Goodbye to a bad year? Start 2021 with optimism thanks to these 42 good-news stories

A list of positives from the last 12 months, in this newsletter from EL PAÍS data-analysis expert Kiko Llaneras

Diego Areso / EL PAÍS

I will end this year as I ended the last – with a list that is neither definitive nor impartial – it focuses exclusively on good news.

We have had a bad 2020. In fact, it has been the worst year in decades for many countries with a pandemic that has killed almost 1,800,000 globally. If you are among the lucky ones, you will have an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions to cope with. The less fortunate will also have lost someone dear to them.

Optimism is still, however, within our grasp. While this is a peculiarly 21st-century pandemic with globalization allowing it to spread from Wuhan to the Canary Islands within the space of four weeks, its defeat will be equally futuristic, brought about by the fastest-created vaccine in history using technology that was inconceivable to most of us several years ago. Isn’t it a science fiction of sorts that economies are still surviving despite an entire continent being confined? Decades of scientific progress will curb Covid-19; how many deaths would this epidemic have caused in 1970? The 1918 so-called “Spanish flu” killed 50 million.

Another reason for drawing up this list is because, like last year, I want to tackle the paradox that most people believe that the world is stepping back into chaos, despite the fact that all the data suggests otherwise. The world is not getting worse, it’s getting better. This does not mean that it is a perfect place. It’s not even a good place. We suffer from injustice, war, hunger and violence. A tiny percentage of the population owns most of the wealth, while 9% survive on less than two dollars (€1.60) a day. Poverty is a fact. But of all the global scenarios up to now, this is the best to date.

Recognizing that we are moving forward makes a lot of people uneasy because they worry it means we are simply conforming. But I think it’s the other way around: in order to keep moving it’s useful to feel that the direction is forward.

Happy New Year


The 42 good-news stories

1. 💉 The best news this year: we have the fastest vaccine in history. The groundwork for the RNA vaccine was laid in days in a laboratory that only needed to download the virus genome on a computer without having a single molecule of the pathogen in their laboratories. | EL PAÍS

2. 📉 The most important graph of the year? It was included in the scientific report demonstrating the efficacy of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine and showed Covid infection rates between the placebo group and the group receiving the vaccine. Cases grew in the former and were scarce in the latter. | Insight

3.💰 The global economy has doubled in size in the last 30 years. It may have shrunk by 4% this year due to the pandemic, but the poverty rate will still be one-third of what it was back in 1990. | Axios

4. 🇨🇳 China has lifted 50 million people out of poverty. In the last five years.. | Bloomberg

5. 👵🏻 We now live longer. Life expectancy increased from 48 to 73 between 1950 and 2019. Since 2000? It increased by seven years worldwide and by 10 years in Africa, from 53 to 63. | OWiD

6. 👶🏼 Fewer children are dying. In 1960, one in five children died before their fifth birthday; now 24 out of 25 survive. | OWiD

7. ♥️ And not just children: people of all ages live longer. Life expectancy of a 10-year-old today has increased by 14 years since 1950. In England, for example, 60-year-olds will on average live to be 84. | Max Roser

8. 🏄🏼‍♀️ It was a woman who surfed the biggest wave this year. The 22 meter-high roller was ridden by Brazilian Maya Gabeira in Nazaré, Portugal. Meanwhile, Jane Fraser will be the first woman to head a large Wall Street bank, at Citigroup. | ‘NYT’ | FT

9. 🚗 There were fewer deaths on Spain’s roads than ever before last year, down 40% since 2009, and the data indicates that the death rate will have fallen even further in 2020. | DGT

10. 🍾 Young Spaniards are drinking less. Half the number of teenagers aged 15 or 16 get drunk compared to 2010 – 10% of the demographic instead of 21%. | HBSC

11. 💶 Average income has risen in Spain from €15,000 a year in 2014 to €17,000 in 2019. The percentage of Spaniards at risk of poverty fell slightly over the same period, from 22.2% to 20.7%. | INE

12. ⚖️ Global inequality has been reduced. The income gap between rich and poor around the world peaked in the 1980s, but has since narrowed. | Milanovic

13. 💴 People do return lost wallets. A handful of scientists deliberately lost thousands of wallets in an experiment to measure the rate of return, particularly if they contain money. | EL PAÍS

14. 🏠 Refugees in Germany are thriving. In 2015, the country opened its borders to 1.7 million refugees. Five years later, more than half work and pay taxes; 10,000 go to university; and 80% of the children feel loved at school. | ‘The Guardian’

15. 👨‍👧‍👦 Vaccines work. Since the year 2000, deaths of children from diseases preventable with vaccines have been halved. There are, for example, five times fewer deaths from hepatitis. | OWiD | OMS

16. 🤑 Vaccines are also becoming cheaper. The cost of immunizing a child in a poor country has dropped from $25 to $18 (€20.40 to €14.70) since 2013. | FC

