Good News on Global Inequality, AIDS in South Africa and Giant Tortoises in the Galapagos

Plus, Dolly Parton, same sex marriage around the world, water in Morocco, a plan to save the Amazon, tree cover in Africa and bee protection in New York.

Good News on Global Inequality, AIDS in South Africa and Giant Tortoises in the Galapagos
Médecins Sans Frontières community-based HIV/TB project in Eshowe, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, achieved the UNAIDS targets of 90-90-90 one year ahead of the 2020 deadline. Credit: MSF

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Hope Is A Verb

We're delighted to introduce our first podcast guest, Shabana Basij-Rasikh, the founder of SOLA, Afghanistan’s first and only boarding school for girls. During the Taliban takeover in 2021, Shabana and her team evacuated and relocated the entire school community from Kabul to Rwanda, an incredible feat of courage that ensured the students of SOLA could continue their education.

In this conversation, Shabana shares her memories of growing up under the first Taliban regime and the bravery and resilience of her students and staff during the school’s emergency evacuation in 2021. She gives us a glimpse into daily life on the SOLA campus in Rwanda, the only place in the world where Afghan girls can receive a full education, her plans to empower and educate as many Afghan girls as she can, and why we can’t turn away from those who remain in Afghanistan.

Good news you probably didn't hear about

Branko Milanovic is the world's foremost expert on the subject of inequality, an area he's been studying for more than three decades. Here he is for Foreign Affairs:

Globalization, the argument goes, may have enriched certain elites, but it hurt many other people, ravaging one-time industrial heartlands and making people susceptible to populist politics. There is much that is true about such narratives—if you look only at each country on its own. Zoom out beyond the level of the nation-state to the entire globe, and the picture looks different. At that scale, the story of inequality in the 21st century is the reverse: the world is growing more equal than it has been for over 100 years.

He's not alone. The Cato Institute has released a new index measuring material well-being, lifespan, infant mortality, adequate nutrition, environmental safety, access to opportunity, access to information, and political freedom. Across all but two of those dimensions, it says the world has become more equal since 1990.

Morocco and the World Bank just finished a nine-year project to bring water to the country's most remote areas, especially on the Atlantic coast and in the Rif and Pré-Rif regions. Over a million people have gained access to a potable water supply, either through standpipes or individual household connections. World Bank

Progress continues in the fight against AIDS in South Africa. In 2022, there were an estimated 164,000 new infections, three times lower than the peak of 538,000 in 1999. Deaths linked to HIV are also declining, with around 48,000 in 2022, less than a fifth of the peak of 265,000 in 2005. Medical Brief

A lot of that is thanks to PEPFAR, the largest-ever investment by the US government to fight a single disease. Since 2003, more than 25 million lives have been saved, 5.5 million infants have been born HIV-free, and more than 75% of the 38.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS globally are taking antiretrovirals. JAMA

California is kicking off a statewide expansion of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, providing universal access to free books in the mail every month, including bilingual options, for approximately two million children. The program is currently active in 30 counties in California; this expansion will cover all 58 counties by 2028.

I’m so thrilled at the overwhelming support to make my Imagination Library available to every child in California! Today is an amazing milestone for children and families across the state! We still have a lot of work to do, but together we can inspire a love of reading in children across California that will last a lifetime.
Dolly Parton
Siebel Newsom, the First Partner of California, reads to students in the Sacramento area to launch the statewide expansion of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

What's behind the huge drop in the US murder rate this year? Part of it seems to be a change in policing. 'Crime going up was more than a gentle reminder that there is a place where we need armed guardianship in America and in our world. It’s really about putting officers in positions where we don’t force them to be adversaries.' CSM

Indonesia has met more than half of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with only 20% needing increased focus. Notable achievements include improved access to water and sanitation, safer public transportation, green open spaces, energy efficiency, sustainable industry, reduced carbon emissions, exports of high-tech industrial products, and data availability. Jakarta Post

The United States says it will rejoin UNESCO, the UN's cultural and scientific agency (and pay more than $600 million in back dues) after a dispute sparked by the inclusion of Palestine as a member in 2011. The Trump administration withdrew from UNESCO in 2017. 'It’s an important day for multilateralism.' Associated Press

In 2006, one of the world's biggest NGOs started a project in Bangladesh to treat presbyopia, a condition which makes seeing things up close difficult, which heavily impacts livelihood opportunities. By 2022, over 32,000 community health workers had brought the gift of clear vision to two million people around the country. BRAC

BRAC’s community health workers conduct eye tests to detect presbyopia among community members.

