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What went right this week: big oil in court and solar farms in space

Big oil in court, solar farms in space, and scientists’ ‘holy grail’ alternative to palm oil, plus more good news

Big oil in court, solar farms in space, and scientists’ ‘holy grail’ alternative to palm oil, plus more good news

This week’s good news roundup

Britain has undergone a ‘near-revolution’ in liberal thinking

The past four decades have seen a dramatic shift towards more liberal thinking in Britain, according to an annual poll of views on social and moral issues.

When the British Attitudes Survey (BSA) began in 1983, just 17 per cent of respondents agreed that same sex relationships were ‘not wrong at all’. Today it’s 67 per cent. 

There is increased support for abortion, too: 76 per cent now support a woman’s right to choose, more than double the 37 per cent 40 years ago. 

Only 24 per cent believe marriage is a necessity for people who want children, down from 89 per cent in 1989, while just nine per cent of Brits agree men should work while women care for kids and the home, down from 48 per cent in 1987.

However, views on transgender issues mark a dividing line in attitudes, with the proportion of people believing it’s OK to change the sex on a birth certificate falling from 53 to 30 per cent since 2019. 

BSA co-editor Sir John Curtice said: “The vast social changes that Britain has witnessed over the last 40 years have been accompanied by a near-revolution in attitudes towards many social and moral issues, including sexuality and the role of women.”

Image: Brian Kyed

Good news
The sky’s no longer the limit for solar power generation

Solar farms in space are edging closer to reality as tumbling costs of rocket launches are making it cheaper to blast infrastructure into orbit. 

Astronaut Tim Peake backed the concept in a talk at the Energy Tech Summit this week.

“It boils down to hard numbers at the end of the day,” said Maj Peake. “Launching thousands of tonnes of hardware into low Earth orbit is becoming absolutely viable.”

Peake explained that rockets built by Elon Musk’s aerospace outfit SpaceX had almost halved the per-kilo cost of sending cargo into orbit from $2,700 (£2,180) to $1,500 (£1,212). 

Musk’s ‘Starship’ rocket, still in development, would bring it down further to $300 (£242). The European Space Agency estimates space-based solar power becomes viable when cargo can be launched for $1,000 (£808) per kilo or less.

Solar arrays in orbit enjoy cloud-free skies and 24/7 access to the sun’s rays. They can generate energy equivalent to a nuclear power station, with electricity beamed back to Earth as microwaves. The innovation is one of a number of exciting solar developments which we explored here.

Image: 3DSculptor/iStock

good news
Budding naturalists were boosted by hub at Chester Zoo

The UK’s Chester Zoo hopes to nurture the next generation of conservationists with a new education hub that’s set to host 50,000 youngsters, teachers and students a year. 

The centre (pictured), which opened this week, will stage wildlife workshops, skills and nature-based training and community events, with the aim of fostering deeper connections to nature and equipping young people to help tackle the world’s environmental challenges.

It features three classrooms, a recording studio and an outdoor space, with solar panels and heat pumps providing sustainable power and heating. 

“With so many species threatened with extinction it’s vital that we all play our part in creating a more sustainable future for people and wildlife,” said Nicola Buckley, the zoo’s head of conservation and engagement.

Image: Chester Zoo

Water voles are back in the swim of things on the River Ver

A key wetland species that vanished from a river in Hertfordshire, England, more than 35 years ago is thriving once again after restoration work and a reintroduction.

Water vole populations across Hertfordshire have fallen by 90 per cent over the last five decades due to habitat loss and predation by the invasive American mink. They were last seen on the River Ver in 1987.

However, 150 of the creatures – said to be the UK’s fastest declining mammal – were reintroduced to a stretch of the river near St Albans in 2021, and numbers have doubled year-on-year since. 

Conservation charity the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust (HMWT) partnered with the Ver Valley Society on the project. Joseph Kalms, HMWT’s water vole officer, said the animals were now occupying four miles (6km) of the Ver between St Albans and Redbourn.

“They are mini ecosystem engineers, with their burrowing and feeding helping our river banks and wetlands stay in good condition,” said Kalms. “I’m thrilled to be able to share this amazing success story.”

Image: Jonathan Ridley

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California took aim at big oil in a historic lawsuit

The US state of California is taking big oil to court, accusing five firms and industry group the American Petroleum Institute (API) of downplaying their impact on the world’s climate.

The civil lawsuit says the API alongside Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips and Chevron have deceived the public for decades and have known since the 1960s that burning fossil fuels would warm the planet.

It calls on the oil giants to pay damages for fires and droughts exacerbated by the climate emergency, and to set up a fund to cover the cost of future extreme weather events.

