Clean energy records in China, zero-carbon shipping, a bold humanitarian gesture from Colombia, big wins for human rights in India and Ecuador, falling cancer deaths, shifting attitudes to the war on drugs in Malaysia and New Jersey, and a brand new national park for the United States.
A fortnightly roundup of good news from around the world. You're receiving the free edition. For the full experience, you can upgrade to the premium edition, which also comes with mind-blowing science and the best bits of the internet, delivered every week. One third of your subscriber fee goes to charity.
We're making a few slight tweaks to our format this week. Good news stories are now split into 'People' and 'Planet.' We know that's not necessarily the best binary; the idea that humans are somehow separate from nature is one of the fundamental causes of our current civilizational predicament. It is however, a useful categorical distinction, so we're going to run with it until we come up with something better. If you've got any alternative suggestions we're all ears.
We're also starting a new section called "Electronic Mail." Each fortnight, we're going to recommend a newsletter we love, and tell you why we think you should sign up. A quick word of warning, don't subscribe to all of our suggestions! Your attention is a scarce and valuable resource. If you add every newsletter we recommend, your inbox will quickly spin out of control. Approach it Marie Kondo style. Go slow, only choose the ones that really resonate, and be quick to unsubscribe from anything that doesn't bring you joy or give you real value.
Except this newsletter of course. Keep us in the sock drawer if you have to, but don't throw us away just yet.
Uttarakhand has become the first state in India to grant women co-ownership of land, which has traditionally transferred down patriarchal lines. The landmark amendment gives wives and daughters equal access, and overnight, will affect over 350,000 women across the state. It’s hoped other states will now take action too, after what activists are calling a “historic decision". Times of India
A group of workers in Ecuador have also made legal history, after winning the country’s first case against modern-day slavery. After 50 years of labour exploitation, Afro-Ecuadorian workers decided to take action against their powerful agro-industrial employer. The judge ruled in their favour, ordering compensation and a full apology on the company’s website and in local media, detailing every worker by name. Reuters
Colombia has granted legal status to almost two million Venezuelan refugees. The bold humanitarian gesture, made by President Iván Duque earlier this month, gives them temporary protected status for ten years, allowing émigrés to work and access public services such as health and education. In a world where nationalist sentiments have all too often been stoked against refugees and migrants, it's a remarkable example of leadership (smart economic move too). UNHCR
In Malaysia, new legislation has been passed mandating that drug addicts should be sent to rehabilitation rather than jail. The change of approach is part of the government’s long-term plan to "put science and public health before punishment and incarceration” by giving addicts a second chance and helping them to reintegrate back into the community. Free Malaysia
The infant mortality rate declined again in Ghana in 2020, to 32.80 per 1,000 live births. A decade ago, it was 49.42 per 1,000 live births, a decline of around 40% in just ten years. Maternal mortality and under 5 mortality rates declined last year too, thanks in part to the country's universal health coverage, which exempts pregnant women from paying health insurance premiums. Keoma
Virginia's lawmakers have approved legislation to abolish the death penalty, moving it a step closer to becoming the 23rd state to ban capital punishment and the first southern state to outlaw the practice. That's a massive turnaround for the state with the highest execution rate in America. Governor Ralph Northam is waiting to sign it into law. "It's time we stop this machinery of death." CNN
In New Jersey, a new law legalizing marijuana will change the way police interact with underage offenders, especially in minority communities where drug laws have been disproportionately enforced. Instead of facing criminal charges, people under the age of 21 will now be issued a series of warnings, with a third offense resulting in counselling or community service. Law & Crime
A new study in Denmark has found that less people over the age of 70 are having fewer strokes and fewer people of all ages are dying from the disease. It’s good news for global health; strokes are one of the leading causes of death and disability worldwide. Researchers say the decrease is due to improvements in stroke awareness and a drop in smoking rates. Science Daily
The American Cancer Society says death rates have fallen again. Its latest figures show a 2.4% decline from 2017 to 2018 – the largest one-year drop ever. Longer term, there's been a 31% fall in mortality rates between 1991 and 2018, translating to almost 3.2 million fewer deaths had rates remained at their peak. Its mostly thanks to declines in the four most common cancers: lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate.
