It seemed if this year the world plunged from one crisis to another. Once most countries were freed from the shackles of the pandemic, the horrors of war returned to Europe, millions of people around the world were affected by extreme weather, and the twin pains of energy shortages and inflation came. But thanks to the hard work of scientists and many companies and politicians, everything was not so bad. Here’s our roundup of the best news of 2022.
Renewable energy sources in the US produce more energy than coal and nuclear power
More than one-fifth of all electricity in the US is currently produced by hydropower, wind and solar, meaning that renewables have narrowly surpassed coal and nuclear, which account for 20 percent and 19 percent of the energy mix, respectively. The only other year this happened was 2020, but then the overall electricity production was cut due to the pandemic. Read more at Scientific American.
The first line of the train has completely switched to hydrogen
Germany has commissioned the world’s first fleet of hydrogen-powered trains. A fleet of 14 engines replaced diesel trains on a suburban line near the city of Hamburg, where high electrification costs would have been too expensive. Hydrogen trains are powered by fuel cells that generate electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen, producing no emissions other than water vapour. Read more at german wave.
Lab-grown meat declared safe to eat
Meat without slaughter will soon be available in American restaurants. The California-based company’s chicken has been declared safe to eat by the US Food and Drug Administration, bringing it one step closer to commercialization. Upside Foods grows meat from real animal cells in bioreactors and will first offer it for tasting in a small selection of top restaurants. Read more at WIRED.
Scientists have found a way to reduce the by-catch of sharks
The battery-powered SharkGuard device prevents sharks and rays from accidentally getting caught in commercial fishing nets and lines by emitting short electrical pulses every two seconds. These impulses temporarily over-stimulate the electrically sensitive organs of marine animals called the ampullae of Lorenzini. When this happens, they prefer to swim away unharmed. Read more at The keeper.
Countries agree to finance climate and biodiversity
Following the historic decision at COP27 in November to financially compensate countries hardest hit by the climate crisis, there is now also a biodiversity finance package. At the UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal in December, countries agreed to allocate $200 billion annually by 2030 to protect biodiversity. $30 billion of this amount should come from the countries of the Global North for environmental protection activities in developing countries. Read more at carbon brief.
Beavers get legal protection in England
Four hundred years after being hunted for their fur, meat and glands, beavers are now a protected species in England. Since October, it has been illegal to intentionally trap, mutilate, kill, or otherwise disturb the charismatic rodents whose dams create wetlands. Reason for changing the law? There are hundreds of reintroduced beavers living in England today, so the government now officially recognizes them as local wildlife. Read more at The keeper.
Wild mammals are back in Europe
On the brink, populations of iconic animals such as gray wolves, brown bears, bison and, yes, beavers are thriving again in Europe thanks to legal protections, land-use change and human intervention such as wildlife restoration. Initially, beaver colonies in England re-emerged as a result of illegal release or escape from private collections, but more recently the UK government has authorized release into enclosures – in 2002, nine beavers were brought from Norway and officially released in Kent. Read more at BBC.
Rare pigeon caught on camera
For the first time in 140 years, researchers have seen and scientifically documented a rare bird, the black-necked pheasant pigeon. This large terrestrial species is found only deep in the forests of Papua New Guinea and was thought to be lost to science and possibly extinct. Read more at CNN.
NASA gives us a detailed look at distant galaxies
The James Webb Telescope, the largest space telescope ever built, reached its goal in orbit around the Sun in January after decades of planning and traveling a million miles from Earth. Since then, the $10 billion observatory has taken breathtaking images of planets outside our solar system, star-forming nebulae and distant galaxies. Read more at The science.
DART proves we can protect Earth from asteroids
Currently, no asteroid or comet is in a collision course with Earth, but it’s best to be prepared for the worst. In September, NASA and partners deliberately pushed a DART spacecraft into a small asteroid at 14,000 miles per hour to see if its trajectory would deviate upon impact. And so it was. But let’s hope we never have to do it for real. Read more on WIRED.
