For the last 12 months, the global media has been focused on a lot of bad news. But there were other things happening out there too: conservation successes, huge wins for global health, more peace and tolerance, less war and violence, rising living standards, some big clean energy milestones, and a quiet turning of the tide in the fight against plastic. Stories of human progress, that didn’t make it into the evening broadcasts, or onto your social media feeds.
We spent the year collecting them, in our ongoing mission to stop the fear virus in its tracks.
The Fear Virus
We’re in the midst of a global, digital pandemic — but it’s not too late to stop it
All of these stories first appeared in our fortnightly email newsletter. If you’re interested in getting more news like this in 2019, you can subscribe for free right here.
Another year of hard-fought wins in conservation
1. The Kofan people of Sinangoe, in the Ecuadorian Amazon, won a landmark legal battle to protect the headwaters of the Aguarico River, nullifying 52 mining concessions and freeing up more than 32,000 hectares of primary rainforest. Amazon Frontlines
3. The population of wild tigers in Nepal was found to have nearly doubled in the last nine years, thanks to efforts by conservationists and increased funding for protected areas. Independent
4. Deforestation in Indonesia fell by 60%, as a result of a ban on clearing peatlands, new educational campaigns and better law enforcement. Ecowatch
5. The United Nations said that the ozone hole would be fully healed over the Arctic and the northern hemisphere by the 2030s, and in the rest of the world by 2060. Gizmodo
6. $10 billion (the largest amount ever for ocean conservation) was committed in Bali this year for the protection of 14 million square kilometres of the world’s oceans. MongaBay
7. In California, the world’s smallest fox was removed from the Endangered Species List, the fastest recovery of any mammal under the Endangered Species Act. Conservaca
8. In 2018, after more than ten years of debate, 140 nations agreed to begin negotiations on a historic “Paris Agreement for the Ocean,” the first-ever international treaty to stop overfishing and protect life in the high seas. National Geographic
9. Niger revealed that thousands of local farmers have planted more than 200 million trees in the last three decades, the largest positive transformation of the environment in African history. Guardian
10. Spain said it would create a new marine wildlife reserve for the migrations of whales and dolphins in the Mediterranean and will prohibit all future fossil fuels exploration in the area. Associated Press
11. Following ‘visionary’ steps by Belize, UNESCO removed the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world, from its list of endangered World Heritage Sites. BBC
12. Colombia officially expanded the Serranía de Chiribiquete (also known as The Cosmic Village of the Jaguars) to 4.3 million hectares, making it the largest protected tropical rainforest national park in the world. WWF
13. Mexico said its population of wild jaguars, the largest feline in the Americas, grew by 20% in the past eight years, and 14 Latin American countries signed an agreement to implement a regional conservation program for the big cats through 2030. Phys.org
14. In the forests of central Africa, the population of mountain gorillas, one of the world’s most endangered species, was reported to have increased by 25% since 2010, to over 1,000 individuals. Reuters
15. Canada signed another conservation deal with its First Nations people, creating the largest protected boreal forest (an area twice the size of Belgium) on the planet. BBC
16. Chile passed a new law protecting the waters along its coastline, creating nine marine reserves and increasing the area of ocean under state protection from 4.3% to 42.4% BBC
17. The Seychelles created a new 130,000 square kilometre marine reserve in the Indian Ocean, protecting their waters from illegal fishing for generations to come. National Geographic
18. New Caledonia agreed to place 28,000 square kilometres of its ocean waters under protection, including some of the world’s most pristine coral reefs. Forbes
Some extraordinary new milestones for global health
19. 25 million doses of a new cholera vaccine were administered globally, and preparations began for the largest vaccination drive in history. UNICEF
20. France revealed a sharp fall in daily smokers, with one million fewer lighting up in the past year, and cigarette use among Americans dropped to its lowest level since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started collecting data in 1965.
