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The world can seem pretty glum at times. If you’re living life vicariously through social media feeds with a smart phone practically stapled to your hand, it can be fairly easy to get caught up in the negativity that can dominate shared posts and stories. For years, print newspapers have followed a basic mantra when it comes to headlines: bad news sells. It’s a concept that has jumped feet-first into the online world, which is why videos of laughing toddlers awkwardly falling over are so popular; we now live in an age where babies potentially hurting themselves is seen as comedic relief.
So let’s take a moment to consider some of the stories that haven’t always been front page attention grabbers but at least offer some hope that humanity as a collective whole still has a reason to be optimistic about life. Technology exists and continues to improve that allows the blind to see. Animals like the snow panther, on the endangered species list since 1972, are slowly seeing their numbers increase. And women are finally getting the support they deserve in demanding a stop to sexual harassment in the workplace.
20. Honeybees are getting their buzz on
For the past decade, the term ‘colony collapse disorder’ (CCD) has been making the rounds in the scientific community and amongst environmentalists as a warning sign that something was off-kilter in the world of honeybees. Researchers are still debating what causes hive bees to fly the coop and leave their queen unattended permanently, but most are comfortable with ruling out cell phones and electromagnetic radiation, two potential culprits often brought up. While unstable global bee populations are still an ongoing concern, comfort can be found in the number of U.S. honeybee colonies growing by 3 percent in 2017 and reported cases of CCD declining by 27 percent during the same time.
19. Child labor is declining
It’s frightening to think that in today’s world (according to 2016 data recently released by the International Labour Organization and Alliance 8.7), we still have 152 million children involved in the slave trade. That large number is still a substantial decrease of 40 percent compared to figures compiled in 2000, which stated 250 million children were victims of slave labor. Along with that positive turn of direction comes news from the U.S. Department of Labor that highlights 61 percent of the 135 countries surveyed report moderate to significant advancement in their child labor rates.
Sources: Child Labor Rates Cut By Almost Half, Millions More Children Get a Childhood, Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, 40 million in modern slavery and 152 million in child labour around the world, Alliance87
18. Snow leopards are breathing a little easier
It’s not exactly a future guaranteed to be smooth sailing, but according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but the snow leopard, native to Central Asia, is no longer an endangered species. It’s a classification this big kitty equipped with paws that act as snowshoes has held since 1972, due primarily to its numbers being severely reduced thanks to poaching and frequent run-ins with farmers trying to protect their sheep from becoming leopard breakfast. Because of the snow leopard’s preferred rugged mountain territory and a solitary lifestyle, exact population numbers are difficult to assess, but experts believe there are now no fewer than 4,000 of them living in the wild.
17. The Great Barrier Reef is getting reinforcements
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has been in need of a helping hand for decades, and scientists may finally have an answer that will help slow the natural wonder’s decline. Home to 600 coral species, the Reef is benefitting from a Southern Cross University team’s 2016 pilot project that saw coral eggs and sperm collected and then used to produce over a million coral larvae to help give it a reproductive boost. One year after the study began, this ‘from scratch’ method of growing coral in the wild is showing that, according to an online assessment released by lead researcher Peter Harrison and Southern Cross University, “…our new techniques to give corals a helping hand to conceive and then settle, develop and grow in their natural environment can work on the Great Barrier Reef.”
Sources: Coral sex conceives new growth for the Great Barrier Reef, Breeding coral could help ease the Great Barrier Reef’s disappearance, Great Barrier Reef coral-breeding program offers ‘glimmer of hope’
16. Isis and Islamic State suffered a major setback
Jihadist extremists in Islamic State had their last remaining stronghold, the city of Raqqa in Syria, taken from them after carrying on a losing battle against Kurdish forces. Claiming territory across Syria and Iraq starting in June of 2014, Islamic State declared a caliphate (an Islamic state ruled by a caliph, or successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad) under Sharia law. A proponent of confrontation with United States-backed coalition forces, IS demanded Muslims around the world swear allegiance to its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (the caliph in this scenario, who was granted absolute power), and return to the territories it controlled. Estimates put IS as the wealthiest militant group on the planet as of 2014, with backing from private donors and profits from crude oil that brought the group millions of dollars weekly.
