A ‘gamechanger’ cancer test was developed, China smashed renewables records, and the US murder rate fell, plus more good news
This week’s good news roundup
A simple blood test that can identify 18 early-stage cancers will be a medical “gamechanger”, scientists said this week.
Early detection is key to driving down death rates for cancer, which kills around one in six people globally.
In a study, the new test identified 93% of stage one cancers in men and 84% in women. The trial was run by the test’s maker, Novelna, which said it represents a “major leap in cancer screening”. However, with just 440 people taking part in the trial, more research is needed.
Existing blood tests can already detect cancer, but often only one type and with limited reliability.
In the journal BMJ Oncology, the team wrote: “These findings pave the way for a cost-effective, highly accurate, multi-cancer screening test that can be implemented on a population-wide scale.
“This could re-shape screening guidelines, making this plasma test a standard part of routine check-ups.”
Image: Anna Shvets
The climate crisis was brought into sharp focus this week as it was revealed that 2023 was the hottest year on record.
However, a separate report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) offered some good news. It said that the record-breaking rollout of renewables in 2023 meant the world had a “real chance” of tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030 – a key target agreed at the Cop28 climate summit in December.
The largest growth took place in China, which commissioned as much solar in 2023 as the entire world did in 2022. China’s wind power additions also rose by 66% year-on-year. The country’s emissions are predicted to peak this year. Separate data revealed that heat pump installations in the UK hit a record high.
“Under current policies and market conditions, global renewable capacity is already on course to increase by two-and-a-half times by 2030,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol. “It’s not enough yet to reach the Cop28 goal of tripling renewables, but we’re moving closer – and governments have the tools needed to close the gap.”
He added: “Onshore wind and solar PV are cheaper today than new fossil fuel plants almost everywhere and cheaper than existing fossil fuel plants in most countries.”
However, adding renewables capacity is not enough, say scientists – we must also stop burning fossil fuels.
While most Americans believe that crime is on the up, data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) suggests that the opposite is true.
Crime stats from January to September 2023 showed an 8.2% decline in all violent crime, including a 15.6% drop in murders, compared to the same period in 2022.
The data contrasts sharply with a recent Gallup poll. It showed that more US citizens thought there was a serious crime problem than at any point in the last two decades.
Despite the encouraging statistics, the US remains more dangerous than most western nations. It ranks 131st in the Global Peace Index, between South Africa and Brazil.
Military veterans with PTSD saw drastic improvements in their condition after being treated with a potent psychedelic, a US trial has shown.
One month after being treated with ibogaine – an obscure hallucinogenic – veterans reported that symptoms such as PTSD and depression had decreased by more than 80% on average.
“The drug seems to have a broad, dramatic and consistent effect,” Nolan Williams, a neuroscientist at Stanford University in California and a co-author of the study, told Nature.
Ibogaine is made from the bark of a shrub native to central Africa, where it is used for ceremonial purposes Just 30 male veterans took part in the trial. However, the findings add to a growing body of research that suggests psychedelics could provide effective treatment for a range of conditions, including anxiety, addiction and depression.
Image: Mitchell Hartley
The elephant population has risen steadily in southern Africa over the last 25 years, new analysis suggests.
Overall, the region saw a 0.16% annual increase in elephant numbers over the past quarter century, a study showed. That might seem like a small gain, but for a species hammered by poachers, it represents a victory for conservationists.
Elephant populations in isolated “fortress” parks showed high levels of growth. However, researchers said that “buffer zones”, where the animals coexist with humans, provided elephants with vital corridors between protected areas.
Prof Stuart Pimm, of Duke University in the US, who was involved in the research, told the Guardian: “We need to protect elephants, but we also need to connect them. We have fragmented the world and we need to stitch it back together again.”
Image: Taryn Elliott
People experiencing domestic abuse in England and Wales will be able to access “lifeline” payments to help them escape their abusers.
From 31 January, domestic abuse survivors who can’t afford to flee will be able to apply for a one-off payment of up to £500, plus a further £2,500 to help them secure an independent future.
It’s part of a new £2m government programme to be delivered via domestic abuse services in England and Wales. It follows a successful pilot led by the charity Women’s Aid.
Farah Nazeer, the charity’s chief executive, said: “We saw immediately the impact this was having on survivors – over 75% of applicants used their grant to replace or purchase essential goods for themselves or their children after they had fled their abuser with nothing to their name.”
The UK’s opposition Labour party backed the scheme, but said it came “against a backdrop of total failure”, pointing out that prosecutions for domestic abusers have halved since 2015 despite a rise in reported cases.
Image: Ketut Subiyanto
It’s the biggest miscarriage of justice in UK history, a long-running scandal that saw more than 700 sub-postmasters wrongly accused of theft due to an IT fault.
However, this week the government finally announced a law to exonerate all affected and compensate them. Many wonder why it took a television drama to force it to act.
The sub-postmasters affected had their lives ruined by false convictions, relating to a fault with Post Office IT between 1999 and 2015. Some were forced to pay back money they hadn’t taken; others went to prison. Four took their own lives.
Justice has been slow coming. In 2019, 555 sub-postmasters won a group action against the Post Office, but reportedly received only around £20,000 each after costs. Some convictions were quashed. A government enquiry was established and is ongoing.
But it was a TV drama – Mr Bates vs the Post Office, broadcast this month – that made the scandal a major political issue, forcing the government to announce legislation to exonerate all affected.
While welcome, the bill comes with risks. Lawyers warn that it could undermine the independence of the judiciary if it is seen as a precedent for future cases.
The Polish government has ordered the state-run company that manages the nation’s woodlands to “get saws out of Polish forests”, delivering on a campaign promise following October’s elections.
“We have decided to stop logging in the most valuable forest areas. It’s time to get saws out of the Polish forests,” new climate minister Paulina Hennig-Kloska told a news conference on Monday.
The measures affect 10 ancient woodlands, representing just 1.5% of state-managed woodlands. Nevertheless, Hennig-Kloska said the decision is a first step towards further limiting logging in such woodlands.
Image: Lukasz Szmigiel
In a win for inclusivity, politician Mar Galcerán has become Spain’s first parliamentarian with Down’s syndrome.
“Society is starting to see that people with Down’s syndrome have a lot to contribute,” Galcerán told the Guardian after she obtained a seat in Valencia’s regional parliament this week. “But it’s a very long road.”
Other European nations already have politicians with Down’s syndrome in office. In France, Éléonore Laloux became the first person with the genetic condition to take public office in 2020. Meanwhile, Fintan Bray made history in Ireland in 2022, becaming the first Irish politician with Down’s syndrome to take on a senior position within a political party.
Image: Jose Jordan/Getty Images
They are a common sight on UK streets. Now those green street cabinets once used to store landline phone cabling could have a new lease of life – as charging points for electric vehicles.
British Telecom (BT) announced this week that it is launching a pilot to repurpose old units in a bid to plug the shortfall in charging points.
The project will be trialled in Scotland “within weeks”. If successful, 60,000 street cabinets could be converted into EV charging points across the UK. For context, there are presently only 53,000 charging points in the country.
Tom Guy, MD at BT Group, said: “Our new charging solution is a huge step in bringing EV charging kerbside and exploring how we can address key barriers customers are currently facing.”
The new issue of Positive News magazine came out this week.
The latest edition features an interview with veteran wildlife broadcaster Chris Packham, who reckons it’s time for activists to: “let hope out of the box”.
Other highlights include how ‘inner development goals’ could unlock huge progress, and a taste of the visionary menu at the world’s first zero-waste restaurant.
Get a copy here.
Main image: bWangAnQi/iStock
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