The World Happiness Report offered a pleasant surprise, green travel got a boost, and a lost species looked set to return to London, plus more
This week’s good news roundup
Despite claiming millions of lives, causing economic turmoil and prompting restrictive lockdowns, the pandemic has triggered ‘a surge in benevolence’, according to the latest World Happiness Report.
It suggests that despite the hardships brought on by Covid, global happiness levels have remained resilient, with altruism increasing.
“For a second year, we see that various forms of everyday kindness, such as helping a stranger, donating to charity, and volunteering are above pre-pandemic levels,” noted Prof Lara Aknin, director of the Happiness Lab at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.
Measuring global happiness is a notoriously tricky business as people have different definitions of what makes them happy. Researchers interviewed tens of thousands of people and tried to identify what contributes to their satisfaction. They found that social support, healthy life expectancy, the economy, freedom to make life choices and freedom from corruption were the main drivers of happiness.
This year’s edition once again ranked Finland the world’s happiest nation, followed by Denmark and Iceland. It is the fourth consecutive year in which the UK has dropped down the table. It now stands 19th.
Image: Andrea Tummons
Is time running out? Yes. Are we falling short? Yes. Can we turn things around? Yes.
Those are the key take-aways from the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Released on Monday, it said only drastic emissions cuts now will keep warming to safe levels. As UN secretary general António Guterres put it: “humanity is on thin ice”.
But there are reasons to be sanguine. The IPCC said humanity already has the technology and know-how to make the necessary cuts, and that doing so would bring many other benefits to society.
Image: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos
Investing just 1.3 per cent of global GDP (gross domestic product) over the next 30 years could decarbonise the world economy, according to a new report. Many nations allocate more to defence.
The research was carried out by the Energy Transitions Commission, a global coalition of energy leaders. It said that around $3.5tn (£2.85tn) per year of capital investment was needed between now and 2050 to build a net zero global economy. It currently stands at around $1tn (£800bn).
“At the global macroeconomic level, it is clearly feasible,” the report concluded. “However, [it] will not occur without well-designed policies and supporting actions, many of which are not currently in place.”
The research chimes with a separate study by the International Energy Agency, which put the cost of decarbonisation at around $4tn (£3.26tn) a year.
In a boost for green travel, the German government has approved a €49 (£43)-a-month public transport ticket offering unlimited journeys on regional trains, buses, trams and metro services.
A follow-up to the popular €9 (£7.97) monthly public transport pass – introduced as a temporary measure to ease the cost of living crisis – the new ticket is part of a plan to get people out of their cars and onto public transport.
German transport minister, Volker Wissing, said the scheme could be a “role model for the whole of Europe”. High rail fares in other countries, notably the UK, are blamed for deterring train travel and increasing car use.
The policy is expected to be approved by the upper house of the German parliament next week, paving the way for its introduction in May. The national government said it will cover half the cost of the €3bn (£2.65bn)-a-year scheme, with regional governments picking up the rest.
A policy aimed at reducing problem drinking in Scotland has been credited with saving lives.
Scotland became the first country to introduce a minimum price for alcohol (£0.50 per unit) in 2018. A study published by Public Health Scotland this week revealed that there has been a 13 per cent reduction in alcohol-related deaths since.
The research does not provide conclusive proof that the policy is working, but strongly suggests that it is.
“Minimum unit pricing was introduced to save lives, and this latest report shows it is doing just that,” said Dr Alastair MacGilchrist, chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems. “For every life saved, there’s a family, friends and community not being forced into grief.”
London, the world’s first national park city, is set to become even wilder with the reintroduction of a long-lost species.
Proving that rewilding is not just a rural pursuit, it was announced this week that beavers would be released in Ealing later this year, thanks to funding from the mayor. The animals have not lived in the city for over 400 years.
“Beavers are a keystone species” said Dr Sean McCormack, chair of Ealing Wildlife Group, which leads the project. “Their activities can help combat and adapt to impacts of climate change through carbon capture, reduce flood risk… and mitigate drought by holding more water on the land.”
It will be the first time that beavers have been reintroduced to a city in the UK. The animals are widely expected to colonise London in the coming years under their own steam, with populations advancing on the capital from Kent.
Image: Moritz Becker
Modern lighting. It’s bright, unsympathetic and blinds us to the stars above. But not in the English village of Hawnby, where the lights have been dimmed to provide a better view of the Milky Way.
Located in the North York Moors, Hawnby sits in an international dark sky reserve, and is believed to be the first English village to switch to dark skies-friendly lighting. The move is a response to a recent study that revealed light pollution is skyrocketing globally, meaning fewer people can see the night sky.
Mike Hawtin of the North York Moors National Park said: “We’re aiming to show how relatively easy it can be for communities to take a similar approach to the one at Hawnby, and help us protect the pristine qualities of our dark skies.”
Image: Ryan Hutton
Despite the culture wars, the UK has become decidedly more liberal.
A study by King’s College London suggests that the UK is now among the world’s most progressive nations, following recent shifts in attitudes towards homosexuality, casual sex, abortion, euthanasia and divorce.
“It’s easy to lose sight of just how much more liberal the UK has become over a relatively short period of time, and how liberal we are relative to many other nations,” said Prof Bobby Duffy, director of the college’s Policy Institute.
The study adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests liberal attitudes are in rude health in the UK. Read the full story here.
Image: Clem Onojeghu
Doom has become a profitable industry. Do a quick search for ‘wipe out humans’ and Google will spit out page after page of the-end-is-nigh predictions.
It’s all great Hollywood fodder. But, as the scientist and writer John Hands argues in his latest book The Future of Humankind, when these types of forecasts are tested against their eventual outcomes, they are always disproven.
Hands has spent the last six years delving into the evidence surrounding the main existential threats to humankind, and offers a different take: we should be more optimistic.
Read the full story here.
Main image: kali9/iStock
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