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? Hopescrolling 2023

Something good happened every week of this year.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

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Hopescrolling 2023

What were the biggest news stories of the year? If you look at mainstream media, except for Taylor Swift’s Eras tour, they were all disasters. Ongoing war in Ukraine. The terrorist attacks in Israel and the subsequent pummeling of Gaza. Deadly earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. The dayslong search, and eventual explosion, of the Titan submersible. Record-breaking temperatures across the globe. 

Here at The Progress Network (TPN), however, we specialize in covering the news stories that are not as loud, but oftentimes just as important. As 2023 comes to a close, here are our seven picks of the biggest steps forward from the year, in collaboration with our friends at Warp News. We have also included three of our editorial favorites from TPN and Warp.

If you want to go even deeper, we have a wrap-up that includes a piece of progress from every week of 2023 here.

1. Two new malaria vaccines save lives

Distribution of the world’s first malaria vaccine, RTS,S, is being scaled up, and is already making a difference. In October, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported figures from a 2019 pilot program of the vaccine which showed a 13 percent reduction in deaths among young children.

A baby from the Malawi village of Tomali is injected with the world’s first vaccine against malaria in the 2019 pilot program. Photo: Associated Press/Jerome Delay

Also in October, the WHO approved a second malaria vaccine, R21, which is both more effective and cheaper to manufacture than RTS,S. First doses are expected to arrive in malaria-stricken countries in 2024.

In November, a Kenyan pharmaceutical company became the first in Africa to be granted approval to manufacture a high-demand malaria drug, normally imported from India and China.

Belize, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan were declared malaria-free. 

2. CRISPR becomes real

The United Kingdom became the first country in the world to approve a treatment that uses the gene editing tool CRISPR. Casgevy is a therapy for blood diseases sickle cell and beta thalassaemia. While not a cure, it may treat symptoms for a lifetime and could be a replacement for those ineligible for a bone marrow transplant.

Bahrain and the United States both followed quickly in the UK’s stead. 

3. Climate change gets worse, but also better

During the hottest year on record, it may seem odd to talk about what went right vis a vis climate change. But plenty did, even as global emissions have not yet declined. In 2023:

4. Artificial intelligence (AI) enters the chat

The introduction of AI into, well, everything, is going to be a gamechanger for many aspects of our lives. And while there is plenty to be concerned about, there are also plenty of ways that AI is helping create a better world, from discovering and designing new drugs to helping doctors with patient notes to language learning

One enormous AI success this year was its find of a new antibiotic, abaucin. It kills Acinetobacter baumannii, a superbug that plagues hospitals and nursing homes and causes blood, lung, and urinary tract infections. 

Humans aren’t the only organisms that are evolving with the times; bacteria, too, are passing along genetic material, says the WHO, that increase resistance to antibiotics. But it takes time to screen antibacterial molecules by hand. AI greatly speeds up the process. 

P.S. In case you’re among the worried crowd, know that 50 percent of AI researchers don’t actually think that AI has a 10 percent chance of killing us.

5. We’re moving past the Covid pandemic

In May, the WHO decided that the Covid pandemic was no longer a global health emergency. While the declaration doesn’t alter the reality of continued cases across the globe, it does signal an end to the years of unnatural living with social distancing, lockdowns, and travel restrictions.

And, low- and middle-income countries that were rocked the most by Covid’s economic challenges have on average recovered to pre-pandemic levels of poverty, says the World Bank. This is comforting news after the pandemic “led to an unprecedented reversal of consistent decline in global poverty.”

6. Conservation successes 

The Saiga antelope, which has been living on planet Earth since the Ice Age, has been moved from Critically Endangered to Near Threatened on the Red List, which tracks species’ extinction risk.

The antelope’s return has been primarily in Kazakhstan, where in 2005, populations dropped to a mere 39,000. They now number nearly two million.

But the Saiga antelope is just one of many conservation successes that occurred this year. Halfway through the year, we had already counted over 50 animal comebacks, including of whales, lions, butterflies, and tigers. 

7. The first sample of a deep space object

Why is planet Earth habitable? The answer, say scientists, may lie on asteroids like Bennu, four billion miles away from us. After seven years in deep space, this fall, material scooped off the asteroid was successfully returned to NASA, so it could be studied for the first time.

