“No man is an island, entire of itself”. John Donne, Meditation XVII

     

    I want to know what’s going on in the world. I’m a human; I’m interested in what other humans are up to; I value them, care about their triumphs and mourn their deaths.

    But:

    • There’s far too much going on for me to keep track of all of it
    • I think that some parts of what’s going are likely far more important than others
    • I don’t think that regular news providers are picking the important bits to report on

    I would really like there to be a scope sensitive news provider which was making a good faith attempt to report on the things which most matter in the world (see digression one for more thoughts on this). But as far as I know, this doesn’t exist (see digression two for some cool things which do exist).

    In the absence of such a provider, I’ve spent a small amount of time trying to find out some basic context on what happens in the world on the average day. I think of this as a bit like a cheat sheet: some information to have in the back of my mind when reading whatever regular news stories are coming at me, to ground me in something that feels a bit closer to what’s actually going on.

    Methodological notes

    • I picked the scale of a day because it felt easiest to imagine. I think that weeks, months and years would all be interesting scales to have something like this for. (For decades and centuries, I mostly think you should just read most important century, and I strongly recommend doing so.)
    • The numbers I’ve used are rough, but I think they are ballpark right, and a big improvement on no numbers.
      • Please read all of the numbers as having a ‘~’ in front of them.
      • I used the most recent years I could find, but this varied (2014-2022).
      • I mostly pulled numbers from Our World In Data, and sometimes other places.
      • I’ve only put links into the text directly where the number in the text is an annual figure that you can find directly in the original source. For everything else, I think looking at the spreadsheet of my workings makes more sense than going straight to the original source.
      • I’ve included a bunch of charts to give a sense of trends over time. The charts are all in years, so the numbers they are tracking on the y axis are different to the daily numbers I give in the text.
    • I picked some things that happen on an average day that I care about and think are important. I expect there are big gaps here, particularly where it comes to technology.[1] I’d love for people to suggest things which should be added to this post.

    Headline version

    Things that happen on an average day:

    • Almost 170,000 people die.
    • 380,000 babies are born.
    • Humans kill 800,000 cows, 1.6 million sheep, 4 million pigs, 200 million chickens, and 300 million farmed fish.
    • $263 billion is spent.
    • 95.4 million tonnes of CO2 are emitted.
    • Warning: these numbers are ~nonsense
      • 898,271 people fall in love.
      • 628,350,575 people cry.

    Things which remain the case on an average day:

    Spreadsheet version here.

    Things that happen on an average day

    Almost 170,000 people die.

    Since 1950, this number has been up and down, at around 140,000 deaths per day. Tomorrow, the number of deaths will be more than today, by around 6 deaths - and this number will keep growing every day for the next 80 years or so (nearly 30,000 days). On the average day in 2100, around twice as many people will die as did today.

    15,000 of these people are under 5 years old.

    5,000 of them die from diseases which are preventable by vaccines.

    380,000 babies are born.

    This has been the case every day since around 2010 - so nearly 4,500 days - and looks set to remain the case every day till around 2050 - so another 10,000 days.


    Probably around 15,000 of these babies will die in the next 5 years.

    Looking just at life expectancy at birth estimates, these babies will live to the year 2093, on average.[2]

    Humans kill 800,000 cows, 1.6 million sheep, 4 million pigs, 200 million chickens, and 300 million farmed fish.

    $263 billion is spent.

    That’s double what was spent each day in 2005, just over 15 years ago.[3]

    $26 billion is spent on health, $10 billion on education, $7 billion on R&D, $6 billion on the military, $1 billion on AI[4].

    [Flagging that this leaves over $200 billion spent on other stuff which I haven’t found numbers for.]

    95.4 million tonnes of CO2 are emitted.

    Warning: these numbers are ~nonsense

    They are nonsense in various ways: they each pull on one random paper I found in a popular article, each of the papers is a small sample size study, neither falling in love nor crying are clearly defined activities…

    See here for nonsense workings, but it’s probably not worth it.

    892,657 people fall in love.

    628,350,575 people cry.

    Things which remain the case on an average day

    8 billion humans are alive.

    3.3 billion of these people go to work.

    Around 990 million children go to school.

    277 million of these people have depression.

    A quadrillion fish are alive (a thousand trillions), 550 billion wild mammals, and 100 billion wild birds.

    Annually in farms, there are around 26 billion poultry, 1.5 billion cows, 1.2 billion sheep, 1 billion goats, and 1 billion pigs. I don’t think it makes sense to say that on a given day there are, say, 26 billion poultry alive though, given death rates in farms. You’d need to do more stats to get an estimate of the number of poultry birds alive right now.