Sources: Rise and fall of Isis: its dream of a caliphate is over, so what now?, What Is an Islamic Caliphate and Why Did ISIS Make One?, Iraqi Prime Minister Declares End of ISIS Caliphate in Iraq, What is ‘Islamic State’?
15. Teenage pregnancies are declining
According to a 2017 report from the Center for Disease Control, teen pregnancies saw a drop of 9 percent in the U.S. in 2016 compared to the previous year, and 51 percent in the last decade. Since 1991, the overall decrease sits at an astonishing 67 percent. Why the welcomed downward spike? Easier access for teens to affordable contraceptive devices seems to lead the way, and with statistics showing pregnant teens having a more significant chance of not finishing school and struggling in the workforce, it’s a definite positive trend.
14. Saudi Arabian women are taking the wheel
Plans are in place to boost Saudi Arabia’s economy, and a major component of those plans involve women being able to get more involved in the country’s workforce. As of June, 2018, Saudi women will legally be allowed to drive after a royal decree from Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This goes against a long-standing opinion from both conservative citizens and Islamic scholars, one of whom claimed driving could damage a woman’s ovaries. A Saudi cleric was recently banned from preaching for stating that women were unfit to drive because their brains shrink to a quarter the size of man’s because of…wait for it…they were too distracted by shopping. Uber-esque app Careem is aiming to have 100,000 women driving for it. One woman hoping to join Careem, Samera Nour Hussain, told CNBC the reasons for her wanting to be able to get behind the wheel and make an income from it: “I just want to be myself and act like I have the power to do anything.”
13. Big money is stepping away from fossil fuels
Financial institutions with stakes in the fossil fuel industry are slowly but surely are doing something unheard of before now: divesting and shifting their focus on green energy. It’s a potential trillion dollar move that is seeing pension plan and retirement fund holders ‘decarbonizing’ their portfolios. Oil and gas stocks have been core contributors to pension funds for decades, but as renewable energy sources improve and become more accessible experts are predicting a decline in the overall worth of of the fossil fuel industry. It’s not all about dollars and cents, though – as of April, 2018, Europe’s largest international financial institution, Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Company, cited the 2015 Paris Agreement with its announcement that it will no longer fund any new projects centered around Arctic drilling, Canada’s tar sands, or coal mining in developed countries.
Sources: Big money is backing out of fossil fuel industry, moving into greener alternatives, Cashing Out From the Climate Casino, Growing number of pension funds divest from fossil fuels, Financial institution backing out of new tar sands, fossil fuel projects
12. China put the brakes on environmentally-unfriendly vehicles
Following the lead of France and the U.K., China announced a plan to ban the sales of fossil fuel cars, potentially by 2040 (as is also promised by the European contingent). In the meantime, as of January 1, 2018, production was stopped on 553 car models in China for not meeting the country’s fuel efficiency standards. China currently has 10 of the 25 most congested cities in the world when it comes to traffic, and has almost as many registered vehicles (330.3 million) as the United States has overall population (324 million). While enforcing the stricter emissions standards, China is also offering new car buyers a tax rebate for purchasing vehicles that are more eco-friendly.
Sources: China halts production of 553 car models over fuel efficiency, China to suspend some car production over fuel consumption standards, China aims for an industry-changing ban on fossil fuel cars, China now has over 300 million vehicles … that’s almost America’s total population
11. Commercial flight has never, EVER, been safer
The Aviation Safety Network and aviation consulting firm To70 announced that 2017 had no accident fatalities, making it the safest year ever for commercial flying. In comparison, 2016 saw 271 people killed in seven separate events, while 2015’s four crashes claimed 471 victims. Officials don’t expect this trend to continue (perfection is impossible to maintain, after all), but for those who like to see the odds, this perfect run equates to a 1 in 16 million chance of dying on a commercial flight.
10. Mali’s endangered elephants got bodyguards
A West African herd of elephants is getting some much-needed help from humans in what may seem as the least people could do for an animal on the brink of being wiped out thanks to poaching and the illegal ivory trade. The Mali Elephant Project has been set up to protect the remaining 300 elephants, which now have broadened their territory to nearly 32,000 square kilometers (12,355 square miles) to find food and water. In the past six years, 163 of the Mali elephants have been killed. This followed a decade of escalating poaching that some experts think took the lives of upwards of 100,000 elephants across Africa. As a result of the Mali elephant’s diminished numbers, a trained brigade has recently started escorting the elephants on their migratory route. It’s a dangerous job — several of the brigade’s members have been killed or injured protecting the elephants, including several men hurt after they were shot at and ambushed by poachers with a roadside bomb. In the year since its inception, the Mali Elephant Project hasn’t seen one animal lost due to poaching.
