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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.

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What Could Go Right? The world is improving

And we have the receipts. Plus, action on climate change, the EV Age may soon be upon us, and cervical cancer makes its way out the door.

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.

Index says: world progress is real
The world is improving, and we have the receipts. The Social Progress Index, run by TPN Member Michael Green, is a method for defining the success of our societies. It measures 168 countries on social progress, combining 53 different indicators—of health, safety, education, technology, rights, and more—to calculate an overall score. The 2021 data has just been released, and incredibly, 147 countries have improved their overall score since previous indices. Only four countries have declined: the United States, Brazil, Syria, and South Sudan. 

All in all, we’ve improved the cumulative worldwide score by 4.63 points since 2011, to 65.05 out of 100, much of that driven by greater access to information and communications. Other much improved indicators include water and sanitation, shelter, and advanced education.

The 2021 report also found that the “correlation between the social progress score and sustainability has been weakening over time, meaning that higher levels of social progress are less likely to indicate higher emissions.” This is nothing to sneeze at, if countries may not necessarily need to advance their economies using dirty energy in order to improve quality of life for their citizens.

While there are more gains than losses, we did see slight declines globally in personal safety and inclusiveness, as well as a nearly six-point decline in personal rights. 

The news about the US, which registered declines in personal safety and rights, inclusiveness, shelter, and health and wellness, is not cute. The country ranks 24th in the world on social progress, between Italy and Portugal, and it will probably neither surprise nor delight you to know that it ranks lower than Cuba and Uzbekistan on the access to basic knowledge indicator. Big ups, though, to:

The highest scorers: Norway (92.63/100), Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Canada, Sweden, Netherlands, Japan, and Germany.

The most improved: Fiji, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Bhutan, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Eswatini, The Gambia, and Myanmar, whose scores each went up more or less by ten points.

So did we save the world yet? What happened at COP26
They met, they discussed, they committed (and they argued over the carbon footprint of haggis). If the new goals set by governments at COP26, the annual United Nations climate change conference now being held in Glasgow, Scotland, are met, it’s estimated the world will warm by 1.8°C. That is a big “if,” of course, but lest we sink into cynicism, here are some applause-worthy developments from haggis-town so far:

Turning away from big international agreements, which are debately effective, let’s turn to action at the state and local levels. We can take some inspiration from Hawaii, says TPN Member Fareed Zakaria in his latest column on running fast but not scared on climate. In 2008, Hawaii was 90% dependent on oil for energy. Today, the state generates 34.5% of its electricity from clean sources. The column comes with a book recommendation for Speed & Scale, which Zakaria calls a “clear, accessible, and actionable plan for reaching net zero emissions by 2050.” Make it a reading double-header with this piece from Democracy Journal about why we need to solve the problem of reliable, clean baseload power.

The beginning of the EV Age and the end of cervical cancer
The transition to electric vehicles is upon us. Not to be outdone by Norway, Greece has introduced a law, expected to be approved, that will ban sales of new combustion-engine cars from 2030. In Rwanda, where motorbike taxis are popular, a small number of drivers are trying out electric motorbikes, and finding that they are saving money not having to buy gas. A Rwandan start-up, Ampersand, is behind the change. They hope that almost all of Rwanda’s motorbikes will be electric in five years.

Cervical cancer may be on its way out. A new study based in the United Kingdom, which followed teenagers who received the HPV vaccine Cervarix (Gardasil is now the favored vaccine), found that cervical cancer rates in the women who got vaccinated were significantly lower than in those who didn’t: 87% lower for women who received the vaccine between the ages of 12 and 13, 62% if received between 14 and 16, and 34% if received between 16 and 18. All told, there were 17,200 fewer cases of cervical carcinomas than expected in the women vaccinated against HPV. What’s more, the study’s authors expect that the combination of the HPV vaccine and screening will make cervical cancer a rare disease.

Free life advice: stay where you are
Have you already whipped out your light therapy lamp as the effects of the shorter, darker days take root in your soul? Pause and consider before you make a permanent decision to chase the sun, says TPN Member Arthur Brooks in the latest installment of his How to Build a Life column in The Atlantic. “On balance, moving for the sake of nice weather probably isn’t worth the money, time, and personal disruption,” he writes. The gains are smaller and the losses bigger than you would think. A better strategy to ward away the winter blues is to go on short, frequent vacations.

Before we go
First came the vaccines. Now, the pills. Columnist Henry Olsen argues in The Washington Post that we have now solved for the two-pronged problem of the pandemic: how to “reduce the number of people who contracted” the virus, and finding “ways to treat the people who did.”

We’re continuing to pick up what Holden Karnofsky, cofounder of GiveWell, is putting down. His latest post examines five different frameworks for making the world a better place, and how they harmonize or clash. It’s the background to a question we ask every time we put the newsletter together: what counts as progress? In our view, it’s a mix, but we tend to emphasize what Karnofsky calls, in his ship analogy, “rowing, steering, and equity.”

Below in the links section, another US state is joining the tax-free tampon club, a lab in Finland is making protein from electricity and air, a Japanese start-up is making use of typhoon energy in its wind turbines, and more.


First the Food and Drug Administration gave its backing. Then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave theirs. Now, this brave young man signals his Covid vaccine approval. 👍

We live in an age that has lost its optimism, says Jason Crawford, founder of the nonprofit Roots of Progress. But it was not always so. Just a few centuries ago, Western thinkers were caught up in a wave of optimism for technology, humanity, and the future, based on the new philosophy of the Enlightenment. In a TPN guest post, Crawford says we need a new philosophy of progress for the 21st century. One that teaches people not to take the modern world for granted and holds up a positive vision of the future. Read it here.

Progress, Please

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Other good stuff in the news

United States:

International:

TPN Member originals 

Go spelunking through our long list of the week’s progress links here.

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Until Next Time

Does someone have Prime Minister Mitsotakis on the line? 👇

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.