Image for What went right this week: Europe’s shifting lifestyles, plus more

What went right this week: Europe’s shifting lifestyles, plus more

Young Europeans embraced planet-friendly habits, there was another cancer breakthrough, and music appeared to offer pain relief, plus more good news

Young Europeans embraced planet-friendly habits, there was another cancer breakthrough, and music appeared to offer pain relief, plus more good news

This week’s good news roundup

A poll showed young Europeans are willing to put the planet first

The European youth of today are the planetary guardians of tomorrow, according to a poll that reveals they’re open to making big lifestyle changes in the name of the climate.

The YouGov survey for the Guardian showed how young people aged 18 to 24 were more likely to ditch cars or switch to an EV than respondents over the age of 65. Meanwhile, 46 per cent of young respondents backed a ban on fossil fuel cars – more than double the 22 per cent in the 65+ group. 

The poll was carried out in August in Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden, and also revealed how a large minority of young people were put off the idea of starting a family in the next decade due to economic worries.

Just over a fifth of the younger age group were happy to cut meat and dairy from their diet, or had already gone vegan, compared with 13 per cent of over-65s. And on buying secondhand clothes, 35 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds were happy stepping out in preloved garb, while for the over-65 bracket it was 26 per cent. 

Image: Vlad B

vegetables healthy diet good news
Meat is slipping off UK menus, stats revealed

Britons are eating less meat than ever before according to new government statistics, with the lingering impact of Covid, the cost of living crisis and lifestyle changes being behind the diet shift.

Data on household food purchases reveals the average person ate 854g of meat a week in the year to March 2022. That’s less than half the weight of a medium-sized chicken, and the lowest figure since records began almost 50 years ago.  

Overall, the numbers show a fall in household meat consumption of 14 per cent since 2012. We’re munching through fewer meat-based takeaways, too: consumption of burgers, kebabs and meat pies is lower than at any point since the 1980s.

Linus Pardoe, UK policy manager at the Good Food Institute Europe, sees the news as something of a double-edged sword.

A sharp fall in meat consumption will clearly help us towards net zero,” he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter “But it’s worrying that it’s taken the grim mix of a pandemic and a cost of living crisis to drive that shift in a meaningful way. Policymakers shouldn’t just leave this to the market.”

Image: Mariana Medvedeva

Ministers pledged to scrap IVF laws that unfairly impact people with HIV

Ministers announced on Wednesday that they will ditch “outdated” IVF laws that deny access to people with HIV and also require lesbians to pay for expensive screening tests. 

Outlining two law changes to IVF provision in the UK, the government pledged that couples with HIV will no longer be banned from having babies under IVF. The Department of Health and Social Care said same-sex couples with undetectable HIV – cases in which the viral load is too low to allow for transmission – would be able to access fertility treatment.

And it will try to ensure that female same-sex couples have the same rights as a man and woman when trying to conceive. Currently, female same-sex couples hoping to conceive via reciprocal IVF must pay up to £1,000 to be screened for infectious diseases such as rubella, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Heterosexual couples aren’t asked to undergo the screening. 

“Millions of couples dream of the joy of parenthood and bringing life into the world,” said Maria Caulfield, a health minister. “But for many, that joy turns to unimaginable pain as they experience the distress of fertility issues.”

Image: Eye for Ebony

The rise of renewables is ‘unstoppable’ said the IEA

Renewables will provide half the world’s electricity by the turn of the decade, according to the latest annual report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), released on Tuesday.

The global energy watchdog says major shifts will mean a “considerably different” global energy system by 2030, with demand for oil, coal and gas forecast to peak in the next seven years. 

Among its more positive predictions – based on current policy settings of governments worldwide – are a tenfold increase in EVs on the roads, solar PV generating more electricity than the entire US power system does currently, and three times more cash invested in offshore wind than in coal and gas-fuelled plants. 

However the good news from the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2023 was tempered with a note of caution, with the organisation warning that emissions are still too high, and the fossil fuel phase-out needs to ramp up fast to avoid missing the crucial 1.5C target. 

“The transition to clean energy is happening worldwide and it’s unstoppable. It’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s just a matter of ‘how soon’ – and the sooner the better for all of us,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.

Image: studio-fi/iStock

A breakthrough treatment brought hope to cervical cancer patients

A new cervical cancer treatment using cheap, existing drugs has been hailed as the biggest breakthrough in two decades.

Cancer Research UK funded a study involving 500 cervical cancer patients and reported “remarkable” results. It found that for women who had been given an intensive, six-week course of chemotherapy drugs before the usual chemoradiation treatment, the risk of death or of their cancer returning was reduced by 35 per cent. 

Study authors hope the use of existing drugs – carboplatin and paclitaxel – means the treatment can be rolled out relatively quickly.

“This is the biggest improvement in outcome in this disease in over 20 years,” said lead investigator Dr Mary McCormack, from University College London’s Cancer Institute. “I’m incredibly proud of all the patients who participated in the trial.”

Read about more recent medical breakthroughs in our piece about the new ‘golden age of medicine’

Image: Sarah Cervantes

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland
Iceland’s premier joined a mass walkout over inequality

The prime minister of Iceland (pictured) downed tools in the name of gender equality this week, joining the country’s first women’s strike in almost 50 years.