17. 😇 HIV infections have fallen 23% since 2010. The number of people with access to antiretroviral therapies has tripled since 2009 – 68% of those infected get treated. | UNAIDS

18. 🩺 A new treatment to prevent HIV in women is twice as effective as the existing one and will go further: instead of taking one pill a day, it requires just six injections a year. | ‘NYT’

19. 🚭 Cancer mortality dropped by 15% between 1990 and 2017. This is mainly due to the fact that many people have stopped smoking. | OWiD

20. 🧓🏻 There is less dementia in general. In Europe and the US, the risk of suffering from it is 13% less than in 2010. | ‘NYT’

21. 🛸 Flying cars? It is hard to believe and their usefulness debatable at this point, but a Japanese company has come up with a flying car that it intends to put on the market. | ‘NYT’

22. 🧬 New technologies to tackle crime. In three years, genetic genealogy has solved 200 homicides and rapes in the US, some of which had been under investigation for decades. | Future Human

23. 👩🏻‍🏫 Computer-assisted learning works. In rural China, it helped reduce the difference between the earnings of rural and urban graduates by 78%. According to one rural learner, “I feel like a student in an elite school in a modern city.” | EV

24. 🤖 Robots can write. In an experiment, a gazette let an algorithm put together its news. It was given three words and what it came up with didn’t sound at all bad. Its text read as follows: “[The moon is]... officially a ‘failed state,’ according to a new study describing 14 months of activity on the moon. The authors of the paper attribute a significant part of this setback to the system of asteroid allusions and solar panel failures.” | Orbital Index

25. 🧫 The artificial meat boom continues apace. Companies that want to produce meat in laboratories by growing bacteria instead of fattening animals are multiplying. Why? To stop killing 70 billion chickens a year and to look after the environment. | Axios

26. ☀️ Solar energy costs 10 times less than in 2009. Wind power costs a third of what it did then. | OWiD

27. 🔋 In Spain, renewables produced almost 44% of electricity this year – more than the European average, more than 2019, twice as much as 2007 and three times as much as the year 2000. | IEA | REE | EIG

28. 🇪🇺 Europe produced more renewable electricity than fossil fuel this year. It was the first time in history, and the energy sector reduced its CO2 emissions by 23%. | Ember

29. 🏙 Air quality has improved. Thanks to environmental measures across Europe, 60,000 premature deaths were avoided in 2018 compared to 2009. | EEA

30. ⚡️ As many as 60% of the cars sold in Norway are electric. Another 25% are hybrids. Five years ago, electric cars did not even account for one in 10. | EV

31. 🚲 Bicycle use rose by 50% in Paris. The French capital clocks up 840,000 trips by cyclists a day. | ‘Forbes’

32. 🚌 . Bogotá will start using hundreds of electric buses. It will be the largest fleet in Latin America and will serve 300,000 citizens on 40 routes. |

33. 🌎 Could the global population stop growing by mid-century? While women were having an average of 4.7 children in 1950, the number dropped to 2.4 in 2017. | BBC

34. 🐯 The number of Iberian lynx increased by 23% this year, with numbers on the Iberian Peninsula rising from 94 in 2002 to almost 900 today. | EL PAÍS

35. 🏃‍♀️ Women have increased the speed at which they run the marathon. Two hours and 45 minutes might have been enough to be among the 250 fastest in the US in the year 2000, but that’s now dropped to 2 hours and 35 minutes. | ‘NYT’

36.👮🏾 Sudan criminalized female genital mutilation. According to the United Nations, 90% of women in the country are still subjected to it, but it will now be a crime punishable by imprisonment. | BBC

37. 📚 More girls are going to school. Girls around the world receiving a secondary education have increased from 73% in 1995 to 89% now. The percentage of female college students has tripled. | Unesco

38. 👨‍👩‍👦‍👦 More hands-on dads. Between 1965 and 2010 Spanish fathers went from spending just 10 minutes a day with their children – whether feeding, washing or playing with them – to just over an hour. | OWiD

39. 🌅 Appreciating what’s on your doorstep. A Swedish photographer had to cancel all his engagements abroad due to the epidemic and instead traveled around his own country taking fantastic pictures. | ‘NYT

40. 🪐 And further afield: China sent a mission to Mars. The probe should land on the red planet in 2021. | ‘NYT’

41. 🚀 SpaceX became the first company to take humans into space. Two astronauts spent nine weeks at the ISS station before splash down. As one is heard to say at the end of the trip: “Welcome to planet Earth. Thank you for flying with SpaceX.” | ‘FT’

42. 👯‍♂️ “Our people can fly,” said award-winning actress Viola Davis after watching a video that went viral of an 11-year-old Nigerian boy dancing ballet barefoot in the Lagos drizzle. | AP

You can write to me with tips or comments at: 📬.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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