Good News on Malaria Vaccines, Reforestation in China, and Poverty in India

Plus, Make America Rake Again, literacy in Iran, school lunches in Brazil, HIV in South Africa, air pollution in megacities, and humpback whales in South Georgia.

Good News on Malaria Vaccines, Reforestation in China, and Poverty in India
A nurse at the Nyalla Medical Centre in Douala, Cameroon, prepares a malaria vaccine for a child. Source: AAP / DONGMO RODRIGUE WILLIAM

This is our regular round up of stories of progress from around the world. If you'd like to join the 55,000 people who get this in their inbox every week, you can subscribe for free below.

Good news you didn't hear about

The world's first mass vaccination campaign for children against malaria was launched in Cameroon on Monday. It will distribute 25 million doses to combat the disease, which causes over 600,000 deaths globally per year. 'We are not just witnessing, but actively participating in a transformative chapter in African public health history.' Guardian

Even if she cries, I’m very happy today. I have three children and all are always sick with malaria. I hope that the vaccine will finally help her not to be sick like her brother and her sister.

Despite persistent efforts by the tobacco industry, humanity is steadily breaking one of its worst habits. A new report from the WHO indicates that 150 countries are reducing tobacco use, around 1 in 5 adults worldwide now consume tobacco compared to 1 in 3 in 2000, and there are 19 million fewer smokers than there were just two years ago.

The American Cancer Society just released its annual report showing that fewer Americans are dying of cancer, part of a decades-long trend that began in the 1990s. Cancer mortality is down 33% in the past three decades, saving an estimated 4.1 million lives, and as many as two-thirds of all cancers can now be treated as chronic conditions or cured outright.

We've said it before, and we'll say it again and again—the HPV vaccine is a bloody miracle. In case anyone needed reminding, a new analysis from Scotland shows that there hasn't been a single case of cervical cancer in women who were vaccinated at 12 or 13 years of age. Exactly what was expected, but nevertheless fantastic news. JNCI

School lunches are Brazil's secret weapon against hunger. At all public schools, children are provided meals for free under a government-run program that feeds more than 40 million students from daycare through high school across 5,570 municipalities, ensuring all children stay nourished and engaged in their education. NPR

The share of India’s population living in multidimensional poverty has fallen to 11.28% in 2022-23 from 29.17% in 2013-14, according to NITI Aayog, the country's apex public policy think tank. Researchers estimate that a total of 248 million people have escaped multidimensional poverty in the last nine years. How is this not front page news around the world?

The world's biggest cities are getting cleaner. Deutsche Welle analysed data on PM2.5 levels for megacities with populations over 10 million. Of the 25 with available data, 21 improved their air pollution levels between 2017 and 2022. 'This is something that's resonating across all regions of the world right now, and it's really exciting.'

In the last few years sub-Saharan Africa has made substantial strides toward digital transformation, with over 160 million people gaining broadband internet access between 2019 and 2022. There's still a long, long way to go—but this is encouraging progress. World Bank

Germany's government just injected some good sense into its immigration debate. On January 18th and 19th it passed two immigration bills. The first, pleasing to conservatives, will make it easier to expel asylum-seekers with dubious cases; the second, more significant, law will make it easier for legitimate immigrants to gain German nationality. Economist

During 2023, violent crime plummeted to its lowest level in the United States since the 1960s, and by the end of the year inflation had been tamed and unemployment was at historic lows. In surveys, most Americans still say crime is rising and the economy is struggling, but they’re wrong. Call it the Great Normalization: the twin crises evaporated, and no one is totally sure why. Atlantic

Even more good news you didn't hear about

South Africa may have finally turned the corner on HIV as prevalence among pregnant women has dropped to its lowest in two decades. Over the last ten years, the six countries of the Greater Mekong have made remarkable progress towards malaria elimination. In the US, 21 states have abolished the practice of court fines for juveniles. Iran's literacy rate reached 97% in 2023, up from less than 50% in the 1970s. Thai lawmakers have taken a big step forward towards improving air quality. Egypt just amended its laws to include more chances to appeal in criminal cases, a 'victory for human rights.' The US government is forgiving another $4.9 billion in student debt for 73,600 borrowers. The Maldives and Sri Lanka have achieved hepatitis B control, meaning consistent vaccination rates over 90%. No, the maternal mortality rate in the United States is not rising; it's actually on par with those of Canada and France. Since 2014, over 5,000 schools in Ethiopia have been equipped with water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities. In Kenya, 200,000 people just gained access to clean drinking water. California has enacted a law that makes it easier for out-of-state doctors to get experience in reproductive medicine. How Utah is solving the problem of literacy for third graders.

If it bleeds, it leads

We spend a lot of time here criticising journalists for their obsession with bad news, but it's also worth remembering that we, the audience, are just as much to blame. The folks over at Visual Capitalist analysed the most-searched-for news stories of 2023, and as you can see, the doomscrolling is very real. The other thing this graph makes obvious is that the English-language internet is dominated by the United States, which is why all of us are forced to endure hundreds more stories about school shootings than say, malaria vaccines or the Chinese diaspora in Thailand.

Thank goodness for Indian rocket scientists.

