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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? Three cheers for full approval

Have you heard the one that goes, Israel's hospitals are full of the vaccinated, so that means the vaccines don't work? We dig in.

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.

Three cheers for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who granted full approval to Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine on Monday, a decision that companies, universities, and government entities alike have been awaiting in order to enact vaccination mandates. It also eliminates, or at least ameliorates, a popular reason for vaccination hesitation.

It took the FDA less than four months to review 340,000 pages of data. While The New York Timescame down harshly on the agency for their slowness, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board was more forgiving. The process was done in record time, they wrote, from “development to full approval in less than 18 months, a fraction of the 10 to 12 years required on average,” without any corners being cut. In fact, there’s “more data vouching for the Pfizer vaccine’s safety than there has been for any other vaccine approved by the FDA,” a sentence we hope gets repeated, reprinted, retweeted, and splashed on advertising materials everywhere. 

Something we didn’t realize until The Washington Post columnist Leana S. Wen pointed it out is that full approval means that Pfizer is now allowed to spend their own money marketing the vaccine. While a pharmaceutical company’s aggressive advertising spending might not be something we would usually cheerlead, in this case we are definitely onboard. For this reason and others, Wen wondered in her column whether approval will be a turning point for vaccine uptake in the United States. “Finally,” she wrote, “the coronavirus vaccine can be regarded as no different from any other vaccine that Americans are used to getting throughout our lives.”

Meanwhile, in many Latin American countries where doses are becoming more available and where there are fewer trust issues surrounding vaccines, vaccinations are soaring. Brazil, for instance, boasts the highest percentage of people in the world who say they will get vaccinated, at 88%.

There’s no denying the vaccination game is in part psychological. The more comfortable people feel about the vaccine, the more people will take it. Here at TPN, we actually view this as an exciting opportunity for those of us wondering how we can help usher in progress ourselves. The power we each have within our interpersonal networks is huge, and it can be used effectively. Rather than, say, venting frustration on social media, we can simply support anyone we know going through the “to get it or not to get it” decision-making process by listening to their concerns and fears, asking what questions they may have, and sharing our own good experiences. In other words, our best advice is: be a sounding board, not a debater. But all right, if you’re like us and can’t resist a juicy, fact-based roundup, here’s one piece we found helpful from Vogue Australia that addresses misinformation around fertility, pregnancy, and the vaccines

Have you heard the one that goes, Israel’s hospitals are full of the vaccinated, so that proves the vaccines don’t work? Grant us a moment while we kick our favorite dog, the media, again, for elevating this irresponsible narrative. Just two days ago, The Daily Beast’s article “Ultra Vaxxed Israel’s Crisis Is a Dire Warning to America” was trending on Twitter.

Let’s skip that particular warning and put on our Steven Pinker hats instead. It’s time for our favorite game of Follow the Numbers! Are a high proportion of those hospitalized in Israel right now vaccinated? Yes. Is it simply because there are high vaccination rates in the country, especially among older people who are far likelier to be hospitalized from a respiratory virus? Also yes. This common confusion over stats does not mean that the vaccines aren’t working. For the full explanation, data scientist Jeffrey Morris breaks it all down for us here. If you’re a numbers person, go hog wild. If not, grab a coffee, go slow, and all will be revealed.

All over the world, countries are preparing for climate change. Fun fact: this newsletter is written from a sweltering apartment in Athens, Greece, where the heatwave this summer not only caused serious wildfires but also made everyday life in the city close to unbearable. Luckily for Athenians, there’s a new Chief Heat Officer (CHO, and yes, we just made up that acronym) in town, the country’s and Europe’s first, charged with cooling the city down. North America has a CHO, too, in Florida; Africa will soon have its first in Freetown, Sierra Leone. (And thanks to reader Gabrielle for sending us this article.)

Opportunities for rooftop gardens and more greenery abound in Athens, Greece. Rooftop solar panels aren’t an uncommon sight here in the sun-soaked country, but could be even more plentiful.

The old standby of planting trees, of course, is one of the strategies to lower temps, and it happens to be one that is being well-employed in Pakistan. We enjoyed this photo tour through the country’s ongoing effort to plant billions of trees. And 30 years on, a rewilding project in England has successfully turned old coal mines and quarries into a new national forest—the first new forest in England at scale for 1,000 years—with the help of more than nine million trees.

Before we go, a trifecta of follow-ups. One year after the George Floyd protests, the real estate industry is making good on its promise of real reform, with a goal of three million new Black homeowners by 2030. If you are unfamiliar with the various practices employed in American history that barred Black people from owning homes, we humbly suggest The Color of Lawas a great starting read.

TPN Member Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, founder of Ideas Beyond Borders (IBB), is extending his organization’s operations into Afghanistan. IBB is hiring Afghan translators that the US military once employed to translate texts on critical thinking, science, liberty, and pluralism into the local languages of Dari and Pashto. Change needs to “come from within,” Al Mutar told the New York Post, “rather than by force.”

And this is really a follow-up to our whole chaotic era. In a piece we wish we had written ourselves, TPN Member Angus Hervey takes the story of societal collapse we’re so used to hearing and flips it on its head.

Below in the links section, Costa Rica defies the rule that health requires wealth with an astoundingly successful public health system, Georgia is doing great with solar power, and Moderna is about to start human trials for an mRNA HIV vaccine. We’re super excited to see where all the talk about mRNA will lead.


CBS News highlighted the widespread agreement as well, saying it was “more than we commonly see on other topics these days.”

From us: What if instead of being on the brink of disaster, we’re on the cusp of a better world? No one can deny the challenges the world faces, from pandemics to climate change to authoritarianism. But pessimism and despair are too easy a response.

Enter the What Could Go Right? podcast! Each week starting September 1, TPN Founder Zachary Karabell and Executive Director Emma Varvaloucas will convene a diverse panel of experts to discuss the central issues of our era, including sustainability, polarization, work, and the economy, and make the case for a brighter future. Progress is on its way. Listen to the trailer here.

Progress, Please

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Keep Thailand w̶e̶i̶r̶d̶ architecturally innovative.

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.