21. Rwanda became the first low income country to provide universal eye care to all of its citizens, by training 3,000 nurses in over 500 health clinics. Global Citizen
22. India registered a 22% decline in maternal deaths since 2013. That means on average, 30 more new mothers are now being saved every day compared to five years ago. The Wire
23. Ghana became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate trachoma. In 2000, it threatened 2.8 million people (15% of the population) with blindness. Devex
24. The WHO revealed that teenage drinking has declined across Europe, the continent with the highest rates of drinking in the world. The country with the largest decline? Britain. CNN
25. Since 2010, global HIV/AIDS infection rates have fallen by 16% in adults and by 35% for children. Most countries are now on track to eliminate infections by 2030. Undark
26. In 2018, New York and Virginia became the first two US states to enact laws requiring mental health education in schools. CNN
27. Malaysia became the first country in the Western Pacific to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. Malaymail
28. South Africa, home to the world’s largest population of people living with HIV, shocked health officials by revealing a 44% decline in new infections since 2012. Telegraph
29. After five successful, annual rounds of large-scale, school-based deworming across Kenya, worm-related diseases have fallen from 33.4% in 2012 to 3% today. Evidence Action
30. Russians are drinking and smoking less than at any point since the fall of the Soviet Union, with tobacco use down by 20% since 2009, and alcohol consumption down by 20% since 2012. Straits Times
31. Tanzania revealed that in the last ten years, it has reduced the malaria death rate by 50% in adults and 53% in children. Borgen
32. The WHO certified Paraguay as having eliminated malaria, the first country in the Americas to be granted this status since Cuba in 1973.
All of these stories first appeared in our free, fortnightly email newsletter. You can subscribe here.
A kinder, more tolerant planet
33. New research revealed that in the last two decades, female genital mutilation has fallen from 57.7% to 14.1% in north Africa, from 73.6% to 25.4% in west Africa, and from 71.4% to 8% in east Africa. Guardian
34. Costa Rica’s Supreme Court ruled that the country’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional, and gave the government 18 months to change it. BBC
35. India’s highest court struck down a century-old prohibition on homosexual sex, calling the Victorian-era law “irrational, indefensible, and manifestly arbitrary.” Al Jazeera
36. Morocco passed a landmark law that criminalises violence against women, and imposes harsh penalties on perpetrators. Albawaba
37. Germany released new figures showing that more than 300,000 refugees have now found jobs, and the share of MPs with migrant backgrounds has risen from 3% to 9% in the last two elections. Economist
38. New Zealand became the second country in the world (after the Philippines) to pass legislation granting victims of domestic violence 10 days paid leave. Guardian
40. Canada became the second country in the world to legalise marijuana. A major crack in the grass ceiling, and a wonderful moment for fans of evidence-based decision making everywhere. BBC
41. In a milestone for human rights in the Middle East, a Lebanese court issued a new judgement holding that homosexuality is not a crime. Beirut
42. Trinidad and Tobago’s high court ruled that the Caribbean nation’s colonial-era law banning gay sex was unconstitutional. NBC
43. Tunisia became the first Arab nation to pass a law giving women and men equal inheritance, overturning an old provision of Sharia Islamic law. Dhaka Tribune
44. Pakistan’s parliament passed a landmark law guaranteeing basic rights for transgender citizens and outlawing all forms of discrimination by employers. Al Jazeera
45. Scotland became the first country in the world to include teaching of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights into its state schools curriculum. The Scotsman
46. Nepal became the 54th country in the world, and the first country in South Asia, to pass a law banning corporal punishment for children. End Corporal Punishment
Living standards improved for most people in the world
47. Quietly and unannounced, humanity crossed a truly amazing threshold this year. For the first time since agriculture-based civilisation began 10,000 years ago, the majority of humankind is no longer poor or vulnerable to falling into poverty. Brookings
48. A little perspective. The Economist revealed that global suicide rates have dropped by 38% since 1994, saving four million lives, four times the number killed in combat during the same time.
49. The UNDP released a new report showing that 271 million people in India have moved out of poverty since 2005, nearly halving the country’s poverty rate in one decade. Times of India
50. India also continued the largest sanitation building spree of all time. More than 80 million toilets are estimated to have been built since 2014. Arkansas Democrat Gazette
51. The International Energy Agency said that in the last year, 120 million people gained access to electricity. That means that for the first time since electrical service was started (1882), less than a billion of the world’s population are left in darkness.
