Good news 🌈
The IEA's latest annual report contains a hidden nugget of very, very good news. Last year, the number of people without access to electricity dropped from 860 million to 770 million, a new record low. Africa has made particularly good progress; the number of people gaining access to electricity doubled from 9 million a year between 2000 and 2013, to 20 million between 2014 and 2019. IEA
Global sulfur dioxide pollution levels fell by 6% last year, according to a new analysis of NASA satellite data. SO2 emissions fell in all three of the world’s top emitter countries – India, Russia and China, only the second time ever that this has happened. Researchers say it's due to falling coal usage, especially in India. Air Quality News
In the last quarter century, how far have we come in advancing women’s rights? A new analysis from the IRC reveals some dramatic gains, including a 110% increase in women serving in national parliaments, a 49% increase in women in ministerial positions, a 38% decrease in maternal deaths, and an 18% increase in female literacy. Is it enough? Not even close. But it is progress.
Crime has plummeted in the Philippines this year. In the first nine months of 2020 there was a 46% decline in the country's 'focus' crimes of murder, homicide, physical injury, rape, robbery, theft, and hijacking. Police are scratching their heads; given the loss of livelihoods and other economic difficulties, they were expecting crime to actually go up. Manila Bulletin
Uganda has launched its ambitious Wildlife Habitat & Corridor Restoration Project, which focuses on restoring habitat for endangered chimpanzees by adding 3 million trees to the Albertine Rift Forests. The area is home to endangered chimpanzees, as well as more than 50% of birds, 39% of mammals, 19% of amphibians and 14% of reptiles and plants of mainland Africa. Monde Stuff
Every signature counts. US federal officials have issued new protections for Gulf of Mexico deep-sea coral hot spots, restricting damaging fishing gear in most of those areas. This comes after 11,000 people signed their names in support during a final round of public comment in late 2019. The protections mark a major milestone in safeguarding coral ecosystems in the Gulf. Pew
Every hand counts too. For the last 20 years, the world’s largest seagrass restoration project has been running off the coast of Virginia, and during that time the ecosystem has gone from near death to full flowering. Over 70 million eelgrass seeds have been planted by volunteers. "Today, as far as I can swim, I see lush meadows, rays, the occasional seahorse. It’s beautiful.” Science News
Indistinguishable from magic 🐇
A van-sized robot called OSIRIS-REx has touched down on Bennu, an asteroid 320 million kilometers away. After maneuvering past a massive boulder nicknamed Mount Doom, it has arrived safely at the landing site and is now collecting dust and pebbles for delivery back to Earth in 2023. It's going to be the largest sample return since the Apollo astronauts came home with pieces of the moon. NASA
Physicists have improved their ability to measure time, moving from femtoseconds - the time it takes for chemical bonds to break and form - to zeptoseconds - the time it takes for light to travel through individual molecules like hydrogen. The shortest unit of time ever measured is now 247 zeptoseconds (0.000000000000000000247 seconds). Science Alert
IKEA has been getting some well-deserved headlines with its recent commitment to buy back old furniture for recycling. For us though, H&M's new Looop machine is even more impressive. Now operating in a store in Stockholm, it cleans and shreds your old garments and knits new ones from the recycled fibres. No water, no dye, circular economy magic. Designboom
Seems to be the week for medical imaging breakthroughs. At Cambridge, scientists and developers have created VR software that allows them to ‘walk around' inside human cells, and at Caltech, researchers have developed a technique known as integrated neurophotonics (someone needs to steal this for sci-fi please) that tracks the activity of millions of neurons in a brain circuit in real time.
Also, a team of researchers in the Netherlands has discovered a set of previously unidentified human organs: a pair of large salivary glands, a couple inches in length, draped discreetly over the tubes that connect our ears to our throat. It's the first identification of its kind in three centuries. “We were quite shocked that we are in 2020 and have a new structure identified in the human body.” NYT
Give a damn 🌏
The Association of Ethno-Environmental Defense is an indigenous-run organisation based in the Amazonian state of Rondonia, in Brazil. For the last year, they've been helping the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people run a surveillance program to protect their territory, using modern technology like drones, GPS, and radios. Their land is home to 17 rivers, and considered the most important in Rondônia, because of its rich biodiversity and water supply. However, like so many parts of the Amazon right now, it's under serious threat from fires, illegal loggers, and cattle farmers.
We're sending them US$4,000 to buy another Mavic Pro 2 drone, as well as spare battery packs since there’s no access to electricity in the forest during the surveillance missions. An extra pair of eyes in the sky is going to make a real difference. With their existing drone, the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau have already discovered a number of deforested areas, used the images to report crimes to local police. You can read more about what they've been able to achieve over here.
Thanks to all our paying subscribers for making this happen. Apparently if you're a member of Future Crunch, and you're ever in Rondonia, you're invited to be a special guest to visit the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau Indigenous Territory (all you have to do is send them an email). So that's nice :)
Dark Forest 📡
Forget Maggie Smith or Stephen Fry. Laurie Penny is our kind of British national treasure, and she's had enough of Disney Britain. "I do not care to be told that I am any less of a patriot because I choose to know my country, or because I can imagine a future where we do more than freeze in the haunted house of our past glories, stuffed with stolen treasures and trapdoors we never open." Longreads
Cory Doctorow says enough with the cynicism and apocalyptic tales. Stories are ways for us to mentally rehearse our responses to different social outcomes, and when we prime our 'intuition pumps' with tales of surveillance states and ecological collapse, we make those outcomes more likely. Instead, science fiction now needs stories of technology’s power to liberate us. Slate
Science journalist Tara Haelle says there's a reason you're feeling that weird combination of anxiety-tainted depression mixed with ennui. It's because your 'surge capacity' - a collection of mental and physical adaptive systems designed for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations - is depleted. This article was incredibly helpful for us, we're confident it'll be the same for you. Elemental
This profile of Robert Browning, the jetpack guy, is amazing. He built what is essentially the real-world analogue of an Iron Man suit in a shed in Salisbury while still working a full-time desk job. Every night, he would wake up at 1am, work for three or four hours, and then sleep on the train commute into London. Also, apparently the entire suit is now 3D-printed. Wired
Creativity has a dirty secret. Although it regularly appears on wishlists for desirable employee skills in the 21st century, it's a poor way to measure attributes that drive innovation. It's actually an invented concept, summoned into existence during the Cold War, and mobilized in service of the conflict between supposedly individualistic societies and their collectivist opponents. Aeon
Human Kind 💖
Meet Marianna Muntianu.
For the past ten years, she's been planting trees all over Russia. A lot of trees. Together with an army of volunteers, she's been responsible for reforesting the equivalent of 1,350 football fields in 24 regions, well over a million trees.
She first got the idea in 2010, when wildfires tore through the forests of Kostroma, her home in western Russia. "Smoke covered cities, and people walked the streets wearing masks. The picture was so eerie, and I was devastated we were losing this beautiful natural heritage.” When she realized the spaces weren't being reforested, she gave up her studies in finance and joined an environmental organization. “By planting a tree, I wished to move from destruction, to creation."
Within a few years, she'd set up an online platform called Plant the Forest, that gathered volunteers through social media, and raised funds and awareness through a mobile game. They've now planted hundreds of thousands of seedlings in areas all around the country that were badly in need of reforestation, and the movement is going from strength to strength, bring together Russians united by their love of nature. Her latest initiative is a "Russian Climate Fund" that aims to plant 1 billion trees by 2030.