Image for What went right this week: avoiding a sixth mass extinction, plus more

What went right this week: avoiding a sixth mass extinction, plus more

Scientists showed how to avoid a sixth mass extinction, humanity became ‘less negative’, and Sierra Leone banned child marriage, plus more good news

Scientists showed how to avoid a sixth mass extinction, humanity became ‘less negative’, and Sierra Leone banned child marriage, plus more good news

This week’s good news roundup

Scientists showed how to avoid a sixth mass extinction

Conserving just 1.2% of the Earth’s land would be enough to prevent the extinction of the world’s most threatened species, a study has found.

Researchers identified 16,825 sites that they say should be prioritised for conservation in the next five years to prevent the extinction of animals and plants that aren’t found anywhere else. 

“Our study shows how these unprotected pockets of rarity are highly concentrated, covering a shockingly small area — roughly 1.2% of the Earth’s terrestrial surface,” said Dr Eric Dinerstein, of the environmental organisation Resolve, and lead author of the study. 

“Targeting these areas for immediate protection offers an achievable win for nature conservation by heading off the sixth great extinction of life on Earth.”

The authors of the study said that while 120m hectares were added to the world database on protected areas between 2018 and 2023, only 11m hectares of land harbouring rare and threatened species were put under protection. “The strategy for the next three years must be to reverse this trend, making rare species habitats the top priority,” the study concluded. 

Image: Timothy K/Unsplash

Good news
Sierra Leone (finally) banned child marriage

In a highly significant step for children’s rights in Africa, Sierra Leone has passed a bill prohibiting child marriage. 

The charity Save the Children welcomed the legislation, saying it “represents a profound change for the future of Sierra Leone’s children and a significant achievement in the fight for their protection and wellbeing”.   

Save the Children estimates that 39% of girls in Sierra Leone are married before their 18th birthday, with 13% married before they turn 15. 

“These statistics represent real lives – girls who are denied their childhoods, education, and opportunities for a better future,” said the charity. “This legislation … represents a commitment to safeguarding the futures of thousands of girls who have been vulnerable to the devastating impacts of early marriage.”

Image: Annie Spratt

People perked up, research showed

Humanity’s emotional health has returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to a US study.

Measuring emotions is a tricky business, but researchers at Gallup attempt to do just that every year with the Negative Experience Index

For the first time since 2014, the index dipped in 2023, suggesting that fewer people are experiencing stress, sadness, anger, worry or physical pain. Given the various crises affecting the world – from war to inflation – this may surprise some.

Gallup interviewed 146,000 people in 142 countries, identifying Latin America and south-east Asia as the regions where people have the highest positivity score.

The Negative Experience Index has risen every year since 2007, except 2014 and 2023. It remains to be seen whether last year was a blip, or the start of a sustained fall in negativity. 

Image: Keira Burton

UK activists won a ‘stunning’ victory against big oil

In a landmark case, the UK’s supreme court has ruled that an English council acted unlawfully in granting planning permission for oil wells – because it didn’t consider the climate impact of when the oil is inevitably burned.

The judgment follows a legal challenge brought by local resident Sarah Finch and the Weald Action Group, which opposed oil wells in Horse Hill, Surrey. They argued that the environmental impact assessment carried out by Surrey county council should have considered the impacts of burning the oil, known as downstream emissions. 

Friends of the Earth, which supported the case, said that downstream emissions are increasingly being left out of impact assessments when planning applications are made for fossil fuel projects, including North Sea oil wells. 

“Gas, oil and coal companies have been fighting tooth and nail to avoid having to account for all the climate-harming emissions their developments cause,” said Friends of the Earth lawyer Katie de Kauwe. “This judgment will make it harder for new fossil fuel projects to go ahead.” 

Surrey county council claimed that it followed planning regulations. 

Image: J.Hannan-Briggs

The Positive News Podcast – latest episode available In our opening six-part series, Developing Mental Wealth, we uncover the fascinating ways that communities are supporting people’s mental health in parts of the world where circumstances can be the most challenging. Hosted by medical doctor Radha Modgil and journalist Seyi Rhodes. Hear the latest episode
Progress was made on tackling epilepsy

A teenager with epilepsy has seen his daytime seizures reduce by 80% after taking part in a pioneering trail using deep brain simulation (DBS). 

Oran, who’d had severe epileptic seizures for eight years and often needed resuscitation, is the first child in the UK to have a DBS device implanted. Eight months on, his seizures have dramatically reduced in frequency and severity.

