Good News on Global Child Deaths, Clean Cooking, and Conservation in the Southern Ocean

Plus, falling crime in America, school feeding programs in Africa, women's right in Croatia, the world's newest (and biggest) dark sky sanctuary, and rewilding in Japan and Scotland.

Good News on Global Child Deaths, Clean Cooking, and Conservation in the Southern Ocean
Credit: UNICEF

This is our regular round up of stories of progress from around the world. If you'd like to join the 51,000 people who get this in their inbox every week, you can subscribe for free below.

Hi everyone, we're trying out a bit of a format change with the inclusion of mini headlines above each story. The hope is that this makes reading and navigating a little easier. We're also going to limit the number of stories in each section to ten, and put everything else in the overflow sections. Oh, and we've changed the name of our clean energy section.

Let us know what you think of the changes by giving us a thumbs up or thumbs down at the end of the newsletter, or by just hitting reply.

Good news for people

Global child deaths fall to their lowest level ever
The number of children who died before the age of five hit a historic low of 4.9 million in 2022, less than half the number who died in 2000. Some countries such as Malawi, Rwanda, Cambodia, Mongolia, and Uzbekistan have reduced child deaths by more than 75% since 2000. NPR

Type B influenza may be on track for elimination
One of the silver linings of the pandemic was that the restrictions eliminated the Yamagata lineage of type B influenza—a viral source of death and disease, especially among children. Scientists now say it might be possible to eliminate the second strain, known as the Victoria lineage, leading to the end of influenza B worldwide. Bloomberg

FBI confirms huge decline in crime in the United States
New data from over 13,000 agencies, covering all of 2023, have shown that there was a 13% decline in murder last year (the largest one-year decline ever recorded); a 6% decline in violent crime, likely the lowest rate since the late 1960s; and a 4% decline in property crime. Fox News has been strangely silent. Jeff Asher

Billions gain access to clean cooking
A new report from the Clean Cooking Alliance says that more than 1.5 billion people have gained access to clean cooking (i.e. not using biomass, kerosene, or coal) since 2010, and that last year saw significant accomplishments, with new commitments from national governments and record levels of investment.

School feeding programs take off in Africa
School feeding policies are now in place in 48 out of 54 countries in Africa, supporting 15% of all students in low-income countries and more than half of students in upper-middle-income countries. Meals are also becoming healthier and more diverse, including legumes, vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy. WFP

Top: a school-centred ‘integrated food systems’ project in Namibia, part of a WFP-backed home-grown school feeding programme. Photo: WFP/Misael NeshindoBottom: WFP school meals programs in the Republic of Congo reach more 173,000 leaners in 532 primary schools, such as this one. Photo: WFP/Gabriela Vivacqua

EU backs new law to protect human rights in supply chains
The proposed law would enforce stricter checks on forced labour and environmental damage outside the EU and would apply to companies with over 1,000 employees and annual revenues of over €450 million. It will now proceed to a final vote in the European Parliament. DW

Croatia passes law making femicide a specific crime
Croatia's parliament has approved changes to the criminal code making the killing of women because of their gender a distinct crime. Anyone found guilty of femicide faces between 10 and 40 years in jail, the toughest punishment provided for under Croatian law. RTE

Japanese courts make historic rulings on same-sex marriage
The LGBTQ community in Japan is hoping the country is one step closer to legalising same-sex marriage, after two separate courts last week ruled that the country's ban was unconstitutional. Support for same-sex marriage is now at 70% nationally. ABC

Thailand takes a big step towards same-sex marriage
A bill to legalise same-sex marriage cleared its first legislative test last week after a committee set up by the House of Representatives approved it, setting it up for a final vote in the House on 27th March. After that it will need to be approved by the Senate, after which it's expected to pass into law by the end of the year. The Diplomat

The world's largest economy is getting more equal
Wages are growing faster than inflation (and most strongly for the most vulnerable), households are more financially stable than they've been in decades, and the number of startups is higher than before the Great Recession, but tacos are still expensive, so who can say whether anyone is better off than they were four years ago?

Justin Wolfers
More good news you didn't hear about

A huge sigh of relief as the US Congress re-authorises PEPFAR, arguably the most successful public health initiative of the 21st century. Lichtenstein's parliament just voted 24-1 to legalise same-sex marriage. The African Development Bank says Africa will have 11 of the 20 fastest-growing economies in the world this year. McKenzie Scott has now given away $16.5 billion from the fortune she came into after divorcing Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Over 200 tons of aid and food has now reached Gaza by sea. Fewer middle-aged people are dying from cancer in the UK than at any other point in the last 25 years. Gene editing for sickle cell disease is expensive, but it's going to get a lot more accessible. Since its launch in 2016, 1.8 million Sri Lankan citizens have used the country's free ambulance service, which has one of the fastest response rates in the world. Ethiopia’s social safety net is helping more than 9 million poor and vulnerable people, mostly through digital payments. Mexico is investing about €5 billion in clean water. Crime in the Philippines has dropped by at least 21% this year. The Yakuza crime groups are on the verge of disappearing:

If it bleeds, it leads

There's no shortage of studies correlating social media use with poor mental health. But this one, by de Mello, Cheung, and Inzlicht, really made an impression, especially in light of the work we do here. Nature Communications

In public debate, Twitter (now X) is often said to cause detrimental effects on users and society. Here we address this research question by querying 252 participants from a representative sample of U.S. Twitter users 5 times per day over 7 days (6,218 observations). Results revealed that Twitter use is related to decreases in well-being, and increases in political polarization, outrage, and sense of belonging over the course of the following 30 minutes. Effect sizes were comparable to the effect of social interactions on well-being. These effects remained consistent even when accounting for demographic and personality traits. Different inferred uses of Twitter were linked to different outcomes: passive usage was associated with lower well-being, social usage with a higher sense of belonging, and information-seeking usage with increased outrage and most effects were driven by within-person changes.

