Good News on Nuclear Stockpiles, Ocean Protection in Chile, and Climate Change Exit Ramps

Plus, falling homicides in Brazil, free contraception in Ghana, infrastructure in India, two new national monuments in the United States, animal testing around the world, and cycling in London.

Good News on Nuclear Stockpiles, Ocean Protection in Chile, and Climate Change Exit Ramps
Credit: OCEANA / Fernando Olivares
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Give a damn

We recently heard about someone named Felix Brooks-church, who has invented a small machine known as a dosifier, which adds Vitamin B12, zinc, folic acid and iron to flour sold by local millers in southern Africa. It's super simple technology but the impact is enormous, with each machine plugging into local distribution channels that reach thousands of people, adding lifesaving nutrients to the foods they eat most.

Felix and his co-founders have been running an organisation called Sanku since 2013, installing dosifiers in over 800 mills. They've recently expanded operations into Kenya, where they've been overwhelmed by demand. We're going to help. We're sending them $5,200 to buy two dosifiers, which will each fortify food for up to 5,000 people.

That money comes directly from the subscription fees of our paying subscribers. A big thank you to all of them for making this possible.

Good news you probably didn't hear about

Vox has a great new feature section on progress and optimism. We recommend the pieces by Brian Walsh, on why doomers are wrong about the future, and the amazing Hannah Ritchie, on why optimism is the only thing that works (but only if we assume that progress is not inevitable).

The astounding economic and technological progress made over the past 200 years has been the result of deliberate policies, a drive to invent and innovate, one advance building upon another. And as our material condition improved, so, for the most part, did our morals and politics — not as a side effect, but as a direct consequence.

More than 97% of people worldwide now have some level of immunity against COVID-19, either from infection or vaccination, or a combination of the two. Over 5.5 billion people, almost 70% of humanity, has been vaccinated, easily the largest, fastest and most successful campaign in the history of global public health. Think Global Health

The new World Happiness Report says there was a "globe-spanning surge of benevolence" during the pandemic, with acts like donating, volunteering and helping a stranger increasing by a quarter compared to pre-pandemic times. Contrary to dominant media narratives, the report also says that positive social connections and support in 2022 were twice as prevalent as loneliness.

The global inventory of nuclear weapons has declined by more than 80% since the Cold War, from a peak of 70,300 in 1986 to 12,700 in 2022. Under the Trump administration, the United States stopped disclosing the size of its stockpile, but transparency has resumed again under the Biden administration. FAS

Federation of American Scientists, 2022

Ghana is including free long-term contraception in its national health insurance program, a move that will allow millions of women to avoid paying out of pocket for implants, IUDs and injections. In Liberia, a new program has cut teen pregnancy in five of the country's fifteen counties by at least half since 2017.

This means long time peace of mind for women, girls and their families with potential positive impact on their health and economic life.
Abena Amoah, Executive Director, Planned Parenthood of Ghana

A human rights court in Latin America has issued a landmark ruling requiring Bolivia to reform its criminal codes to make lack of consent central to the definition of rape and create protocols to improve all sexual assault investigations. The ruling is binding and establishes a legal precedent that could reverberate throughout the region.

Some good news from Brazil, one of the most violent countries in the world, where the homicide rate in 2022 fell to 19 per 100,000 people, its lowest level since 2007 (when the Brazilian Forum on Public Security began collecting data), and a decline of almost a quarter since its peak in 2017. OGlobo

Feeling negative about the United States? Michigan just passed a law protecting LGBTQ citizens, Minnesota has become the fourth state to provide free meals to all schoolchildren, Illinois has become the third state to enact mandatory paid leave, New Mexico has passed a law that prohibits life imprisonment for juvenile offenders, Arizona has pioneered an urban food forest that's become a model for climate action, and California just announced a program to cut the number of unsheltered people by 15% in the next two years.

Oh, and all of those stories are from the last two weeks.

Students celebrate with Governor Tim Walz after signing the free school meals bill at Webster Elementary in northeast Minneapolis on 17 March 2023. Ben Hovland | MPR News

California has announced a plan to transform its oldest prison, San Quentin, into a centre for rehabilitation modelled after Norway's incarceration programmes, which have some of the lowest recidivism rates in the world. It's a landmark moment for criminal justice reform, marking a fundamental shift away from the punitive American system. Guardian

Childhood stunting in Cambodia has fallen from 34% in 2014 to to 22% in 2022. In actual numbers, that's 180,000 fewer children suffering from stunting than eight years ago. The country is also getting a handle on nutrition for older children, thanks to its nationwide school meals programme, which feeds 300,000 children with hot meals every day. Phnom Penh Post

Investment into early warning systems and more resilient buildings has significantly reduced the death toll from Cyclone Freddy in Mozambique. Tragically, 59 people have been killed, but it's a fraction of the 602 killed by the similar-sized Cyclone Idai four years ago. A reminder that as the world develops, it becomes more able to deal with natural disasters. UN

India is experiencing an unprecedented infrastructure makeover that is transforming the ability of hundreds of millions of poor and emerging middle-class citizens to travel, connect to the internet, and access electricity, and removing one of the country's biggest constraints on economic growth. Economist

The only home we've ever known

Chile’s Pisagua Sea will become the country's first MPA to protect not only marine species, but also local artisanal fishing communities who have contributed to the sustainable management of resources. Spanning 181,622 acres, the area’s abundance of crustaceans and phytoplankton makes it a crucial breeding ground for fish, mammals and birds. Oceana

