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.
Through the looking glass: October 2020
October 2020 really sucked for me personally. I had just moved countries—from the United States to Greece—for the first time in my life. I didn’t speak the language well and was undergoing massive cultural shock. Days after I moved, my father shared that he had been diagnosed with cancer. One month after, Greece entered the second of its strict Covid-19 lockdowns, which lasted until the spring and involved texting the government for permission every time you wanted to leave the house.
It wasn’t just me, of course. October 2020 sucked, period. This month two years ago, no effective Covid vaccines had yet been announced. People worldwide were despairing over how long they would be stuck in their homes, washing their groceries, and avoiding their grandparents. Meanwhile, the US was bracing itself for possible violence on Election Day. In the midst of these crazy circumstances, The Progress Network was launched on October 14, 2020.
I know what you’re thinking—we have impeccable timing. But actually, we did. By Thanksgiving, we had two effective Covid vaccines, from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. Vaccinations began in the US in December. While January 6th, 2021, was no picnic, the worst did not come to pass, and a new president successfully took office.
As we celebrate The Progress Network’s two-year anniversary, we thought it would be instructive to look back at the truly dark time that was then and appreciate the massive, positive changes that mark our now. Such as:
- mRNA technology not only ended the acute phase of the pandemic far more quickly than was expected but also opened prevention and treatment possibilities for a host of diseases. We’re even expecting our first cancer vaccine, for melanoma, in a few months.
- We finally started to see signs that the world is serious about a green transition, including emissions heavy-hitters like the US and China. Bloomberg just summarized a chunk of that progress in a fantastic piece on why “the world is crossing into a mass-adoption moment for green technologies.”
- Despite setbacks due to Covid, we’ve made several public health advancements, like China’s certification as malaria-free (and two world-first malaria vaccines), the global near-eradication of guinea worm, and Togo’s achievement of being the first country in the world to eliminate four neglected tropical diseases.
- LGBTQ and women’s rights were expanded or protected in several countries, with for example, same-sex marriage legalized in Slovenia, Switzerland, Chile, and Cuba in the past two years alone. Countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Palestine, Sudan, and Indonesia passed laws on a range of issues from child marriage to rape and sexual harassment.
In September 2021, I wrote in this newsletter, “Can you imagine: it’s October 2023, and Covid-19 has gone from a world-shuttering novel virus to a seasonal annoyance.” One year earlier than what seemed like a dream then, I’d argue that by and large, we’re already there.
As for me, I did manage to adjust to Greece and will soon take the exam for Greek language proficiency. More importantly, because my father’s cancer was caught early, it was successfully treated with modern surgical techniques.
As we know, the story of human existence is never as neat as a simple happy ending. There have been many bumps along the road these past two years, from the overturning of Roe v. Wade to the Ukraine invasion and all its attendant ills. But those bumps are not the whole story, either.
Here’s to the next two years, and many more after that. Thanks for being on this journey with us.
Midterm fever begins
After two years on the progress beat, it’s not often something catches me totally by surprise, but this New York Times newsletter on gerrymandering did. “By some measures,” Nate Cohn writes, we have “the fairest House map of the last 40 years” going into the midterm elections.
Free, fair, and popular elections—that is our jam. It was amazing to see the voter turnout numbers from Georgia this week. On Monday, more than 131,000 people turned up for early in-person voting, up from around 71,000 in 2018, reports CNN. Georgians will be voting on “races for the US Senate, US House, and statewide posts from governor to secretary of state.”
Inflation tops voting concerns this election. In TIME, our founder, Zachary Karabell, exhorts the Federal Reserve to stop raising interest rates. We are in unique, post-pandemic circumstances, he writes, which means that the gospel that squashing inflation is “worth the price of squashing the strongest job and wage market in a generation” is not true. There’s a painless way to curb inflation: do nothing. “As the effects of pandemic stimulus and the commodity price shock of the Ukraine invasion wear off, and as supply chains slowly work through bottlenecks,” he explains, “inflating is moderating—on its own.”
Before we go
Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star, is now also the first Asian American on US currency. Her print run on the quarter started this week.
This is so neat. Humans are in the midst of a few evolutionary changes, including more of us being born with an “extra arm artery” and no wisdom teeth.
Originally planned for 2019, Indonesia is now on schedule to finish its high-speed train, which will connect Jakarta with other major Indonesian cities, by 2023. It will be Southeast Asia’s first high-speed rail service.