52. A new report showed that the global fertility rate (average number of children a woman gives birth to) has halved since 1950. Half the world’s countries are now below replacement levels. BBC
53. Bangladesh revealed that it had reduced its child mortality rate by 78% since 1990, the largest reduction by any country in the world. Kinder-World
54. Remember how the global media worked itself into a frenzy over Cape Town’s water shortages and Day Zero in 2017? Strangely, nobody reported this year how the Mother City successfully averted the crisis. apolitical
55. Respiratory disease death rates in China have fallen by 70% since 1990, thanks to rising incomes, cleaner cooking fuels and better healthcare. Twitter
56. The share of black men in poverty in the United States fell from 41% in 1960 to 18% today, and their share in the middle class rose from 38% to 57% in the same time. CNN
57. A new report showed that democracy is more widespread than ever. Six in ten of the world’s countries are now democratic — a post war record. Pew Research
58. A new global youth survey showed that young people in all countries are more optimistic than adults. Nine in 10 teenagers in Kenya, Mexico, China, Nigeria and India reported feeling positive about their future. Guardian
The clean energy transition in action
59. The world passed 1,000 GW of cumulative installed wind and solar power this year. 10 years ago, there was less than 8 GW of solar. Future Crunch
60. Solar and wind continued their precipitous cost declines. In the second half of 2018 alone, the levelized cost for solar fell by 14% and the wind benchmark by 6%. In many parts of the world it’s now cheaper to build new clean energy than it is to keep dirty energy running. BNEF
61. Allianz, the world’s biggest insurance company by assets, said it would cease insuring coal-fired power plants and coal mines, and Maersk, the world’s largest maritime shipping company, said it would begin ditching fossil fuels, and will eliminate all carbon emissions by the year 2050.
62. Repsol became the first major fossil fuels producer to say it would no longer be seeking new growth for oil and gas. Bloomberg
63. California unveiled the most ambitious climate target of all time, with a commitment to making the world’s fifth biggest economy carbon neutral by 2045. NBC
64. China, the world’s biggest energy consumer, revised its renewable energy target upwards, committing to 35% clean energy by 2030. Engadget
65. Chile said it had managed to quadruple its clean energy sources since 2013, resulting in a 75% drop in the average cost of electricity. IPS News
66. The United States set a new record for coal plant closures this year, with 22 plants in 14 states totalling 15.4GW of dirty energy going dark. #MAGA. Clean Technica
67. 11 European nations either closed their coal fleets or announced they will close them by a specific date, including France by 2023, Italy and the UK by 2025, and Denmark and the Netherlands by 2030.
68. Some of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds, representing more than $3 trillion in assets, and Black Rock, the world’s biggest fund manager, with assets worth $5.1 trillion, said they would only invest in companies that factor climate risks into their strategies. UNFCCC
69. India increased its already massive 2022 clean energy target by 28%. It plans to add 150 GW of wind and solar in the next four years. Clean Technica
70. Ireland became the world’s first country to divest from fossil fuels, after a bill was passed with all-party support in the lower house of parliament. Guardian
71. Spain committed to shutting down most of its coalmines by the end of the year, after the government agreed to early retirement for miners, re-skilling and environmental restoration. Guardian
These stories all come from our free, fortnightly email newsletter. If you’re interested in getting more news like this in 2019, you can subscribe here.
War, crime and violence continued their inexorable, long term decline
72. The Journal of Peace Research said that global deaths from state based conflicts have declined for the third year in a row, and are now 32% lower than their peak in 2014.
