To say things aren’t going too well in this country is a bit of an understatement. I’ve written on the current political, environmental, and religious climate extensively, and, like many Americans, I need a break. There’s no need to cite sources explaining why, or who is to blame, but sometimes it’s important and necessary to take a step back, breathe, and look at recent remarkable and uplifting stories and achievements.
A few weeks ago NASA discovered seven potentially habitable planets just forty light-years away. While we cannot confirm that these planets are definitely habitable, they reside in the so-called Goldilocks zone, which provides the ideal climate for carbon-based life to exist. The herculean effort by NASA to discover exoplanets has been fruitful in recent years. Since 1995, NASA has discovered over 1,000 exoplanets, and a future boom is expected with the launch of the James Webb telescope next year. This achievement is doubly remarkable when you consider that NASA’s budget rests at about half of a percent of the federal budget, and would place it 149th in the Forbes 500 if it were a company—below Starbucks, Kohl’s, and Southwest Airlines. Despite their limited budget, NASA has renewed hope in finding extraterrestrial life elsewhere in the universe, while also unearthing useful data on climate change.
Last week, SpaceX, working in tandem with NASA, announced its plans to fly two private citizens to the moon and beyond next year. This will not only be a first for space tourism, it’ll be the first time in over forty-five years humans have been to the moon. Not only is this an incredible scenario seemingly belonging in sci-fi novels, but SpaceX will also send these tourists farther than any humans have been in space. SpaceX founder and business magnate Elon Musk’s endeavors to innovate have ranged from supersonic to interstellar travel, changing electric cars from a luxury commodity to an economically viable option, and making 100 percent energy-independent homes a reality. Musk has shown what a private citizen could achieve despite the actions, or inaction, of governments.
On the subject of climate change, the United Kingdom has decreased its carbon dioxide output from record highs in the 1970s, to levels not seen since 1894 (excluding strikes), the same year the petrol-powered car was patented. In an encouraging development, the UK has seen wind farms produce more energy than coal power plants. In a climate where coal will yield higher monetary and opportunity costs, this development is an encouraging sign, as many countries shift their attention to renewable energy sources that lessen their carbon footprint, while simultaneously lessening their expenditures. However, the UK does not see this as a victory quite yet, refusing to rest on their laurels.
Wang Englin, a farmer in China, culminated his sixteen-year law education last month by winning a court case against a powerful state-owned chemical company. Englin, whose house costs a meager seven dollars a month, took the Qinghua Group (whose turnover is around $300 million a year) to court after their chemical waste was dumped on his land, rendering him unable to grow his crops. Last month, Englin was awarded around $120,000 in damages. Considering that China’s economy is built on state-owned corporations like the Qinghua Group, it serves to highlight Englin’s achievement in not only his ability to summon them to court, but to also achieve victory.
In other heartwarming news, a Danish restaurant named a Gambian dishwasher a partner at the world-renowned Noma restaurant. Ali Sonko had been a dishwasher for Noma for the better part of a decade, receiving a collective 10 percent of the holding company along with two others. In a turbulent time for immigrants and refugees around the world, Sonko’s story is part of the greater immigrant/refugee story, where people are fleeing poverty, war, and persecution. Sonko worked in a job that many in western countries would dismiss, but his efforts have been fruitfully rewarded. Rene Redzepi, chef and co-owner of the restaurant, said that Sonko has earned “as much respect as the best head chef or sous chef.”
For those who believe that this generation of youths is amoral and self-centered, consider the story of Chrissy Marie, a Seattle-area woman who discovered a five-dollar bill attached to an apology letter on her door. A boy by the name of Jake apologized for stealing one of her butterfly wind chimes, after recently losing his mother who loved butterflies. Marie has never met the boy and wants to find him so that she can give him back the money, which was all he had, and another wind chime for his sister. Marie also lost her mother at a young age and knows how difficult the situation can be for a child, but she has yet to connect with Jake.
As a child, I loved naturalist David Attenborough’s Planet Earth series. When I was at school, the only times we were allowed to watch television during our time off were for soccer games and Top Gear. When Planet Earth was released, kids were glued to the TV to watch this spectacular documentary. A decade later, a lot has changed: smartphones have become more pervasive, reality contest shows like The Voice and The X Factor have grown in popularity. With Attenborough a decade older, the stage seemed anything but set for Planet Earth II to return to television. However, in the United Kingdom the first three episodes of Planet Earth II gained more viewers in the 16-34 age bracket than the X Factor (the dominant singing contest created by media giant Simon Cowell). While surprised by the numbers, Attenborough attributed the show’s success to its link to the natural world, whose “beauty is blemished and whose health is failing.” Hopefully the sizable viewership sparks a renewed interest in climate science.
Yes, there are many disheartening events taking place around the world today, but remember that the media profits from fear and controversy. These two in tandem create an atmosphere that leads to increased viewership and advertisement revenue. Media barely profits from positive news, but that’s not to say that positive strides aren’t taking place around the world. Countries are waking up to a shifting, unsustainable climate. Young people are disproportionally aware of this, tuning into science shows over reality shows. Despite what we are led to believe about children being narcissistic, today’s generation of kids are altruistic and have a strong sense of morality. With small budgets, we are still endeavoring in interstellar travel and exoplanetary discoveries. While they may not get massive coverage in the twenty-four-hour news cycle, these individuals will be remembered for their efforts despite the tumultuous world around them, and it is our responsibility to encourage them to continue fighting the good fight.