You might not realise it, but in many ways 2022 has been a great year.
Amidst all the headlines about war, recession and strikes, it’s been easy to dwell on the negative. But much of the most significant news has actually been very good. Sometimes it might be relegated to the middle pages, others it might not be reported at all – unless you look out for it in a specialist medical or scientific journal or keep a keen eye out for the World Bank’s latest statistical report. But if you look hard enough and ignore the often sensational mainstream media, there really is a lot of good news out there.
1. Crime is down
Naturally, there was a fall in crime during the coronavirus lockdown. But crime is also down compared to before the pandemic. Overall crime is down 10% since 2019, including fraud, with a 20% fall in neighbourhood crime and 30% in domestic burglary.
The recruitment of more than 15,000 additional police officers meant that many forces now had the largest numbers of officers in their history. A recent operation closed down a website responsible for 3.5 million fraudulent calls in 2022, leading to 100 arrests. The reoffending rate has decreased over the past ten years from 30.9% in 2009/10 to 25.6% in 2019/20.
2. A triumph for free trade in Africa
After much delay, the African Continental Free Trade Area has got under way. A report for the World Bank concluded that ‘if fully implemented, it could raise incomes by nine per cent by 2035 and lift 50 million people out of extreme poverty’.
3. A growing population – and falling poverty
In November it is estimated that the world’s population passed 8 billion. Cue much neo-Malthusian gnashing of teeth about how impossibly unsustainable this all is. But the truth is that poverty has been falling precipitously as the world’s population has soared. As Foreign Secretary James Cleverly noted in a recent speech, when he was born in 1969 ‘around half of humanity lived in absolute poverty’. The figure today is under 10%, even though the world population has doubled in the same period.
And while the UK’s increasingly dirigiste economic model is a cause for concern, other countries are full of free market zeal, cracking on with deregulation, enhanced property rights and privatising outdated state industries. India is a particular bright spot, with growth forecast of around 7% both this year and next.
4. Ukraine is winning
It may seem perverse to include the war in Ukraine on a ‘good news’ list. But thinking back to the Russian invasion in February, most assumed the Kremlin would register a brisk and emphatic victory. The skill and tenacity of Ukraine’s armed forces, and the resilience of its people, has been awe-inspiring.
Russia’s incompetent brutaltiy has given its other neighbours a reality check too. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have shifted away from Moscow’s orbit. Sweden and Finland are joining NATO. And, belatedly, Russian public opinion is shifting against the war.
5. Forwards with fusion
News that scientists achieved a net energy gain in a fusion reaction for the first time is a great feat of scientific endeavour in its own right. Whether it presages the dream of a renewable, cheap, low-carbon energy source is another matter – but any step on that road ought to be heartily welcomed, even by the kind of ‘green’ miserabilists whose real aim is not the environment, but banishing consumerism and capitalism.
6. Species recovering
A European Wildlife Comeback report concluded that from loggerhead turtles and Eurasian otters to humpback whales and wolverines many previously-struggling species have made ‘spectacular’ recoveries. Bears, wolves, and bison are also thriving. Elsewhere, New Scientist reports that a new ‘SharkGuard’ device is dramatically reducing accidental catches of sharks and rays during commercial fishing.
7. Cancer breakthrough
Just last week we learned of a new breakthrough drug, capivasertib, that has been found to delay the onset of breast cancer and shrink tumours in some 23% of patients. Given that breast cancer is the most common form of the disease, affecting 1 in 8 British women over their lifetime, it’s little wonder researchers have called this a ‘landmark moment’.
8. A treatment for Alzheimer’s
Another potentially crucial drug discovery at the end of the year, with the arrival of a treatment shown to slow the destruction of the brain caused by Alzheimer’s. It’s early days, and the effect of Iecanemab is still fairly limited, but it gives real hope for millions of patients in the grip of this dreadful disease – especially as this is an area of medical research where there have been plenty of false dawns in the past.
9. Gene-edited plant trials
While the EU persists in its misguided ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy, and Sri Lanka experienced huge political unrest as a result of an absolutely insane anti-fertiliser farming policy, the UK is taking an altogether more enlightened stance on agricultural tech. As Matt Ridley explained in the Telegraph, the Government’s decision to allow trials of gene-edited plants heralds a new era in which producers can tweak crops in precise, predictable ways, with all sorts of potential benefits.
10. Fighting for freedom
The battle for free speech and basic rights is never won, but there has been some inspiring pushback this year – not least in two of the world’s harshest regimes, Iran and China. The bravery of ordinary people standing up for themselves in the face of huge pressure ought to inspire all of us who value basic liberal democratic standards. Indeed, if you add in Putin’s enormous setbacks in Ukraine, it’s been a bad year overall for the world’s autocrats.
Sometimes even the gloomier stories actually contain the nugget of future progress. Take the understandable complaints from Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting about delays getting the results of his cancer scan. As Streeting noted, ‘we’ve got technology that exists now that can analyse scans more accurately than two experienced consultants at the top of their game’. Simply removing one of those consultants, he rightly pointed out, could double the capacity to analyse such scans.
It’s a similar story on the railways, where a big part of this month’s dispute is a refusal to modernise working practices. That’s frustrating, but the technology to do things better is assuredly already there. Such are the wonders of modern cameras and sensors, we really don’t need teams of workers heading out to the tracks to check every fault. It’s surely only a matter of time, and public impatience, before the penny drops.
Across all of the varied areas I’ve discussed, the common theme is the remarkable combination of resilience and ingenuity that makes such a progress-enhancing breakthroughs possible. And isn’t that a nice thought to take into 2023?
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