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Fears over the demise of American democracy appear to have been misplaced. Who would have guessed? Amidst the headline-grabbing election denialism and hand-wringing from pretty much the entire commentariat, the world's longest running democracy held firm. Turnout is on track to set a record for midterm elections, and the electoral system, across red states and blue, performed like clockwork, diminishing the last two years of controversy to what it always has been: the fabrication of one man and his shameless sycophants and imitators.
There were some pretty big wins for decency too. Reproductive rights supporters enshrined the right to choose in three state constitutions - Vermont, California and Michigan, voters said no t0 an anti-abortion constitutional amendment in conservative Kentucky, just as they did in Kansas in August, and Montana voters rejected a measure that would criminalize health care providers for not providing 'life-saving care' to infants born at any stage of development, including as the result of an abortion.
Marijuana legalization won in Maryland and Missouri, Medicaid expansion won in South Dakota, and Alabama, Tennessee, Vermont, and Oregon voted to change language in their state constitutions that allows for enslavement or involuntary servitude as part of criminal punishment. Nebraska bumped its minimum wage up to $15 per hour, Nevada made a $12 minimum wage universal across the state, and New York voters approved a $4.2 billion environmental bond, one of the biggest wins for environmental, social and governance infrastructure investments in eight years.
Maybe, just maybe (and contrary to almost every op-ed from the last few years) America isn't doomed after all? At the risk of sounding insensitive, perhaps life for most people in the United States is… kinda OK? Inflation is causing real pain, but unemployment is about as low as it gets, wages are rising, crime is not what Fox News makes it out to be, and democracy appears to be too deeply ingrained as a civic and cultural habit to be destroyed by a few cranks vying for attention. Of course, that's just our opinion, so in honour of the moment, we thought we'd kick off with some other US-related news items that might not have crossed your path.
Good news from America
There has been an 11% decline in the number of homeless veterans in the United States since 2020, the biggest fall in more than five years. Overall numbers have fallen by 55.3% since 2010 - and thanks to additional efforts launched in 2022, the government is on track to house every homeless veteran by the end of the year. HUD
Nearly 96% of US households are now banked, the highest rate since surveys began in 2009. Approximately 1.2 million households have gained access to banking services since 2019, with nearly half saying their decision to open an account was prompted by government support. FDIC
Minority groups in the United States have recorded huge health insurance coverage gains thanks to improved affordability and increased outreach efforts. Hispanic people saw a 53% jump in enrolment rates between 2020 and 2022, Black people 49% and Native Americans 32%. Not a single death panel in sight. WaPo
Deep in the bowels of the US 2020 Census lurks a quiet milestone: for the first time in modern American history, most White people live in mixed-race neighbourhoods - a tectonic shift from just a generation ago. In 1990, 78% of White people lived in neighbourhoods where at least four in five people were also White. In the 2020 Census, that’s plunged to 44%. WaPo
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the US. However - it's getting better. Since the 1960s, anti-tobacco initiatives and legislation have saved the lives of eight million Americans, and smoking rates have dropped from 42% to just 14% in 2020, and amongst 18–24 year olds to just over 7.4%. CDC
The prevalence of dementia in the United States amongst people aged 65 and older decreased from 12.2% in 2000 to 8.5% in 2016, most likely due to increased rates of educational attainment and lower smoking rates. Statistics telling a very different story here to 'vibes.' The Hill
Since 2014, people imprisoned at 18 facilities across eight western states in the United States have tended to over half a million sagebrush plants, feeding, watering, weeding and monitoring their health. “It’s all completely voluntary, and there’s usually a waitlist. They get so much peace of mind, stress relief, and the chance to work with, not against, their peers.” RTBC
States across the US are equalizing access to nutritious meals for all students. California, Maine and Colorado have all made their programs permanent, Vermont, Nevada and Massachusetts have extended them until the end of the year, and legislation has been introduced in Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, Maryland and North Carolina. NPR
The kids are eating way more and they’re more focused, eager to learn and they’re just happier. They’ve got one less thing to worry about.