    There are over 9,000 stockpiled nuclear weapons.

    And it's been roughly this way for the past 10 years - so the last 3,650 days.

    There are around 56 active state-based conflicts.

    As of 2020. Each day, around 135 people are killed in these conflicts.

    The number of conflicts has been going up since ~1950; but deaths in state-based conflicts have declined a lot.

    Thanks to my modern studies teacher who helped me set up a school newspaper, Planet Press, when I was 14; to Nicole Ross and Max Dalton for helpful conversations around this post; to Sam for inspiration on one of the nonsense numbers; and to Our World in Data for the amazing work they produce.

    Digression 1: my desiderata for a news provider

    Here is my list of desiderata for a news provider, in roughly the order of how much I want the thing:

    • Scope sensitivity: a serious, good faith attempt to tell the stories that matter most to the most sentient life.
    • Reasoning transparency: explicit about what is known, how, and how confidently. Evidence-based, links to sources etc.
    • In context: giving relevant and ideally quantitative context for stories, including:
      • Forecasts and odds on the things in question (e.g. Metaculus is at x% that this thing will actually happen by Y date)
      • Similar stuff (e.g. Congress has passed $z billion for A. The total amount spent on A-type things each year is P, and so-and-so project that we need z+c if we want blahblah to happen)
      • Historical trends (e.g. this is double what it was 5 years ago)
    • Tone: something about the tone not being persuasive/newsy even if that means it’s too nerdy/dry for a general audience. I just want someone serious to tell me honestly, in good faith, in a call-a-spade-a-spade way, what’s going on that they think might be important.

    Digression 2: cool news-related providers right now

    Worldometer shows live counts of various different things - births and deaths, expenditure, books published, water used, energy produced - some annually, some daily. 

    Because the counts are live, it’s a much better way than this post of getting a sense of something like what happens each second or minute, and I recommend checking it out. I wrote the post anyway because I wanted to pull out slightly different numbers to worldometer. 

    NB I used different data sources to them, so our numbers are presumably a bit different. (My only complaint about worldometer: they give sources but not workings, as far as I could find.)

    Improve the News pulls news stories from existing providers, but gives users a series of sliders where they can express their preferences, and see the stories which reflect those preferences. The main sliders are left/right for political stance, and critical/pro for establishment stance. You can also choose to split either of those sliders, and then see the headlines split half and half across your screen, left and right or critical and pro.

    In my dream world, there would be a website like this, but the sliders would be on complicated empirical and ethical questions (things like ‘what’s your discount rate’, ‘how many chicken lives is a human life worth’ etc), and the news stories being drawn upon would all be reasoning transparent and high quality.
     

    1. ^

       Seems like if you were only to have one number, maybe the best one to have would be something like ‘total FLOPS in the world today’. I’m not sure this is coherent or how hard it would be to estimate.

    2. ^

      I’m not sure how much life expectancy at birth makes sense. Like, does this factor in existential risk, and the probability of huge breakthroughs in anti-ageing? And if someone were to try to factor those things in, would they average out?

    3. ^

      Can someone tell me things about when I should expect the next doubling, i.e. in what year should I expect daily global spending to exceed $526 billion? Feels complicated and important; I’m ignorant about what sensible projections are and how much uncertainty there is.

    4. ^

      I got the R&D and AI figures from different sources; I imagine there’s some (maybe a lot of) double counting.

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    28 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:49 PM

    Humans kill 800,000 cows, 1.6 million sheep, 4 million pigs, 200 million chickens, and 300 million fish.


    I think you mean 300 million farmed fishes. But there are also wild-caught fishes. According to fishcount, “It has been estimated (in 2019) that between 0.79 and 2.3 trillion* fish (i.e. 790,000,000,000 to 2,300,000,000,000) were caught from the wild”. That’s 2.1 billion to 6.3 billion wild fishes killed per day. It doesn’t include illegal and unreported fishing (which would increase numbers a lot) and bycatch (some estimates on that here). Of course, we kill many more wild fishes by pollution, etc. And these are just finfishes, the number of shellfishes humans kill are many times higher.

    Yes, you are completely right. I've added 'farmed' now; thanks for picking this up.

    I enjoyed this post -- I've wanted a scope-sensitive news source for ages. 

    A resource I really like for getting a sense of what the world looks like "on average" is Dollar Street, which puts together info and images about households around the world. They estimate household income, so you can see what life at different income levels is like.

