Words By Harry Smith

Let’s face it, positivity has been in short supply recently. This last year has been filled with constant ‘Breaking News’ alerts illuminating our phone screens and informing us of rising death counts across the world. We have been overwhelmed by ceaseless televised announcements condemning us to tighter lockdown restrictions, and to top it off, we’re now back in winter. However, although it might feel like December 39th of the year of Armageddon, good things did happen in 2020. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been many scientific achievements, technological advancements and positive stories for animals and in nature that occurred in the midst of the past year. Here is a rundown of 10 of the many good things that came out of 2020 to start 2021 off right. 

1. In August, the WHO declared that Africa was officially free from wild polio following decades of vaccination campaigns. Nigeria, which accounted for half of global polio related deaths under just a decade ago, was the final country to be cleared of the deadly disease as the vaccine successfully reached the most remote corners of the continent. Whilst there is no cure for polio, the disease has now been eradicated with a vaccine that protects children for the rest of their lives. After a quarter of a century battling the disease, scientists reached a monumental milestone in 2020, saving the lives of millions of children.

2. The lockdowns of the past year have forced humanity to stay at home. This has been hard on many of us, but with fewer of us out and about, animals have been able to roam around their natural habitats more freely. The highly endangered East Indian sea turtles this past Spring were able to peacefully carry their babies across beaches usually populated by humans, laying over 60 million eggs.

3. Prior to Covid-19 the fastest vaccine ever developed, used to treat mumps, took over four years to be produced. As a result of an incredible global effort, teams of scientists have now released various COVID vaccines in less than 12 months – a remarkable achievement that has introduced new, quicker ways of making drugs and vaccines for treating illnesses. 

4. In May, SpaceX, which was founded by Elon Musk, launched the world’s first crewed commercial spaceflight. The mission saw two NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, pilot the Crew Dragon spaceship. The astronauts worked on the space laboratory for two months whilst onboard the spaceship and eventually returned to Earth, parachuting down into the Gulf of Mexico. More recently, SpaceX did it again on the 15th November, launching four astronauts into orbit – the company’s first crew transport mission. They are expected to stay on the International Space Station until May of this year.

SpaceX Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 rocket, Image Credit: SpaceX

5. As nations continue to be forced into lockdown various traditional festivals and events that mistreat and abuse animals across the world have been cancelled. Throughout the course of the year over 120 bulls were saved by the lack of bullfighting in Spain, and elephants used in parades in India continued to be spared this form of abuse.

6. Scientists have continued to attempt to turn the tide on global warming, as researchers in the UK recently developed a new plastic-eating enzyme that can break down plastic bottles. The enzymes have the potential to make a significant dent into the 300 million tons of plastic that humans create each year. Prior to this development, plastics could only be recycled a few times before degrading. This new enzyme means that we could now have infinitely reusable plastic in the not so distant future.

7. Evidence for alien life gained new momentum with scientists discovering saltwater on Mars and a dwarf planet named Ceres. Researches revealed that Mars possesses saltwater lakes buried beneath its glaciers of ice, supporting the belief that the planet is capable of sustaining life. In August, it was also announced that saltwater has been found on Ceres, with the water having built up beneath the planet’s surface from an underground ocean. These are exciting discoveries that demonstrate the potential for life outside of our own planet.

8. Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential election now means that America – the world’s second largest CO2 emitter – will rejoin the Paris climate agreement in the world’s battle against global warming. Just hours after being sworn in as President, Biden also signed a mandate stopping the construction of the US-Mexico border wall, and an executive order issuing a Covid-19 ‘mask mandate’ on all government property. 

9. In December, Denmark – the EU’s largest oil producer – committed to ending all new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, as part of a movement to stop extracting fossil fuels by 2050. Although non-EU members Norway continue to produce far more oil than their neighbouring EU countries, Greenpeace described Denmark’s announcement as a “watershed moment” in the fight against climate change.

10. A huge, new coral reef was discovered for the first time in 120 years. In October, scientists located the new coral structure at the northern tip of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The reef was mapped at 500m high – taller than the Empire State Building. The new reef is also home to 30 new species of sea life.

While we continue to save lives by hunkering down binging Netflix, studying and working from home, we are also giving the planet a crucial moment to breathe. Even in the midst of a pandemic, progress has been made all over the world, pointing us towards a more hopeful and positive future.

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