Sources: Mali Elephant Project, Elephants Are Being Defended By Trained, Armed Brigades In West Africa, People Power Is Saving Mali’s Elephants, Mali’s Desert Elephants, on Edge of Annihilation, Get a Fighting Chance
9. Chile opened up some parkland
Thanks in part to a sizable land donation from the privately funded Tompkins Foundation that helped kick-start a positive environmental chain reaction, Chile is in the process of opening 17 new national parks across the country. 404,600 hectares (1 million acres) of land in the Patagonia region was donated by the Foundation’s founder Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, former CEO of the Patagonia clothing company. She, along with her late husband Doug Tompkins (a co-founder of Esprit), started buying up huge plots of land across Patagonia to protect it from urban development in the 1990s. In the past, the Tompkins have had a shaky relationship with the Chilean government, at one point even being accused of working for the CIA as they continued purchasing land for conservation. Bygones are now bygones, and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has pledged a further 4 million hectares (10 million acres) to the cause.
8. Refusing to vaccinate your kids is going to get expensive
Countries like Italy, Australia, France, Romania and Germany are getting sick of the measles. All of them have taken steps to make sure children are getting immunized, and those measures often mean parents facing fines for not keeping their kids’ vaccinations up-to-date. Italy’s parliament passed a bill that will see parents having to prove their children are vaccinated before entering school or face a $600 (U.S.) charge. In Germany, that punch to the wallet clocks in at upwards of $3,000 (U.S.). In 2017, 21,000 cases of the measles were recorded across Europe, and countries that aren’t fining parents are now refusing to allow children to attend class until they’re vaccinated. Australia has gone one step further and is hitting preschool centers that allow unvaccinated children with monetary penalties that top out at $4,400 (U.S.). In the United States vaccinations have always been a hotly debated topic, but it is estimated that 90% of American children get their shots. Will American parents with unvaccinated kids be looking at financial punishments down the road? Stay tuned for that answer…
7. There’s a unified global force against plastic in the oceans
More plastic in the oceans than fish? Inconceivable! According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) if current pollution rates continue, that’s the scenario humankind will be facing by the time 2050 rolls around. It’s the very steep price to be paid for using the planet’s oceans as dumping grounds for 8 million tons of plastic every year. That’s roughly one garbage truck’s worth of plastic unceremoniously deposited every minute, in case you wanted a visual to go along with the numbers. A resolution to completely stop plastic waste from entering the oceans was presented to the United Nations by Norway in 2017, with 193 countries signing on in support. The proposal is not a legally binding agreement, but it still sets in motion plans for an international taskforce to set out guidelines and stricter policies on controlling plastic waste. Already, thin plastic bags are being banned altogether in some areas (in Africa, 15 countries have made them illegal) or highly taxed. And showing that plastic reduction and consumerism can work hand-in-hand, after China placed a ban on thin plastic bags in 2008 the country (which still leads the world in plastic waste created thanks in large part to its massive population) has seen the use of plastic bags decrease by two-thirds.
6. The U.K. gave plastic microbeads the boot
Tiny spherical bits of plastic added to many common products found in bathrooms are making a big impact on the environment, exactly the reason why the U.K. is making sure as of July 2018 no personal care or cosmetic products using microbeads will be found on store shelves there. This follows the lead of countries like the United States, which introduced the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, resulting in the banning of similar products in July, 2017. The beads, which are found in toothpaste and shower gels, do not degrade and carry toxic materials harmful to marine life. Due to their small size, the beads are usually not caught by water treatment plants, and a single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles being washed right down the drain.
