Tag Archives: good news

There Really Is Good News Out There

One of my New Year’s resolutions (okay, my only New Year’s resolution–I’m old and I’ve learned from past failures…) is to scan the media-verse for positive news, for evidence that not everything in the world is swirling the porcelain bowl.

And guess what? If you look closely, it’s out there, hiding among the predictions of doom, gloom and civil war.

For example, I found “The World in Cheer: 192 Ways the World Got Better in 2021.”

Obviously, I’m not going to list all 192, but I do want to highlight some items from the list, many of them focused on ameliorating climate change. For example, a 5,000 mile line of trees is being planted across the African continent to prevent the spread of the Sahara desert. A California law giving cash to non-car commuters helped increase transit ridership by 50%. The French have enacted a ban on single use plastics for many fruits and vegetables that is projected to reduce plastic packaging by one billion units each year. 

And a company in Vancouver has “upcycled” 33 million chopsticks into everything from cutting boards and shelves to dominos and furniture. 

There are all sorts of other “good news” items that had escaped my notice (and probably the notice of most others in a year dominated by coverage of things like the pandemic and Manchin’s intransigence on the filibuster…). A smattering:

The total number of incarcerated people in the U.S. fell by 13% between 2010 and 2020.

Up to 400 Spanish companies will reduce their employees’ working week to 32 hours while keeping salaries the same. 

El Paso Community College used its pandemic relief aid to forgive $3 million in student debt.

Forty-one women topped the new Fortune 500 list, more than at any other time in the six decades that the list has been published.

A town in Arizona converted a juvenile detention center into a youth hangout, and juvenile arrests in the county dropped by 55%.

In the past eight years, the number of worker-owned co-ops in the U.S. has increased 36%. The business model offers employees, on average, more than $7 more per hour than standard businesses.

There are valuable policy lessons to be learned from most of the items on the list–and there are many more such items. I encourage you to visit the site and review the list when the daily headlines make you want to hide under the bed.

The encouraging economic news isn’t confined to such lists. One of the thorniest problems of the American economy has been the substitution of “gig work” for the steady jobs that offered past generations of workers predictability and benefits. Start-ups like Uber and Lyft seemed likely to accelerate the trend. 

But maybe not. Axios reports that

Startups like Alto, Revel and Kaptyn are positioning themselves as Rideshare 2.0. — alternatives to Uber and Lyft that use employees rather than gig workers as drivers and put fleets of company-owned cars on the road.

Why it matters: These companies’ vertically integrated business models mean they can roll out electric fleets more quickly than the current market leaders, whose pledges to go electric depend on persuading gig drivers to upgrade their personal cars to EVs.

These services will be good for the environment and fair to the drivers.

By employing their own drivers and maintaining their own fleets, these companies aim to provide more consistent, reliable, safe transportation, while ensuring that drivers can earn a decent living — and the companies can make a profit…

Drivers can earn from $15.50 to $18.75 per hour, depending on demand, plus company-paid health insurance.

That we are in an era of massive social and technological change is probably the one thing everyone agrees on. So much of the anger and nastiness we are seeing is a knee-jerk reaction from frightened people rejecting the reality and implications of those changes.

Humanity has been here before. 

My search for “good news” isn’t just an effort to keep me from experiencing suicidal episodes. It is a search for evidence supporting an alternative explanation of our tumultuous times–an explanation that history suggests is as likely as the social disintegration that too many members of the Chattering Classes are predicting. 

Yes, it’s possible that the sheer strength of denial–refusal to see “others” as fully human, rejection of science that calls into question some supposedly “eternal” verities, insistence on the superiority of one’s tribal identity–will plunge the world into another dark age. But  it is equally possible that we are experiencing “birth pangs”–that the millions of people doggedly pursuing social progress and environmental health will ultimately emerge triumphant. 

Our job is to facilitate the trip down the birth canal and help midwife that brave new world….

 

 

Reasons For Optimism

There’s an old saying that “dog bites man” isn’t news, but “man bites dog” is. The problem with the news of the day is that it offers a perspective skewed not just to the unusual, but to the negative.

You have to do a “deep dive” to find evidence of more positive and encouraging events and discoveries, but that effort can be rewarding, both intellectually and emotionally. I was reminded of the importance of that effort by a newsletter from The Atlantic (can’t find a link) that highlighted three reasons to be optimistic about the remainder of the 2020s: progress in green energy, advances in understanding complex diseases, and–surprising, at least to me–developments in Artificial Intelligence.

With respect to green energy, the author wrote

In the past 10 years, the price of solar electricity has declined by 90 percent while the efficiency of lithium-ion batteries has increased by 90 percent. That’s a huge deal for creating and storing renewable energy. As the writer Noah Smith explains, “cheap solar, cheap wind, and cheap storage mean that we could see the first large sustained decrease in electricity costs in over half a century.”

Given the enormous–indeed, existential– threat posed by climate change, that is definitely good news.

