Germany hatched a plan to boost culture, the Swiss dug deep in the name of conservation, and the UK got its first drugs testing charity, plus more positive news
This week’s positive news roundup
Now here’s a civilised idea that appears to be catching on: birthday vouchers given out by governments for people to spend on gig and theatre tickets.
Germany became the latest European country to announced such an initiative this week. Its €200 (£175) ‘KulturPass’ will be offered to all those turning 18 next year. The pilot aims to boost the arts and, in the words of German culture minister Claudia Roth, “get young people excited about the diversity of culture in our country”.
Some 750,000 people will turn 18 in Germany next year. The estimated cost of the KulturPass programme is around €100m. If successful, Roth suggested that it could be rolled out to other age groups.
Similar schemes have been introduced elsewhere in Europe. France offers its citizens a €300 (£260) culture voucher when they turn 18. It can be spent on cinema, theatre and concert tickets, or on books, arts courses and musical instruments. Spain and Italy have their own schemes, offering €400 (£350) and €500 (£435) respectively.
Image: Mohd Zuber Saifi
The German government has announced that it will quit the controversial Energy Charter Treaty, which allows energy companies to sue governments for profits lost as a result of policy changes.
France, Spain, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Poland have also announced they will withdraw from the pact, which has been used by energy companies to challenge policies designed to curb emissions.
“It is an ongoing scandal that some of the world’s most polluting corporations have been able to disrupt and deter climate action under this secretive legal framework,” said Jean Blaylock, trade campaigner at Global Justice Now, a social justice organisation.
“Germany’s departure from the Energy Charter Treaty must surely sound the death knell for this climate-wrecking trade agreement. The UK government should now abandoned its craven kowtowing to the fossil fuel industry and join the exodus.”
The treaty was set up in 1991 to protect energy firms as they integrated the energy networks of former Soviet Union countries with the rest of Europe.
The Maltese government has pledged to change the law to allow doctors to terminate a pregnancy if a mother’s life or health is at risk. Malta is currently the only EU nation that enforces a total ban on abortion.
The government’s announcement came after a US tourist was forced to fly to Spain to terminate a pregnancy that risked causing her a deadly infection.
Gynaecologist Isabel Stabile, one of many doctors who challenged the law, told the BBC that it was a “step in the right direction”, but that there “will still not be any provision to terminate pregnancies in cases of rape or incest, or in cases of fatal, fetal anomaly.”
Image: Joana Abreu
Vacant land currently blighted by fly-tipping is to be transformed into community orchards and allotments by an English council.
There is a growing movement to reclaim unloved slivers of land, but most UK initiatives are community led and unofficial. The latest project in Hounslow, London, is significant because according to councillors it’s the first time a local authority has officially introduced such a policy.
Up to 27-acres have been earmarked for community growing in the first phase of Grow for the Future. The council will pair each site with a school and will educate children about growing food. Produce will be donated to families who need it.
“Grow for the Future will provide hundreds of new growing spaces for Hounslow’s residents to put food on their plates,” said councillor Salman Shaheen. “I hope councils across Britain’s cities can look at similar opportunities to open up green space.”
Image: Patrick Fore
A drugs testing organisation credited with saving lives has been granted charity status in the UK, providing it with an opportunity to scale up.
The Loop has offered drugs testing at music festivals for years, providing revellers with information about what’s in their substances, along with harm reduction advice — all on an anonymous basis. More recently, it started working in city centres.
The Loop provides potentially life saving advice at a time when drug deaths are at record highs. Its newly appointed CEO, Katy Porter, said charity status would enable it to secure more funding and expand.
“Our health services, and the important information we generate through drug checking, will now reach more people in more places across the UK, and greatly assist in reducing drug-related harm,” she said.
Build it and they will come. That old adage certainly seems to be true of Switzerland’s ponds, which are attracting endangered amphibians — and boosting their numbers.
Hundreds of ponds have been dug in the Aargau canton over the last 20 years. That work appears to be paying off after a study revealed that frog and newts are bouncing back in the region. Of eight endangered species identified, 52 per cent increased their regional populations and 32 per cent were stabilised.
“Our analysis shows that the large-scale construction of hundreds of new ponds in northern Switzerland has halted, or even reversed declining trends for the majority of amphibian species, including multiple red-listed species undergoing declines at the national level,” the study concluded.
It’s a 181-year-old institution that’s never had a female president — until now. The London Library announced this week that the actress Helena Bonham Carter (pictured) will be its next president, taking over from the author Sir Tim Rice.
Open to all since 1841 (albeit for a cost), the library provided access to literature before state-funded libraries existed. It is funded by membership (£525 a year, reduced for half for pensioners and under-30s) and counts Charles Dickens among its founding members.
“The library is truly a place like no other, inspiring and supporting writers for over 180 years, many of whom have in some way informed my own career,” said Carter.
“The library’s unique resources, history and membership help to connect the literary greats of the past with those of the future, and I am proud to support this incredible and vital establishment.”
Image: Sane Seven/London Library
The British government advises against all travel to Afghanistan, where women are prohibited from working. Yet this week, Positive News toured the ancient city of Herat with the country’s only female guide.
The virtual excursion was led by Fatima Haidari (pictured), who escaped Afghanistan after the Taliban took over last year. Now based in Italy, Haidari uses 360° videos, personal photography and local insights to share the sights and culture of her country with would-be visitors.
Profits are split between Haidari and a clandestine school that secretly educates girls. Under Taliban rule, girls are not permitted an education.
“I’ve made it out, but now it’s time to help other girls who are stuck in the same hell I have escaped from,” she said. Read the full story here.
Image: Untamed Borders
Main image: Jacob Ammentorp Lund/iStock
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