The rechargeable device is mounted on to the skull and is attached to electrodes deep in the brain to reduce seizure activity.

“The quality of life improvement has been invaluable for Oran,” said his mother, Justine. “He’s a lot more chatty, he’s more engaged.”

The CADET trial was sponsored by University College London (UCL). More trials are planned. “Deep brain stimulation brings us closer than ever before to stopping epileptic seizures for patients who have very limited effective treatment options,” said UCL’s Prof Martin Tisdall. “We hope in years to come it will be a standard treatment.” 

Image: Derek Jones

The Iberian lynx came off the endangered list

The Iberian lynx has officially clawed its way back from the brink of extinction, having been removed from the endangered list. 

The cats were almost wiped out by hunters last century, but have since been the subject of a decades-long conservation effort in Spain and Portugal, where numbers have risen from 94 in 2002 to 2,021 in 2023. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which compiles the list of endangered species, said the Iberian lynx’s recovery was a “great success story”. 

The drive to revive the species was led by the EU-funded Life Lynx-Connect project, which plans to reintroduce the animals to other parts of Spain. 

However, threats remain. The Iberian lynx’s main food source – rabbits – have suffered major declines due to disease. Nonetheless, the IUCN said that the cats “could reach ‘fully recovered’ status within 100 years, if conservation efforts continue”.

Image: Diego Delso

Speaking of wildcats ...

Conservationists in Scotland have announced the birth of wildcat kittens in Cairngorms national park, where the animals were reintroduced last year. 

Wildcats were on the verge of extinction in Scotland in 2018. But conservationists have boosted numbers by improving habitats and reintroducing the animals to the wild. 

“This is a major milestone for wildcat recovery in Scotland,” said Dr Helen Senn of the charity Saving Wildcats. “These births demonstrate that the process of breeding wildcats for release into the wild is working, as those released animals have learned to hunt and survive – and now reproduce in their first breeding season.”

Image: Peter Trimming

Good news
Namibia’s ban on gay sex ruled unconstitutional

The high court in Namibia has ruled that colonial-era laws criminalising gay sex are unconstitutional.

The laws, which banned ‘sodomy’ and – somewhat vaguely – ‘unnatural offences’, were inherited by Namibia when it gained independence from South Africa in 1990. Though rarely enforced, activists said they contributed to discrimination against gay people. 

The case was brought to the high court by the Namibian activist Friedel Dausab with the support of Human Dignity Trust, a British NGO. “It’s a great day for Namibia,” Dausab told Reuters. “It won’t be a crime to love any more.”

Image: Remi Jacquaint

Good news
‘Most people’ support climate action – poll

Politicians looking to woo voters would do well to heed the results of new poll, which found that 80% of people globally want governments to take bolder climate action. 

The United Nations (UN) survey of 75,000 people in 77 countries comes amid a bumper election year, with the US, UK and France among those going to the polls. Some climate sceptics are on the ballots.    

But attempts to water down climate pledged may backfire, according to the UN survey. It showed strong support for climate action in 20 of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, with majorities ranging from 66% in the US and Russia, to 93% in Italy.    

Of those polled, 86% said they wanted their countries to set aside geopolitical differences and work together on climate change.

“The survey results – unprecedented in their coverage – reveal a level of consensus that is truly astonishing,” said UN administrator Achim Steiner. “This is an issue that almost everyone, everywhere, can agree on.”

Image: Manny Becerra

Good news
Walking was found to combat back pain

Adults with a history of low back pain lasted nearly twice as long without a recurrence if they walked regularly, a world-first study has found.

The trial followed 701 adults who had recently recovered from an episode of low back pain. Participants were randomly allocated either an individualised walking programme facilitated by a physiotherapist and six education sessions, or to a no-intervention control group.

People who walked three to five times a week, for an average of 130 minutes a week, remained pain-free for nearly twice as long compared with those who did not receive any treatment, the study found.

The research was conducted by Australia’s Macquarie University, and published in The Lancet journal.

The university’s Prof Mark Hancock said: “We don’t know exactly why walking is so good for preventing back pain, but it is likely to include the combination of gentle oscillatory movements, loading and strengthening the spinal structures and muscles, relaxation and stress relief, and the release of ‘feel-good’ endorphins”. 

Image: Brian Mann
Main image: Freder/iStock

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