5. The Amazon is getting a lot more trees
The trees of the Brazilian Amazon are about to get some company — to the tune of 73 million more of them by 2023. Announced at the 2017 Rock in Rio music festival, Conservation International unveiled its plan to bring foliage back to 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of deforested pastureland in the Southern Amazonas, Rondônia, Acre, Pará and the Xingu watershed. Using a new planting method called muvuca, the seeds of native trees provided by the Xingu Seed Network are set to be spread across the regions with the hopes that 2,500 new trees per hectare will grow. This is compared to the usual reforestation techniques that only produce 160 trees in the same amount of space. With one eye on meeting the environmental goals outlined in the Paris Accord and another on slowing down the destruction of the Amazon (nearly 20% of the forest has been destroyed in the last 40 years and a further 20% could be lost within two decades), this seed of an idea is one that we can all hope takes root.
Sources: The Largest Ever Tropical Reforestation Is Planting 73 Million Trees, Massive reforestation effort puts down roots in Brazilian Amazon, Brazil Begins Effort to Plant 73 Million Trees in the Amazon
4. There’s a new HIV antibody
Human trials are set to begin in 2018 for an antibody that has shown in tests on 24 laboratory monkeys to be able to fight off 99 percent of HIV strains. HIV has always been challenging to treat due to the virus’s ability to adapt and mutate. One patient can have several strains fighting their immune system simultaneously, but researchers have found that a minority of individuals can develop what are known as “broadly neutralizing antibodies” that successfully fight off the disease. Scientists have combined three of these antibodies into what they refer to in a recently published study as one “tri-specific antibody.” The initial laboratory trial was a joint effort between the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and pharmaceutical company Sanofi, with additional assistance from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Medical School and The Scripps Research Institute.
Sources: Trispecific broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies mediate potent SHIV protection in macaques, New antibody attacks 99% of HIV strains, Newly engineered antibody could kill off 99% of HIV strains
3. China just says “no” to ivory
It may not stop poaching entirely, but after China (which tops the dubious list of being the world’s top ivory importer and trader) announced plans to close its ivory market it’s the dealers who make a living off elephant tusks that are worried for a change — not the elephants. Almost immediately following the news, wholesale prices for legally traded raw ivory dropped by nearly two thirds, and the ongoing illegal industry continues to suffer declining prices for their wares that makes the risk-reward math far less appealing to dealers. Government-sanctioned ivory factories in China were shut down as of March 31, 2017, and many ivory retailers have closed up shop. Experts are cautiously optimistic about what effects the China ban will have on poaching (which sees 30,000 elephants killed yearly), with some thinking it won’t be until 2019 before statistics will be able to show if poaching numbers are also in decline.
2. Technology is allowing the blind to see
Every year in America, 75,000 people get added to the list of 10 million individuals who are legally blind or are visually impaired. Toronto-based company eSight is on their third generation of a rechargeable visor that uses a forward-facing high-speed and high-definition camera to transmit images to an internal OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen in front of each eye. People suffering from optic atrophy, macular degeneration or glaucoma have those images sent to their peripheral vision instead of their central vision, which is often what eye conditions attack. Added to those features is a 24x magnification rate, plus the added ability to use the glasses to take pictures in conjunction with Wi-Fi and HDMI capabilities. In eSight’s case, its oldest user is 97, and its youngest 4. As is often the standard in the tech world, the newer the technology, the heftier the price tag. Despite the eSight3 being $5,000 (U.S.) cheaper than its predecessor, it still comes with a $10,000 price tag.
1. Sexual harassment got pwned
It was hard to escape the reach of 2017’s #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns, both of which initially brought to the light the disturbing number of instances women in the entertainment industry faced sexual harassment while trying to do their job — jobs that they often received less compensation for than their male counterparts. Discriminatory practices are nothing new for any woman in the workforce, and #MeToo was started ten years ago by Tarana Burke as part of an organization she co-founded to help assault victims called Just Be Inc. It was 2017 that saw the women of Hollywood putting the initial spotlight on the issues that needed to be heard and addressed, while women across the globe united to help keep the momentum going. In a 2016 study by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, upwards of 85% of women report being sexually harassed in the workplace, with a minimum estimate saying at least one in four had. Would you want to work anywhere you had a minimum of a 25% chance of something terrible happening to you? As is boldly announced to visitors on the Time’s Up website: “The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it.”
Sources: Time’s Up: Hollywood women launch campaign to fight sexual harassment, “For every Harvey Weinstein, there’s a hundred more men in the neighborhood who are doing the exact same thing”, Select Task Force On The Study Of Harassment In The Workplace
Story by Jay Moon