Long story short: doomscrolling is hazardous to your mental health. Unless you're using it for professional reasons, get off X. It's poisonous.

Hope is a Verb, Season 2, Episode 11

It's no secret that the news media is in crisis: sweeping layoffs across newsrooms, consumer disengagement and stories of doom and destruction on loop 24/7. But what if we could fix it? In this bonus episode Amy and I chat about our mission to highlight stories of progress, and why we're trying to show that another form of journalism is possible - one that not only informs us about the world, but inspires real hope for the future of our planet.

Good news for the planet

The UK expands marine protection in the Southern Ocean
The government just announced full protection for an additional 166,000 km2 surrounding South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, home to one of the largest and most varied aggregations of wildlife on the planet. Full protections within the MPA now encompass approximately 450,000 km2Mongabay

China protects its largest saltwater lake
Qinghai Lake, on the northeastern Tibetan Plateau, is the country's largest inland saltwater lake and a key stopover site for migratory birds. It's about to become a new national park, protecting endangered species such as the Przewalski's gazelle, key migratory channels for fish, and areas critical for bird migration. China Daily

US moves closer to creating two huge new marine sanctuaries
The proposed 19,200 km2 Chumash Heritage national marine sanctuary in California has been recognised as a Mission Blue Hope Spot, and NOAA just released a draft proposal to designate marine portions of Hawaii's 1.5 million km2 Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument as a national marine sanctuary. 

Tree planting project in Africa restores thousands of hectares
Since it was founded in 2015, the Trees for the Future programme has planted tens of millions of trees each year in nine countries, ranging from Senegal and Mali to Tanzania and Kenya. It has reportedly restored a combined area of more than 410 km2, replacing barren monocultures with biodiverse forest gardens. Guardian

Conservationists make headway as rewilding arrives in Japan
Monoculture plantations make up 44% of the country's forests, but now a new movement is trying to change that. Piece by piece, year by year, expanses of protected areas in Japan are becoming wild again with the aid of environmentally-conscious volunteers who help nature recover. Inside Climate News

A family plants a todomatsu (Maries' fir) tree, a species native to Hokkaido, to help rewild former agricultural land within the Shiretoko National Park in Hokkaido, Japan. Credit: James Whitlow Delano

Air pollution levels improve in Europe
A new study looked at pollution over the last 20 years in 1,400 regions in 35 European countries and found that overall suspended particulate matter levels (PM2.5 and PM10) have decreased on average by 2.72% and 2.45% every year, and that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels have decreased by an average of 1.72% annually. Guardian

The UK and Sweden launch new conservation projects
Twenty new nature projects across the UK will receive funding to create and restore critical habitat areas equivalent in total to the size of York; in Sweden, new funding has been secured for a four-year project to protect ten endangered species. 'It's a massive undertaking to be able to protect this many species.'

Fisheries monitoring system in South Africa pays off
Nine years ago, South Africa put in place an innovative information management system designed to monitor and protect its seas. A new study has shown that it has brought significant benefits—mitigating environmental risks, reducing overfishing, and allowing for better coordination with other countries on ocean governance. Science Direct

NGO takes on Bali's plastic problem
Three years after its creation, Sungai Watch has installed 268 rubbish barriers on rivers, initiated more than 1,000 weekly cleanups with the help of volunteers, and collected a total of more than 1.7 million kilograms of waste. It's still a drop in the ocean, but it's starting to inspire greater government action. Guardian

Oregon outback named world’s biggest dark sky sanctuary
Long regarded as a stargazers’ paradise, the region is the new home of the world’s 19th, and largest, dark sky sanctuary, offering pristine views of the night sky across over 10,000 km2. The certification involved a years-long effort by federal, state, and local officials, community members, and several legal jurisdictions. Guardian

Summer Lake Hot Springs in Paisley, Oregon. Photograph: Joey Hamilton/Travel Oregon
More music for those who will listen

Inside the successful, decades-long effort to protect the Humboldt Archipelago in Chile. After three decades, the US EPA has finally fully banned asbestos, a material that still causes about 40,000 deaths each year. Conservationists in the Galapagos have begun restoring 13 species to Floreana Island. Apple and its partners are spending $280 million on forest restoration projects in Latin America. More than 2% of Scotland’s land is now rewilding. France’s lower house of parliament has voted to limit the excesses of fast fashion. New York is about to get its first Miyawaki forest. The Biden administration wants to limit oil and gas drilling, mining, and livestock grazing across the American West to save a bird. As dams come down on the Skutik River in Maine, the once-demonised alewife gets a second chance. A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Colorado want to bring back wolverines in an unprecedented rewilding effort. Have you heard of the Amazon of the Seas? Spain recently protected a whole lot of its ocean, and we sent someone an email asking for the maps. Here they are:

'The newly declared areas together account for a surface of more than 9.3 million hectares and represent an increase of 8.7% of the Spanish marine protected area.'

That's all for this edition, thanks for reading. If you're enjoying this newsletter and you want even more, maybe think about becoming a paid subscriber? It costs US$80 a year, and comes with a whole lot of great news about the clean energy transition and mindblowing science, and a third of the fee goes to charity.

We'll see you next week!

With love,


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