we work hard. We should be happy with our progress so far, and keep up this progress. We should not just think the world is all doom and gloom. In terms of the phrase “Don’t Panic”, this programme would definitely have those words written in large friendly letters on the cover.
Don’t Panic – How to End Poverty in 15 Years is available on the BBC iPlayer.