More good news you probably didn’t hear about
The rest of the world
Source: Future Crunch
it looks like democracy in the United States is alive and well. Institutions matter, yes, but so do culture and tradition, and after hundreds of years the practice of democracy is inseparable from the idea of what it means to be American in the first place. Voting was overwhelmingly orderly and calm, the counting process has been smooth and secure, and the country witnessed astonishing levels of turnout. Biden received more votes nationally than any presidential candidate in US history. That’s something to keep in mind when the recriminations start flying.
In the meantime, the world continues to turn. It might feel like there’s only one story at the moment but of course that’s not true. We’re [Future Crunch] pressing send because we thought you might like to drag yourself away from those results for a bit. There’s been some great news in the past week on clean energy, girls’ education and the end of whaling in Iceland, an amazing breakthrough in the physics of black holes, and a wonderful discovery by a lone biologist about the medicinal properties of a common roadside weed
Climate change/Clean Energy/IEA
Another one bites the coal dust. The Philippines, the third largest ASEAN economy, has announced it will no longer accept proposals to construct new coal power plants. This caps off a brutal October for the global fossil fuels industry, after dozens of financial institutions announced exits last month not just from coal, but oil and gas too. IEEFA
Since Donald Trump took office, the clean energy sector in the United States has employed nearly three times as many people as the fossil fuels industry, and between 2016 and 2019, renewables added more than double the jobs that fossil fuels did. Sometimes, a simple piece of data paints a clearer picture than a thousand opinion pieces. #MAGA. Morning Consult
The clean energy juggernaut rolls on. Lazard has just published its annual cost of electricity report, one of the energy industry’s most respected benchmarks. It says the cost of onshore wind has fallen to $26 a megawatt-hour and utility scale solar is $29. Forget coal – that means that building new wind and solar is now cheaper than keeping many existing gas plants running (gas-led recovery, anyone?).
Japan, the third largest economy in the world, has committed to reaching zero emissions and achieving a carbon-neutral society by 2050, with a fundamental shift in policy on coal use. The country’s new Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, says “responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth.” Oh, and South Korea has announced it will be carbon neutral by 2050 too. NPR
The IEA’s latest annual report contains a hidden nugget of very, very good news. Last year, the number of people without access to electricity dropped from 860 million to 770 million, a new record low. Africa has made particularly good progress; the number of people gaining access to electricity doubled from 9 million a year between 2000 and 2013, to 20 million between 2014 and 2019. IEA
UNESCO says that since 1995, the proportion of girls receiving primary and secondary education has increased from 73% to 89%. In actual numbers, that’s an extra 180 million girls in school compared to a generation ago (and three times more women are also now enrolled in universities). Reminder – educating girls and empowering women is the single most effective way to combat climate change.
The number of people suiciding in Japan has plummeted in recent years, falling each year for the last decade. Last year there were 20,169 cases, the lowest number since 1978 when the government first started keeping records, and at least 10,000 fewer deaths per annum than during the early naughts. Japan Subculture
The world is winning the fight against tuberculosis. The WHO has just published its annual TB report, showing that between 2015 and 2019, global deaths fell by 14%. In fact, since 2000, TB treatment has averted more than 60 million deaths. Naturally, this incredible news has made headlines everywhere, interrupting the news cycle and bumping those two old white dudes off the front pages. WHO
Child marriage is becoming less common in Bangladesh. The proportion of girls being married before the age of 18 has dropped from 64% in 2010, to just over 50% today. In actual numbers, that means there are 10 million fewer girls who have been forced into child marriage today compared to a decade ago. UNICEF
In the last quarter century, how far have we come in advancing women’s rights? A new analysis from the IRC reveals some dramatic gains, including a 110% increase in women serving in national parliaments, a 49% increase in women in ministerial positions, a 38% decrease in maternal deaths, and an 18% increase in female literacy. Is it enough? Not even close. But it is progress.
Crime has plummeted in the Philippines this year. In the first nine months of 2020 there was a 46% decline in the country’s ‘focus’ crimes of murder, homicide, physical injury, rape, robbery, theft, and hijacking. Police are scratching their heads; given the loss of livelihoods and other economic difficulties, they were expecting crime to actually go up. Manila Bulletin
Meet Marianna Muntianu —
For the past ten years, she’s been planting trees all over Russia. A lot of trees. Together with an army of volunteers, she’s been responsible for reforesting the equivalent of 1,350 football fields in 24 regions, well over a million trees.
She first got the idea in 2010, when wildfires tore through the forests of Kostroma, her home in western Russia. “Smoke covered cities, and people walked the streets wearing masks. The picture was so eerie, and I was devastated we were losing this beautiful natural heritage.” When she realized the spaces weren’t being reforested, she gave up her studies in finance and joined an environmental organization. “By planting a tree, I wished to move from destruction, to creation.”
Within a few years, she’d set up an online platform called Plant the Forest, that gathered volunteers through social media, and raised funds and awareness through a mobile game. They’ve now planted hundreds of thousands of seedlings in areas all around the country that were badly in need of reforestation, and the movement is going from strength to strength, bring together Russians united by their love of nature. Her latest initiative is a “Russian Climate Fund” that aims to plant 1 billion trees by 2030.