Other good news from around the world
There’s a new RSV vaccine, given to mothers to reduce disease in newborns, that's estimated to reduce severe disease by 82%, and that should be available by next year. That’s great! Worldwide, RSV leads to around 3.6 million hospital admissions and causes around 6% of all child deaths from lower respiratory disease worldwide. Vox
The overall proportion of people in India suffering from blindness and visual impairment have been reduced by 47.1% and 51.9% respectively since 2010. Amongst people aged 50 years and above, the prevalence of blindness has declined from 5.3% in 2001 to 3.6% in 2007, and to 1.9% in the latest survey, carried out in 2019. Times of India
RIP Samuel Katz, the US virologist who was part of the research team that created the measles vaccine. Before its invention, measles killed 2.6 million people a year - by 2020, that number was just over 60,000. Coverage of the vaccine fell by 4% during the pandemic, but a new initiative from the Global Vaccines Alliance is now underway to reach 85 million children before the end of next year. NYT
RIP Dilip Mahalanabis, the Indian physician who pioneered the use of oral rehydration therapy - a simple solution of glucose, salts and water designed to replace vital fluids during bouts of infectious disease. The Lancet called it “the most important medical discovery of the 20th century.’’ It's estimated the number of children saved by ORT between 1982 and 2019 is more than 70 million. FT
Amazing what a group of dedicated people can achieve. The Against Malaria Foundation has managed to raise $484 million since 2005, in large part thanks to the efforts of the effective altruist community. That's allowed them to distribute over 232 million bednets, and save the lives of around 90,000 people.
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You get to support small charities all over the world doing great work, and a whole lot of great science, technology and clean energy news. It’s just $5 a month for a proper hit of optimism in your inbox every week. Highlights in this week's edition included a mind-blowing statistic on global EV spending, a new meteorite compound synthesized in a lab, and a house plant that's 30 times more effective at removing air pollution.
Good news for the planet
Mexico has created a new fully protected marine area within the Islas Marías Biosphere Reserve. The reserve, which is centred around a unique archipelago flush with rich nutrients and marine life, covers 6,413 km2 and is now deemed a no-take area, meaning no fishing, mining, drilling or any other extractive activities. Nat Geo
Almost 4,000 hectares of koala habitat in Australia will be protected after the land was privately acquired for conservation. The habitat is home to more than 100 vertebrate species, including the endangered koala and 11 other animals listed as threatened. It's also surrounded on three sides by largely intact forest - allowing animals to move freely from place to place. Guardian
The jaguar is making a comeback in the Mexico's Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, one of the biggest unbroken tropical forests in the Americas. The government has also tentatively agreed to expand the reserve from 726,000 to 1.3 million hectares, which would make it one of the largest protected areas in the world's tropics. NYT
The Millenium Forest, a two-decade reforestation project on the tropical island of St. Helena in the southern Atlantic Ocean, has not only restored trees found nowhere else in the world, but has also involved nearly every member of the island community in the effort. The revived forest is now attracting animal species to its habitat, including St. Helena’s only endemic bird. Mongabay
The Shuar Indigenous community of Ecuador has obtained national protections for part of its territory after decades of fighting off deforestation and pollution. Their 5,497-hectare ancestral Tiwi Nunka Forest will now be safe from future exploitation, including mining, cattle ranching and agricultural encroachment. Mongabay
After decades of hard fought for protections and restoration efforts, conservationists have reversed the collapse of California’s treasured Mono Lake. The lake, which is a crucial feeding stop for migratory birds, now offers inspiration for efforts to heal degraded and warming ecosystems around the world. Inside Climate News
Birds, fish and flowers are returning to the Mapocho River in Santiago, Chile, after a decade-long effort has transformed it from a garbage filled 'dead river' with no vegetation, to an urban refuge for nature and wildlife. "It's been ten years that wastewater outlets don't go into the river, ten years of clean water flowing." Reuters
A non-profit organisation in the United States has raised nearly $200 million from more than 4,000 donors in an attempt to create a nature reserve on the great plains, a place where buffalo can roam once again. The overall goal is 3.2 million acres of intact grasslands - the size of Connecticut, or the Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks combined. CBS
As of the 1st of November, people in the Australian state of New South Wales no longer have access to a range of single-use plastic items. Lightweight plastic bags have been prohibited since June, and now plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds have joined the list. Next up - South Australia in September 2023.
The UK’s two-wheeled revolution continues. Cycling levels over the most recent summer were 54% higher than pre-pandemic – and 11% higher than the summer of 2020, when people were told to avoid public transport. Another report has calculated that walking and cycling generated £36.5 billion for the UK economy in 2021, thanks to reduced congestion and improving public health. The Times
More than 6,000 hatchlings of endangered taricaya, charapa and teparo turtles have been released into Peru's Amazon basin to help them repopulate. The eggs were collected from natural sites and then allowed to incubate in protected areas. "With the release of these species at risk, it will be possible to repopulate the lagoons and rivers of the Amazon." France24
We're all done! Thanks for reading, we'll see you next week :)