Image for What went right this week: halting Amazon deforestation, plus more

What went right this week: halting Amazon deforestation, plus more

Logging fell in key rainforest regions, a landmark dementia study launched, and sustainable shopping surged, plus more good news

Logging fell in key rainforest regions, a landmark dementia study launched, and sustainable shopping surged, plus more good news

This week’s good news roundup

Good news
Logging fell in key rainforest regions

Deforestation in Brazil and Colombia has plummeted following changes in political leadership, according to analysis by the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) in partnership with the University of Maryland, US.

Tree loss in the Brazilian Amazon fell 39% when President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took the reins last year, the data showed. In Colombia, logging has fallen by almost half under premier Gustavo Petro. 

The WRI, however, said that the bigger picture was one of “two forward, two steps back”, with gains wiped out by felling and fires in places such as Bolivia, Laos and Nicaragua. Losses in 2023 totalled  37,000 sq km (14,200 sq miles), equivalent to 10 football pitches every minute.

“Steep declines in the Brazilian Amazon and Colombia show that progress is possible, but increasing forest loss in other areas has largely counteracted that progress,” said Mikaela Weisse, the WRI’s global forest watch director.  “We must learn from the countries that are successfully slowing deforestation.” 

Image: Diego Guzmán 

good news
A revolutionary dementia study prepared to launch

Thousands of people in the UK will trial blood tests for dementia, a move which experts say could usher in a new chapter in treating the disease.

The five-year study involves 5,000 volunteers across 50 National Health Service (NHS) memory clinics. The tests will look for proteins and biomarkers which signal the early signs of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. 

The trial is a joint effort between University College London (UCL) and the University of Oxford. Experts hope it will bring the cutting-edge tests a step closer to the NHS, heralding earlier diagnoses and new drug treatments.

Fiona Carragher, director of research and influence at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “It now feels like we’re on the cusp of a new chapter on how we treat dementia in this country.”

In other encouraging dementia news, scientists in the US have developed a smartphone app which can detect early signs of frontotemporal dementia in people genetically predisposed to the condition. The software uses cognitive tests and was shown to be at least as effective as the usual gold standard examinations performed in clinics. 

Image: Italo Melo

Speaking of early diagnosis…

Detection is also the goal of a new cancer research centre at the UK’s University of Cambridge (pictured), which has been gifted £11m by an anonymous donor. 

The Early Cancer Institute is working on novel ways to identify precancerous cells years before they turn into tumours, with a focus on hard-to-treat cancers affecting the lungs, oesophagus and liver, as well as acute myeloid leukaemia. 

Its work is drawing on a “goldmine” of hundreds of thousands of samples stored as part of screening services for ovarian cancer, leading to the discovery of changes in blood cells which sound an early warning for leukaemia over a decade before symptoms appear. 

The institute’s director, Prof Rebecca Fitzgerald, said the donation would fund the cutting edge research facilities it needed to pioneer early cancer detection innovations.

Image: Julius Dūdėnas

good news
The UK’s mapping agency cleared a path for biodiversity

Mapping wizards at Ordnance Survey (OS) are giving environmental projects a steer with new biodiversity data, which will help identify wildlife corridors and monitor protected habitats. 

The OS’ new Field Boundary layer on maps covers rural and moorland across Great Britain. It pinpoints the nature of field boundary features, differentiating between stonewalls and hedgerows, for example. The changes aim to support nature-based solutions for land management, carbon accounting and policy-making.

The Peak District national park plans to use the new Field Boundary data to track changes in the landscape which to date has only been possible by scrutinising satellite images or making site visits.

“If we understand the condition of the national park’s landscape, we can protect and preserve those valuable landscape features – a process that can be replicated by other national parks,” said David Alexander, senior research and data analyst for Peak District national park.

Image: TimHill

Sustainable shopping surged despite the squeeze

Shoppers are voting with their wallets for the planet and ethical work practices more than ever before, say the group behind the Fairtrade mark. 

The green and blue logo, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, guarantees minimum prices for producers in lower income countries and has become a globally-recognised symbol of fairly produced and sustainable goods.

The Fairtrade Foundation expects to have banked £13m for licensing the certification in 2023, up from £12.8m in 2022 – a sign that sales of ethical goods are holding their own despite the cost of living crisis. 

This is testament that, as happened in the financial crisis of 2008 to 2009, British shoppers do not trade down on their values when times are tough,” Fairtrade Foundation CEO Michael Gidney told The Guardian.

The news chimes with a recent poll by B Corp which showed that over half of Britons use sustainability certifications to decide who to work for or spend money with. 

Image: Stock Snap

good news
A landmark biodiversity benchmark broadened its reach

New rules took effect in England this week compelling developers of small sites to boost nature – and prove they can keep them that way for three decades. 

Under world-first biodiversity net gain (BNG) legislation introduced in February, large scale sites had to not only replace habitats lost to development, but increase them by 10%. As of Tuesday the measure also applies to small scale projects, typically those with fewer than 10 homes on a site under 1 hectare (2.45 acres). 

The boost can be delivered on site as well as off through the purchase of BNG credits. Prospective developers will have to submit BNG proposals before planning applications are greenlit.

Image: Tom Allport

US election: Florida voted to raise the minimum wage
Wages went up for millions of people in the UK

Millions of the UK’s lowest-paid workers are to get a boost after the government raised the national living wage from £10.42 to £11.44 an hour – the largest rise in more than a decade. 

The changes benefit some 2.7 million people and mean a full time adult worker on minimum wage is better off by £1,800 a year. However, charities have warned that many of the lowest paid will still struggle to make ends meet.

The hourly rate for 18-20-year-olds also goes up from £7.49 to £8.60 and apprentices benefit with an above-inflation pay rise of more than 20%. 

The rise comes hot on the heels of a report that suggested the minimum wage is the UK’s “single most successful economic policy in a generation”.

Image: Aurélien Lemasson-Théobald

Healthy minds matter for heart patients – study

It’s often said that what’s good for the heart is good for the head. Now, it seems, it cuts both ways – at least for heart disease patients. 

In a study involving 1,500 volunteers, researchers in the US looked at how poor mental health impacts outcomes for people coping with coronary artery disease or heart failure

They found that individuals receiving medication or psychotherapy for anxiety or depression were 75% less likely to need another hospital stay and 74% less likely to require a visit to the emergency room.

The authors suggested that mental health screening should be standard practice for heart disease patients.

“Mental health treatment for anxiety or depression has a significant impact on outcomes in patients with cardiovascular disease consisting of reduced hospitalizations, emergency department visits, and in some conditions improved survival,” the study concluded. 

Image: Antoni Shkraba

good news
AI emerged as a potential ally against sepsis

Researchers in Sweden say a simple blood test combined with screening by artificial intelligence (AI) could help identify sepsis patients at the highest risk of severe complications. 

Sepsis kills around 11 million people worldwide each year, with 50,000 deaths in the UK alone. It is usually triggered by an infection and can spiral into septic shock, damaging vital organs.

Scientists from Lund University analysed plasma samples from more than a thousand suspected sepsis patients and found patterns in the body’s immune response. They trained an AI model with the results to predict the likelihood of septic shock. 

Study lead Dr Lisa Mellhammar said the tool was “the future of early detection of sepsis”.

“A fast test that provides more accurate sepsis diagnosis and could also predict who is at greater risk of poorer outcomes now seems a genuine possibility,” she said.

Image: Luann Hunt
Main image: Laszlo Mates/iStock

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