Image for What went right this week: Spain’s free trains, plus more positive news

What went right this week: Spain’s free trains, plus more positive news

Spain made (some) trains free, fin whales staged a comeback, and the EU’s ‘big tech’ law was approved, plus more

Spain made (some) trains free, fin whales staged a comeback, and the EU’s ‘big tech’ law was approved, plus more

Good news
The train took the strain in Spain

Now here’s a novel response to the cost of living crisis: let people travel for free on the trains. That’s exactly what the Spanish government plans to do, it announced this week. 

From September, commuter trains and medium-distance regional routes run by Renfe, the national operator, will be free until the end of the year. The 100 per cent discount is available only on multi-trip tickets, not singles, and does not apply to routes run by other operators. 

The ministry of transport said the move would guarantee access to a “safe, reliable, comfortable, economic and sustainable means of transportation amid the extraordinary circumstances of the steady increase of energy and fuel prices”. 

Spain isn’t the only country subsidising travel to ease the cost of living crisis. Germany has launched a €9 (£7.60) monthly ticket that provides unlimited travel on local and regional services. The deal is scheduled to run until the end of August.

Image: Nelso Silva

Fin whales appeared to stage a comeback

The Antarctic fin whale population appears to be bouncing back, according to a study published this week.

Counting whales is a tricky business, but German researchers attempted to do just that. They were encouraged by what they saw: 100 groups of fin whales, consisting of one to four individuals each, plus one group containing 150 whales.

Based on the data, researchers estimate there could be at least 8,000 fin whales in the Antarctic, where they were hunted almost to extinction in the 20th century.

“This could be a good sign that, nearly 50 years after the ban on commercial whaling, the fin whale population in the Antarctic is rebounding,” said Prof Bettina Meyer of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. 

Image: Aqqa Rosing-Asvid

The EU’s ‘big tech’ law was approved

The European Parliament has approved legislation designed to make the internet safer, fairer and less intrusive for users. 

The Digital Markets Act will, among other things, oblige tech companies to conduct impact assessments to identify and mitigate potential risks to people. It will also prevent big tech from unduly ranking their own products and services above those of their competitors – something Amazon has been accused of, allegations it denies.

In an opinion piece, Wired magazine, a specialist in tech reporting, said: “The landmark legislation includes some of the most extensive transparency and platform accountability obligations to date. It will give users real control over and insight into the content they engage with, and offer protections from some of the most pervasive and harmful aspects of our online spaces.”

However, it warned that implementation of the legislation could be challenging. “As of now, there simply isn’t the institutional capacity to enact it effectively.”

The legislation is expected to be signed off by the European Council in September.  

Image: Sara Kurfess

Positive news
Sticking with the EU…

Conservationists have welcomed a decision by the EU to effectively ban the import of crops grown with two insecticides linked to the decline of pollinators.

The bloc this week proposed setting the minimum residue levels of clothianidin and thiamethoxam for imported food to zero. The protocol is set to be introduced in mid-2023 to give farmers time to source alternatives. 

Matt Shardlow, CEO of the charity Buglife, said: “This action is a brave and potentially revolutionary step. Current international trade protocols are inadequate for addressing 21st century challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss, but this measure could change the game.”

Image: Aaron Burden

History was made in the US Capitol

A statue of the philanthropist, educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune has replaced a sculpture of a confederate general in the US Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

Bethune is the first black person to have a state-commissioned statue erected in the hall, which features two statues from each state. There is a statue of Rosa Parks in Statuary Hall, but this was sponsored by Congress not a state.

Speaking at the event, congresswomen Kathy Castor from Florida, which commissioned Bethune’s statue, said: “We lift her up today at a time of competing ideologies to help heal and unify through her example.” 

Image: Florida Memory

The Aboriginal flag flew over Sydney Harbour Bridge

One of Australia’s most iconic landmarks now has the Aboriginal flag fluttering above it. 

Advocates have long argued that the red, black and yellow flag should join the Australian standard on Sydney Harbour Bridge to reflect the true identity of the country. This week their calls were answered. 

Campaigner Cheree Toka told the Sydney Morning Herald: “Yes, it is a symbolic gesture, however, it identifies the true history of Australia, and to see that flag on the bridge will spark conversation and educate people about the Indigenous people of this country.”

Image: Harold Thomas 

A repair hub opened in Amsterdam

Efforts to slow down fast fashion gathered pace this week with the opening of a repair hub in Amsterdam. 

The United Repair Centre launched to extend the life of clothes and ‘make repair cool’. The fashion industry accounts for an estimated 10 per cent of global emissions, with many garments ending up in landfill before they have ceased to be useful. 

Repairs are carried out by people who traditionally struggle to access the labour market, such as refugees. The hub aims to mend 300,000 garments annually. 

Image: United Repair Centre

A guide launched to help tackle deforestation

Research suggests that £2 in every £10 invested in UK pensions is linked to deforestation. This week a guide launched to address that. 

Aimed a pension funds, it was put together by Global Canopy, a non-profit tacking tree loss, and Make My Money Matter, a movement that helps people green their pension.

According to Make My Money Matter, switching to a sustainable pension is 21 times more effective at cutting carbon than giving up flying, going veggie and switching energy supplier combined. 

“We now need to see pension funds embrace this guidance, and set about the task of tackling deforestation with an urgency befitting the crisis that the world’s forests face,” said Huw Davies, senior finance adviser at Make My Money Matter. 

Here are five more solutions to deforestation.

Image: Andreas Dress

The Big Butterfly Count launched in the UK

Calling all citizen scientists. Can you spare 15 minutes to count butterflies in your backyard? If so, you’ll be adding to valuable research about UK pollinator populations. 

Last year’s Big Butterfly Count attracted a record number of participants, but revealed a worrying trend: 2021 saw the lowest average number of butterflies logged since the event began 13 years ago. 

Butterfly Conservation, the charity behind the count, is keen to see if the downturn continues in 2022, and how the picture differs for butterflies across the whole of the UK. Find out how to take part here. 

Image: Annie Spratt

Picture of a Carlsberg beer in a glass and its plant-based bottle.
Booze brands launched plant-based bottles

Could this be the beginning of the end for plastic bottles? Three booze brands have launched plant-based alternatives that promise to do away with plastic and glass vessels. 

Beer, wine and spirits will be available in the bio-based fibre bottles, thanks to Carlsberg, wine purveyors When In Rome, and Buen Vato, a tequila brand. 

Purists might scoff at the notion of booze being served in anything but glass, but the brands are adamant that taste and fizziness are unaffected. Read the full story here. 

And get tips on drinking sustainably this summer here.

Image: Carlsberg
Main image: David Barrero Labari

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What went right previously