The newsletter also explained the significant advances in medical research that are pointing to major progress in treating some of the most intractable diseases, and–in contrast to the hand-wringing that usually accompanies discussions of AI– focused on the multiple ways such assistance to human brainpower can move us forward. (Granted, in order to assist our human intellects, we humans need to exhibit such intellect ..but hey–I’m focusing on the positives here…)

The newsletter prompted me to engage in a Google search for “good news.” (The responses suggested thatI am not the only person begging Google for a good word…) Some of what I found:

  • Something called the “Alliance for Innovation” has a raft of videos and research articles highlighting “good news” from local governments. This seems especially important in an era where trust in government at all levels is low, and local news sources are disappearing at a rapid rate.
  • Speaking of local governments, a note from Gerald Stinson yesterday reminded me of an effort to remake local government and our approach to economic health that has begun in Amsterdam, and that I posted about earlier in the year.  Even while the pandemic was raging, Amsterdam became the first city in the world to formally implement what is called “doughnut economics.” Brussels then followed, as did the Canadian city of Nanaimo. Scholars advocating for this new approach argue that the current economic system sacrifices both people and environments at a time when everything from shifting weather patterns to rising sea levels is global in scope and unprecedented in nature. The Amsterdam “doughnut approach” re-envisions economic health–defining it as a system that ensures that “nobody falls short of life’s essentials, from food and water to social equity and political voice, while ensuring humanity does not break down Earth’s life support systems, such as a stable climate and fertile soils.” Sounds good to me…
  • At a time when many of us in the U.S. legal profession (okay, so I’m just a “recovering” lawyer) have been horrified by the Trump/McConnell assault on the federal courts and their placement of unqualified ideologues on the bench, it is important to recognize and salute the work of state-level juries composed of ordinary citizens. For the first time in my recollection, those juries have refused to automatically accept and endorse whatever justification a police officer offers for killing an unarmed person. Juries have genuinely weighed the evidence presented, and convicted people like Derek Chauvin and the officer who insisted that she’d mistaken her gun for her taser.

My Google search even uncovered something called the “Good News Network”–a site that focuses upon the kindness of everyday Americans.

Sometimes–when we’re overwhelmed by the “if it bleeds, it leads” emphasis of the daily news, it helps to remind ourselves that a significant majority of Americans rejected Trump’s pandering to hatred and fear, and that a majority of Americans are kind and generous people who more often than not go out of their way to help neighbors and even strangers in need.

If we can just get that majority to the polls in 2022, we can fix what’s wrong with America.

 

Looking On The Bright Side…(NOT The Monty Python Version)…

I get tired of posting “gloom and doom” essays–and you are all probably just as tired of reading about the precarious state of national and global institutions.  Every so often, it’s a good idea to remember the old adage that “dog bites man isn’t news; but man bites dog is”–to remind ourselves that what is newsworthy is by definition not ordinary. So today, as we head into fall, I want to focus on the other side of the equation: hopeful news–evidence that the hostile and crazy people who provide fodder for our newsfeeds and generate our ulcers are not representative of humanity writ large.

Let’s start with climate change.

Yes, political barriers have delayed a rational, co-ordinated response. But as the evidence of that phenomenon becomes too powerful to ignore, so does evidence of efforts to abate it. Take, for example, reports about floating wind turbines.

In the stormy waters of the North Sea, 15 miles off the coast of Aberdeenshire, in Scotland, five floating offshore wind turbines stretch 574 feet (175 metres) above the water. The world’s first floating windfarm, a 30 megawatt facility run by the Norwegian company Equinor, has only been in operation since 2017 but has already broken UK records for energy output.

While most offshore wind turbines are anchored to the ocean floor on fixed foundations, limiting them to depths of about 165ft, floating turbines are tethered to the seabed by mooring lines.

Installing these turbines in deeper waters, where winds tend to be stronger,  promises  to generate huge amounts of renewable energy: reportedly, close to 80% of potential offshore wind power is found in deeper waters.

Then there’s new appreciation for algae. It can be used to make eco-friendly plastic and fertilizer,  it can be used as fuel–it can evidently even reduce the methane from cow farts ..

The World Wildlife Federation reports that low cost solar, wind, and battery technologies are on “profitable, exponential trajectories”–and if those trajectories are sustained, they should be enough to cut emissions from electricity generation in half by 2030.

Wind and solar energy now regularly out-compete fossil fuels in most regions of the world. Electric vehicle growth has the potential to reach a 90% market share by 2030 if sustained, but only if strong policies support this direction.

The Federation also reports that nearly half of the country’s largest companies–some of the world’s largest energy users–now recognize a responsibility to tackle climate change and preserve the planet for future generations. (Granted, a good deal of this “recognition” is PR–it’s up to us consumers to pressure the business sector to make good on those public promises.)

More theoretical, but the subject of current research efforts, is “carbon capture,” which wouldn’t simply reduce carbon emissions, but would allow for actually sucking carbon out of the air. (Think negative emissions.) Even the most recent IPCC report--with its dire, widely disseminated warnings–had some good news tucked in.

It isn’t just climate change.

Vox recently had a report, complete with charts, demonstrating a range of improvements that have made life better for humanity. It described the decline in global poverty, the rise in global literacy, a dramatic improvement in global health, and even–despite the current backlash being  waged by various populist movements–an increase in democracy and individual freedom.

Sometimes, taking the “long view” allows us to escape from the doom and gloom of the daily news. In my lifetime, I have seen city centers and historic neighborhoods revitalized. Women’s rights have dramatically expanded (prompting the hysterical backlash that most recently gave us Texas…). Gays have emerged from the closet and married. Membership in fundamentalist churches has declined. Despite the daily episodes of racist behavior caught by our ubiquitous cellphone cameras and the morphing of the GOP into the White Supremacy Party, the country has made considerable progress against racism, as evidenced by the multi-racial composition of last year’s Black Lives Matter marches.

And we should be heartened by the enormous negative reaction to Texas’ effort to empower anti-woman vigilantes. That anger promises an energized and expanded Democratic vote.

The bigots and assorted crazies in Washington can slow down human progress, but ultimately, reality will bite them. (Hopefully in time to avert disaster…)

If people of good will focus only on the problems we face and the threats posed by the hysterical people resisting progress, we will get too disheartened to work for the continuation of positive change. Google “good news,” take a deep breath, then volunteer with a group that is working to solve a  problem you care about.

And if you can, send money.

PS If you want the Monty Python version, here are the lyrics…..