    I'm curating this post. It gave me a better sense of what's really going on in the world and now exists as a very useful resource I can refer to. As the author puts it:

    I think of this as a bit like a cheat sheet: some information to have in the back of my mind when reading whatever regular news stories are coming at me, to ground me in something that feels a bit closer to what’s actually going on.

    The post also has a lot of other properties I admire. I've listed some below — the list isn't exhaustive or ordered in any particular way. [Disclaimer: written quickly.]

    • For one thing, it notices a real gap (a scope-sensitive news provider) and fills it as well as possible to do in a "small amount of time." 
      • I think this has a similar energy to some of what Michael Aird has done, as he's explained himself (my summary: "Michael is pointing out that he noticed a need that could be filled with a bit of effort, and went ahead and filled the need").  \
      • Relatedly, "What happens on the average day" is a great summary/collection
    • The post is about the real world, not just effective altruism.
    • The post has a lot of useful numbers. That's the whole point. The numbers are well picked; I think most of the metrics listed here track something important about reality and the state of life on Earth. 
      • I want more of this on the Forum, and I'll take this as an example for myself, too, and try to put more numbers in my posts in the future. (If you notice yourself saying words like "big" or "a lot" or "small" — consider trying to write that down as a number or as a specific comparison.)
      • Aside: there seems to be a large variance in how comfortable people are with numbers, but I think this is surmountable, and encourage people to go a little out of their comfort zone if they feel like numbers aren't quite for them. With fermi estimates, for instance, I think the first few estimates are the hardest. I'd be excited to collect ways to make this sort of thing easier for people. 
    • I love the fact that lots of Forum users came in and checked the numbers in this post, and that the author corrected them in the post in response. 
    • There are images and visualizations! I love images and Our World in Data graphs (as a reminder, you can embed them into your Forum posts) and think this is a great use of them. 

    there seems to be a large variance in how comfortable people are with numbers, but I think this is surmountable

    Wanting to flag that my background is entirely qualitative, and I spent many years thinking this meant that I couldn't do things with numbers. I now think this is false, they aren't magic, and you don't need to have deep aptitude for maths/technical training/a background in stats to be able to fiddle around with basic numbers in a way that helps you think about things.

    I wonder if, in the future, there could be news for what happens to wild animals. I mean, not reporting which species had gone extinct. But like, how many animals were eaten alive, how many of them were infected by parasites, how many of them were drowned, how many of them were burned alive, how many of them starved to death, etc.

    I enjoy looking at Wikipedia’s current events page as a more neutral source of news, or at least a source of news that is not completely optimized for outrage even if the entries do contain some bias. I don’t think that it accounts for scope-sensitivity or any of the other desiderata, except for maybe tone, but I still felt that it was worth sharing. 

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Current_events 

    Also, Metaculus was mentioned in this post briefly as a possible provider of supplemental data, but something to consider might be Metaculus as a good news source in and of itself. 

    Thanks; I hadn't checked the Wikipedia current events page much previously, but I really like it.

    Do you have any thoughts on how specifically the Wikipedia stuff is biased? I'm imagining that there isn't a general tendency, and it's more that  specific entries are biased in specific ways that it's hard to spot if you don't have background knowledge on the area.

    As you said, I would imagine that specific entries probably contain some bias of their original author(s) that is somewhat difficult to spot without background knowledge. But, I am a multilingual person, and one interesting thing that I have noticed is that the same Wikipedia article can have pretty drastically different amounts of information depending on the author’s first language and the nature of the subject. Take for example, the Wikipedia entries for Edith Piaf (a famous French singer). The English Wikipedia entry for Piaf is something like 4000 or 5000 words, whereas the French entry is over 10000 words. The French entry also has more pictures! 

    Linguistically (and culturally?) speaking, French and English are pretty similar, so you might expect that this content would be easier to translate or to compare. The effect of language and culture on Wikipedia content is much stronger between languages and cultures that are more dissimilar. Take for example, the Wikipedia entries for Himeji Castle which is a famous historical site from 14th century Japan. The English Wikipedia for Himeji Castle is about 3000 words, whereas the Japanese Wikipedia for Himeji Castle is—so ridiculously long that I barely had the patience to come up with this character count—about 50000 characters. That would probably translate to something like 25000 words in English. (And again, the Japanese entry has way more pictures than the English one.)

    I think the broad implications of this might be that English speaking Wikipedia is biased by predominantly Western views and somewhat subject to international politics, in addition to whatever individual biases of the author in that highly specific context. I bet there is someone out there on the internet who has written a pretty interesting criticism about this, although I am not familiar with any content on it in particular. 

