Optimist’s Guide to 2020

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Populism. War. Pollution. Since 2014, Bloomberg’s Pessimist’s Guide has imagined a roadmap of the world’s coming worries. But this year, you can open up the newspaper on any given day and get all the negative news you need.

Are things really that bad?

We don’t think so. This year, we’ve decided to take a different approach. Science, technology and changing social attitudes can plant the seeds for a brighter world. So instead of looking at what could go wrong, we’re asking you to look at what could go right.

Take a deep breath and get ready for the Optimist's Guide to 2020.

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The Share Button Gets Deleted

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies during a Senate Commerce

Online Infection

The Problem | The 2016 election was just the start of Facebook and Twitter’s problems. New entities, foreign and domestic, used Russia’s example to perfect the art of viral misinformation in 2020. The steps the companies took changed little about how the social sites worked—after all, online outrage added up to a lot of clicks.

Top Performing Image Themes

on Facebook

50 images of the top 100 engaged with

Anti-immigrant

Patriotic

25

0

Anti-muslim

Dec. 2016

Jan. 2016

Top Performing Image Themes on Facebook

50 images of the top 100 engaged with

Anti-immigrant

Patriotic

25

0

Anti-muslim

Dec.

2016

Jan.

2016

Top Performing Image Themes on Facebook

50 images of the top 100 engaged with

Anti-immigrant

Patriotic

25

0

Anti-muslim

Jan.

2016

Dec.

2016

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks outside the White House

Missile Hoax

The Trigger | The @realdonaldtrump account inadvertently retweets a fake video of a nuclear missile launch aimed at Washington. The video proves impossible to scrub from the internet. Something has to change, platforms realize—and Twitter, Facebook and other social networks announce that their retweet and reshare functions will disappear, in an effort to stop the flow of fake news.

Three young women laughing while looking at a mobile phone outside

Better Sharing

A Better World | The social media giants survive: Turned-off users return to the platforms as the emphasis shifts to original, more thoughtful social content. Eventually, outrage culture moderates, and the spread of falsehoods slows down. Pockets of conspiracy still exist but recede to fringes or private groups and chat rooms, and trust in democratic institutions and media slowly rises back to levels not seen since the 1990s.

Percentage of

Americans That

Trust the Mass Media

51%

2000

41%

2019

Percentage of Americans

That Trust the Mass Media

51%

2000

41%

2019

Percentage of Americans

That Trust the Mass Media

51%

2000

41%

2019

Percentage of Americans

That Trust the Mass Media

51%

2000

41%

2019

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New Dads Get Sent Home

Italy's 2013 Member of the European Parliament Licia Ronzulli takes part with her daughter Victoria in a vote during a plenary session of the European parliament

Not Closing the Gap

The Problem | After narrowing for decades, the pay gap between men and women is stuck, and research points to one thing—motherhood. Well-intentioned firms try to help by extending maternity leave to four months or more, but as a result high-achieving women stay away from the office even longer while men are furthering their careers. The data back up the problem: At the beginning of their careers, men and women make almost equal amounts. By their 40s, women make 55% as much.

Effect on Earnings as a Result

of Parenthood in the U.S.

20% earnings relative to pre-child earnings

0

Men

-20

Birth

of first

child

-40

Women

-60

5 years before

birth of first child

10 years after

birth of first child

Effect on Earnings as a Result

of Parenthood in the U.S.

20% earnings relative to pre-child earnings

0

Men

-20

-40

Women

-60

5 years

before birth

of first child

Birth of

first child

5 years

after birth

of first child

10 years

after birth

of first child

Effect on Earnings as a Result of Parenthood in the U.S.

20% earnings relative to pre-child earnings

0

Men

-20

-40

Women

-60

5 years

before birth

of first child

Birth of

first child

5 years

after birth

of first child

10 years

after birth

of first child

The 'Fearless Girl' statue stands across from the New York Stock Exchange

Stay Home, Dad

The Trigger | One of the major Wall Street banks announces that not only will men get equal parental leave to their female colleagues, it’ll be mandatory. In Silicon Valley, tech companies realize they’re falling behind in the race to implement market-leading benefits and quickly match the policy. Other giant firms—JPMorgan, General Motors, Oracle—follow.

Smiling baby crawling on living room floor with parents watching in the background, out of focus

Equality

A Better World | There’s culture shock at first, as hundreds of thousands of new dads figure out how to make themselves more useful at home during (and after) leave. Sociologists call the effect “the great leveling” as Gen Z’s female workers experience greater wage parity than any generation previously. By 2035, economists studying wages find that women under 45 are making 96% of what their male peers do. Wage equality finally happens when men experience parenthood at work in the same way as women.

What Women

Earn Compared

to Men in the U.S.

81%

2018

62%

1979

What Women

Earn Compared

to Men in the U.S.

