Some Positive Harbingers

These days, there is so much to complain about, to worry about–and thanks to the Internet, so many voices (including mine) pointing to our social deficits and failures. But there is also good news “out there,” and anyone who isn’t fixated on what’s going wrong can’t help but acknowledge positive harbingers as well as dire predictions.

I receive a number of publications that focus on science and the environment, for example, and reports of breakthroughs are a consistent–for that matter, a daily– feature. Let me just share a few examples of the sort of positive news that rarely makes the front pages of The New York Times or The Washington Post. These are from just one source: Euronews:

A Belgian NGO is using human hair clippings to absorb environmental pollutants.The hair is turned into matted squares, which can be used to absorb oil and other hydrocarbons. The mats can be placed in drains to soak up pollution in water before it reaches a river. They can also be used to deal with pollution problems due to flooding and to clean up oil spills.

In the EU, solar power soared by almost 50 per cent this year (2022).

The IEA reported that the world is set to add as much renewable power in the next five years as it did in the past 20.

London-based start-up Notpla believes it has an answer to our plastic waste problem: a plastic alternative made from seaweed and plants. It’s totally natural, completely biodegradable and can be used to make a range of packaging from bubbles to hold liquid to linings for food containers.

Here in the U.S., despite GOP resistance, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act–a  historic bill that makes the single largest investment in climate and energy in America’s history.

There are many, many more stories of progress, including the important breakthrough on nuclear fusion, which may eventually provide humanity with unlimited–and non-globe-warming–power.

It isn’t just science, or medical science (where equally impressive progress continues to be made). Even in our fraught politics, there are bright spots. The election of Lula to replace climate denier Bolsonaro in Brazil may save the rest of the  critically-important Amazon rainforest from further destruction.

Fareed Zakaria argues that there are signs that the coming year will finally see a decline in the global populism that threatens democracies worldwide.

Zakaria begins by describing the current travails of the GOP, which are likely to prevent the party from doing anything substantive, including damage. He then writes:

The Republican Party’s troubles are severe. Newt Gingrich told Axios that the party is in its worst shape in almost six decades. But it is not alone. In many countries around the world, populists are flailing.

Look at Britain, where Brexit — perhaps the ultimate 21st-century populist cause — has caused havoc within the Conservative Party, which used to be described as the world’s oldest and most successful political party. Britain has had five prime ministers in the six years since 2016; the prior five prime ministers spanned more than 30 years. The self-defeating decision to exit its largest market, the European Union, continues to depress the country’s economic prospects, and it remains the weakest of the Group of Seven economies. In the Group of 20, only Russia is projected to do worse than Britain in the near future…

In the recent elections, Australia’s conservatives suffered their worst loss ever, and the even more extreme United Australia and One Nation Parties did poorly as well. The new Labor prime minister enjoys an extraordinarily high approval rating.

Even in Argentina– a hotbed of populism since Peron–the populist movement is at its lowest ebb.

Zakaria explains these setbacks for the movement by reminding readers that populism is essentially an opposition movement. Populist politicians denounce the “establishment” or the “elites,” encourage fear and promote conspiracy theories. Their  promises are emotional rather than practical–build a wall, ban immigration, stop trade.

But once in government, the shallowness of its policy proposals is exposed, and its leaders can’t blame others as easily. Meanwhile, if non-populist forces are sensible and actually get things done, they defang some of the populist right.

Look at the United States, where President Biden’s moderate style, serious demeanor and practical policymaking have given him large legislative accomplishments without triggering a massive electoral backlash. Now, he does benefit by being an old, White man. Had Barack Obama enacted the same policies, I have a feeling we would be hearing much more talk of Obama’s dangerous socialism and un-American policies, complete with racial innuendos.

As Zakaria notes, the world’s problems are complicated, and there will always be activists proposing solutions that are “simple, seductive and wrong.” But there are hopeful signs; 2023 could be the year the fever begins to break.


  1. We will very soon get a glimpse of what the crazy party is willing / able to do. Will they keep the government open? Keep paying the bills? Or burn it all down. Stay tuned.

  2. I am nor optimistic at all with this “Global Populism”. I think we shouldn’t underestimated it. You mentioned Argentina.. look at other Countries in Latin America.. like Brazil. Half of population supported Bolsonaro at the elections…. We don’t know how to stop this fake news that misinform people… until we figure this out….

