Chicken little forecast

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.


What Could Go Right? Single-use plastic’s death knell

Plus: Knocking asteroids off course, history’s longest period of peace is now, and more

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

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For whom the bell tolls? Single-use plastic. On Sunday, the European Union’s ban on ten single-use plastic items like cutlery, straws, and Q-tips came into effect. The various EU member countries write their own laws around single-use plastics, but they are all now responsible for enforcing the ban. A quick shoutout to Greece, where our executive director lives, which was the first country to ban single-use plastics in government agencies. (This may not seem like much, but Greece has a lot of government agencies.) “The end goal,” writes Deutsche Welle, “is an EU circular economy model via which any remaining disposable plastics will be reusable or recyclable by 2030.” New Zealand, too, is introducing a ban on many of the same plastic products, which will become active in 2022.

The big problem is, of course, that we don’t have a way to break down many plastics, and the plastics that do break down do it slowly. A discovery found by Austrian scientists is adding another tool to our tool belt: a liquid that can break down three types of plastics in hours. Where is this magical liquid found? The digestive tracts of cows.

You might have missed that on the last day of JuneChina was semi-quietly declared malaria-free, and became the 41st country where malaria has been eliminated. It’s remarkable progress for a nation that had about 30 million cases a year, and a mortality rate of 1%, as recently as the 1950s. “With this announcement,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, “China joins the growing number of countries that are showing the world that a malaria-free future is a viable goal.” Keep your eye out for a TPN-exclusive interview about how we might get to that future! 

As for our quest to leave the pandemic behind us, Johnson & Johnson has announced their vaccine as effective against the Delta variant, and evidence is growing that Russia’s Sputnik vaccine does actually work, which is a relief for the over 60 countries that have used it. South Korea is in talks with Pfizer and Moderna to manufacture the mRNA vaccines themselves, which could be a game changer for Asia broadly as well as the many low-income countries that are reliant on donated doses. As we know, South Korea doesn’t play around with anything science- or tech-related: it has the capacity to manufacture one billion doses immediately

So far Ivory Coast has administered a single dose for only 3% of its population of about 25 million people. Since Monday, though, they’ve received a large shipment of vaccines and are aiming to inoculate a million people by late next week. You can’t beat this mental image: mobile clinics in air-conditioned trucks are roaming around popular open-air markets in Ivory Coast’s main city, Abidjan, announcing the free vaccines via megaphone. Ivory Coast has another shipment of about one million doses coming mid-month. 

Although image-wise, this sweet snapshot from vaccination efforts in the Philippines might be even better:

As of late June, 91 countries have begun offering vaccines to refugees. We think we can do better than the listed goal, though, a seemingly paltry 20% of refugees vaccinated by the end of 2021.

Humans famously suffer from poor long-term decision-making. We loved this article from Vox about how to be a good ancestor that opens with the story of Yahaba, Japan, whose residents held a most unusual town hall to decide upon what policies the town should adopt. While half of the citizens attended the town hall as themselves, the other half put on “special ceremonial robes” and attended as residents from 30 years in the future. What happened was perhaps not surprising: the group from the year 2060 “advocated for much more radical policies—from massive healthcare investments to climate change action.” The surprising part was that the town actually decided to take those policies up, even though they were not beneficial in the short term. It’s a great example of how we can all learn to take a long-term perspective, and encourage others to do so, too. (Or maybe we just all need some cooler robes to wear.)

By the way, one place that certainly doesn’t need to be encouraged to pay attention to the long term is NASA, where they are trying to prevent our fate from resembling that of the dinosaurs’ by testing how to knock asteroids bound for the Earth off course. No big deal . . .

Before we go, did you know that in most developed countries, there has been a 16% decrease in Alzheimer’s incidence decade-on-decade since 1988? Amid the controversy around newly approved aducanumab, an expensive Alzheimer’s drug whose efficacy is questionable, Spanish scientists think we may see an (actually) effective treatment in the next 15 years

It’s been 75 years without major conflict between developed countries, what is perhaps the longest period of peace in history. We recommend this article by John Mueller, author of The Stupidity of War, that says the key change is not geopolitical but attitudinal. Whereas culturally, we used to exalt war, today we decry it—a shift Mueller thinks is “now on track to envelop the world.” Ideas can feel nebulous, but their spreading power is very real.

Below in the links section, women’s rights advancements in Spain and Saudi Arabia, the US is seeing a renewed interest in jury participation due to George Floyd, and more.

We’re all wondering if things will ever return to normal, or at least arrive at a new normal. The Economist has launched a “normalcy index” to track changes from pre-pandemic levels to now. How are we doing? At the moment, overall activity is at 66% of pre-pandemic levels. So we’re more than halfway there! (“Woah, livin’ on a . . .”)

From us: We’re taking a break from live events in July, but you can watch all of our previous ones on our YouTube channel.

“What struck me was that they were this self-enclosed tribe doing stuff that no one else understood. They were a bit like the priests in the Catholic church in medieval Europe: they spoke financial Latin, and nobody else understood it.” That’s TPN Member and Financial Times (US) Editor-at-Large, Gillian Tett, describing bankers in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis. She joined TPN Founder Zachary Karabell recently to imagine what a more sustainable and human capitalism might look like. Watch the entire conversation or read an extract from it here.

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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.