The world has expanded access to fresh water, restored sight to four million blind people, and made clean energy cost the same (or less) than fossil fuels. We've made some big strides this year.

1. Some Species Are Returning from the Brink of Extinction

Tasmanian Devil. Image: Wayne McLean / CC-BY-SA-2.0

Conservation efforts pay off, and that’s what the Conservation Optimism Summit celebrates every year.

That’s where we learned more than a few species have come back from the brink of extinction. Check out the list of good things to celebrate this year:

  • The Reef Manta Ray on South America’s coast
  • The Giant Panda in China
  • The Large Blue Butterfly in Northern Europe
  • The Arabian Oryx in Egypt and Saudi Arabia
  • The Tasmanian Devil in—where else?—Tasmania
  • The Echo Parakeet on Reunion and Mauritus Islands

One of the largest misconceptions in wildlife conservation is the view that it doesn’t help, or that people can’t do anything in their everyday lives. These efforts do pay off, and we can see it happening every year.

Source: The Guardian

2. Plastic Waste Might Have a Better Solution

10 good news stories plastic worm
Source: Photograph: CSIC Communications Department/PA

While keeping her beehives, scientist Federica Bertocchini noticed that wax worms had eaten their way out of a plastic bag.

Why is that a big deal? Plastics can stick around for decades before beginning to break down, and that hurts the environment. We have mountains of plastic waste stored around the world, and we don’t have a great long-term solution for them.

But these worms might have just shown us a way to break down plastics centuries ahead of time. The worms can eat right through a plastic bag in a matter of hours.

Scientists are now working in labs to recreate the digestive process the wax worm uses. It’s a promising solution straight out of nature.

Source: The Atlantic

3. We Can Turn Seawater into Drinking Water

10 good news stories graphene water sieve
Source: Reuters

Graphene, a recently invented super material, has more potential applications than we can implement at the moment. Seriously, this material is 200 times stronger than steel.

One of those applications has become a way of turning sea water into drinking water. That’s huge. The sieve uses graphene’s atom-thick filters to catch the salt that we normally couldn’t catch. Israel developed a desalination process not long ago, and it provides more fresh water than it needs. But the graphene sieve could be adapted for a wider range of locations, and could be used in small or large quantities.

The best part? The inventors believe the technology can be scaled up to service tens of millions of people in the future.

Source: Yahoo News

4. Clean Energy Is Now Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels in 30 Countries

10 good news stories wind turbine
Source: Wikimedia

This report comes from the World Economic Forum.

Solar energy cost $600 per mega watt-hour a decade ago, whereas it now costs just $100 to generate the same amount of energy. In fact, wind energy cuts that price tag down to $50 for the same amount of energy. While fossil fuel energy might still cost around the same as solar power now, it’ll only be a matter of time before it becomes even cheaper. Here’s what the World Economic Forum’s Head of Investments, Michael Drexler, had to say about it:

“Solar and wind have just become very competitive, and costs continue to fall. It is not only a commercially viable option, but an outright compelling investment opportunity with long-term, stable, inflation-protected returns.”

We all know that clean energy is one of the best ways to fight climate change, but it is now economically viable to do it. That’s where businesses will jump on board, and it’s only going to get better from here.

Source: The Independent

5. We Can Pull Water From Desert Air

10 good news stories water from desert air
Source: MIT

13 trillion liters of water floats around the atmosphere, which is about one-tenth of the water in our bodies of fresh water. Someone has developed a machine that can pull 3 liters of water per day out of the air, which would go a long way toward solving water access problems in drier climates around the world.

Previous attempts to do this weren’t widely applicable because they required an unreasonable amount of humidity or too much electricity to use. A team of chemists at Berkley, California overcame these roadblocks by using “metal organic frameworks,” which are customization metal hubs that can control which gases bind to them.

This will go a long way toward solving access to clean water once it’s scaled up for mass production, or commercialized into household items at affordable price points.

Source: Science Magazine

6. Scientists Grew a Lamb in an Artificial Womb

10 good news stories artificial womb lamb
Source: Nature.com

Fear not, for this artificial womb isn’t a harbinger of artificially grown humans. The inventors made it to help along babies born prematurely so that they could continue in some kind of womb until ready to enter the world.

That’s important, because premature birth is a leading cause of death among human newborns. Of those who make it through the intensive care needed to survive, anywhere from 20-50% of survivors develop some sort of condition from poorly developed organs. Instead of turning to intensive care to nurture them for weeks on end (without any guarantee of success), the “biobag” could emulate the womb for as long as needed.