“Oil and gas companies have privately known the truth for decades – that the burning of fossil fuels leads to climate change – but have fed us lies and mistruths to further their record-breaking profits at the expense of our environment. Enough is enough,” said attorney general Rob Bonta. “It is time they pay to abate the harm they have caused.”

The API and Shell released statements saying that climate policy should be debated in Congress rather than a courtroom.

Image: Pixabay

A new research fund is backing black scientists

One of the UK’s most influential scientific academies is piloting a scheme aimed at encouraging more young, black scientists. 

The Royal Society is inviting researchers from black heritage backgrounds to apply for its career development fellowship. The scheme will fund five scientists up to £690,000 spread over four years, and could be extended to other underrepresented groups if it proves successful.

Dr Mark Richards, a senior teaching fellow at the Imperial College London and a member of the Royal Society’s diversity and inclusion committee, said there was a “clear case for action” on systemic underrepresentation in academia.

“That will take work across the pipeline, but it begins with those researchers taking their first steps in academia by providing security of funding, independence, and connections to collaborators and networks that all scientists depend on,” he explained.

Applications for the fellowship open in November


good news
Working in your slippers? You could be treading more lightly on the planet too

A home-based job can cut your work-related carbon footprint by more than half, according to a new study.

Researchers from New York City’s Cornell University and Microsoft found that full-time remote working meant a 54 per cent reduction in emissions, compared with office workers. 

Hybrid workers working from home two to four days a week reduce their carbon footprint by 11 to 29 per cent, but a single day means a negligible two per cent reduction. 

Unsurprisingly, the study found that the biggest emissions savings came from people commuting less and lower office energy use, but warned that lifestyle factors can offset some of the benefits.

Researchers also discovered that remote workers increased non-work related travel, including flying and driving, that homes may have less efficient appliances and lack a renewable energy source.

Image: Daniel Thomas

good news
Scientists created a ‘holy grail’ alternative to palm oil

Food experts from Queen Margaret University (QMU) in Edinburgh, Scotland, have cooked up a substitute for one of the world’s most environmentally contentious ingredients: palm oil.

They’re calling the breakthrough innovation PALM-AT, and say the plant-based discovery is healthier for both people and the planet. 

It has 88 per cent less saturated fat and comes with – they say – 70 per cent lower emissions than regular palm oil, which is used in everything from baked goods to toothpaste to cosmetics.

Developed using linseed and rapeseed combined with fibre, it can be made locally on a global scale, avoiding the deforestation and habitat loss associated with palm oil production in countries including Malaysia and Indonesia.

QMU lead developer Dr Julien Lonchamp said the team (pictured) had already patented PALM-AT and was in talks with potential industry partners.

His colleague Catriona Liddle told Positive News: “Palm oil itself is kind of a magic ingredient – it’s a shame that it’s unhealthy and bad for the environment. We’ve replaced it with something significantly healthier using clean label ingredients available in the UK and Europe. Now we need people to take a leap of faith and say: ‘Let’s try it’.”

Image: Malcolm Cochrane Photography

‘Milestone’ legislation is is set to make the virtual world safer

Six years in the making, and dogged by controversy, the UK’s Online Safety Bill is finally set to become law after getting the nod from the House of Lords.

The government hailed the measure a “major milestone” and said it will deliver “the most powerful child protection laws in a generation”.

It holds online platforms responsible for the content they host, meaning they could be fined billions of pounds if they fail to remove illegal or harmful material, including bullying, images of child abuse and posts promoting self-harm and suicide.

The law also outlaws new offences including cyber-flashing and the sharing of so-called ‘deepfake’ pornography.

Critics say it amounts to censorship and will give platforms and regulator Ofcom too much power to decide what appears online. 

However David Wright, CEO of the South West Grid for Learning, part of the Safer Internet Centre, called the legislation a “momentous milestone”.

“Everyone should benefit from technology, free from harm and with this new piece of legislation, we are potentially closer to achieving that goal, he said.

Image: August de Richelieu

Dozens of new sites got protected World Heritage status

Ancient tea plantations in China, a Cambodian temple complex and a fortress dating back to the Viking age in Denmark are among dozens of new World Heritage Sites added to Unesco’s list this week.

The United Nations’ designation protects globally recognised buildings and areas of ‘outstanding universal value’. 

For 2023, the agency ended a moratorium on memorial sites for human suffering, adding First World War cemeteries in France and Belgium, and the hills of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

The 42 new entrants bring the list up to more than 1,100 locations across the world, and include historic European towns and cities such as Kuldīga in Latvia and Erfurt in Germany.

Image: Gaya Tumuli in South Korea, one of the newly designated sites

Main image: monkeybusinessimages/iStock

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