Good News on German Measles, Gray Wolves and Clean Energy Down Under

Plus, progress on female genital mutilation, indigenous rights in Ecuador, a #MeToo victory in the US, a conservation victory in South Africa, and a ban on bear farming in South Korea.

Good News on German Measles, Gray Wolves and Clean Energy Down Under

A fortnightly roundup of good news from around the world. This is the free edition. For the full experience, you can upgrade to the weekly premium edition, which also comes with mind-blowing science and the best bits of the internet. One third of the subscriber fee goes to charity.

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Good news you probably didn't hear about

Female genital mutilation is one of the worst ideas humanity has ever come up with, and we've been practising it for more than a thousand years. In the last generation however, it's started to decline. Progress is uneven, and the pandemic has caused setbacks, but in the 30 countries where it's most prevalent, one in three girls aged 15 -19 today have undergone FGM, versus one in two a generation ago. UNICEF

Human African trypanosomiasis, better known as sleeping sickness, used to be one of Africa's most notorious diseases. In the late 1990s, more than 35,000 cases were reported annually. Today, it's close to being eliminated - only 663 cases were reported in 2020, the lowest number ever recorded and a reduction of 83% since 2000.

You don't hear about much about rubella (German measles) in rich countries these days, because science. In poor countries though, it's still the leading cause of birth defects. Some welcome news from the WHO then - between 2012 and 2020, the number of countries that introduced the rubella vaccine increased from 132 to 173, resulting in a 48% drop in cases. 70% of the world’s infants are vaccinated and elimination has been verified in almost half the world’s countries.

Nigeria is making steady progress towards ending open defecation, with over 60 local government areas now declared open defecation free. In 2006 over a quarter of Nigeria’s population practised OD, which is linked to disease outbreaks like cholera, diarrhoea, and typhoid. Today that number has declined to 18%. Prime Progress

One thing COVID taught us is that infrastructure can be built quickly when the will is there. While much of the world stopped at plexi-glass shields in retail shops, the Philippines undertook the largest bike line construction program in its history, building 500 km of bike paths to replace public transport in under a year. World Bank

In the two decades since Portugal decriminalised the personal possession of all drugs, overdoses, HIV infection and drug-related crime have all dramatically decreased. The ground-breaking reform was part of policy shift to prioritise health over criminalization and its success has inspired the implentation of similar models in Oregon and now, potentially, Norway. Transform Drugs

Mississippi has legalized medical marijuana for people suffering from cancer, AIDS, and sickle cell disease. The new law allows patients to buy up to 3.5g of cannabis per day, up to six days a week. Mississippi is the 37th state in the US to make this kind of medicine legal. NPR

A historic ruling in Ecuador has given the country's 14 indigenous groups the power to veto mining and oil projects on their lands. Indigenous communities must now be consulted and give consent before any extractive projects can commence on or near their territory. Mongabay

The Snoqualmie tribe, also known as the People of the Moon, have reclaimed ownership of their ancestral lands in Washington State, with the purchase of 12,000 acres of former logging forest. It’s a ‘monumental’ victory for the tribe, who have fought to reclaim the land since the 1930s and will now switch to harvesting sustainable timber as part of a bigger plan to restore local wildlife populations.

Forest and river views in the Snoqualmie Tribe Ancestral Forest.

The global movement towards a four day work week is gaining momentum, with workers in Belgium now legally entitled to a 38 hour working week as part of new labour reforms to tackle burnout. Scotland, Spain and Japan are also trialing the idea following Iceland's success, where 86% of workers now work shorter weeks or have the right to ask to do so. Euro News

A big win for human rights, as New Zealand becomes the latest country to ban conversion therapy. The new law received 107,000 public submissions; the highest number ever received for a piece of legislation. The practice is also currently outlawed in Canada, France, Brazil, Ecuador, Malta, Albania, and Germany. Guardian

To all those who have been affected by conversion practices or attempts at them, we want to say, this legislation is for you. We cannot bring you back, we cannot undo all of the hurt, but we can make sure that for the generations to come, we provide the support and love you did not get and protect you from the harm of those who seek to try to stop you from being who you are.
~ Grant Robertson, Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand

In one of its most significant workplace reforms in decades, the United States will end forced arbitration agreements for survivors of workplace sexual assault and harassment. Arbitration clauses are buried in millions of employment contracts and have long served as loopholes for offenders. The victory comes five years after the #MeToo movement burst into global public consciousness. ABC

40 years after the first case of HIV was diagnosed in Australia, the country is close to eliminating transmission of the virus, recording just 633 cases last year - the lowest number since 1984. The public health victory is owed to the early response to the virus - the introduction of a needle exchange, the tireless dedication of volunteer carers and an early roll-out of the HIV prevention pill. BBC

Hi everyone Amy here, breaking normal programming to add a personal note to this news story. Professor Ron Penny was the immunologist who diagnosed the first case of HIV in Australia in 1982, and he worked tirelessly to debunk the misconceptions about the disease that fuelled discrimination against gay men. I was a patient of Professor Penny’s during the last six years of his career and although my condition was not HIV related, his empathy and humanity restored my faith in doctors.

