Much of the West despairs for the ideological murder that has occurred. When many of us thought things were getting better and we were all learning to accept each other, we've been hit in the face with a barage of hate. Europe swings to the right, the US follows suit. The warming global climate continues to melt icecaps and exacerbate poverty in Africa, ISIS continues to ravage the Middle East, refugees continue to flood into peaceful neighbouring countries – only to be met with reluctance and disdain.
However, the inundation of bad news and the intolerable coverage of the US presidential "race", means that many of us may have missed some of the good things that have happened this year.
We've dragged ourselves through 2016 and the world hasn't ended. So, though we are now well on our way into 2017, I think it's worth looking back at some of the good things that happened in 2016 – because hell, there were actually many. I've chosen a positive news story for each of the last 12 months. Feel free to add in more positive news stories in the comments, I am not even going to pretend that my selection is not biased by my views, opinions, priorities, or preferences.
There wasn't too much to celebrate in January, the year was just warming up. However, here be dragons... The oldest Jurassic dinosaur yet was described and called Dracoraptor – "draco" meaning dragon, named after the national animal of where it was found, Wales. The name for the 200+ million year-old meat-eater was suggested by the fossil-hunters that found its first fossils two years ago.
According to Dr John Nudds at the University of Manchester, it is only the fourth new dinosaur species to have been discovered in the UK since the eighties.
It's nice to have good conservation news – and if you know me you'll know it's even nicer to have good Iberian lynx conservation news!
Between January and February 2016, 24 Iberian lynx were released into the Spanish and Portuguese countrysides. This was a successful start to an ambitious year for the LIFE Iberlince and Lynx Ex-Situ projects, which continued releasing individuals throughout the spring and through carefully monitored pairings produced 48 surviving young lynx.
The Nigerian army freed hundreds of Boko Haram prisoners from 12 villages across north-east Nigeria. The extremist group Boko Haram that has terrorised west Africa since 2009 and acknowledged links to ISIS (ISIL) continues active in the region. Many, many problems remain, however it is worth highlighting that amongst the terror there are small successes. Additionally the Nigerian government seem confident that they are dampening the extremists' power in the region, whether that confidence is warranted or not, remains to be seen.
A crowd-funding effort raised $200,000 through a GoFundMe page for Rafiki Mwema, an NGO which houses and supports abused Kenyan children, mostly girls who have suffered sexual abuse. The organisation needed funds to build a second residence for their children and teenagers. Constance Hall and Sarah Rosberg set up a GoFundMe page which to which nearly 8,000 people donated over the course of 9 month, far surpassing the initial $75,000 target.
The "Queen's Castle" as it's called has now been completed and open since November 2016, something that wouldn't have been possible not only without the amazing people at Rafiki but the support of thousands of kind people across the globe.
With homelessness actually rising in many developed countries (including the UK and Ireland), in Australia someone has been fundraising for an ingenious attempt to shelter homeless people for the night.
After having been homeless himself for a period about 20 years ago, Simon Rowe decided to design a "SleepBus", fitted with small beds to shelter people (and their pets!) sleeping rough on the streets of Melbourne. By May he had raised over $90,000 and hopes to have one bus ready before (Australian) winter, but eventually have many accommodating homeless people across Australia. He is still fundraising through GoFundMe here.
June seemed to be a month of billionaires and celebs giving back to the community. And they gave millions.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have joined forces with Heifer International to donate and set-up chicken coupes for families living in poverty in developing countries. To start with, they have donated 100,000 chickens to families living in poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Basketball player LeBron James pledged to send at least 1,100 kids from his hometown Akron to the University of Akron, with tuition fees at $38,000 per degree per student. Over a thousand more kids are expected to join the "I Promise" programme in the next four years. If all 2,300 kids going through this programme complete they're degrees, that will be a whopping $87 million commitment.
Perhaps most interestingly though, on one of his weekly informative features on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver announced that the production team had set up a debt-acquisition firm. Soon bombarded with offers, they bought nearly $15 million of medical debt for $60,000 – and instantly forgave it, "staging the largest one-time giveaway in television history". In the USA, there is a debt-buying industry, consequent of the huge amounts of medical debt amassed by people who either can't afford medical insurance or who's insurance will not cover the costs of procedures or care. For more information I really recommend watching Oliver's bit on it.
In just six months since the UK introduced the 5p charge on plastic carrier bags, the country used six billion fewer plastic bags – SIX BILLION FEWER. In July the government published the data from October 2015 to April 2016.
Additionally, over £29 million were donated to charities and NGOs from retailers through the sale of the plastic bags.
Plastic waste is such an enormous environmental problem, especially for the world's oceans, so this is an incredible step in reducing that waste. The UK is not alone in doing this, but imagine if every country implemented a nation-wide tax on plastic bags?