Four sides of asteroid Bennu
Four views of asteroid Bennu along with a corresponding global mosaic | Photo: NASA/Goddard/University Of Arizona

NASA confirmed the sample “show[s] evidence of high-carbon content and water, which together could indicate the building blocks of life on Earth may be found in the rock.” Scientists think that billions of years ago, asteroids may have delivered the material that eventually resulted in Earth’s air, water, and life forms.

8. Investigation: There is no sixth mass extinction going on

Have half of all the earth’s species really gone extinct? The Progress Network and Warp News teamed up this year to fund an investigation into claims that we’re going through a sixth mass extinction. What reporter Anders Bolling uncovered, however, is that scientific research of a mass extinction uses theoretical models of insects and even smaller organisms—numbers that are impossible to verify.

Among larger species, population numbers vary by region. On the whole, however, humans are far more concerned about, and better equipped to deal with, biodiversity efforts now than in the past.

9. The year in newsletters and podcasts: Poverty on its way out, green energy in

There are ongoing, sweeping changes that are so slow-moving that they are lost beneath the shuffle of a fast-paced news cycle. We covered many of these this year in this newsletter and on our podcast.

We have cut global AIDS-related deaths by over half in the past two decades, for example. Child mortality rates all over the world continue to fall, as well as poverty rates.

On our podcast, we spoke about the finances behind the US’ green transition and why the gender parity discussion may need an update.

10. Warp Levels: An idea to level up humanity 

When we envision what we want to achieve and pull together to do it, we can achieve incredible things in a short time. The moon landing in the 1960s. The Covid vaccines in 2020. The UN’s Millennium Goals helped lift a billion people from extreme poverty.

But what should the next phase of humanity’s progress look like? It’s not a phase, but many phases, says Mathias Sundin, founder of Warp News. We could be banding together to achieve currently unimaginable things, from Mars colonization to harnessing star energy to mastery of space-time manipulation. 

For even more, check out our 52 pieces of progress, one from every week of 2023.

Thank you so much for spending some part of your year with TPN. We wish you a festive, communal, and rejuvenating holiday season, and a happy new year. Until 2024!

Below in the links section, electric school buses, needle-free vaccines, brainwave-translating AI, and more.

By the Numbers

-37.6%: The change rate in child poverty in Poland, measured across two time periods, 2012–2014 and 2019–2021. The country leads the chart for biggest change made.

9.9%: The child poverty rate in Denmark, the chart leader for lowest rate.

.1%: The difference in rates between Denmark and the country with the second-lowest child poverty rate, Slovenia.

Source: UNICEF

Still of a NASA-streamed video of a cat chasing a laser beam, which was sent via laser
Sent via laser from deep space, NASA has just streamed a 15-second, ultra high-definition video of a cat named Taters chasing a laser beam. That is all.

What Could Go Right? S5 E11

Promotional image for S5 E11 of the What Could Go Right? podcast

How much are cultures crucial for progress, and can we deliberately create ones that lead to particular outcomes? What is it really about humans that separates us from animals? And how does the climate crisis fit into all this? Michael Muthukrishna, author of A Theory of Everyone, explores the distinctiveness of human beings and draws on his interdisciplinary research to argue that cultural evolution has propelled humanity to its current prominence—and will help us face our current challenges, if we know how to apply it properly. | Listen to the episode

Progress, Please

(Found good news? Tweet at us @progressntwrk or email.)

Other good stuff in the news 🧬

Energy & Environment:

Public Health:

Science & Tech:

Politics & Policy:

Society & Culture:


TPN Member originals 🧠

(Who are our Members? Get to know them.)

Department of Ideas 💡
(A staff recommendation guaranteed to give your brain some food for thought.)

When the New York Times lost its way | The Economist
America’s media should do more to equip readers to think for themselves

Why we picked it: Some may remember the Tom Cotton op-ed controversy that cost The New York Times’ editorial page editor James Bennet his job. He rehashes what happened from his perspective in this long (17,000 words long!) criticism of advocacy journalism. Reception, much like the reception to the original events, has been divided. —Emma Varvaloucas

Until Next Time

555, rsrsrs, abmtag: Enjoy this list of how to laugh online in different languages. 🤣

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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.