At one of my appointments, I asked him how he remained so approachable despite his position (I once heard him referred to as ‘the father of immunology’ in Australia). He told me that the courage and grace of his early HIV patients humbled all his professional arrogance and changed him forever. He reminded me that big stories of progress always have personal impact, and like a spider’s web, you never know how far those invisible threads will reach, or who they might catch.

The only home we've ever known *

Cuba has established a new marine protected area spanning 728 km2 of mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs. The region is an important spawning site for coral reefs and fish and is also home to critically endangered hawksbill turtles, loggerhead turtles and American crocodiles. Mongabay

More than 100 countries have committed to strengthening protection measures in international waters to combat illegal fishing and reduce plastic pollution. This comes after the conclusion of the first global summit dedicated solely to the ocean. The EU and 16 other states also agreed to pursue a global agreement by the end of the year to regulate the sustainable use of the high seas. Guardian

Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to hold joint patrols in the waters between their countries to stop to illegal fishing. Malaysia loses $1.4 billion to foreign fishing vessels each year while Indonesia loses around $2 billion. The patrols will focus on the Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s most heavily trafficked shipping lanes. Mongabay

Iceland will officially end all commercial whaling in 2024. Only one license holder remains in the country after a two year suspension on hunts, and even they doubt there is 'any economic advantage' to continuing beyond 2024 when the current quotas expire. Maritime Executive

Hawaii has become the first US state to ban shark fishing with new legislation making it illegal to “knowingly capture, entangle, or kill any species of shark.” It’s not the first time Hawaii has led the way for shark conservation; in 2010 it was the first state to ban the possession and distribution of shark fins. Planetary Press

We are well aware of how important sharks are to maintain healthy marine ecosystems. We also recognize their importance in native Hawaiian cultural practices and beliefs.
~ Brian Neilson, Hawaiian Division of Aquatic Resources

Big conservation victory in South Africa, after the country's High Court sided with Indigenous communities in the Eastern Cape to stop Shell's efforts to explore shale gas off the country’s eastern coast. The area falls within the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany biodiversity hotspot, and its pristine waters provide habitat for an exceptional array of endemic and endangered marine species. Hakai

Shell’s plans to conduct seismic surveys off South Africa’s Wild Coast region drew opposition locally and abroad.

Indonesia has recorded significant progress in its program to restore its tropical peatlands. In 2021 it rehabilitated 300,000 ha, representing 25% of its four year target. Attention will now turn to mangrove restoration, emulating the same approach. Mongabay

The US EPA has resumed the enforcement of a rule that limits power plant emissions of mercury and other hazardous pollutants. The original rule, created in 2012, helped curb mercury’s devastating neurological damage to children and prevented thousands of premature deaths, but was abandoned during the Trump administration. AP

Well, here’s a twist … tax receipts from surging gun and ammunition sales in the US have boosted funds for federal conservation programs to a record $1.1 billion. Thanks to forward-thinking legislation created in 1937, tax money from hunting and shooting equipment is distributed into conservation grants to stop the decline of fish and animal species. Outline

Sinaloa has become the fifth state in Mexico to ban bullfighting. Annual bullfights across Mexico result in the killing of thousands of bulls every year but the tide is turning with 73% of Mexicans supporting a nationwide ban. World Animal News

Good news for cranes in the UK, with 72 pairs recorded last year, the highest number since the 17th century. A small number of birds were reintroduced to Norfolk’s Broads in 1979 after a 400 year absence due to wetland drainage and hunting. Habitat protections and hand-rearing projects have helped boost the population to over 200 birds. BBC

Good news for dogs in America. A decade ago, 2.6 million stray dogs and cats were being euthanized each year. However, thanks to dog-relocation networks, animal rescue and increased demand for pets during the pandemic, the number of euthanised dogs has now fallen to a historic low of 390,000. Time

After four decades of controversy and legal battles, Korea will ban all bear farming from 2026. While the meat and fur trade are currently illegal, the trade of bear bile has continued to be sold since 1981 as an ingredient for traditional medicine. Under the new law, bears currently in farms must be relocated to protection shelters by 2025. Korea Herald

The declaration to cease bear breeding is particularly meaningful because the government, the agricultural industry and civil society have combined to resolve a 40-year-old issue.
~ Han Jeoung-ae, Minister of Environment, South Korea

