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.

The Progress Report: Positive Drones and Smaller Holes

Featuring Zachary Karabell & Emma Varvaloucas

In this week’s Progress Report, Zachary and Emma look at a recent study that people are choosing to avoid the news due to its focus on negative stories. Efforts to repair the ozone hole have been successful, demonstrating the potential for positive change in environmental issues. The use of drones in agriculture can reduce pesticide use and have positive environmental and social impacts. Thailand’s legalization of same-sex marriage is a positive development for LGBTQ rights in Southeast Asia.

Prefer to read? Check out the Audio Transcript

Zachary Karabell: What Could Go Right? I’m Zachary Karabell, the founder of The Progress Network, joined as always by Emma Varvaloucas, the Executive Director of The Progress Network, and What Could Go Right? is our podcast, which is combined with our weekly newsletter of the same name, What Could Go Right?, which you can sign up for for free at And these are our new weekly installments of The Progress Report, which is our look at news that you probably weren’t as aware of in the daily maelstrom of negativity, which we wouldn’t even be aware of had we not made an effort to look for news of people solving problems, of problems being solved, of things going well in the world, even though we live and swim in a sea of stories of all that is not going well in the world.

And as always, we will be led by The Supreme Leader of all news that is good, Emma Varvaloucas.

Emma Varvaloucas: Thank you so much for the introduction, Zachary. I’m actually going to start out with a banger today. It’s not a good news item, but I wanted to bring it up because it’s so pertinent to what we’re doing here at The Progress Network.

So this is the first sentence of a BBC article. More people are turning away from the news, describing it as depressing, relentless, and boring, a global study suggests. That is harsh. I’m so curious if our listeners feel that way as well.

Zachary Karabell: It may be harsh, but kind of feels resident and true. I mean, at some point you’ve, you’ve been all over this for years now and are thinking about expanding that about the, how to read the news without losing your mind, that human nature is if it’s a one note, relentless metronomic, you just tune out, there’s nothing really.

At some point, the just constant drip, drip, drip of negativity, even if it’s totally accurate, even if every single one of those stories represents a real and critical problem, you know, none of us can live our lives with any degree of equanimity or productivity or sanity with that kind of constant imbalance, right?

That there is a yin and a yang of human existence that may not be in perfect balance at any given time, but is nonetheless how most of us exist for most of the time. And if the news diet is like a human diet full of lots of, uh, if not unhealthy, then, then stuff that if consumed in excess can be harmful, people will for their own sanity and wellbeing tune out.

Emma Varvaloucas: Yeah, it says that 4 in 10 people worldwide say they sometimes or often actively avoid the news. That’s again, it’s pretty bad. This is from the Reuters Institute. By the way, they do this study, I think every year, and it’s quite large. It’s 94, actually it’s almost 95,000 adults across 47 countries. So it really is a global issue.

But anyway, I just, you know, if someone was listening to this feels like that’s them, you’re not alone. That was the point of that.

Zachary Karabell: Absolutely. It’s the  la la la la la don’t want to listen to this or for those of you who can remember the old Peanuts cartoon when the parents would start speaking, all of the

Peanuts heard was, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah. And I feel like that’s kind of what people feel about a lot of the news today.

Emma Varvaloucas: So let’s give the people something else. Let’s give them a spoonful of sugar. As you said last week, let’s talk about the ozone hole, the hole in the ozone layer, as you know, used to be a very big issue.

Not so talked about anymore. We all thought we were going to be burnt to a crisp, you know, in the late 80s into the 90s. And that has actually been heading in a good direction for a while, but what’s new is that, so the things that were eating away at the ozone layer are called chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs if you want an acronym.

And, you know, in the 80s, when they figured out that it was eating away at the ozone layer, they replaced that. So like, that’s like in air conditioning, refrigerators, stuff like that. They replaced it with something called hydrochlorofluorocarbons, HCFCs. And those also eat the ozone layer, but not as badly as CFCs.

So CFCs have been dropping for a while because of the Montreal Protocol that was signed in in the late 80s. But HCFCs, uh, which were the lesser evil replacement, we weren’t actually sure if those were dropping in the atmosphere until basically now. So they have been dropping since 2021, new research says, uh, which is really great news.

We’ve been trying to phase out HCFCs as well, but the replacement that we have for them releases greenhouse gas emissions. So you actually don’t have a perfect solution for this. Yes. It’s one of those things where solving the first problem gets another problem. However, research that came out, I think it was last year, I want to say, uh, shows that the ozone layer will be healed sometime in the next few decades.

So, all good news on that.

Zachary Karabell: So, one possible conclusion of that news is just add an H to anything that is toxic and problematic and that will ameliorate the situation. Another that I do remember being surprising to people is that because we had no prior experience with any of this, when the ozone layer stopped expanding.

It was not at all clear that it would actually then contract, not the ozone layer, but the hole in the ozone layer. So the idea that it kind of started healing itself or restoring before that was speculative. No one really knew what would happen. There was some, again, supposition that the size of the hole would stop expanding, but there was no clarity about whether or not it would actually contract and disappear.

