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The Crunch No. 141: Homesick Pebble

Plus, galactic colonization, robot paramedics, Chinese rock n' roll, and good news on cancer death rates in the US, coal in the UK and Spain, tree planting in India, and a ban on salmon farming in Tierra del Fuego.
The Crunch No. 141: Homesick Pebble

This is the members only edition of Future Crunch, a weekly roundup of good news, mind-blowing science, and the best bits of the internet (not necessarily in that order). One third of your subscription fee goes to charity.


Good news you probably didn't hear about


India has made amazing progress in reducing visceral leishmaniasis, commonly known as kala-azar. You've probably heard of it in western media as the "flesh-eating disease" (it's like crack for newspaper editors). According to a new report from the WHO, the number of cases has decreased by 97% since 1992. Last year, there were only 2,048 cases, and 37 deaths.

Cancer death rates continue to decline in the United States for all racial and ethnic groups. For men, the death rate dropped by an average of 2.3% a year between 2015 and 2018; for women, an average of 2.1% during the same time period. STAT

With more people living longer lives, the overall number of Alzheimer's cases in rich countries has risen. What you might not know however, is that the actual percentage of people with the disease is falling - there has been a 16% decrease in Alzheimer's incidence in the OECD decade-on-decade since 1988. El Pais

Last month marked the ten year anniversary of a groundbreaking treaty establishing global labour standards to protect the rights of domestic workers. Over the last decade, 32 countries have signed up, comprehensive laws have been passed in several of them, and there have been improvements in many others, including minimum wages, rest days, paid holidays, written contracts, access to labour courts, and collective bargaining agreements. The International Domestic Worker Federation, founded in 2013, now has half a million members worldwide. HRW

people demonstrating
Domestic worker and human rights organizations join forces to demonstrate at the opening of policy negotiations at the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, June 2010. Credit: Jennifer Natalie Fish

California, home to 40 million people, has just passed a budget with a massive increase in education spending, including universal kindergarten for 4 year olds and the United States' first free breakfast and lunch program for all students. Edsource

Work has begun in Chile on the world’s first constitution to be drafted by an equal number of women and men. The historic moment is a direct result of the 2019 protests that challenged inequality in one of Latin America’s most socially conservative countries. NBC

Urban planners across Europe are redesigning transport systems to be more accessible to all genders. For over a century, the male commute to work by car has been favoured, with wide roads that left little room for footpaths commonly used more by women. Change is now afoot in Paris, Barcelona and Vienna, where new policies are favouring pedestrians and cyclists. Bloomberg

Barcelona is converting one in three of its streets into small parks. 21 new plazas like the one below will be made at road junctions. Safe outdoor space within 200 metres of all homes that cater to pedestrians, offering shaded spaces in summer and facilitating spontaneous children's play.

city block
A city made for humans, not cars.

A nationwide movement to ban 'tampon taxes' across the United States is gaining momentum. Maine, Louisiana and Vermont just passed laws exempting menstrual products from sales taxes, and lawmakers in 20 other states have introduced similar legislation in the last 12 months. 19thnews

File under "most unsurprising news ever." The world's largest and longest trial of a four day work week resulted in a massive increase in well-being for its participants. Around 1% of Iceland's working population took part, cutting their week to 36 hours with no reduction in pay, and no reduction in productivity either. Independent

File under "the news doesn't tell you what's happening in the world, it tells you what's rare." The proportion of Americans who consider themselves to be thriving reached 59.2% last month, the highest since Gallup started asking the question 13 years ago. The pollsters think it's down to three things: an incredibly successful vaccination rollout, improving economic conditions, and perhaps most importantly, the psychological benefit of renewed social interaction.

graph showing happiness increasing in the US

Saving the world is cheaper than ruining it


After reducing coal to less than 2% of its energy mix in 2020, the UK is bringing its end of coal target forward by a year, to 2024. That means that in just over 40 months, the country that gave us coal-fired electricity in the first place will become the first major industrialized economy to switch coal off. For good. Reuters

Spain won't be far behind. It's just joined an alliance of 23 countries committed to closing all their coal plants by 2030. The country is already on the leading edge, with 85% of coal capacity due to close by the end of 2022. Euractiv

Americans consumed fewer fossil fuels last year than they have in three decades. Consumption of petroleum, natural gas, and coal dropped by 9% compared to 2019, the biggest annual decrease since the EIA started keeping track in 1949. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions fell to a 40 year low.

The average utilization rate of India’s coal-fired fleet has collapsed to 53% in the last financial year. Why does this matter? Because most

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