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Still Chugging Along

Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.

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What Could Go Right? Go ahead, have those babies

They’ll be all right despite our warming world. Plus, an undersea cable shares renewable energy, Bali cleans up its rivers, and more.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

This is our weekly newsletter, What Could Go Right? Sign up here to receive it in your inbox every Thursday at 6am ET. You can read past issues here.

The Progress Network turns one year old today. When we launched on October 14, 2020, we had no idea there would be so many of you interested in turning the discourse more toward what could go right. Thank you for being a part of this journey with us. We have a lot of exciting announcements to come. —Zachary & Emma

With our powers combined, we are Captain Planet?
Renewable energy projects are great. Sharing renewable energy among friends is even better. Norway and the United Kingdom just became solar- and wind-power besties with a new under-the-sea electricity cable, which runs an impressive 450 miles. The link is actually Britain’s fifth—others connect to the Netherlands, France, and Belgium—but this new one is the longest. Scotland is getting in on the fun in a few years as well.

Solving old problems always brings new ones, and renewable energy is no exception. Wind turbine blades are difficult to recycle and must be replaced every 20 years or so. What should we do with the old blades? The Danes have answered: bike garages. It’s just one of the ways a global team of researchers is looking to incorporate the blades into infrastructure. Other ideas include using them for footbridges and noise barriers, and another company is developing recyclable blades.

Bicycles resting in the cooling shade of a retired wind turbine blade. Photo courtesy Siemens Gamesa.

The nonprofit Sungai Watch, based in Bali, Indonesia, has created a new system for collecting plastic waste out of rivers, as well as employment opportunities in a place that was heavily impacted by tourism screeching to a halt last year. The summary tips at the end of the profile on what Sungai Watch did right, including scanning and cataloguing each piece of collected plastic in the hopes that the companies producing them would help pay for their cleanup, were *chef’s kiss.*

Perhaps Sungai Watch can take a note from those renewable energy polyamorists, the Brits, and join forces with French startup Carbios, who recently opened a demonstration plant for enzymatic recycling, bringing the process one step closer toward commercial use. Enzymatic recycling uses enzymes to break down single-use plastics rather than the mechanical methods widely in use now. (Chemical recycling is also in development.) These new methods could reduce greenhouse gases further and possibly break down materials that are currently unrecyclable. Alternate option: we could all wear these Italian compostable jeans for the rest of our lives. Carbios expects a “full-scale plant” to be operational by 2025.

As a follow-up to a couple newsletter editions ago, here’s another good essay on why you shouldn’t skip having kids—assuming you want them—due to climate change-based moral anxiety. Skip section two if you aren’t an American Democrat. Section one debunks the argument that our future world is going to be so devastatingly bad that giving birth now is the equivalent to giving birth in the world of The Walking Dead. Section three goes over why your kid probably isn’t going to produce that much carbon anyway.

Last but certainly not least, Romania has become the 19th European country to plot an exit for coal, which it will phase out by the end of 2032. Most of the capacity will likely be gone by the end of 2023. What remains after will essentially be a national backup power source.

Tax ‘em up!
Pissed about Google and Facebook paying next to nothing in taxes? Enter the global minimum corporate tax rate, a long, boring term that is rather more exciting than it seems. Last Friday, more than 130 countries signed on to tax corporations at 15%, a practice that would make it harder for them to shelter in tax havens and would scare up an estimated $150 billion in annual taxes worldwide. That’s money to fund the kinds of things governments are supposed to be funding without straining the pockets of ordinary citizens. 

The agreement would also bring the tax code more up-to-date with our digitally based world. Right now, Amazon, for example, and many others, don’t pay taxes in countries where they sell their products and services online if the company doesn’t have a physical base there. If that seems like lunacy, it’s because it is. While there’s a long road to approval, and while a global tax rate doesn’t quite work unless it’s, well, global—we’re looking at you, Nigeria—this is one change we’re feeling truly bullish about, mostly due to the influence of TPN Member Alec Ross.

More on mosquitoes
You likely saw that the World Health Organization approved a malaria vaccine for children, the world’s first malaria vaccine and the first vaccine ever made for a parasitic disease. It is expected to save tens of thousands of young children’s lives each year. Two weeks ago, when we published our interview with Alan Court, a malaria strategy advisor, on whether we might see malaria eradicated in the next 20 years, we didn’t expect a vaccine approval to appear so quickly. As Court told us, this one vaccine won’t be a silver bullet. But it is a significant scientific breakthrough, and other malaria vaccines are following on its heels. All of these efforts combined will be the key to stamping out the disease.

In more mosquito news, Australian scientists are the latest to show that it’s possible to dramatically cut down the dengue fever-carrying mosquito population by injecting male mosquitoes with a bacteria that effectively renders them sterile. Useful for when you want to kick disease-causing mosquitoes out of your country, as the Aussies are preparing to do.

Before we go
The efforts to vaccinate all corners of the world plod on, with great pains, purpose, and a touch of grace. You’ll feel along for the ride in this video- and photo-heavy story in The Washington Post of the Colombian teams traveling to the remotest parts of their country to vaccinate Indigenous communities.

Below in the links section, the United States’ effort to fight overfishing is working (as is fish poop’s effort to sequester carbon), Rwanda is planting millions of trees to fight climate change, and more.


That’s Former White House Senior Advisor on Covid-19 Andy Slavitt with a teaser for what will hopefully be more good news. For more on what we currently know about mixing and matching Covid vaccines, STAT News has this primer.

In a world where every problem seems top-priority, what does it actually look like when we get together to solve complex, thorny issues? Last week on the podcast, we spoke with John McArthur, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at the Brookings Institution, about how nations and governments push forward on “all the big stuff.” He reminds us that we have made surprising progress on some things on the list, and that on others, the story is still being written. Listen to it here.

Progress, Please

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Other good stuff in the news

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This Week on the Podcast

Life has gotten a lot better for a lot of people. But the story of upward movement, while true overall, is not felt How do global changes affect us on the local level, and vice versa? Today, writer and journalist James Fallows, and the founder of FutureMap, Parag Khanna, join us to discuss the interplay between the tectonic forces of geopolitics and the specific currents of the everyday. They contrast the narratives that are animating different regions of the world—especially in the United States and Asia around inequality, optimism, and defeatism—and forecast a future of migration and climate change adaptation.

Listen to the episode.

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Lauren Leader is a writer, researcher, and widely respected thought leader on diversity and women’s issues. She is the cofounder and CEO of All In Together, a non-partisan nonprofit that encourages, equips, educates, and empowers voting-age women to participate fully in America’s civic and political life. She has dedicated her life and career to advancing women in business and politics and has been a tireless advocate for diversity and inclusion.

Listen to Lauren speak about gender equity and women’s voices in media.

Until Next Time

We wish you all luck in finding yourselves.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas is the Executive Director of The Progress Network. An editor and writer specializing in nonprofit media, she was formerly Executive Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications.