17 “Impossible” Success Stories That Prove We’re Making Progress

From poverty and women’s rights to public health and the environment, we’re making strides.

Young activists protest against ivory sales ahead of a vote by lawmakers on an ivory ban in Hong Kong on Jan. 31, 2018. The southern Chinese city is a major hub of ivory sales and has been criticized by environmentalists for fueling the illegal trade that leads to rampant poaching across Africa.

Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

It takes discipline in the current media environment to find good news. But in the midst of government shutdowns, injustice at the border, and continuing climate chaos, quite a few victories for goodness and progress occurred. Here are 17 of them.

1. The hole in the ozone layer could be fully closed over the Arctic by 2030 and the rest of the world by 2060, according to the United Nations. Ozone is a naturally occurring gas that, when in the stratosphere, provides the Earth with a layer of protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Prior to 1979, no hole was observed in this protective blanket; while some of the compounds that destroy ozone occur in nature, human beings have manufactured and overused many others. We seem to be reversing that trend.

2. Niger reported that, in the last three decades, it has seen the growth of 200 million trees, setting the record for the largest positive impact on the environment in African history. These trees, most of them gaos, have grown naturally over 5 million hectares (about 20,000 square miles) of farmland, and farmers are nurturing them.

3. Canada signed a treaty with the Tall Cree First Nation to create the largest protected coniferous forest in the world. This area is twice the size of Maryland and home to several species on conservation watch, like the peregrine falcon and the bison.

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4. China, likely the world’s largest ivory consumer, banned ivory trade in 2017 (with 90 percent of the Chinese population supporting it), and the demand for ivory from China has fallen 50 percent this past year as a result. The international ivory trade was banned in 1990; however, illegal poaching has continued.

5. New York and Virginia became the first two U.S. states to enact laws requiring mental health education in schools. New York’s laws update curricula for grade schoolers and high schoolers, and in Virginia, ninth and 10th graders will study mental health as part of physical education. Neither of these laws specify what is to be taught, but because suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, this is a positive step.

6. South Africa, the country with the world’s largest population of people living with AIDS, announced a 44 percent decline in new HIV infections since 2012. This is unexpected good news, as South Africa had been struggling to prevent new transmissions of the disease.

7. Paraguay has eliminated malaria, becoming the first country in the Americas to do so since Cuba in 1973. Paraguay achieved its malaria-free status by tracking the spread of the disease and preventing outbreaks as opposed to simply treating cases and by building a network of community volunteers to guarantee access to primary health care for all residents.

8. Morocco passed landmark legislation criminalizing violence against women and mandating steep penalties for violators. After fighting since 1993 to amend existing sexual harassment laws and step toward gender equality, Moroccans can finally celebrate that harsher monetary penalties as well as longer incarceration times are now in place.

9. Tunisia passed a bill to give men and women equal inheritance rights. It’s the first Arab nation to take such a step. The law is controversial in part because it overrides the Quran’s statement that a woman’s inheritance is half of a man’s and also because it guarantees citizens the freedom to choose between following the constitution or Sharia Islamic law. The bill has yet to pass through Tunisia’s parliament, where it will be debated and voted on.

10. For the first time since the advent of agricultural society 10,000 years ago, the majority of humanity is no longer poor or vulnerable to poverty. September marked a tipping point, where half the world can be classified as middle class, which is difficult to define but includes, as reported by the Development Centre at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, as having some discretionary income and reasonable confidence that they could get through an economic downturn without falling back into extreme poverty.

11. America’s suicide rate has risen, but global suicide rates have dropped almost 40 percent since 1994, saving 4 million lives. We can credit greater social and economic freedom, especially in Asian countries, as well as urbanism (the world over, suicide rates are higher in rural areas) and helpful economic policies for the shift.

12. The percentage of Black men living in poverty in the U.S. fell from 41 percent in 1960 to 18 percent in 2018. While Black men are still more likely than their White counterparts to be incarcerated, unemployed, or poor, no longer are most Black men likely to be any of these things. One in two Black men in America have now reached middle-class status.

13. Scotland became the first country in the world to start teaching LGBTQIA rights to schoolchildren. This curriculum, focused on LGBTQIA equality and inclusion, will begin when kids enter the education system at age 4 or 5 and continue until they exit the system.

14. Ireland passed a bill with all-party support to divest all public money from fossil fuels, becoming the first country in the world to do so. This means that more than €300 million shares in dirty energy (oil, coal, gas, and peat) will be sold off as soon as possible. The month previous to the passage of the legislation, Ireland had been ranked second worst in Europe in terms of climate action, so this is yet another unexpected victory in 2018.

15. Eighty percent fewer Iraqi civilians were killed in the first five months of 2018 compared to this time in 2017, in large part due to the end of ISIS as a territory-holding entity. While that number is still not zero, the downward trend is encouraging.

16. The Malaysian government abolished the death penalty and will not carry out its 1,200-plus executions because its citizens have shown they are against capital punishment. This makes 142 countries now that have done away with the death penalty.

17. Pakistan’s legislation on transgender rights, historic for this conservative country, grants basic rights to transgender folks and outlaws discrimination by employers and private businesses.

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