Have you seen the World Wildlife Fund’s new biodiversity report floating around the internet? The main statistic quoted is that “populations of most major animal groups . . . have declined by an average of 69 percent in the last half-century.” That’s bad, of course. But what does that statistic really mean? Not that “there are two-thirds fewer animals today compared to 50 years ago,” explains Benji Jones in Vox.
Below in the links section, lynx, wild horses, and vultures are reintroduced in Spain; a bionic nose for Covid survivors is in the works in Virginia; and more.
Space News, Hearing Aids, and a Changing Tomorrow
This week on the What Could Go Right? podcast: How is NASA propelling us into the future? Who is next to legalize same-sex marriage? Plus, we hear from the editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur magazine, Jason Feifer, about how to embrace change without waiting for a crisis to push us forward. | Listen to the episode
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Other good stuff in the news 🦭
Energy & Environment:
- Once devastated, these Pacific reefs have seen an amazing rebirth | National Geographic
- Norway to slash pollution with the world’s first zero-emissions public transport network | Euronews
- Efforts to protect endangered seal pups are proving successful | YLE
- Home solar panel adoption continues to rise in the US | Pew Research Center
- Australian research finds cost-effective way to recycle solar panels | The Guardian
- Lynx, wild horses, and vultures return to eastern Spain in latest rewilding project | The Guardian
- Carbon capture projects see meteoric growth in 2022 | Yale Environment 360
Science & Tech:
- AI-generated imagery is the new clip art as Microsoft adds DALL-E to its Office suite | The Verge
- Satellite power grid would beam energy around the globe just like data | New Atlas
- With this bionic nose, Covid survivors may smell the roses again | IEEE Spectrum
- With US nudges, Google and others aim to help Iranian protesters | The Washington Post
- Battery tech breakthrough paves way for mass adoption of affordable electric car | Penn State
- NASA suggests new space cooling technology could charge electric cars in 5 minutes | The Hill
Politics & Policy:
- Why states are dropping their ‘tampon tax’ | US News & World Report
- Digital IDs are life-changing for refugees in Cameroon | Good Good Good
- US to issue maximum number of visas allowed for seasonal workers | The Wall Street Journal
- Australia launches bid to end violence against women and children within a generation | The Guardian
- Amid historic drought, California approves $140M desalination plant | Reuters
- Japan to end restrictions on women remarrying after divorce | Bloomberg
- Australia and Singapore strike agreement to achieve net-zero | AP
- The DIY health economy expands with OTC hearing aids | Axios
- CVS drops prices on its tampons and will pay the ‘pink tax’ | CNN
- What happened to monkeypox? Why cases suddenly began to decline. | The New York Times
- New NHS genetic testing service ‘could save thousands of children’ in England | The Guardian
Society & Culture:
- The online guide Russians use to escape Putin’s war | The Washington Post
- The free online course that teaches you how to decode the media | Positive News
- Smithsonian returns 29 Benin bronzes to Nigeria | Axios
- Meet the amateur art sleuths helping bring back Asia’s stolen heritage | The Christian Science Monitor
- Number of ranked universities in Africa increases to 97 | Mail & Guardian
- Social Security benefits to jump by 8.7% next year | AP
- US income inequality hasn’t risen for a decade | Quartz
- REI dumps Black Friday—permanently | CNN
- Ukraine’s economy seems to be growing again | The Economist
- Global extreme poverty declined substantially over the last generation | Our World in Data
TPN Member originals 🧠
(Who are our Members? Get to know them.)
- Here’s why we should all be ‘techies’ now | Ayesha Khanna
- Why happiness is the key to success | Arthur C. Brooks
- This is what happens when race is everything | David Brooks
- Elon Musk’s business ties deserve more scrutiny | Matthew Yglesias
- Don’t get Covid: guidance, anecdata, and news you might be able to use from our household | James Fallows
- How to win the economic war against Russia | Fareed Zakaria
- Shashank Joshi on how the war in Ukraine will end | Yascha Mounk
- Incarcerated: America is failing its young men | Scott Gallowy
- Conservatives build own media ecosystem to fight cancel culture | John Wood Jr.
- What does a record number of Black candidates really mean for Republicans? | Theodore R. Johnson
- Why the 21st century might be the Indian Century | James Pethokoukis
- Can the world avoid a global recession? | Ian Bremmer
- Classical liberalism vs. The New Right | Tyler Cowen
Until Next Time
Say hello to Hyloscirtus sethmacfarlanei. 🐸