Argentina will no longer require a prescription to obtain emergency contraception, commonly known as the 'morning-after pill,' broadening reproductive rights in the traditionally conservative South American country. 'This removes an important barrier to access.' Reuters

Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court has given the green light to a bill seeking to decriminalize homosexuality, a move hailed by campaigners as a 'historic development that has created hope towards real change.' CNN

Iceland has become the latest country to ban conversion therapy. 'This is a really important issue for all gay people and a step worth celebrating. There is no cure for being gay and any attempt to do so is violence. It’s so good that the government recognizes it with legislation.' LGTBQ Nation

Since the first same-sex marriages took place in the Netherlands in 2001, more than 30 other jurisdictions have enacted laws allowing gays and lesbians to marry. In 24 of these places where recent detailed statistics are available, same-sex marriages have ranged from 0.4% to 3.4% of all marriages in a given year. Pew

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The only home we've ever known.

The energy transition is no hippie solarpunk mirage. It’s a huge real change that’s happening to our world right now, and it’s based on technological progress and innovation. Anyone who still doesn’t see the reality of that has their eyes closed and their fingers in their ears.

If you are feeling despair about the fate of the planet, if you are angry with the fossil fuel companies or terrified about the runaway temperatures in the Atlantic, if you have ever marched in a protest or written to your local representative or ranted that the greed of the few is ruining the future of many, then please, take a few minutes to look at this report from the Rocky Mountain Institute.

It will help. We promise.

For energy modelers: it is time to up your game or become stranded experts

In 1998, Indonesia initiated a community-based, decentralized approach to protecting its oceans. Over the course of 25 years through several iterations, 20 million hectares has been protected, leading to a 60% decline in illegal fishing in six of seven project districts, a 17% increase in coral reef cover, and the return of long-absent species. World Bank

The New York State Legislature has passed the Birds and Bees Protection Act, a first-in-the-nation bill that will rein in the use of neurotoxic neonicotinoid pesticides ('neonics'). It is the first law to address neonic seed coatings in the United States—far and away the largest and most widespread neonic use nationwide. Clean Technica

In 2021, the city of San Carlos de Bariloche in Argentina had a dismal recycling rate, and its waste site was declared one of the world's 50 largest rubbish dumps. Since then, it's become a circular economy champion, doubling recycling in two pilot projects, and now plans to expand the programme to 55% of the population by 2025. WEF

Giant tortoises are flourishing on the slopes of Isabela’s Alcedo Volcano and other Galápagos islands; conservationists now think Darwin's flycatchers could be making a comeback on those same islands; in Finland, a record number of endangered Saimaa ringed seal pups have been born this year; and in Belgium, seals are making a comeback, too.

In 2006, an ambitious program succeeded in eradicating goats and donkeys from northern Isabela Island in the Galapagos. Today, although Alcedo giant tortoises are still listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, their population is growing. In 2021, scientists recorded more than 15,000 Alcedo tortoises plodding, grazing, and wallowing on the volcano’s slopes, including a flush of juveniles in areas never before surveyed. The figure is a dramatic jump from the IUCN’s 2015 estimate of 6,320 mature individuals. Biographic

The governor of Vermont, Phil Scott, has allowed a land conservation bill that was a top priority for environmentalists to pass into law. The law establishes a goal of permanently conserving 30% of Vermont’s total land area by 2030 and conserving 50% by 2050. Vermont Public

Brazil's government has unveiled its plans to eliminate deforestation in the Amazon by 2030, using coordinated policy across more than a dozen ministries, strengthened law enforcement, intelligence and satellite imagery to root out illegal loggers and cattle ranching, regularization of land titles, and the establishment of a rural registry. Politico

Recent studies show that small farmers from Senegal to Ethiopia to Malawi are allowing trees to regenerate on their lands, resulting in improved crop yields, productive fruit harvests, and a boost for carbon storage. It's 'dramatic good news' about Africa's tree cover. Yale360

In March 2023, Panama’s Ministry of Environment announced commitments to stop the more than 160,000 tons of plastic that are imported and consumed in the country each year. Single-use plastic will be eliminated within three years, overall consumption reduced by 30% in five years, and within ten years, the sale and import of all single-use and virgin plastic will be reduced by 50%. Oceana

Global efforts to protect the world's ocean have only really picked up in the last two decades. In 2005 there were less 2 million km² of marine protected areas, but since then there has been a huge jump. Today, 29,581,750 km2 is under protection, covering 8.16% of the ocean. Protected Planet

That's it for this week, thanks for reading.

If you get a chance to listen to the podcast let us know what you think, we would really appreciate a review. We'll see you next week.

With love,


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