    My intuition is also that English speaking authors are probably more inclined to be left leaning in terms of their national politics, but I don’t really have a solid justification for this. Just a hunch.

    Thanks for writing this Rose, I love it.

    Small note: my (not fully confident) understanding is that a typical day still does not involve a launch to orbit. My cached number is something like 2 or 3 launches / week in the world; or ~100–150 days / year with a launch. This is the best cite I can find. Launches often bring multiple 'objects' (satellites) into orbit, which is why it can be true that the average number of objects launched into space each day can exceed 1. So maybe the claim that "humans launch 5 objects into space" is somewhat misleading, despite being true on average. (This is ignorable pedantry!)

    Thanks so much for this! If this is pedantry, I am very pro pedantry :)

    I think this makes my 'Humans launch 5 objects into space' section sufficiently dubious that I've removed it, but pasting here in the context of your comment:

    Humans launch 5 objects into space.

    It’s only in the last 8 years that the number of objects launched into space each day has exceeded 1.

    To resolve the lack of clarity here, there are lots of launches that have many things on board, so we have fewer launches but many objects launched. Because averages aren't always typical - and the modal number is zero.)

    Heads up that it's still in the headline version - though I think as an average it's fine and useful to include. 

    Thanks; I forgot about the headline version. I've now removed.

    This is cool, thanks for writing it!

    Do you mean 550 billion wild mammals, not wild animals?

    Yes! Thanks for the spot; updated now.

    one trillion wild birds

    This seems high, where does it say so in the paper? The Tomasik article you use for wild mammals estimates 0.1 to 0.4 trillion wild birds.

    I don’t think it makes sense to say that on a given day there are, say, 26 billion poultry alive though, given death rates in farms. You’d need to do more stats to get an estimate of the number of poultry birds alive right now.

    You can find some more estimates here https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/pT7AYJdaRp6ZdYfny/estimates-of-global-captive-vertebrate-numbers#Chickens

    Thanks for the link to Saulius' post; it's great and I recommend people check it out.

    On the trillion wild birds: yeah you're right, it's too high - should be 100 billion instead. Thanks for the spot; have changed.

    The number is on p. 89 in the supplementary materials - but importantly it's just aorder of magnitude, rather than a specific estimate. So it's consistent with Tomasik's range.

    Another way to think about these numbers is using 1 per (number of people), for example on a daily basis:

    1 cow is killed by 10,000 humans

    1 sheep per 5,000 humans

    1 pig per 2,000 humans

    1 chicken per 40 humans

    1 farmed fish per 26.7 humans

    Yeah, I've also been thinking that some kind of news platform that focused on all of the quiet, slow events would be really cool. 

    The problem is it would be hard for many readers to want to engage with it long term. 

    While Our World in Data doesn't frame it in this light, I think it's something great that helps display otherwise typically ignored data and should continue to get more attention.

    I will remember this article. Very interesting and thoughtful way of introducing people to EA.

    Completely agree with your comments on a good news provider. Instead of starting a new publication, we could create an app that lets users rate existing news articles on the criteria you mentioned. Speed is not so important for the kinds of articles we care about, so it would be OK if it takes a few days before enough ratings are collected to recommend an article to the whole community.

    Amazing. Quick comments on "how much is spent" (GDP). 

    • At first glance this looks like nominal GDP, not adjusted for changes in prices. That's more literally "how much is spent" but less informative about how people's welfare and capabilities are changing over time.

    Can someone tell me things about when I should expect the next doubling, i.e. in what year should I expect daily global spending to exceed $526 billion? Feels complicated and important; I’m ignorant about what sensible projections are and how much uncertainty there is.

    I strongly share your desire for "Digression 1" and your sentiment in the first 3 bullet points.

    I think "Digression 1" will be solved using AI. I also think your desirable constraints are only possible via AI. Especially if you consider the economic constraint of producing such a report/news.

    Twice as many sheep are killed as cows? That really surprises me, even knowing that mutton/lamb is somewhat popular in the Muslim world. Is it big in the non-vegetarian Hindusphere as well, and/or Africa?

    Keep in mind that cows like the American Brahman weighs 800kg to 1,100 kg while sheep typically weigh 45-160kg and are often eaten as lamb rather than mutton. So by their mass alone, you'd expect a lot more of them to be eaten. (weights from a quick google search)

    Amazing. Thanks so much for this. Gives me some food for thought, for sure.