81%

2018

62%

1979

What Women

Earn Compared

to Men in the U.S.

81%

2018

62%

1979

What Women

Earn Compared

to Men in the U.S.

81%

2018

62%

1979

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Birth Control for All

Five women dressed as characters from The Handmaiden’s Tale supporting Planned Parenthood at a rally outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC

Underprotected

The Problem | Around the world, women’s access to birth control varies widely. In some countries the pill is hard to get and intrauterine devices are unavailable, and condoms and other single-use methods aren’t as effective as they could be. The effects are significant: Women participate in the labor force at lower rates, are more likely to die in childbirth and face a persistent gender wage gap.

Percentage of Women in

the Labor Force

= one country

80

60

40

20

Percentage of Women

in the Labor Force

= one country

10

20

30

40

50

70

90%

60

80

Percentage of Women

in the Labor Force

= one country

10

20

30

40

50

70

90%

60

80

UN council voting with hands raised

Getting Control

The Trigger | In 2020, government, health and religious leaders in more than 180 countries announce an accord to provide free birth control to their female citizens. The 232 million women who say they want the ability to decide when to become pregnant will now be able to.

Three women standing in an office, facing forward and smiling

Working Women

A Better World | Health benefits arrive first: Fewer babies are born with HIV, since infected mothers can control pregnancy. Maternal mortality declines and more children live to adulthood as women space out births. Pregnancy-related healthcare costs decrease. The economic effects have a sweeping effect in developing countries: GDP rises as more female workers can join—and stay in—jobs; there’s less competition for government programs, easing the pressure on budgets. Two decades later, female reproductive empowerment is hailed as a major milestone in the catchup by developing nations.

Real GDP Growth

in Developing

Economies

4.1%

1990

3.9%

2019

Real GDP Growth

in Developing

Economies

4.1%

1990

3.9%

2019

Real GDP Growth in

Developing Economies

4.1%

1990

3.9%

2019

Real GDP Growth in

Developing Economies

4.1%

1990

3.9%

2019

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HIV Is Defeated

A grandmother poses with her grandchildren she adopted after their parents died of AIDS

Deaths from

HIV/AIDS

770K

2018

290K

1990

Deaths from

HIV/AIDS

770K

2018

290K

1990

Deaths from

HIV/AIDS

770K

2018

290K

1990

770K

2018

Deaths from

HIV/AIDS

290K

1990

Decades of Deaths

The Problem | Decades after the start of the HIV epidemic, the statistics are still horrifying: More than 150,000 dead children a year, many born to infected mothers. In Africa, the virus kills 160,000 people a year in Nigeria, another 100,000 in South Africa and another 62,000 in Mozambique. The virus costs the globe billions of dollars a year, and holds back the economies of some African regions.

A laboratory technician picks up a test tube with a human blood sample at the Maccabi Health Services HMO central laboratory

Shot at a Miracle

The Trigger | In 2020, a major drugmaker announces that its experimental vaccine prevents about half of infections, the first hope against a virus that has spread death for decades by outwitting the immune system. The company rushes the vaccine into production as competitors work on ways to develop their own, better versions.

Video cameras pointing at a doctor giving a woman a vaccine

New

Cases of

HIV Infection

1.7M

2018

1.9M

1990

New Cases of

HIV Infection

1.7M

2018

1.9M

1990

New Cases of

HIV Infection

1.7M

2018

1.9M

1990

New Cases of

HIV Infection

1.7M

2018

1.9M

1990

Eliminating HIV

A Better World | In high-risk countries, public health workers go city by city, inoculating whole populations. There are still almost 40 million people with HIV, but the 1.7 million new infections a year are cut by as much as 70%. Global treatment costs, estimated to reach $35 billion a year by 2031, level off and then fall. In Africa, life expectancy trends in some countries tick up as working-age people are spared, and economic growth increases by several percentage points. With the virus in retreat, parts of the continent experience a medical and economic miracle.

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Swine Fever Turns a Billion People on to Fake Meat

Two butchers selling fresh outside their street market stall at night

The Real Cost of Pork

The Problem | China’s expanding economy has made the middle class richer—and hungrier than ever for meat. But all that livestock means more greenhouse gases, more deforestation and more pollution of air, waterways and land, just as climate change is accelerating.

55M tons

2018

China’s Pork

Consumption

23M tons

1990

55M tons

2018

China’s Pork

Consumption

23M tons

1990

55M tons

2018

China’s Pork

Consumption

23M tons

1990

55M tons

2018

China’s Pork

Consumption

23M tons

1990

Aerial view of Pigs infected with African swine fever being segregated by workers in full body suits

Fake Meat Fills In

The Trigger | African Swine Fever has torn through Asia and infected herds of pigs that are a crucial food staple. In China, half of its herd of 200 million pigs has been culled or died, and pork prices are high. With an empty spot on a billion-plus Chinese dinner plates, fake meat takes off. Investment pours into manufacturing technologies and capacity to meet the new global tastes.