Some 100,000 women and non-binary people – around a quarter of the Nordic nation’s entire population – gathered in Reykjavík on Tuesday to protest against unequal pay and gender-based violence. 

Thousands more women took part in strike action in towns across the country, shutting schools, shops and banks, delaying public transport and leaving hospitals understaffed. 

Icelandic PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir stood in solidarity with the walkout and said she expected other women in her cabinet would do the same. 

Strike organiser Freyja Steingrímsdóttir told Reuters that Iceland was known as an “equality paradise” – it has been ranked the world’s most gender-equal country 14 years in a row by the World Economic Forum – but said the reality was very different. 

“There are still gender disparities and urgent need for action,” she said.

Image: Scottish Government

good news
Research suggested that seabirds are rallying against avian influenza

Wild birds are showing signs of developing immunity to avian flu, according to new research led by the UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

The H5N1 virus is thought to have wiped out millions of wild birds worldwide, with the outbreak – the worst on record – claiming tens of thousands in the UK alone. 

However blood samples taken from northern gannets (pictured) on Scotland’s Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth, the largest colony in the world, revealed almost a third now had antibodies.

The discovery raises hopes that the virus could kill fewer birds this winter, although its ability to mutate means that immunity for next year’s offspring is far from guaranteed. The positive development was countered by news this week that avian flu has reached the Antarctic. Experts are concerned for the isolated populations of penguins and seals that have never been exposed to the deadly virus before.

Commenting on the government’s pledge of £3.3m for more research, Prof Ian Brown, APHA’s director of scientific services, said: “I am pleased that with further funding this work can continue – helping us to control the spread of the disease while furthering UK animal health science.”  

In other bird-related news this week, hopes were raised that the endangered corncrake can be saved as numbers increased in Scotland.

Image: Patrice Bouchard

good news
A furniture waste initiative dangled a £2bn carrot

Retail giants including Asda, Ikea, Sainsbury’s and Dunelm have teamed up to promote used furniture, tackle waste and save households billions of pounds in cash. 

They’re part of the newly formed Circular Change Council, launched by eBay in partnership with climate action campaign group, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). 

It has set its sights on the 22m bits of furniture – including 4.8m sofas – that get thrown away in the UK each year. 

Those at WRAP say their own research suggests as many as a fifth of discarded items are suitable for reuse, and estimate households could save £2.37bn annually by buying used instead of new. 

“It’s high time that we addressed the impact on the environment, as well as looking at how we can all as citizens create positive change while saving money, such as encouraging people to buy pre-loved furniture as they do with clothes,” said WRAP CEO Harriet Lamb. 

Image: Brett Sayles

Sustainable shipping got an electric boost

The British coastal city of Portsmouth is plugging into the electric revolution with news of a £26m initiative aimed at cutting pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from ships’ idling engines. 

The Sea Change Project will allow ships to switch off their engines and instead connect with the grid while docked in Portsmouth International Port. It will also charge two hybrid vessels run by Brittany Ferries, which will be powered by electricity when manoeuvring through the harbour. 

It’s all part of the port’s effort to realise carbon neutrality by 2030. Portsmouth city council, which owns the harbour, says Sea Change will save over 20k tonnes of CO2 a year from 2027. That’s equivalent to the annual carbon footprint of around 2,500 UK homes. 

£18.5m in funding has come from the UK government’s Zero Emissions Vessels and Infrastructure competition, with the rest provided by council reserves and borrowing. 

Image: Piotr Guzik

The drugs don’t work? Try a bittersweet symphony instead, research suggested

A blast of death metal or a rousing power ballad might be headache-inducing for some, but researchers have revealed that for others it can have the exact opposite effect.

Music – particularly personal favourites – has long been known to help relieve pain, but scientists from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, now believe that emotional and physical responses matter, too. 

Their study found the pain-busting power of participants’ favourite tracks was at least as strong as over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen, and worked better than relaxing music that had been selected for them.

Interestingly, it also found the effect was sometimes heightened when personal favourites gave listeners musical ‘chills’, such as goosebumps, shivers or tingling, which researchers believe may be blocking pain signals. Moving and bittersweet favs were particularly effective.

“Music may be a viable non-pharmacological intervention for those undergoing surgery, surgical recovery, or with chronic pain conditions,” the study’s authors wrote.

Image: Jonas Mohamadi

A care home was named the UK’s best new building

A south London care home has triumphed in a national contest recognising remarkable buildings, with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) calling it a “place of joy and inspiration”. 

 The John Morden retirement centre was named the UK’s best new building by RIBA, which awarded it the prestigious Stirling prize.

The home’s purpose-led design includes dementia-friendly wayfinding and encourages ‘active participation in the community’, with warm recreational spaces, an art room, theatre and cafe. Outside, a mature cedar tree marks the focal point of a garden courtyard. 

RIBA said it was an inspiring example of architecture that enables older people to live without becoming isolated.

“Dedication to creating an environment that lifts the spirits and fosters community is evident at every turn and in every detail,” said Stirling prize jury chair Ellen van Loon.

Read more about the UK’s ‘best new buildings’ here

Image: Jim Stephenson
Main image: lechatnoir/iStock

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