73. After a decade long effort, Herat, Afghanistan’s deadliest province for landmines, was declared free of explosive devices. Nearly 80% of the country is now mine free. Reuters
74. Following the collapse of ISIS, civilian deaths in Iraq decreased dramatically. 80% fewer Iraqis were killed in the first five months of 2018 compared to last year. Anti-War
75. Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace treaty, signalling the end of a 20 year war, and reuniting thousands of families. BBC
76. Malaysia abolished the death penalty for all crimes and halted all pending executions, a move hailed by human rights groups in Asia as a major victory. SMH
77. Honduras had the highest homicide rate in the world in 2012. Murders have decreased by half since then, more than any other nation. Ozy
78. Crime and murder rates declined in the United States’ 30 largest cities, with the murder rate for 2018 projected to be 7.6 percent lower than 2017. Vox
79. Crime falls when you take in millions of refugees too. The number of reported crimes in Germany has fallen by 10%, to the lowest level in 30 years. Washington Post
80. Worried about the kids? Youth crime in the Australian state of New South Wales has plummeted in the last 20 years. Vehicle theft is down by 59%, property theft by 59%, and drunk-driving by 49%. ANU
81. Still worried about the kids? In the last generation, arrests of Californian teenagers have fallen by 80%, murder arrests by 85%, gun killings by 75%, imprisonments by 88%, teen births by 75%, school dropouts by half, and college enrolments are up by 45%. Sacbee
82. According to new data from the Department of Justice, the proportion of people being sent to prison in the United States has fallen to its lowest level in 20 years. Pew Research
An economy that doesn’t cost the earth…
83. Damn those pesky millenials. A new report revealed that, thanks to shifting tastes amongst those born after 1980, 70% of the world’s population is reducing meat consumption or leaving meat off the table altogether. Forbes
84. Germany announced one of the most ambitious waste management schemes in history. The government plans to recycle 63% of its total waste within the next four years, up from 36% today. DW
85. The Malaysian government announced it would not allow any further expansion of oil palm plantations, and that it intends to maintain forest cover at 50%. Malaymail
86. Denmark became the latest country to announce a ban on internal combustion engines. There are now 16 countries with bans that come into effect before 2040 — including China and India, the two biggest car markets in the world. Bloomberg
87. In 2018, the world surpassed the 4 million mark for electric vehicles. In the world’s biggest car market, China, electric cars reached 5% of sales; China’s internal combustion car market is flat, with all growth now being absorbed by EVs. Bloomberg
88. Adidas expects to sell 5 million pairs of shoes made from ocean plastic this year, and committed to using only recycled plastic in its products by 2024. CNN
89. Four years ago, China declared a war on pollution. It’s working. Cities have, on average, cut concentrations of fine particulates in the air by 32%. New York Times
90. Thanks to tightening restrictions, the United Kingdom reported a 12% drop in vehicle emissions since 2012, as well as significant overall drop in air pollutants. BBC
…and a turning point in the global effort to reduce plastic waste
91. 250 of the world’s major brands, including Coca Cola, Kellogs and Nestle, agreed to make sure that 100% of their plastic packaging will be reused, recycled or composted by 2025. BBC
92. The European Parliament passed a full ban on single-use plastics, estimated to make up over 70% of marine litter. It will come into effect in 2021. Independent
93. As of the end of 2018, at least 32 countries around the world now have plastic bag bans in place — and nearly half are in Africa. Quartz
94. China said it had seen a 66% reduction in plastic bag usage since the rollout of its 2008 ban, and that it has avoided the use of an estimated 40 billion bags. Earth Day
95. India’s second most populous state, Maharashtra, home to 116 million people, banned all single use plastic (including packaging) on the 23rd June this year. Indian Express
96. India’s environment minister also announced the country would eliminate all single-use plastic by 2022. Oh, and three years after India made it compulsory to use plastic waste in road construction, there are now 100,000 kilometres of plastic roads in the country.
97. Four years after imposing a 5p levy, the United Kingdom said it had used 9 billion fewer plastic bags, and the number being found on the seabed has plummeted. Independent
98. Following a ban by two of its biggest retailers, Australia cut its plastic bag usage by 80% in three months, saving 1.5 billions bags from entering the waste stream. NY Post
99. After enacting the world’s toughest plastic bag ban, Kenya reported that its waterways were clearer, the food chain is less contaminated — and there are fewer ‘flying toilets.’ Guardian
… and one last one, just for luck (our favourite story of the year, and the subject of this article’s cover photo)
100. There is now a giant 600 metre long boom in the Pacific that uses oceanic forces to clean up plastic, and you can track its progress here. Despite a few early setbacks, the team behind it thinks they can clean up half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the next seven years. Ocean Cleanup
If we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century, we need to change the stories we tell ourselves.
We help people understand what’s on the frontiers of science, technology and human progress, and what it means for humanity.
Our free, fortnightly email newsletter is filled with stories about people from around the planet who are using science and technology to make the world a better place.