Russia and the United States have agreed to patrol together to enforce a new maritime pollution agreement in the waters of the Bering Sea. Officially, relations between the two countries are at their worst in more than thirty years; the Arctic though, has a long history of fostering international cooperation, and officials aren't letting geopolitical tensions get in the way. Arctic Today
A new law decriminalizing same-sex relations has gone into effect in Angola. It overturns a criminal code that had been in place for 134 years, from when the country was still a colony. Activists have heralded it as “a great step forward” in the fight against state-sponsored discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community in southern Africa. Sahara Reporters
Centuries after they were stolen, the ancestral lands of the American Indian Community in Minnesota, which includes the site of the U.S. Dakota War in 1862, has been returned to them. Tribal Council members hope it marks the beginning of more efforts to reclaim traditional homelands of Indigenous people. “We are trying to heal ourselves and also we are trying to come back and try to nurture the land and heal the land as well.” CBS Local
This story is a little close to the and now finally segment you usually get at the end of the evening news, but we're including it anyway because it's awesome. Two years after girls in the United States were allowed into the Boy Scouts, almost 1,000 have achieved the top rank of Eagle Scout, a grade that only 6% of Scouts ever make. Dyb dyb dob. CBS
In China, coal-fired power plants fell to less than half the country's total power capacity last year, and look set to fall by a further 3% in 2021. This is big news. China is the world's largest emitter of carbon and by far the largest producer and consumer of coal. Meanwhile, 61.7% of new energy investments were spent on wind, solar and biomass, 20.5% on hydro and 7.2% on nuclear. SCMP
In the United States, the world's second largest emitter of carbon, renewable energy generated one-fifth of all electricity in 2020. After a record year for installations of both wind (17GW) and solar (19GW), zero-carbon energy sources, which also include hydro and nuclear, now make up 40% of the country's total electricity mix. Greentech
Bangladesh, which until recently had one of the largest coal pipelines in the world, has scrapped nine more coal plants, with a combined capacity of almost 8GW. The decision was driven by a combination of rising costs, worries about the country's future reliance on imported coal and growing public opposition to the health impacts of pollution. Daily Sun
People power in Canada has forced the Alberta government to reinstate the 1976 Coal Policy that it revoked last year. The plan had opened up the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains to open-pit coal mining, but after sustained opposition from conservationists, country music stars and both rural and urban communities, the government has been forced to do an about-face. The Narwhal
Australia's third biggest bank, ANZ, has pulled out of funding the Port of Newcastle, the world's largest thermal coal terminal. The bank said the investment was too risky and is worried it could become a stranded asset as global decarbonization gathers speed. In news that must really delight their shareholders, Australia's fourth biggest bank, NAB, has agreed to step in to make up the financing gap. Guardian
There's been another flurry of announcements on electric vehicles in the last fortnight. Jaguar says it will stop selling internal combustion engines within the next five years, Land Rover will offer electric version of its vehicles from 2024, and the really big one - Ford will sell only EVs in the United Kingdom and Europe from 2030. That's the largest carmaker yet to pledge all-electric sales in Europe. Reuters
Massive decision by Maersk, the world's largest shipping line. From 2023, all vessels will be required to use carbon-neutral fuels, such as clean methanol and ammonia “If we don’t do this, ten years from now we risk becoming irrelevant.” This is seven years ahead of their original goal, and places serious pressure on other companies to follow suit. Lloyds List
If the state of the world keeps you up at night, you can rest a little easier knowing the ozone layer is recovering faster than previously thought. Between 2012-2017 it looked certain to be delayed when a mysterious increase of an ozone-depleting gas called CFC-11 was traced back to China. But thanks to the country's quick response in reducing those emissions, scientists say the ozone layer is now back on track to heal to pre-1980s levels within the next 50 years. ABC
Thanks to decades of conservation work, the population of European bison has tripled in the last 17 years, from only 1,800 in 2003 to 6,200 today. That means it is no longer on the vulnerable species list. Conservationists praised local communities for their support in rewilding these animals back to land. “Only by working together can we ensure the progress made in the last 70 years will not decline, but that we will witness a change for the better.” CGTN
Air pollution is falling across a vast swathe of 15 countries in Africa, from Senegal in the west to South Sudan in the east. It's the result of rapid urbanization and economic development, leading to a significant decrease in fires traditionally used for land management. “As middle and low-income countries grow you often see more emissions. It’s nice to see a decline occurring when you’d expect to see pollution increasing.” NYT
The Mississippi River is the cleanest it's been in more than a century. Recent testing reported a sharp drop in bacteria, most of which stemmed from human and animal waste, with levels at 1% of what they were before the 1980s. Most of the credit goes to the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act, which forced industries to be accountable for waste discharge and banned the disposal of sewage into rivers and creeks. Regulation huh? Who would have thought. Nola
Rhino poaching in South Africa dropped by 33% last year, the sixth straight year of declines, and the lowest overall number since 2010. The dramatic decline was partially due to COVID-19 restrictions, but also to ten years of targeted government strategy and the cooperation of different states and countries in sharing information about wildlife trafficking. The South African
America has created its 63rd national park: New River Gorge, in southern West Virginia. The new park, covering 72,000 acres of land, and flanking 53 miles of the gorge, now has the same status as iconic places such as Yosemite and Yellowstone. It's the result of a multigenerational effort, started in the mid-twentieth century, to transform a tired industrial area into a national landmark. NYT
Leah Ginnivan's newsletter is one of our favourite things on the internet. She's a doctor, working in Darwin, Australia, with an extraordinary ability to capture the human experience. Her letters, and we use that description intentionally, only come every few months but the wait is always worth it. Each one feels like an intimate, old-fashioned missive from a family member living on the other side of the world. Check out one of her more recent dispatches... and if you like that, subscribe! Snoozeletter, by Leah Ginnivan
That's it for this edition, thanks for joining us.
If you're wondering why so many of these stories didn't make it onto your radar in the last fortnight, don't worry, they didn't make it onto ours either. We had to go digging for this stuff. Progress happens slowly, away from the cameras, and it's not always exciting or dramatic so it doesn't get widely reported. That doesn't mean it's not happening though.
We'll see you in a fortnight with more good news for people and the planet, and some electronic mail, too. Got a cynical relative or a child who's worried about the future? Feel free to pass some of these stories on.