If you read or watch the news these days, it sometimes feels like the Earth is one big dumpster fire. There's certainly cause for concern and even outright alarm. One study suggests we're in the middle of the sixth mass extinction of animals, a "biological annihilation at the hands of humans;" multiple studies suggest climate change is spiraling out of control; the U.S., led by President Donald Trump, still plans to withdraw in 2020 from the Paris Agreement to stem greenhouse gases; and Sudan, the last male Northern white rhino on the planet, died.
If all of that's not enough to make your head spin, a study published in the June 2018, issue of Astrobiology argued that if we do manage to kill ourselves off, we won't even be original: Alien civilizations likely died that way, too.
However, it's not all dreadful news. We actually dug up some good environmental stories from 2018 that just might — dare we say it — give us a little hope for the future of Earth and everything on it. Here are our top five "good news" stories about the environment from 2018.
5. The Ozone Is Healing
It wasn't too long ago — the mid-1980s, to be exact — that scientists made a deeply troubling discovery: The ozone layer of Earth, which shields us from the sun's dangerous ultraviolet rays, each spring opened a massive hole over Antarctica. Even worse, the ozone layer all around the world was also being steadily thinned. This supported assertions of ozone depletion going back to the 1970s.
The chief culprit was chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals that were used at the time in common items like hairspray and refrigerants. Skin cancer, cataracts, severe harm to plants and animals — studies that followed the discovery painted a dire picture of future human existence, if we didn't do something quick to stop it.
That something was the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which banned the production of CFCs and other ozone-depleting chemicals. And while the news turned slowly better for the ozone (and us) over the past two decades, the latest check-up from 2018 is an undeniable win: A United Nations report says the ozone, including the gaping hole over Antarctica, will be fully healed by the 2060s.
4. Second Largest Coral Reef No Longer Endangered
Along with news of polar bears starving to death or drowning, coral reefs (and the marine ecosystem that is symbiotic to them) have become a poster child for the disturbing effects of climate change. The Great Barrier Reef — the world's largest — is experiencing a "widespread die-off," according to a 2018 report.
But off the coast of Central America's Belize, a section of the world's second-largest coral reef has been removed from UNESCO's endangered list. The 200-mile-long (321-kilometer) Belize Barrier Reef System, which measures about a third of the MesoAmerican Reef System, was placed on the list in 2009 due to threats like coastal development and oil drilling. The U.N. agency cited a "transitional shift" by the Belize government as part of the rationale for the removal from the list. However, "the primary threats are all still there," one researcher cautions.
3. Bans on Plastic
Plastic is a problem that is not going away; just look at the ever-growing garbage vortex in the Pacific. And despite the obvious need for sensible alternatives to plastic, the banning of it — including straws — by cities, countries and international corporations has transformed, as it often does these days, into a goofy meme.
But seriously, Starbucks banned plastic straws from its 28,000 stores around the globe, becoming "the largest food and beverage retailer to make such a global commitment." That's just the tip of the anti-plastic iceberg — even Queen Elizabeth II forbid plastic at royal estates and associated premises.
Meantime, reports from Kenya, which instituted the world's toughest moratorium on plastic bags in 2017, suggest the ban is having positive effects: The decrease in so-called "flying toilets" is just one anecdotal piece of evidence. Several other East African nations are considering plastic bans, too.
Despite some criticism faced by the movement's activists, more bans are likely.
2. Swiss Businessman Donates $1 Billion to Protect the Planet
It's reminiscent of media mogul Ted Turner's donation of $1 billion to the United Nations in 1997. In October of 2018, businessman, philanthropist and conservationist Hansjörg Wyss announced that he would donate $1 billion of his fortune over the next decade to "help accelerate land and ocean conservation efforts around the world, with the goal of protecting 30 percent of the planet's surface by 2030." He plans for his money to support local conservation efforts around the world, push for land and ocean protection, raise public awareness about the importance of conservation and to fund scientific studies to identify the best strategies to reach his target.
In an op-ed he penned in The New York Times, Wyss said he was inspired to donate the money by the National Parks Service in the U.S., which has helped preserve 15 percent of the Earth's lands and 7 percent of its oceans since Yellowstone was named the world's first national park.
1. China Is Winning War on Pollution
It wasn't long ago that China, the most populous country in the world, was making news for apocalyptic pollution days that browned out the sun. Now, just four years after Chinese premier Li Keqiang declared war on pollution, the country has seen astounding success.
Recent studies show China's cities and rural areas "have cut concentrations of fine particulates in the air by 32 percent on average." That beats the reduction in U.S. air pollution following 1970's Clean Air Act, which cut pollution by 20 percent on average. China's quick and effective work is leading to projections of longer lifespans, not to mention the corollary: improved health for citizens.
By the way, even though the U.S. "officially" has removed itself from the Paris Agreement on climate change, a coalition in the U.S., led by mayors, governors and business leaders, vow to keep alive U.S. commitments in the Paris accord.