Federal protections for gray wolves have been fully restored across most of the US after a federal court ruled that existing populations could not be sustained without proper measures. The recovery of wolf populations from near-extinction in the 1930s has been a historic conservation victory, but different administrations have tried to scale back protections since they were first enacted in 1974. NPR

Credit: Nat Geo Kids

Saving the world is cheaper than ruining it

There's an election happening in Australia this year, so naturally anti-renewable campaigns have reached fever pitch. The country however, now has 25GW of installed solar capacity – the most per capita in the world. This caps off a record-breaking year in 2021, when more than 3GW of rooftop solar was installed by households and businesses. RE

More good news down under. Despite the best efforts of the Australian government to prop it up, the gas industry is getting destroyed by clean energy. Wind and solar provided five times more power than gas in 2021, while gas generation reached its lowest level in 15 years. Coal is down to 62.8% too, its lowest level since the interconnected national market began in 1999. The Age

And more: another insurance company has dumped Adani: Convex, a global reinsurance company, has announced it won't be going anywhere coal or coal-related infrastructure. The company did not specifically name Adani but referred only to “a new coal mine in Australia.” Convex is the 43rd insurer to rule out underwriting the mine. Insurance Business Mag

Even more: Australia's largest coal-fired power station, which supplies 20% of NSW’s daily power needs, is closing in 2025, seven years sooner than originally planned.

And even more! After seven years, the epic legal battle to protect the pristine Bylong Valley in Australia from a massive new coal mine has been won. The case pitted local residents against the government-backed multinational KEPCO. This project would have generated over 200 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental Defenders Office

Duke Energy, a US utility serving customers in six states, has announced plans to cut coal to less than 5% of its total generation by 2030 and to fully exit coal by 2035. The company currently owns about 16 GW of coal plants, and describes this as the “largest planned coal fleet retirement in the industry.” IEEFA

US insurance giant Travelers will no longer underwrite companies that generate more than 30% of their revenue from coal or have more than 30% of their reserves in tar sands. It joins 35 insurers globally that have ended or limited coverage: three Norh American insurers, most Asian insurers, and all major European insurers.

New York's state pension fund is selling $238 million of stocks it holds across 21 shale oil and gas companies, saying they're not moving fast enough to a low-emissions economy. In Denmark, one of the country's biggest pension funds is ditching $300 million of oil and gas bonds bonds by December, after concluding the assets pose a growing risk to returns.

Big news in the world of vertical farming. America's biggest retailer, Walmart, has bought an equity stake in Plenty, which grows food off tall, modular towers. The move makes Walmart the first major US retailer to make a significant investment into this area, and it will start offering vertically farmed produce to consumers later this year. Reuters

Workers process the different vertically-grown produce at Plenty.

Coal-free steel plans are accelerating in Europe. German producer Salzgitter will convert to hydrogen and electric arc by 2033, aiming to supply low-carbon steel to all BMW’s plants, and the world's second biggest steelmaker ArcelorMittal has announced a €1.7 billion plan to replace three of its five French blast furnaces with electric arc or direct iron reduction plants by 2030. Argus

Japanese carmakers squandered their leadership in the EV space a decade ago, and aren't keen to make the same mistake again. Honda just ended all vehicle production at its legendary Sayama 'mother factory' in Tokyo, which has been building petrol-powered cars since 1964, and Nissan says it's ending combustion engine development in all markets except the United States.

Ford is investing another $20 billion to reorganize its business for the electric future, aiming to convert every one of its factories from gas-powered to electric vehicle production and hiring more engineers. This brings the automaker's total investment into EVs and digital to $50 billion, as it goes all in on a high stakes race for survival against its rivals. The Verge

In the fourth quarter of 2021, hybrid and electric vehicles surpassed more than 10% of light-duty vehicle sales in the US for the first time ever. On Thursday last week, the US government announced a $5 billion plan to blanket states with electric-vehicle chargers. And in case you were watching the adverts at Super Bowl LVI, top takeaway seemed to be:

Ok we are all done here, whew!

Thank you so much for reading our newsletter. If you know anyone who's feeling despair or cynicism about the state of the world, and you think they could do with a lift, please feel free to forward this to them. Who knows, maybe you'll change their mind for a day or two.

We'll see you in a fortnight.

Much love,


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Intelligent optimism, down under. You're receiving the free edition. You can upgrade to the premium edition over here (it comes with mind-blowing science and the best bits of the internet, and one third of your fee goes to charity).We offset the carbon cost of creating this newsletter by planting trees. If you need to unsubscribe, you'll break our hearts but we understand that it's us, not you. There's a button for that below. We're also on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter

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