Good news you probably didnʼt hear about

Most of these news items are from Future Crunch, a Melbourne Creative think tank which as part of their public profile scours  good news stories from around the world, from Global Good News, plus a few I added.

Energy/Environment/Climate Change

While 2020 has been a terrible year for fossil fuels, it’s been an incredible one for renewables. Despite a record drop in power demand, wind and solar’s share of global electricity has increased from 8.7% to 10% in the first six months of the year. The biggest winner has been offshore wind, with orders up by 319%, making it the fastest-growing industry in the world right now. Science Alert

2 Million People in India Gather to Plant 20 Million Trees Along the River Ganges – All While Social-Distancing. Good News Network

American Lung Association cites health benefits of electric vehicles – Maryland could save up to 100 lives and $1.3 billion in public health benefits in 2050 by transitioning to all-electric vehicles over the next 30 years, according to a recent ‘Road to Clean Air’ report from the American Lung Association. Global Good News

Scientists from Australia and China have designed a powerful water filtering technique that uses sunlight, instead of heat or electricity. Their secret weapon is a super porous metal compound with the largest surface area per unit measure of any known material (a single teaspoon contains the area of an entire football field). One kilogram absorbs enough saltwater in 30 minutes to create 150 litres of fresh drinking water. Inverse

The size of the global coal power fleet fell for the first time ever in the first six months of 2020, with more plants shutting than starting operations. Did someone just say, ‘tipping point’? Guardian

The world’s most valuable company has committed to becoming carbon- neutral by 2030, a pledge that covers its entire supply chain and the lifecycle of all its products, including the electricity consumed in their use. Guardian

The UK’s biggest pension fund, with over nine million members, is divesting from fossil fuels, a landmark move for the industry. Guardian

British retailers sold 226 million single-use plastic bags in the 2019/2020 financial year, 322 million fewer than in 2018/19. That’s a 59% drop in a single year. The average shopper now buys four bags per year, compared to a whopping 140 in 2014. Guardian

Climate groups and tech companies have created a coalition that will use satellite data, machine learning and earth-based sensors to monitor all of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions – down to individual power plants, ships and factories – in real time. Vox

India to replace coal fired power plants with renewables – India is planning to replace retiring coal-fired power plants with renewable generating capacity in a bid to cut the nation’s carbon footprint, power minister R. K. Singh said

In perhaps one of the most globally consequential yet under-reported stories of the year, China has issued new rules for its distant water fishing fleet. The country’s Wildlife Protection Law will now apply at sea, ships will no longer be allowed to ‘go dark’ or approach marine protected areas, ship captains who break the rules will lose their license for five years and company managers will be banned for three years. Earth.org

Since the 1970s, more than 90,000 km2 of desert in Niger has been regreened, thanks to a technique known as farmer-managed natural regeneration. These huge forests of thorny trees are now productive farmland, yielding over a million more tons of grain than before. A desolate land, once bereft of life and on its way to desertification, has been utterly transformed. Mongabay

A company in California is claiming it’s developed ‘nano-diamond’ batteries, powered by nuclear waste. Their energy density blows everything else out the water, lasting decades without needing a charge. We’re watching this one closely – if they figure out a way to turn their proof of concept into a commercial product, all bets are off. New Atlas

At the turn of this century, Staten Island’s landfill was the largest garbage dump in the world, three times larger than Central Park, with trash mounds 20 stories high oozing noxious methane and leaking bin juice into waterways. Today, it’s a green oasis and one of the most unlikely urban ecological restoration success stories of all time. The radical fix? Bury the rubbish, plant some grass and do nothing for 20 years. NYT

A company in Seattle has just built the world’s fastest electric speedboat. The Zin Z2R is built around a BMW battery pack, and because the weight sits on the bottom rather than in the stern, when you put the hammer down, instead of tilting up first the boat simply leaps ahead. Another reminder that as electrification picks up speed all forms of transportation are going to evolve. Clean Technica

Andrew Cooper and Alex Schulze are two c̶o̶l̶l̶e̶g̶e̶ ̶b̶r̶o̶s̶ surfers who grew up on the Florida coast. A few years ago, they saved up their money for the trip of a lifetime to Bali, only to discover beaches covered in plastic. When they asked a local lifeguard why the otherwise beautiful shoreline wasn’t kept clean, they were told it had been cleaned hours earlier. The trash they were wading through had only just washed ashore.

Most people either ignore the plastic crisis or complain about it on Facebook. A few though, roll up their sleeves. The two friends decided to start an ocean cleanup company called 4ocean. They didn’t have any startup capital, so they decided to fund it by selling bracelets, and promising to remove a pound of trash for each one sold. They then used proceeds to employ cleanup crews in Florida, Guatemala, Haiti and Indonesia. Since 2017, they’ve pulled almost 5 million kilograms of trash out of the ocean.