And. I don’t know if this, one should obviously not generalize from that, whether or not climate can reorient itself with lower emissions or whether the damage that’s done is done. Obviously, there’s a lot of uncertainty around that as well, about whether halting the damage will, In time reverse the damage, but it is certainly indicative of there is a, if not a homeostasis to the planet, which there clearly isn’t then an ability for damage to be healed.

And we know this obviously with reforestation. We know this with a whole series of things. So one indication that things can go in both directions. They can be destroyed and they can be remedied.

Emma Varvaloucas: Yeah fingers crossed on climate [laughs]. Stay tuned folks.

Zachary Karabell: Yes, that’s, that’s where we are in climate change right now. We’re just in the fingers crossed mode.

Emma Varvaloucas: No, actually no, I’m much more positive than that. I think that we’re in the beginning of a full fledged green transition and that people haven’t caught up to that news yet.

I am fully a hundred percent on that train actually. Like what the EU is doing with the green transition right now is incredible. Flying, absolutely flying.

Zachary Karabell: And, you know, we talked to Jigar Shah on one of our episodes at the department of energy and the degree to which kind of underneath the radar of American society, we have been moving ahead to next generation energy technologies far more rapidly than I think most people think.

Emma Varvaloucas: Let’s talk a little bit about this article from Hakai magazine, which is very unknown. I actually read it a lot because they do really good work, but I feel like it’s not widely read. It’s the only outlet out there that’s devoted to news about the world’s coastlines. So specific, but they do really good stuff.

And they had a really interesting article recently about drones using AI to basically put pesticide over rice in Vietnam. And that maybe what I just described sounds like a nightmare to people, but it’s actually really neat because In the Mekong River Delta, where they grow 50 percent of the nation’s rice, uh, what has happened is that a lot of rice farmers have purchased drones to spray pesticide, which is actually an upgrade from spraying it by hand.

They had people going out with handheld pesticide sprays. It’s obviously not good for you. It’s obviously, you know, backbreaking work. And with the drones, they can actually spray less. Less sort of like chemically laed fertilizer that will save the rice from various fungus and other diseases.

So, um, it’s good for the environment because fewer of those chemicals, fewer pesticides get into the water surrounding the area. It’s better for the farmers. And actually it seems to be drawing young people back into the work because a lot of them. You know, they grew up seeing the difficult work of their families saying, no thanks, I’m going to go to the city.

I’m going to get a computer job. I’m going to do something else because flying the drone is so much easier. They are returning somewhat. So there are questions of course, about like how much the drones are going to displace labor. I don’t know. They said on bounds in the article that it’s, it’s a positive and the photos are incredible of these like big drones that they’re carrying around on these rickety looking motorcycles.

The rice of Vietnam. Very interesting. If anyone wants to go check it out.

Zachary Karabell: And of course, as a general thing, fewer pesticides also means less carbon intensive agriculture because all those pesticides, or a lot of those pesticides are created by petroleum based creation of nitrogen based fertilizers, which you need lots of carbon fuel to produce these artificial fertilizers.

Well, not artificial, but artificially non naturally occurring as opposed to like guano and what, what had been used for fertilizer or night soil. So less fertilizer, less carbon intensivity for agriculture. And we can talk about this at more length and maybe another discussion, but. The genetic modification of rice, not just corn, there’s already golden rice, which has been controversial.

Just like GMO corn has been controversial. Next generation of those bioengineering will allow for pest resistant strains of rice, meaning you won’t need to use pesticides because the genome of the rice itself will be uninteresting to many of the pests that currently Assail the Crops. So that will have its own, I’m sure, cultural debate, question mark, whether we should allow that.

But there are certainly technologies in place and constantly being developed that could point to an even less Carbon intensive agricultural future, if we embrace or if we allow for, there may be risks that come with bioengineering that are unforeseen because whenever you mess with the ecosystem, there are likely to be unforeseen risks, but is taking that risk worth the trade off, 

i.e. fewer pesticides, period. For all the reasons that we would want fewer pesticides.

Emma Varvaloucas: Yeah, I mean, less carbon intensive, fewer pesticides. And as you say, also just producing more food. I mean, we still have a population that’s going to be growing until what? 2050s? 2060s? So those people have got to be fed.

Zachary Karabell: So we’ve got one more story, right?

Emma Varvaloucas: We got one more and it’s going to be quick on because we’ve talked about this a lot, but we just need to do a quick update. That Thailand is officially going to become the first nation in Southeast Asia to legalize same sex marriage. The bill just passed the Senate. It was 130 senators voting in favor, only four against.

So it passed with lots of support.

Zachary Karabell: A good development, especially in light of some of the negative developments and LGBTQ rights in places like Russia and some pushback in China. So that’s a good story.

Emma Varvaloucas: Yea, so that’s our week.

Zachary Karabell: That’s our week. Check out our newsletter. Please let us know if there’s things going on in the world that you think we should highlight either in our newsletter or on the podcast.

We are all ears. Well, we’re partly ears, but we will be all ears for any idea that people. present us with and tune into our next full episode as well. Thank you all for listening. And thank you, Emma, for highlighting.

Emma Varvaloucas: Thanks everyone. And we’ll be back next week with Zachary and the supreme leader of all good news…

Zachary Karabell: Which is Emma, of course,

Emma Varvaloucas: Which is me. Thanks everyone.



Meet the Hosts

Zachary Karabell

Emma Varvaloucas


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