I'll refer to a cynic or "realist" as Grumps. At the end, I'll explain "realism" and why I think it's actually cynical.
Poverty is not improving.
Global proportion in poverty decreasing dramatically
Global per-person wealth increasing
Global energy use increasing
Global per-person food increasing
Cropland per person decreasing
Food supplies correlated with income
Rising obesity is a sign of poorer health
Global life expectancy increasing
Life expectancy correlated with income
Infant mortality correlated with income
U.S. male cancer rates going down
U.S. female cancer rates going down
Overpopulation is a threat to society
Fertility approaching replacement
Fertility correlated with wealth
Violence and wars are getting worse
No trend in atrocities as percent of population
European example of homicide rate decreasing
Violence has declined over long stretches of time, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species' existence. The decline, to be sure, has not been smooth; it has not brought violence down to zero; and it is not guaranteed to continue. But it is an unmistakable development, visible on scales from millenia to years, from the waging of wars to the spanking of children. No aspect of life is untouched by the retreat from violence.
People are getting dumber.
Education per person increasing
Average scores on intelligence tests are rising substantially and consistently, all over the world (the "Flynn Effect"). These gains have been going on for the better part of a century—essentially ever since tests were invented. The rate of gain on standard broad-spectrum IQ tests amounts to three IQ points per decade, and it is even higher on certain specialized measures.
We work ourselves to death
Hours worked per person decreasing
Child labor correlated with income
Anthroprogenic climate change will destroy the planet
We're pooping in our own backyard
Estimates derived from observed climate change tend to best fit the observed surface and ocean warming for ECS values in the lower part of the likely range (U.N. IPCC).
While heat waves, rain, and tropical cyclones have increased, there is little global evidence that floods, droughts, small-scale severe weather phenomena, tropical storms, or major hurricanes have increased (U.N. IPCC).
A global mean average temperature rise of 2.5C may lead to global aggregated economic losses between 0.2 and 2.0% of income (U.N. IPCC).
Increasing vegetation from increasing CO2
Forest cover correlated with wealth
Global deaths due to climate disasters decreasing
U.S. pollution decreasing
OECD pollutions decreasing
U.S. indoor air quality improving
Safe water correlated with wealth
Inequality is increasing.
Global income inequality decreasing
No change in global gini index
Rich getting richer but poor moreso
Morality seems to be progressing (may be correlated with wealth).
As Ridley writes, progress has occurred despite the "chiefs, priests, and thieves."
"Realism" is often status quo biases and emotional prejudices wrapped in a pretense of objectivity and balance.
Actually cynical because it disregards optimistic evidence.
One way to tell a "realist" versus a realist: Are they curious about the evidence of optimism?
True realism usually warrants, at minimum, some optimism.
What if there is truly a disaster?
Whether psychological, societal, or planetary, we have a good history of beating it.
The more average wealth, the better our chances.
Despite "recklessly" increasing its numbers... humanity has never been better fed, healthier, or longer lived... the average person's life span has more than doubled. He is better educated and wealthier. She is freer to choose her rulers and express her views... Her professional, social, and physical mobility... is less likely to be circumscribed by caste, class, location, or other accidents of birth. Not only is work less physically demanding, he works fewer hours, earns more, and has more leisure time at his disposal. The proximate causes for the improvements in the human condition... are the forces of technological change and economic growth, supplemented by trade in products, ideas, and technologies (Goklany).
No! Let's work to improve the world more.
Economic progress seems to be the main driving force.
Personal exercise: Every night, write down three things that went well that day.
You'll do great today.
And if you don't, try to find optimistic ways to look at it.
Presentation @ http://averageradical.github.io/radicaloptimism/