Humans are one step closer to returning to the moon
On December 11, the Orion spacecraft crashed in the Pacific Ocean after a 25-day flight past the moon. The uncrewed test flight was part of NASA’s Artemis mission, which plans to send the first woman and the first person of color to the moon as early as 2025. The moon has become a popular destination for other national space agencies and private companies. other test flights taking place this year. Read more at Scientific American.
Alzheimer’s disease has become partially curable
In a clinical trial of nearly 1,800 people with early Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia – the antibody-based drug slowed the rate of cognitive decline by 27 percent in patients treated for 18 months. This follows decades of frustration with other drugs designed to slow or stop Alzheimer’s. However, the new treatment is not without risks, including cerebral hemorrhages and swelling, and 7% of people treated with it had to stop treatment due to side effects. Read more at NPR.
Doctors performed the first heart transplant from a pig to a human
In January, David Bennett became the first person to receive a successful pig heart transplant, although the 57-year-old Maryland jack-of-all-trades died two months later. However, even a few weeks is a long time for so-called xenotransplantation, and researchers are interested in more human trials. In the long term, xenotransplantation could be the key to ending organ shortages. Read more at discover.
Spinal implants help paralyzed people walk again
Several people with severe spinal injuries were able to take their first steps within hours after neurosurgeons implanted nerve stimulation devices into their spines. And after months of consistent training and controlling the device using a touchscreen tablet, one patient even regained the ability to independently ride a bike and swim. Read more at CNN.
Hair follicles grown in the lab for the first time
A Japanese research team has successfully created hair follicles by modifying embryonic mouse skin cells. The follicles grew up to a month and reached a length of up to 3 millimeters. Their method may offer an approach to treating hair loss or an alternative to animal testing. The researchers are now working on replicating the experiment with human cells. Read more at New scientist.
Abortion rights are on the rise – outside the US
While Americans have suffered the loss of their constitutional right to abortion, other countries have positively reformed their laws. In February, Colombia became the eighth country in Latin America and the Caribbean to decriminalize early abortion. Finland and Malta are also in the process of relaxing their abortion laws, which are among the strictest in the European Union. Read more at Times of Malta.
More countries have banned conversion therapy
Around the world, laws are gaining ground against practices that forcefully change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, known as conversion therapy. France and New Zealand banned these harmful practices earlier in the year, and in October the Mexican Senate voted in favor of a bill that would make conversion therapy a criminal offense (the bill is now awaiting approval from the lower house). Read more at Gay Times.
AI tools have changed the way we create
A number of AI tools have opened up new possibilities in supporting human creativity. DALL-E 2 can convert input text into vivid images, and language models such as ChatGPT can answer complex questions and write relatively coherent essays or computer code. But ChatGPT is far from perfect: it often gives inaccurate answers. In addition, it can only generate responses using the data it received and trained before 2021. So its knowledge base is already out of date, and the system can’t search the web for new information—yet. Read more at Slate.
Patagonia founder donates his billions to the environment
In September, Yvon Chouinard, the 83-year-old founder of American clothing brand Patagonia, announced that he had transferred ownership of his $3 billion company to several trusts and nonprofits. All of the company’s profits, which are about $100 million a year, will go towards combating climate change. Read more at New York Times.
The short work week is finally here
In June, 70 UK companies embarked on the largest trial of a four-day work week, with some 3,300 employees working fewer hours without a pay cut. Within six months, companies saw happier employees, and productivity either remained the same or improved. Now a total of 100 UK companies have agreed to make the four-day week permanent. Read more at The keeper.
Young people in Europe received cultural gifts for their birthdays
Seeking to revive creative industries hit by years of funding cuts and the pandemic, Germany announced in November that everyone who turns 18, roughly 750,000 people in 2023, will receive a voucher worth 200 euros ($213). spend on trips to the theater, museums or cinema. Spain is even offering 400 euros, while French and Italian youth have been enjoying such cultural passes since 2021 and 2016 respectively. Read more at Time.
Women’s sports are gaining popularity
For too long, women’s sports have received less attention than men’s sports, but support has increased in 2022. A world-record 91,000 spectators watched Barcelona’s match against Real Madrid in March in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, while viewership, funding and prize money increased across a wide range of sports in the US. However, parity in women’s and men’s sports is still far away. Read more at Forbes.