Hope is a Verb

We've almost reached the end of Season 2 of our podcast, and it's been a parade of one incredible person after another. Every time the two of us step away from one of these conversations, our tanks feel topped up and our faith in humanity is restored. Our most recent interview was with environmental data scientist Hannah Ritchie, a name that will already be familiar to a lot of you.

We spoke to her on the eve of the release of her book, Not The End of the World, when she talked to us about her desire to push back on doomerism, her nervousness about the impending public reaction to her arguments, and her belief that we're the first generation that truly has a chance at achieving both sustainability and human wellbeing. In a season of already extraordinary conversations, this was easily one of our favourites.

Good news for the planet

After last year's record fall in the rate of deforestation, Lula has kicked off 2024 vowing to keep up the pressure on environmental criminals devastating Indigenous lands in the Amazon. 'We cannot lose a war to illegal miners, we cannot lose a war to illegal loggers and we cannot lose a war to people who are breaking the law.' Guardian

Plastic bags are the number one contaminant found in Colorado’s rivers and streams—but last year, thanks to the imposition of statewide fees, between 1.5 billion and 1.8 billion fewer plastic bags were used, and an even greater reduction is expected this year, as businesses phase out their use too. ABC Denver

Last month marked the 50th anniversary of the US Endangered Species Act. For decades it has protected nature with bipartisan support, rescued hundreds of species of animals and plants from annihilation, transformed the US Fish and Wildlife Service from a wildlife killing service to a wildlife recovery service, and helped birth the global science of restoration ecology. Time

Youth activists in Norway have won a major legal victory, after a court in Oslo found the approvals of three new oil and gas fields invalid and issued an injunction forbidding the state from granting any new permits necessary for construction and production there. 'This is an important victory for current and future generations and the environment.' Greenpeace

One of the most underrated ecological phenomena of our time is the regeneration of abandoned farmlands, thanks to the more efficient land use of modern agriculture. Since the 1990s, the EU has reforested an area the size of Portugal, the United States uses 40% less cropland than in 1960, and globally, an area of farmland half the size of Australia is abandoned every year. Legendes Carto

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French forests: 18th century (13%) vs 2020 (31%).

China reforested or restored 83,300 km2 of land in 2023, thanks to hundreds of ecological restoration, land afforestation, rare tree cultivation, and wetland protection and restoration projects. It's also setting up a national ecological monitoring network across 44 key regions, covering forests, wetlands, grasslands, deserts, oceans, cities, and farmlands. 

It's reforestation week! Sri Lanka's cabinet just approved a plan to increase forest cover to 32% by 2032, the Dominican Republic is roping in the military to help with its reforestation plans, in Brazil drones are reforesting the hills around Rio, and the Philippines just passed laws requiring parents to plant two trees for every child—and requiring students to plant two trees when they graduate.

An international effort to protect endangered river dolphins is gathering steam. Known as the "Global Declaration for River Dolphins," it commits 14 of the animals’ range countries to implement specific actions and strengthen regional and national initiatives. So far, nine countries have signed the declaration. China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Peru, and Pakistan are pending. Mongabay

In the UK, the Cornish chough, once extinct in Cornwall, has been re-wilded and has started to move inland in what wildlife experts say is a sign of its 'flourishing' recovery. In the United States, the Eastern monarch butterfly, long thought to be in peril, is not in decline after all, and well-meaning efforts by the public may actually be doing more harm than good.

In an unexpected display of rationality, the French government has listened to the advice of scientists instead of the fishing industry and temporarily banned all fishing in the Bay of Biscay. From Finistere in the extreme west of Brittany to the Spanish border, fishing will cease almost entirely until the 20th of February. France24

According to a new study, humpback whale numbers in Cumberland Bay of the island of South Georgia have nearly recovered to pre-whaling levels, last seen in 1904. The rewilding of South Georgia amounts to 'the single most uplifting environmental story in the world.' Hakai

Ringed by dramatic mountains, Cumberland Bay, on the coast of South Georgia, is home to whales, seabirds, penguins, and elephant seals. The island draws scores of sightseeing cruises each summer. Photo by David Tipling Photo Library/Alamy Stock Photo

The Earth has music for those who will listen

Canadian beef farmers say they're on track to meet their goal of cutting emissions by a third before 2030. Did you know that the US Department of the Interior directed over $2 billion of investments to restore the nation’s lands and waters last year? Yeah, us neither (it's almost like news organisations didn't bother reporting it). Make America Rake Again. The state of Maryland has planted half a million trees in the last two years, getting it 10% of the way to its 5 million target by 2031. New York is getting in on the tree-planting action, too. What if we told you 2023 was actually a pretty great year for conservation in Texas? ‘The wildlife that has come is phenomenal’—British farmers are holding off floods by planting trees, creating floodplains, and rewilding rivers. The Pacific Coast’s real native oyster is making a comeback, with a little help from some friends. A revolutionary way to feed the world that's actually very old.

That's it for this edition! Our paid version for this week had a whole lot of great news about clean energy, science and technology. If you're interesting in becoming a member and supporting our work you can sign up here.

Thanks for reading, we'll see you next week.

With love,

Gus and Amy

PS - a Youtuber called Ed People travelled around the world asking people to show him their favourite dance moves. We dare you to watch this and remain grumpy.

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