GM venture’s mini car becomes China’s most sold EV, surpassing Tesla’s Model 3. Reuters

Food/Health

The world is losing its taste for meat. Production fell last year, and will do so again in 2020 (there have never been two consecutive years of decline). Globally, we’re already at peak pasture, and it now looks like we’re approaching peak beef. Bloomberg

How many times have you heard someone say that because we’re living longer, we’re more likely to experience cognitive decline? Not true. The risk of a person developing dementia in the US and Europe is now 13% lower than it was in 2010 (Alzheimer’s is falling too, by 16% per decade). Researchers think it’s down to less smoking, better cardiovascular health, and better education. NYT

Between 1992 and 2019, Senegal cut its rate of stunting prevalence in half, from 34.4% to 18.8%. Improved access to post-natal care, education, water and sanitation now means the country has the lowest stunting burden in French-speaking West Africa. Exemplars

A few years ago, the CDC identified a nasty bacterium called C.difficile as the most important antimicrobial-resistant threat to US healthcare, requiring ‘urgent and aggressive action’. Scientists have risen to the challenge: a treatment made of live bacteria just passed Phase 3 trials, putting it on track to become the first-ever application to the FDA for microbiome therapy. Xconomy

Africa is officially free from wild polio. 25 years ago it paralysed more than 75,000 children across the continent. Since then, billions of oral vaccines have been provided, preventing 1.8 million cases. It’s one of the greatest healthcare success stories of all time. If you get a chance today just pause, and take a little moment to appreciate this extraordinary achievement. BBC

According to a new study, mortality rates from the most common form of lung cancer have fallen sharply in the United States. “For the first time, nationwide mortality rates for non-small cell lung cancer are declining faster than its incidence, an advance that correlates with the FDA’s approval of several targeted therapies for this cancer in recent years.” NIH

Researchers from Australia and Sweden have developed a 3D-microprinted camera on the end of a wire that’s small enough to scan images from inside the blood vessels of mice. The lens sits on the end of an optical fiber no thicker than a human hair, allowing doctors to monitor the development and formation of arterial plaques. The device may help us better understand the thing that kills more people than anything else: heart disease. Photonics

Green Pedal are a NGO in Mozambique that helps farmers develop local, sustainable solutions for agriculture. One of their (many) projects is a water pump bike which gives farmers access to water to irrigate their fields. It’s a super simple, low cost technology, exactly the kind of thing we love here at Future Crunch. Each bike costs around $275, guaranteeing access to water to grow vegetables for one family. We sent them enough to pay for ten. A huge thank you to all of our paying subscribers for making this happen.

Military

Since 2007, the majority of the world’s countries – 113 countries – have reduced their armed forces, 100 have reduced military expenditure and both imports and exports of weapons have reached their lowest levels since 2009. GPI

Family/Human Rights/Justice

A major new study in The Lancet has shown that the average number of children a woman gives birth to has fallen from 4.7 in 1950 to 2.4 in 2017, and will drop below 1.7 by 2100. Global population is now on track to peak in the middle of this century. BBC

Indonesian officials are vowing to end the controversial custom of bride kidnapping, after videos of women being abducted sparked a national debate. Jakarta Post

After more than 30 years of Islamist rule, Sudan has outlined wide-reaching human rights reforms including allowing non-Muslims to drink alcohol, abolishing public flogging, and scrapping the death penalty for renouncing Islam. BBC

Huge, huge win for indigenous rights in the United States. The Supreme Court has declared that because of a treaty signed in 1866, up to half of Oklahoma’s land must be returned as the sovereign possession of the Creek Nation. E-Tangata

It’s election season, so naturally this one didn’t make headlines. Since 1965, Gallup has been polling Americans about whether they want immigration levels to decrease, increase, or remain the same. In 2020, for the first time in the poll’s history, more Americans said they wanted to increase immigration than decrease it. Cato

A series of studies in the US, the UK and 26 other countries has shown that loneliness during the pandemic has not only leveled out but, in certain cases, improved. People have found ways to maintain social connection, and there’s been a renewed appreciation for the importance of relationships. If these trends continue, the social recession many feared could turn out to be a social revolution. Scientific American

Health/Family

More than one million people in the UK have given up smoking during the COVID-19 pandemic. More people quit smoking in the year to June 2020 than in any year since surveys began in 2007. BBC

Parents in OECD countries now spend twice as much time with their children as they did 50 years ago (except for France because, well, France). Economist