The lambs formed normally and without issue, as far as anyone can tell. It’s an incredibly promising development that could help newborns weather very fatal storms in the future.

Source: The Verge

7. No New European Coal Plants Made After 2020

10 good news stories europe no more coal plants 2020
Source: RWE Brown Coal Power Plant NiederaussemBraunkohle Kraftwerk Niederaussem. © Greenpeace

National energy companies from every member of the European Union signed up for this initiative, save Poland and Greece. That’s 26 countries with a common goal to limit fossil fuels in a concentrated area.

The Industrial Revolution came to rely heavily on coal, but the resulting carbon dioxide is estimated to be responsible for 20,000 deaths per year (aside from the obvious impact on climate change). This will effectively phase out those carbon emissions moving forward. Europe’s fossil fuels won’t disappear overnight, but they will decline at a steady pace until it’s no longer used.

And judging from the ever-dropping cost of solar and wind energy, national energy companies might just make the switch sooner than you think.

Source: The Guardian

8. 17,000 Indian Doctors Delivering Baby Girls for Free

10 good news stories 17,000 doctors deliver girl babies free
Source: Ajitha Menon\WFS

What began as one good Samaritan delivering babies for free has turned into a force of 17,000 doctors charging little or nothing for the birth of baby girls.

Why just girls? Dr. Ganesh Rakh witnessed 15 suicides of women who gave birth to two daughters. There is a cultural affinity for bearing male children, and some women can be overwhelmed by the prejudices and uphill battles that they (or their daughters) must face that men don’t ever see.

Dr. Rakh started this trend seven years ago, and it has caught on ever since. There’s always room for more good will in the world.

Source: Your Story

9. Eyesight Returned to 4 Million People

10 good news stories sight returned 4 million people
Source: CBS

Once your eyesight diminishes in the developing world, life expectancy drops to one-third that of people with the same condition in developed countries. The workforce often has no place for the blind, and family members need to take time out of their own workday to look after the

Two eye surgeons (and the doctors they’ve trained) have overcome this problem by restoring sight to four million people in Myanmar (also known as Burma, once upon a time).

Doctors Sanduk Ruit and Geoff Tabin have led this effort for years, and it goes well beyond surgery. They’ve established a lens factory in Nepal that makes implants at an incredibly low cost compared to what you’d find in North America.

The doctors they’ve trained can reach more people for surgery, and use these implants to cure blindness without breaking the bank.

You can check out their work at cureblindness.org.

Source: CBC News

10. India Pledges to Make Every Car Electric in 2030

10 good news stories india cars electric 2020
Source: Indian Express

To clarify, India won’t be retrofitting every car to become electric. But every car sold will be electric in 2030.

That’s going to have a huge impact on the world. India’s population sits at 1.3 billion people with 18 vehicles per 1,000 people. That’s not a super high ratio, but it will phase out the 22,536,000 gas-guzzlers currently on the roads.

Even better, the move to electric vehicles is expected to phase out India’s dependence on importing oil, introducing cost savings to the very same consumers who will buy the electric vehicles 13 years from now. Clean energy is becoming both affordable and good for the environment.

Source: The Indpendent

Bonus: Executions Fell by 37% Worldwide

10 good news stories global execution rate fell
Source: Dawn.com

Amnesty International reports that Pakistan and Iran led the charge here. Executions in Pakistan alone dropped by 73%, and the United States has dropped off the “top five” list for executions for the first time since 2006.

As morbid as it sounds, this is in fact good news. Here’s why:

One death is too many—true. But eliminating executions across hundreds of cultures and political structures around the world, at once, is no small task. No one has managed it yet because you can’t change everyone’s mind (much less in such a short span of time). You need to win the hearts and minds of people of different beliefs, languages, and levels of organization. That’s the long game.

Yet the measurable number of executions has dropped by a full third in the span of a single year. Think about what that means in terms of changing people’s belief in executions. This is a massive shift in thinking that would normally take decades to achieve.

Ideas shape history, and the idea of executing people is shrinking. That’s something worth celebrating.

Source: BBC World News


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Andrew Webb

Andrew Webb

Coming from the most un-handy of academic families, Andrew brings his love of history to the world of web writing. Rumours suggest he was born quoting Monty Python in a tweed jacket, but this remains unproven.