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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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The Nuclear Threat That Wasn’t

We don't notice a lot of incremental progress or hear about disasters that didn't happen. Like quietly denuclearizing post-Soviet states.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

This is an extract from our weekly newsletter, What Could Go Right? Sign up here to receive it in your inbox every Thursday at 6am. You can read the full newsletter here.

At our March event on climate change, Maybe We’re Not F*cked, TPN Member Bina Venkataraman said about progress, “A lot of it is incremental and goes unnoticed. . . . There’s not a lot of political gain, for example, from not developing in a flood plain and therefore preventing a major disaster from happening.”

Same goes for quietly denuclearizing post-Soviet states. In September 2020, as we were all paying more attention to the upcoming release of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Kazakhstan eliminated the last of its weapons-grade uranium. Guess what paid for it? American taxes, for the last 30 years. And we mean that as a good thing! 

Post-Soviet Union, off-the-books uranium and plutonium—aka the material you need to build a nuclear bomb—“was stashed in tumbledown buildings sealed by padlocks that could be snipped by ordinary bolt cutters,” wrote David Frum in The Atlantic last weekend. “A terrifying opportunity gaped open for rogue states and terrorists.”

Since 1991, the US has been bankrolling a denuclearization program in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. Missiles, bombers, and other weapons were put out of action, and work was created for the jobless nuclear scientists who might have been inclined to sell their knowledge (perhaps along with a pair of bolt cutters) for a hefty payout. Think Osama bin Laden getting his hands on the stuff.

Frum repeated the essence of Venkataraman’s remarks in his article: “The worst bias in media is the bias against things that work. As the saying goes, nobody reports on the planes that land safely—or the nuclear bombs that don’t get lost and that don’t fall into the hands of terrorists.” 

We bring this all up not only to celebrate living in a safer version of the world than what we could be living in, but also to address a question that some of our readers have brought up about taking action. They want more suggestions about how to do so.

We do see this noticing of progress, and more crucially, what has led to that progress, as both a necessary precursor to action and as an action in and of itself. Venkataraman addressed this at our event as well: part of individual action, she said, “is to notice, and to hold our political and business leaders accountable for making those kinds of precautionary changes and reforms.” She was speaking in regard to climate change, but it’s true across issues.

On that note, some follow-up information about the two Senators responsible for the denuclearization program: Sam Nunn, of Georgia, went on to found the Nuclear Threat Initiative and still writes about how to build a world without nuclear weapons. Richard Lugar, of Indiana, passed away in 2019. He founded The Lugar Center, which focuses on global food security, WMD nonproliferation, aid effectiveness, and bipartisan governance.

This week on the vaccine front, there’s lots to be excited about. By May 1, adults 16 and over in all 50 states will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, with willingness to get the vaccine rising in most states. Data from the CDC show that vaccinated people do not carry the virus. And, again on the action theme, if you’re a vaccinevangelist like we are, this is the best guide we’ve read on how to have conversations with the vaccine-hesitant. The more of us get vaccinated, the better off we’ll be.

Also worth noting: New Zealand just became one of the first in the world to allow for paid leave after a miscarriage. And if you believe that anyone who holds down a full-time job should be able to support a family on their earnings, read TPN Member Zeynep Ton’s latest in Politico on pushing companies to disclose employee pay data as a method for increasing worker pay.

Last but not least, this we are sharing purely for the cool factor: a primordial black hole is lurking at the edge of our solar system.

Here at TPN we talk about how to keep a cool head in a burning world. Meanwhile, in Iceland . . . (click to watch).

From us: The pandemic has pushed higher ed to create new ways to help more people access or continue their education. Join us next week for a conversation on how higher ed can keep pushing with Sylvia M. Burwell, president of American University, Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, and Scott Galloway, founder of Section4, a content platform for accessible business education.

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.