Creativity/AI/Music/Science

Joseph Campbell, eat your heart out. By analysing over 40,000 novels, films and short stories, a team of British and American researchers has identified an ‘invisible’ blueprint for storytelling structure across generations and cultures. They’ve even built a website that allows you to analyze your own stories for the same patterns. Science Daily

“Who made this planet liveable and breathable for animals like us? Say it out loud: the photosynthetic ones“. Anthropologist Natasha Myers’ work is equal parts science, beauty and mystery. She thinks it’s time for us to conspire with the plants and step into The Planthroposcene. She’s got a point (see also: the quantum physics of photosynthesis). ABC

Say hello to Fulu Muziki, a collective of artists from the DRC who “come from a future where humans have reconciled with Mother Earth and with themselves.” They create all their instruments from rubbish and they sound incredible. Start here, and then dig for other artists on the Nyege Nyege label. Youtube

At last, the search is over. Meteorologists have finally confirmed the existence of Planet Earth’s piano strings – a chorus of continent-sized pressure waves that periodically sweep around the globe, covering it in a patchwork quilt of high- and low-pressure zones. First posited by a French scientist in the late 1700s, the waves have resisted detection for centuries until now, thanks to an exquisite new meteorological data set. “This is a really beautiful piece of work.” Quanta

A machine-learning geek has used a variety of publicly available algorithms to colorize, sharpen up and smooth out old movies. All of the films are touched up to 4K resolution, creating a more easily accessible glimpse of what life was like more than a century ago. So many hats! (and a striking reminder of how far we’ve come – in a 1901 film, child laborers peer curiously into the camera’s lenses in a town in North England). Also, MOON BUGGIES. Wired

Software might be eating the world, but every now and again the world bites back. This is the story of how the most ambitious smart city project in North America, backed by one of the most powerful corporations on the planet, was defeated by a small group of Toronto activists, and one disaffected tech billionaire. A harbinger of the much bigger privacy wars still to come. One Zero

We’ve recommended the Long Now Foundation before. If you’re looking for mind-expanding talks to watch while you’re in lockdown, put down that Youtube algorithm and step right this way please. Start with Nicky Case’s brilliant explanation of systems thinking, or if that’s not your cup of tea, perhaps Neil Gaiman’s tour de force on how stories stay alive. Interwebz at its best.

The internet has a new toy called GPT-3; the most powerful AI language model ever built. It’s basically an autocomplete: capable of writing creative fiction, generating functioning code, composing thoughtful business memos and much more. It’s also biased, like the humans it apes. The Verge

Scott Ludlam has written us all a love letter from 2029, and there are some parts that made us want to cry. If you’ve never heard of him, he’s probably the single redeeming factor in Australian politics in the past decade. Read it. Please. Guardian

Looking for something small and beautiful to watch on lockdown? Try this 14 minute film, about a young girl on the streets of Mumbai, from legendary Indian stop motion artist, Suresh Eriyat. It took eight years to complete, a genuine work of art. Youtube

The newsletter revolution rolls on. Inside Hook have compiled their 80 best single operator newsletters on the internet.

The six best science fiction novels of 2020, according to Tom Hunter, the director of the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Come for the recommendations, stay for the deeply satisfying discussion. Five Books

Confronted with Japan’s chronic labour shortage, one of the country’s largest construction companies is building a giant dam with robots. Remote-controlled cranes will pour concrete into slabs to build the dam up in layers, with humans acting as overseers instead of workers. “By transferring expert techniques to machines, we’re able to analyze what was once implicit knowledge.” Interesting Engineering

Biologists were curious about how hummingbirds, who make their nests behind waterfalls, pass through the heavy sheets of water. When they used a high speed camera the results surprised everyone. Rather than flying head on the birds lead with one wing while the other remains free to generate thrust, allowing them to pierce the veil in 0.1 seconds. “Nothing in the literature could predict that.” Science Alert

Hummingbird flying through waterfall

The streaming wars have finally caught up with Hollywood, and it’s looking ugly. There’s a changing of the guard happening right now and the studio bosses appear to have lost their central place in the American power structure. To be honest it’s hard to feel sorry for any of the people in this article. Good riddance. NYT

Bringing the chill of the cosmos to a warming planet. Scientists are tapping into a law of physics to create cooling systems that work without special fuel or electricity. Long ago, in lands that were always warm, people got ice from the heavens. At sunset, they poured water into shallow earthen pits or ceramic trays insulated with reeds. All through the night the water would radiate its heat into the chilly void of space. By morning, it turned to ice — even though the air temperature never dropped below freezing. This wasn’t magic; it was science. For centuries, desert dwellers in North Africa, India and Iran tapped into a law of physics called radiative cooling. All objects — people, plants, buildings, planets — give off heat in waves of invisible light. On a clear, starry night, that radiation can rise through the atmosphere until it escapes Earth entirely. Coldness, which is really the absence of heat, is created through this invisible connection to the cosmos.