Happy family enjoying a meal

Pork Gets Chopped

A Better World | In 2022, with U.S. pork exports falling thanks to new taste for plant substitutes, American political leaders join hands to declare soy- and pea-based meat an economic imperative, to the befuddled cheers of American environmentalists. China and the U.S. compete to push plant-based “meat” exports, stopping the growth of animal consumption—and its attendant costs—in developing markets around the globe. The meatless food revolution ends up slashing carbon emissions and feeds hundreds of millions of people at the same time.

2.7M tons

2018

U.S. Pork

Exports

108K tons

1990

2.7M tons

2018

U.S. Pork

Exports

108K tons

1990

2.7M tons

2018

U.S. Pork

Exports

108K tons

1990

2.7M tons

2018

U.S. Pork

Exports

108K tons

1990

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A Global Green Deal

Flames rise from a forest fire that firefighters struggle to contain

Too Hot

The Problem  | The planet is accelerating into a climate crisis. Super-storms, flooding, fire and drought threaten lives and force migration. Solutions have fallen short: Countries that signed the Paris Agreement are already set to miss their commitments.

Global Temperature Projection

2100 outlook under

current policies

+3.0°C

+2.8°

2100 outlook under

pledged actions

+1.5°

Paris Agreement

most ambitious target

+1.0°

Increase since pre-industrial

times as of 2018

Global

Temperature

Projection

+1.0°

+1.5°

+2.8°

+3.0°C

2100 outlook

under

pledged

actions

2100 outlook

under current

policies

Increase since

pre-industrial

times as of 2018

Paris

Agreement

most ambitious

target

Global

Temperature

Projection

+1.0°

+1.5°

+2.8°

+3.0°C

2100 outlook

under pledged

actions

2100 outlook

under current

policies

Increase since

pre-industrial

times as of 2018

Paris Agreement

most ambitious

target

The Losse river floods the city of Kaufungen, central Germany

The Climate Recession

The Trigger  | A global economic slowdown materializes in mid-2020, when floods in Northern Europe and a drought in the south tip the continent—then the world—into a dramatic recession. European central bankers devise a plan: “Green QE.” German chancellor Angela Merkel sets up her party’s future by allying with the Greens and abandoning the country’s obsession with balanced budgets. The package promises to buy hundreds of billions of euros in green bonds and the European Investment Bank funds climate projects with more or less a blank check.

Clean Energy

Investment

$357B

2018

$60B

2004

Clean Energy

Investment

$357B

2018

$60B

2004

$357B

2018

Clean Energy

Investment

$60B

2004

$357B

2018

Clean Energy

Investment

$60B

2004

Golden retriever dog playing with stick on a flower meadow outdoors

Green Boom

A Better World | Climate-shaming had limited success, but economic envy works. In 2024, Europe is the first to pull out of the recession thanks to the stimulus plan. By 2026, America has followed suit with investment at home and abroad to boost the green manufacturing and energy sectors. Slowly, the climate crisis abates. Future historians credit the so-called Global Green Deal with changing the world.

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China’s Combustion Ban Supercharges the EV Revolution

Cars drive on the road which is enveloped by heavy smog in China

Running Out of Gas

The Problem | Consumers are buying more and more electric cars. But adoption is nowhere near the pace needed to keep transport emissions—about 14% of global carbon output—from pushing the world way beyond the Paris Agreement’s targets. While China says it will eventually phase out gasoline cars, analysts say it won’t happen before 2040.

Planned Fossil Fuel Vehicle Bans

= one country

2025

2030

2035

2040

2050

2045

Planned Fossil Fuel

Vehicle Bans

= one country

2020

2025

2030

2035

2040

2050

2045

Planned Fossil Fuel

Vehicle Bans

= one country

2020

2025

2030

2035

2040

2050

2045

Baojun E100 electric vehicles sit parked in the parking lot of the SAIC-GM-Wuling

Turn the Key

The Trigger | In 2020, President Xi Jinping, under continued pressure at home to cut pollution and stimulate the Chinese economy, changes course on EV policy with a dramatic acceleration of China’s plans to eliminate conventional cars. Starting in 2025, no combustion-engine cars can be sold in the country.

Electric vehicle charging stations stand at a parking lot with smiley face charging logo painted on the wall

Drive On

A Better World | As production ramps up, battery prices go lower and lower. That drives another, off-road revolution: Old power plants begin to be replaced by giant electricity storage centers that can store excess power production from renewables. Within a few short years, the economics of electric car manufacturing are transformed, not just in China but around the globe. Soon, new gasoline-fueled cars are as rare as vinyl records or VHS video-cassettes. China proves that a total transition to electric vehicles can be done, and the rest of the world follows suit.

1.1M

2018

Electric

Car Sales

874K

2018

Rest of the

World

244K

2014

China

31K

2014

1.1M

2018

874K

2018

Electric

Car Sales

Rest of the

World

244K

2014

China

31K

2014

1.1M

2018

874K

2018

Electric

Car Sales

Rest of the

World

244K

2014

China

31K

2014

1.1M

2018

874K

2018

Electric

Car Sales

Rest of the World

244K

2014

China

31K

2014

Advertisement

The Big Liftoff

A reporter takes a smart phone photo of a mock up of the Crew Dragon spacecraft

Space Race

The Problem | The space race has been at full thrust for years, with billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson planning to fly wealthy joy-riders into orbit in 2020. More commercial rockets are launching than ever before. But to make Mars a destination for anyone besides NASA, or to seriously consider industry in space, the new rocketeers will need a significant reduction in launch costs.

Rockets Launched or in

Development Between 2017-2018

Estimated cost per launch $100M

SpaceX is launching some of the most powerful rockets at comparatively low prices

50

0

0

20K

40K

60K

Estimated maximum payload capacity (kg)

Rockets Launched or in Development Between 2017-2018

Estimated cost per launch $100M

SpaceX is launching some of the most powerful rockets at comparatively low prices

50

0

0

10K

20K

30K

40K

50K

60K

Estimated maximum payload capacity (kg)

Rockets Launched or in Development Between 2017-2018

Estimated cost per launch $100M

SpaceX is launching some of the most powerful rockets at comparatively low prices

50

0

0

10K

20K

30K

40K

50K

60K

Estimated maximum payload capacity (kg)

A prototype of SpaceX's Starship spacecraft, against a blue sky with dramatic clouds

Big Rocket

The Trigger | In 2020, SpaceX’s starship—a 160-foot tall stainless-steel craft sitting on top of a massive booster—makes its first orbital test flight. As the ground in Texas rumbles under the massive ship’s dozens of engines, it’s proof that humanity will soon be able to truck 100 tons into orbit at a time, and on the cheap.

Father and daughter stargazing, rear view

...And Beyond

A Better World | The huge SpaceX rocket sets the terms for industry and exploration. On Earth (or just off of it), a ballistic passenger service turns travel from Hong Kong to London into a 30-minute hop. By 2030, huge, reusable rockets are hauling caches of fuel, gear and modules for a long-distance ship that will be aimed for Mars. A decade later, it no longers costs millions to buy a space tourism ticket, but thousands—subsidized by dozens of industrial flights that launch each week. Space becomes a place where people work and play.


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  • The Share Button Gets Deleted

    By Sarah Frier

    Photography: mkToy; JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; Maskot

    Data Sources: New Knowledge, SSCI Research Summary, December 1, 2018; Gallup

  • New Dads Get Sent Home

    By Rebecca Greenfield

    Photography: xijian; FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP via Getty Images; Drew Angerer/Getty Images; Tetra Images

    Data Sources: Child Penalties Across Countries: Evidence and Explanations, March 2019; United States Census Bureau

  • Birth Control for All

    By Emily Biuso

    Photography: Redshift-Blueshift; SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images; KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images; MoMo Productions

    Data Sources: 2018 data from the International Labour Organization compiled by the World Bank; IMF

  • HIV Is Defeated

    By John Lauerman

    Photography: Just2shutter; Brent Stirton/Getty Images; David Silverman/Getty Images; The Times / Contributor

    Data Sources: UNAIDS

  • Swine Fever Turns a Billion People on to Fake Meat

    By Deena Shanker

    Photography: EvgeniyShkolenko; Alex Robertson; Yelim LEE / AFP; Lane Oatey/Blue Jean Images

    Data Sources: USDA

  • A Global Green Deal

    By Katia Dmitrieva and Enda Curran

    Photography: BBC News; ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP via Getty Images; Uwe Zucchi/DPA; Maya Karkalicheva

    Data Sources: Climate Action Tracker; BloombergNEF

  • China’s Combustion Ban Supercharges the EV Revolution

    By Matthew Campbell and David R. Baker

    Photography: 2Dwork; Visual China Group via Getty Images; Qilai Shen/Bloomberg; Justin Chin/Bloomberg

    Data Sources: BloombergNEF

  • The Big Liftoff

    By Justin Bachman

    Photography: Faithfulshot; David McNew / Stringer; Loren Elliott / Stringer; Phil Banko

    Data Sources: Federal Aviation Association "The Annual Compendium Of Commercial Space Transportation: 2018"

Contributors: Ben Holland, Katia Dmitrieva, Enda Curran, John Lauerman, Rebecca Greenfield, Matthew Campbell, David R. Baker, Deena Shanker, Sarah Frier, Justin Bachman and Emily Biuso