  3. “…the current travails of the GOP, which are likely to prevent the party from doing anything substantive,…”

    Let’s bring the GOP problems “Back Home Again In Indiana”! The local party has for many decades refused to allow Hemp to be grown here, comparing it as containing the same drug content as marijuana. Having worked in a methadone clinic and an inpatient facility for court ordered drug addicted teenagers, I have never heard of anyone smoking, snorting or shooting up Hemp. According to many reports over many years Indiana’s climate and natural growing conditions are prime for this state producing Hemp as a major cash crop. The numerous products from earth-friendly Hemp fiber, including medical, could solve some of this state’s budget problems as well as aiding the environment and lowering costs of the many products from Hemp crops. Expecting any GOP state to be open to honest sources of economic benefits, aiding in Climate Change and especially aiding all people in countless ways is not in the foreseeable future, especially here.

    “Populist politicians denounce the “establishment” or the “elites,” encourage fear and promote conspiracy theories.” This statement hit me this morning as I remembered MSNBC’s Ari Melber report last night on AG Merrick Garland’s appointment of a former Trump appointee as Special Counsel to oversee the special investigation of the Obama administration’s documents found in President Biden’s former long locked offices and his home. Could Mitch McConnell have been right (no pun intended) in not appointing him to the Supreme Court as President Obama’s nominee? Merrick Garland IS from Indiana! Just sayin’

  4. JoAnn
    Thank you
    I love your on target voice
    I need to diagram the sentence with the topic of Ari Melber’s report.

  5. Zakaria doesn’t know what he’s talking about, so I clicked through to see where he wrote this nonsense on “populism.” Same as Jennifer Rubin – it was an Opinion piece in the WaPo. LOL

    Bolsonaro was a fascist, and Lula is a socialist. Bolsonaro enjoyed support from the fascist US/UK governments and their oligarchs, who were poaching everything they could from Brazil. Who do you think wanted access to the rainforest wood?

    Look up Charles Koch’s corporate enterprise, and you’ll see paper products.

    Since Lula won, Brazil has become a significant player in BRICS et al.. BRICS is divesting from the dollar. He’s a populist!

    You’re going to see more South American countries leaving the dollar and US support for BRICS.

    As for positive harbingers in science and tech, we need our university discoveries to become socialized – not privatized. But unfortunately, in this country, we socialize the costs and then privatize them for profit.

    We should have done the same with the semiconductor and defense industries. All the industries receiving taxpayer subsidies should be socialized entities that benefit taxpayers/citizens.

    As countries around the globe divest from the dollar and align more with Brazil/Russia/India/China/South Africa (and more) because they are tired of a unipolar rule by US/UK, our form of capitalism will fail.

  6. (Satire Alert!) What it all boils down to is that the problem is people. The problem will be resolved eventually by the extinction of the once noble species. Will we leave behind enough evidence of our self destructive behavior to be instructive to future species, helping them to avoid the critical pitfalls that doomed us? We’re certainly trying.

  7. I was pleased to read this bit of good news in Heather Cox Richardson’s report today: “In other good news, between 2012 and 2019 the rates of cervical cancer dropped an astonishing 65% among women in their early 20s. This is the first cohort to be eligible for vaccinations against the human papillomavirus (HPV). It appears that enough people have been vaccinated to begin to offer herd immunity, as rates have dropped among unvaccinated women as well. “

  8. It is clear within politics and government policy not to dismantle bad policy but it needs to be replaced with bipartisan policy that is practical and less ideological. Obama was dismayed with how Biden refused to listen to practical economists and while some deem legislation and abrupt change in executive policy recently passed as mislead and ill timed. But there is no solution that politicant come up with that they didninitislly cause and then proclaim themselves as saving the economy.
    Populism will have its push back as globalists aren’t going to give up because in less industrialized countries there is a need for expansion globally. But climate change policies aren’t able to reduce energy consumption in developing countries which means industrialized countries need to be more influential creative and innovative with solutions w/o harming the economy. Obama stated Biden would get it wrong and he has destroyed the retirement accounts of many who now must go back to work while making it more difficult fir the general population. Arguably things just haven’t gotten bad enough to change the pendulum back the other direction
    Many worldwide are at a loss for words, those who truly have lost personal and economic freedom.

  9. “There are many many, more stories of progress,”
    Indeed there are, but it’s easy to get so wrapped up in what’s wrong that we blind ourselves to what’s right. That’s another example of confirmation bias.
    Thanks, Sheila.

  10. I’m so intrigued by reports of the use of hair to help reduce pollution. I only wish I had more to give to my country.

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