The world now cools off with the help of more than 3.5 billion refrigerators and air conditioners, a number that is quickly growing. But those appliances are also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. In seeking relief from the heat, humans are making the globe even hotter, compounding the demand for cooling. To break that cycle, University of California at Los Angeles materials scientist Aaswath Raman wants to turn ancient technology into a 21st-century tool. Justin Andres, and Danny Laporte apply a protective layer of film containing copper and silver on SkyCool panels at Grocery Outlet in Stockton, Calif., on Oct. 5. (Sarahbeth Maney for The Washington Post) Working with colleagues, he has developed a thin, mirror-like film engineered to maximize radiative cooling on a molecular level. Washington Post

Wildlife/Silence/Forests

Vietnam has banned all wildlife imports and closed illegal wildlife markets, as part of the global response to the threat of zoonotic diseases. WAN

Researchers have shown that noise levels around the world have fallen by 50% in the last six months, the quietest Planet Earth has been since humans developed the technology to listen. They’re calling it The Anthropause. Vice

Britain’s woodlands now cover as much of the country as they did during the Middle Ages, thanks to 20th-century forestry and rewilding practices (Robin Hood eat your heart out). Times UK

25 years after gray wolves returned to Yellowstone, they’ve transformed the ecosystem and stabilized elk populations. “Elk aren’t starving to death anymore.” NatGeo

Kenya’s Wildlife Service says its elephant population has more than doubled from 16,000 in 1989 to 34,000 today. The number of elephants poached is also down significantly from previous years; just seven this year, compared to 34 in 2019 and 80 in 2018. Meanwhile, 140 baby elephants have been born in the Amboseli National Park since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. DW

Remember the insect apocalypse? While it was a worrying piece of news, most of the evidence came from Europe. New research has now shown that there has been no equivalent decline in the United States. Populations are down in some areas, but up in others, resulting in net abundance and biodiversity trends that are generally indistinguishable from zero. In other words, American insects are generally doing fine (bet you didn’t hear that in the evening news). Nature

A record 26 US states removed 90 dams in 2019, thanks to a growing movement of environmentalists seeking to restore rivers to their natural state. In total, 1,722 dams have been removed across the country since 1912, and as they disappear, fish are returning in droves: Atlantic salmon, alewives, baby eels, shad and brook trout, to name a few. NYT

Conservationists are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the re-introduction of red kites to the United Kingdom. In the 1980s, these majestic birds of prey were persecuted to near extinction. Following one of the most successful re-wilding programs in history however, there are now an estimated 10,000 birds across the country, including 1,800 breeding pairs. BBC

Meet Magdalena and Marcela Machaca, two Quechua sisters – both agricultural engineers – who build traditional reservoirs high in the mountains of Peru to ‘cultivate’ rainwater. Their grandfather introduced them to the ancient spiritual practice of sowing and harvesting water when they were children. In 1994, they started building reservoirs through their organisation, Asociación Bartolomé Aripaylla. 

Since then, they have built more than 120 reservoirs, which today provide the city of Ayacucho with 15 million cubic meters of water per year. Instead of large walls, they build small stone and clay dikes, directing runoff so that it doesn’t spread over the Andean slopes, but instead infiltrates the subsoil and recharges the aquifers. “We do not put anything on the floor, if we put clay there, we would waterproof it and it would not filter” explains Marcela.

Even as climate change dries up the region, and the ice disappears from the surrounding peaks, there have been no water shortages, thanks to their decades of work. They see the practice as both a spiritual and musical calling, with the act of building accompanied by the charanguito, a traditional instrument. “We sing to the water and talk to it,” explains Magdalena. “We are nature, we are part of her. We must never stop talking to the water, we must give it affection and a lot of understanding.”

Meet Susan Somali, who runs the Pejaten Animal Shelter in Jakarta. It’s home to over 1,400 animals, which Susan and her team rescue from the streets and butcher shops. They have a policy of never turning an animal away – no matter how stretched their resources are they’ll always take on new arrivals. At the same time, the 55-year-old mother of two is on the frontline battling COVID-19 as a clinical pathologist. She works in a laboratory that tests samples for the coronavirus and other illnesses.

Susan started the shelter in an upscale Jakarta neighbourhood more than a decade ago. “Whenever I saw an animal in distress I always took them home with me. As a child, I would do that during my commute from school. As a young woman, I would do that during my way home from university and now on my way back from work”. Channel News Asia

Woman cuddling two dogs

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