For the second year in a row, Iceland, one of three remaining whaling nations, says it will not be hunting any whales, thanks to changing public opinion and falling consumption of whale meat. Announcements by the country’s two whaling companies suggest this may be the permanent end of the annual hunt. NatGeo
Centuries of colonialism, followed by decades of mismanagement, have almost destroyed the caribou herds of British Columbia. In 2011, First Nations people took matters into their own hands, suing the government and starting their own conservation programs. Slowly but surely, it’s working. Numbers are increasing, and the government is now providing funding and protecting land. Civil Eats
Samoa has launched an ambitious new strategy to protect and preserve its ocean area, with a commitment to protect 30% of its territorial waters by 2025, a significant increase from the 1% currently under protection. This will result in 36,000 km2 of new fully-protected marine protected areas in the next five years. Government of Samoa
Egypt has managed to plant trees in the desert using wastewater, creating a massive 200 hectare oasis known as the Serapium Forest, which has boomed despite a recent drought. Following the success of the project, the country is now looking to plant more desert lands with trees to fight climate change. Al Monitor
Seattle’s Duwamish River is visibly healing. In 2001, after a century of unchecked industrial pollution, it was labelled as one of the most toxic sites in America. After two decades of clean up efforts by conservationists and community groups, wildlife is now returning and the river is the cleanest it’s been in 100 years. Seattle Met
A drone company in Seattle has been given approval by the FAA to start using heavy-lift drone swarms to reforest burned lands in six western US states. The drones will be carrying 25kg seed vessels with native Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine, and will operate in swarms of five, replanting burned areas twice as fast as human tree planters. Puget Sound Business Journal
Global sulfur dioxide pollution levels fell by 6% last year, according to a new analysis of NASA satellite data. SO2 emissions fell in all three of the world’s top emitter countries – India, Russia and China, only the second time ever that this has happened. Researchers say it’s due to falling coal usage, especially in India. Air Quality News
Uganda has launched its ambitious Wildlife Habitat & Corridor Restoration Project, which focuses on restoring habitat for endangered chimpanzees by adding 3 million trees to the Albertine Rift Forests. The area is home to endangered chimpanzees, as well as more than 50% of birds, 39% of mammals, 19% of amphibians and 14% of reptiles and plants of mainland Africa. Monde Stuff
Every signature counts. US federal officials have issued new protections for Gulf of Mexico deep-sea coral hot spots, restricting damaging fishing gear in most of those areas. This comes after 11,000 people signed their names in support during a final round of public comment in late 2019. The protections mark a major milestone in safeguarding coral ecosystems in the Gulf. Pew
Every hand counts too. For the last 20 years, the world’s largest seagrass restoration project has been running off the coast of Virginia, and during that time the ecosystem has gone from near death to full flowering. Over 70 million eelgrass seeds have been planted by volunteers. “Today, as far as I can swim, I see lush meadows, rays, the occasional seahorse. It’s beautiful.” Science News
Science/Indistinguishable from magic
Archeologists in northern Guatemala have uncovered an incredible, 2,100 year old water filtration system in the lost Mayan city of Tikal. Built from crystalline quartz and zeolite – the same minerals used in modern systems – it created a ‘molecular sieve’ that removed harmful microbes and heavy metals, and remained in use until 1100 AD. Smithsonian
The most famous paradox in physics, first posed by Stephen Hawking fifty years ago, has been solved. In a landmark series of calculations, physicists have proved that black holes can shed information – if you jumped into one, you wouldn’t be gone for good. This means that space-time is not the root level of reality, but an emergent structure from something deeper. Quanta
Australia has a hidden glow. Scientists are looking at platypuses (platypi? platypodes?) in a whole new light, after discovering they have bioluminescent fur. Glowing fur has now been observed in mammals on three different continents, suggesting it may be a far more common trait than previously thought. Science Alert
Augmented reality is quietly getting more powerful, and more user-friendly. There’s now an app that lets your phone grab real world objects and instantly place them into desktop programs like Photoshop. That’s a neat twist that makes the real world digital, instead of projecting digital images onto the world. The Verge
A lone biologist who spent years studying the medicinal properties of a roadside weed has proven all her doubters wrong, after discovering that Arabidopsis thaliana, also known as thale cress, stops breast cancer without damaging healthy cells. “The plant is very much like the Cinderella of the medicinal plant world — no one thought it was so special, but it has shown its true colors.” Brunel
Elon Musk eat your heart out. Researchers from Melbourne have successfully concluded the first human trials of the Stentrode, a brain-machine interface implanted in the jugular vein rather than via open brain surgery. It enabled two people with a disability to send texts and emails using only thought, with a click accuracy of 93% and typing speeds of 20 characters a minute. The Engineer
IKEA has been getting some well-deserved headlines with its recent commitment to buy back old furniture for recycling. For us though, H&M’s new Looop machine is even more impressive. Now operating in a store in Stockholm, it cleans and shreds your old garments and knits new ones from the recycled fibres. No water, no dye, circular economy magic. Designboom
Seems to be the week for medical imaging breakthroughs. At Cambridge, scientists and developers have created VR software that allows them to ‘walk around’ inside human cells, and at Caltech, researchers have developed a technique known as integrated neurophotonics (someone needs to steal this for sci-fi please) that tracks the activity of millions of neurons in a brain circuit in real time.
Also, a team of researchers in the Netherlands has discovered a set of previously unidentified human organs: a pair of large salivary glands, a couple inches in length, draped discreetly over the tubes that connect our ears to our throat. It’s the first identification of its kind in three centuries. “We were quite shocked that we are in 2020 and have a new structure identified in the human body.” NYT