An Egyptian startup is tackling ocean pollution by turning plastic bags into outdoor paving tiles that are tougher than cement. To date, the company has recycled five million bags and hopes to increase that number tenfold by 2025. It’s good news for the Mediterranean Sea, which suffers from 74,000 tonnes of waste every year from Egypt alone. Reuters

Illegal gold mining is one of the drivers of deforestation in the Amazon, but the new Brazilian government has made stopping it a priority, evicting thousands of illegal gold miners from Yanomami territory, an indigenous reservation the size of Portugal, and restoring the sanctity of indigenous land. Reuters

The United States has two new national monuments: Castner Range National Monument in Texas, made up of 6,600 acres of rugged canyons and arroyos, and Avi Kwa Ame in Nevada, comprising a half million acres of the most biologically diverse and culturally significant lands in the Mojave Desert, including 28 species of native grasses and some of the oldest Joshua trees in the country. NYT

The designation will protect critical habitat in the Spirit Mountain area for desert tortoises, bald eagles and peregrine falcons, as well as some of the oldest Joshua trees in the United States. Credit: John Burcham/ NYT

People who mistreat domestic animals in Spain will face much tougher penalties following new legislation that has increased potential jail time from 18 months to three years. The law requires compulsory training for dog owners and aligns with the country’s shift in 2020 to recognise animals as "living beings endowed with sensitivity" rather than simply "things." Euro News

For the first time in 26 years, the US EPA has set new legal limits for drinking water to remove six common "forever chemicals." Because these substances don’t naturally break down, they have been linked to liver and thyroid issues, birth defects, kidney disease and decreased immunity. Guardian

What difference a decade makes. In 2013 the EU and Israel became the world’s first markets to ban cosmetic animal testing. Today, 43 nations have sales bans or restrictions. The tireless work of activists has also turned the retail tide, with big beauty brands like Avon, L’Oréal and Johnson & Johnson banning the practice. Humane Society

The humble push bike is the new king of the road in London. Cyclists now outnumber motorists at peak times in the city's centre, following sustained efforts to encourage cycling and deter car use. Over the last decade, motorists have declined by 64% and cycling has increased by 386%, with an estimated 800,000 journeys a day now made by bike in the English capital. Forbes

19 billion native seeds will be planted as part of the Klamath River dam removal, the largest river restoration project in American history. Local tribes and environmental groups are busy sourcing 96 different species of trees and shrubs including culturally significant plants like yampah, lomatium and milkweed to plant across 2,200 acres of drained reservoirs. OPB

Pallets of native seeds being stored for the Klamath River restoration at BFI Native Seeds in Washington state. Gwen Santos / Resource Environmental Solutions

If it bleeds it leads

Robertson, C.E., Pröllochs, N., Schwarzenegger, K. et al., "Negativity drives online news consumption." Nature (2023)

To examine the causal impact of emotional language on news consumption, we analysed more than 105,000 headlines that encompassed more than 370 million impressions of news stories. We find supporting evidence for a negativity bias hypothesis: news headlines containing negative language are significantly more likely to be clicked on, even after adjusting for the corresponding content of the news story.

For a headline of average length, the presence of a single negative word increased the click-through rate by 2.3%. In contrast, we find that news headlines containing positive language are significantly less likely to be clicked on. For a headline of average length, the presence of positive words in a news headline significantly decreases the likelihood of a headline being clicked on, by around 1.0%.
Source: Nat Hum Behav
Derek Thompson just wrote about this in his newsletter for The Atlantic.

Saving the world is cheaper than ruining it

The IPCC's Sixth Assessment has concluded, the culmination of eight years of work tying together all of the IPCC reports from last few years into one handy summary of summaries. The bad news is that we are not going to keep warming under 1.5°C. After more than a century of insinuating itself into every aspect of humanity's political and economic systems, the monstrous octopus that is the fossil fuels industry has proven stubbornly resistant to change.

Despite decades of increasingly desperate warnings from scientists and years of concerned promises from politicians, governments and banks continue to fund new coal, gas and oil, and emissions continue to rise. The gap between rhetoric and action has become depressingly familiar. Another Code Red is issued, the headlines warn of impending doom, but within a few weeks a crisis that will affect the future of all life on Earth is forgotten as the news cycle moves on.

This time though, something is different. The IPCC will not report again until the end of this decade, but it leaves us with the message that there are now feasible, affordable and effective solutions on the table, something that simply wasn't the case two or three years ago. As climate scientist Bronson Griscom says, "the highway to hell now has exit ramps."

Viewed this way, the report is not just a stark warning but a reminder of what a gift it is that we have the means to start rapidly cutting emissions, putting 2°C within reach. The big question now is where we land. A world where temperatures rise by 1.65°C is poles apart from one where we overshoot by 1.95°C, and the difference will be determined by what happens in the next seven years. Every type of reduction now counts. We fight for every hundredth of a degree and try to remember the prize that awaits on the other side.

Climate change is a planetary emergency, and we shouldn’t forget that there are severe consequences to getting this wrong—and right now, we are getting it wrong by not acting fast enough. But we cannot lose sight of what awaits us if we get this right. We are standing on the precipice of one of the greatest economic transformations in human history—if we can see this through, we will be living in a world that is richer in every sense of the word.
Bronson Griscom, Conservation International

Stick it in our veins. Source: IPPC

That's it for this week. We hope you enjoyed the news, and thank you again to all our paying subscribers for making the donation of those two machines to Sanku possible.

With love,


Future Crunch

Future Crunch

We're a team of science communicators. Our mission is to foster intelligent, optimistic thinking about the future, and create a 21st century that works for people and the planet.

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