The Olympics. Although I do not tend to watch sport and usually am not fussed about the Olympics, I appreciate how it brings people together. Nonetheless some of the parts of the coverage that I did catch made my stomach turn, as UK viewers voiced outrage at a presenter's short skirt (at a diving event...) and the successes of female athletes were repeatedly either attributed to the men in their lives or declared to be the female versions of successful male colleagues.
That being said, I couldn't help but delight in the most unintentionally funny sportsmen – and possibly most Irish people ever – to grace a podium, rowers Gary and Paul O'Donovan. The interviews these two lads from Skibbereen gave should be enough to make anybody feel better about 2016 (before final, right after final, little later)
However, it was not the Irish rowers that made me feel there may be hope for the world yet.
Despite her hard background, nineteen-year-old Simone Biles amassed medals for gymnastics. The US team did well overall, but she delighted the crowd and judges with her seemingly superhuman strength and defiance of gravity. And she appeared to love every second of it. Whether she knows it or not, she has become a superhero – an inspiration and source of pride for people of colour and for women around the world. Yet even her accomplishments had to be put within the context of men's sport, leading the teenager to say
"I'm not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I'm the first Simone Biles"
This September, the UK government announced plans to ban microbeads. Microbeads are tiny plastic balls found in a range of toiletries, particularly toothpaste and scrubs. These balls end up in the world's oceans and, as plastics, they persist pretty much forever. So this decision, which will see products containing microbeads off shelves by sometime late 2017, comes as a fantastic environmental triumph. Massive shout out to my friend Ciara Stafford for working hard to put together the report on the damage caused by microbeads for the government!
At the same time, another policy triumph across the pond was the FDA's ban on 19 common active ingredients in soaps, given the evidence that they do not confer any actual health or hygiene benefits compared to soap without them. These include things like triclosan, an antibiotic in antibacterial soaps. Releasing antibiotic into the environment can lead to the rise of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, which already causes serious problems in hospitals around the world.
Inhabitants of the Caribbean jewel Haiti are somewhat accustomed to hurricanes, suffering vicious storms from July to November every year. However, that doesn't soften the blow upon the poverty-stricken nation when particularly bad hurricanes do occur.
This autumn, Hurricane Matthew ravaged the Caribbean and and Gulf of Mexico, leaving a devastation tailing its ripping winds. Hundreds of people were killed by this hurricane and I don't wish to overlook that, but more would have perished were it not for a sense of community and kindness in people who could afford it.
Marie-Ketly Cazeau invited passersby into her house, sheltering over 30 people as the hurricane swept across the south-west of Haiti. She shrugged off the gesture as one any decent person in her community would make. It may be a very simple act, but it still takes courage and people like her save lives when they could be barricading themselves indoors.
In 2013, Amanda Mellet travelled for the UK for an abortion, after being told the foetus with a congenital heart condition and would not survive. This will ring familiar for many Irish women, whether the foetus has fatal abnormalities, they are victims of rape, or they just never intended to become pregnant. Abortion is illegal in Ireland, with only theoretical (and I really mean theoretical) exceptions where the mother's life is in danger.
Though the emerald isle is far from crawling out of the Dark Ages in regards to this matter, in November 2016 the State agreed to pay Mrs Mellet €30,000 in compensation and offer her counselling for the trauma she experienced during her UK "visit".
The Irish government's decision follows the recommendation of the UN Human Rights Committee. The act has sparked hope amongst pro-choice supporters, especially at a time when campaigners are asking for a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution, which gives an unborn clump of cells the same rights as a living female human being.
So here's to hoping Ireland acknowledges a woman's right to dictate her own body and life, but I also want to applaud Amanda and her husband James for taking the case to the UN Human Rights Committee.
Donations to Planned Parenthood (PP) – the USA's biggest provide of sexual healthcare and education – have hiked by 40% since the US presidential election. Interestingly, a large proportion of these have been made in name of Mike Pence, the Vice-President elect and stark opponent of PP and self proclaimed "Pro-Life" supporter (pro-life for who? not the women involved...). Over 80 thousand of 300-odd thousand donations made to PP since the election have been made in the Vice-President elect's name.
In fact, PP isn't the only organisation receiving floods of donations since the elections. An array of local charities dedicated to tacking equal rights issues have amassed generous sums, as has the American Civil Liberties Union – an organisation that works to defend people's rights in communities and in court.
|Photo by Alejandra Zamora|
There's still a lot of awful things happening in the world right now – I am neither trying to hide nor soften that fact. But if we can't acknowledge the positive strides we're making as a people and a planet as well, then what hope is there for fixing the bad and working with the ugly?
And if this list really hasn't helped at all, maybe you need to make your own list of positive world news or positive personal news. As crap as everything can be or seem, I bet you'll find at least one good thing that's happened to you in every month of the past year.
How about we make 2017 the best damn year humanity has ever seen?