Analysis suggested autocrats are losing their grip on power, child marriage was banned in the Philippines, and gorillas got a boost, plus more stories of progress
It might seem like a golden era for the world’s autocrats, but their grip on power is showing signs of weakening. That’s according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), which this week published its annual assessment of human rights around the world.
The report noted that autocrats faced a significant backlash in 2021, with millions of people taking to the streets in countries like Brazil, Hungary and Uganda. It also highlighted the trend for opposition parties to form coalitions to challenge autocrats, citing the Czech Republic and Israel as places where this has succeeded. Similar alliances have been formed in Hungary and Turkey.
In an essay introducing the report, HRW director Kenneth Roth acknowledged increasing repression in countries like China, Russia and Turkey. However, he suggested this was not evidence of rising autocratic power, but “an act of desperation by dictatorial leaders”.
Roth underscored the need for strong leadership in democratic nations (many of which have flirted with populism) to counterbalance autocrats. “The defence of human rights requires not only curbing autocratic repression, but also improving democratic leadership,” he said.
Image: Liam Edwards
The Philippines has passed a law prohibiting child marriage, according to the news agency Agence France-Presse. Many readers will wonder what took it so long.
An estimated one in six girls in the Philippines enter wedlock before they are 18. However, the new law will make it a criminal offence to marry or cohabit with anyone under 18. Those found guilty will face up to 12 years in prison.
“The state views child marriage as a practice constituting child abuse because it debases, degrades, and demeans the intrinsic worth and dignity of children,” reads the new legislation.
Image: Avel Chuklanov
A lowland gorilla has been born in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga national park, boosting the population there to seven.
The birth is a win for conservationists, who have worked during violent political unrest to protect the great apes in Africa’s oldest national park. Seventeen mountain gorillas – a relative of the lowland gorilla – were born in the park last year.
While the latest birth is positive news, the critically endangered mountain gorilla remains in peril with the global population reportedly declining by around five per cent annually.
Image: Mira Meijer
A spoonful of olive oil a day could be enough to keep the doctor away, according to a study out this week.
Researchers from Harvard University evaluated the diets of 92,000 health workers over 30 years. They found that people who consumed more than 7g of olive oil per day had a 19 per cent lower chance of dying from cardiovascular diseases, compared to those who ate none.
What’s more, their risk of dying from cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, was 17 per cent and 29 per cent lower respectively.
Dr Marta Guasch-Ferré, who led the study, said: “Clinicians should be counselling patients to replace certain fats, such as margarine and butter, with olive oil to improve their health.”
Image: Roberta Sorge
One hundred billion tonnes of carbon dioxide could be removed from the air by the end of the century, if high-income countries adopt a plant-based diet.
That’s according to a study by researchers at Leiden University, in the Netherlands. They calculated that switching to a veggie diet would reduce agricultural emissions by 61 per cent, while rewilding grazing sites would actively remove 98bn tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2100.
“It’s a remarkable opportunity for climate mitigation,” said the university’s Paul Behrens. “It would also have massive benefits for water quality, biodiversity, air pollution and access to nature, to name just a few.”
Image: Sonny Mauricio
An invasive shrub that colonised Scotland could produce enough protein to feed millions of people, according to the University of Aberdeen.
The invasive gorse bush has long been considered a pest in Scotland, where it is regularly cleared from landscapes. But researchers at the university claim that it could be used to feed livestock and humans, if the protein it contains is processed in the correct way.
The university’s Prof Wendy Russell said: “We have a huge amount of gorse all over Scotland and when we did the calculations, just by active removal from marginal land, there’s enough gorse protein to easily feed the country’s population.”
Image: Jacek Kuzemczak
There was more evidence this week that the UK has rekindled its love affair with literature – data from 2021 revealed that book sales hit their highest level in a decade.
Sales were up 20 per cent compared to 2019, according to the data provider Nielsen BookScan. The figures are especially encouraging given that book shops were closed for the first three months of the year.
It’s the latest sign that the UK is in the midst of a reading renaissance. Data released last year revealed that more independent bookshops opened in the UK and Ireland during lockdown than closed. Separate research found that 35 per cent of people read more during the pandemic.
Image: Seven Shooter
It’s famed for its manicured gardens, but the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is getting in touch with its wild side.
Organisers have announced that May’s event will thrust wildlife-friendly gardens into the spotlight, amid growing concern about the climate and biodiversity crises.
Gardens can play an important role in boosting biodiversity, and the show will aim to highlight that when it returns after a two-year absence due to the pandemic.
There will even be a garden showcasing the handiwork of beavers. It will demonstrate how reintroducing rodents can transform landscapes and boost biodiversity.
If your New Year’s resolution was to tune into the things that are going right in the world, then you’re in luck – the latest issue of Positive News magazine launched this week.
As ever, it’s packed with compelling stories about people who are driving positive change in a challenging world. Among them are the men who are helping end violence against women, the eco-designers who make beautiful items of homeware that don’t cost the Earth, and the musicians who perform on the doorsteps of isolated people.
“These stories acknowledge what’s challenging but also capture the great power in choosing to focus our valuable attention on what can be done,” said Lucy Purdy, editor-in-chief. “That’s empowering. And that’s how our journalism works.”
Main image: Prague’s Lennon wall has long been a site for peaceful protest. Credit: CSalem