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.