So What Happened to 2016
2016 will soon be coming to an end, and it’s time for this Nomad to sign-off for a little while and dedicate some time to my family, and in particular the beautiful children that joined us this year. Now, between celebrity deaths, Brexit and the prospect of a Trump Presidency, many will be all too happy to see this year come to a close. However, here at Chez Nomad, we’ve been reviewing this year’s Reasons to be Cheerful and have been reminded that perspective is important. While we will miss the likes of David Bowie, Lemmy, Prince and Leonard Cohen it’s vital to remember that we will miss these celebrities because of the rich and full lives they led and the dreams they shared with us. We are not powerless, things can change, and with the passing of the Midwinter Solstice it’s time for things to get brighter.
So here are just a few highlights from 2016:
While we might dwell on the events in the UK and US this year has seen profound changes for a variety of nations.
However, my heroes for 2016 have to be the Colombians. After 50-Years of Civil War the Colombian Government managed to negotiate a peace deal with the FARC rebel group. While the first deal was rejected by the public the new deal has been ratified by both the Colombian Senate and Congress. This peace progress has seen an end to the recruitment of, as well as the release of child soldiers. We have even seen the beginning of peace talks between the Colombian Government and the ELN.
Around the rest of the world we have seen a continued thawing in relations between old enmities as we see the 1st US Ambassador to Cuba since 1961 and the 1st UK Ambassador to Iran in 5-Years. Hassan Rouhani also became the 1st Iranian President to visit Europe in 16-Years.
However, if there is a record for thawing relations I think it goes to the Pope Francis & Orthodox Patriach who met, in Cuba, for the first time since the Christian Church split.
The natural follow-on from the epic political events above has to be the incredibly important Paris Climate Accords, which have now come into force. This amazing treaty to help protect out environment and fight climate change is backed by the US & China, India, the EU and the UK.
Now, while the passing of, North Face co-founder, Douglas Tompkins is sad, the land he owned in Chile has become a National Park. It is not the only protected area to be created this year with Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest being protected. However, the good news hasn’t just been on land, we have also seen some huge Marine Reserves being created in the Atlantic around Ascension Island, in the Pacific Around Hawaii and the largest of all declared in Antarctica.
We can add to this that President Obama has banned new oil drilling in the parts of the Arctic Ocean controlled by the US and it’s something that’s not easily undone. At study has shown that magnets could be used to pull oil out of sea before wildlife is harmed. We’ve also seen a number of projects helping to make renewable energy more accessible and practical, but one BIG piece of news is that Renewable Energy Capacity has overtaken Coal for the first time.
Sometimes, all this fighting for our forests and huge amount of conservation work done around the world can seem like a losing battle at times. So, here are some things to think about:
- Frog, thought extinct for 137 Years, found
- Rare Large Heath Butterfly for seen in the Northern UK for the 1st time in 100 Years
- The Iberian Lynx is back from the brink of Extinction
- Bearded Vulture seen in Romania for 1st time in Decades
- Arabian Sand Cat seen for 1st time in 10-Years
- Lions Rediscovered in Ethiopia’s Alatash Game Park
- Birth of 2 Black Rhino Calves gives hope for species
- Spoon-billed Sandpipers lay eggs in captivity for the 1st Time
- Sumtaran Orangutan Population Doubled
- Wild Tiger numbers on the Rise
- And long the symbol of the World Wildlife fund the Giant Panda is off the Endangered List
While the wider world around us is important, it is our interpersonal relationships, and how society treats each other, that can often have the deepest impact on us. Especially, as this year hides some of our deepest fears for the future.
As regular followers of Reasons to be Cheerful will know, we are great believers in #LoveWins. Love is a beautiful thing and following the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the UK, US and elsewhere, 2016 has seen the trend continue. Colombia, Italy and the Cherokee Nation have legalised same-sex unions, and Mexican President Pena Nieto proposing consitutional reform to strengthen last year’s Supreme Court Judgement. In a controversial move transgender marriages will now be recognised in Pakistan.
With Hillary not making it to the Whitehouse, you could be forgiven for thinking that 2016 was a bad year for gender equality, but you’d be wrong. Things have also been improving for women around the world, with record numbers of female MPs being elected in Iran and Jordan, not to mention a long list of wonderful firsts including:
- Oxford gets 1st Female Vice-Chancellor
- First Female Master of Peterhouse College Cambridge
- Royal Brunei Airways 1st all female crew
- NFL’s First Female Fulltime Coach
- Saville Row’s 1st Female Master Tailor
- 1st Female Editor of the Western Mail
- First Woman to Head a Local Authority in Nigeria
- Tokyo gets 1st Female Governor
- 1st Female Commander of a US Top-Tier Combat Command
- Taiwan’s 1st Female President
- Saudi Women to be given right to a copy of their Marriage Contract for 1st Time
In recognition of greater equality we have also seen the US lift its ban of trans people joining the military and India has opened up Combat Roles in its Military to women.
However, one amazing piece of news for women in the UK, sits tops for me; it’s that a deal has been reached to scrap VAT on sanitary products.
Our more tolerant world hasn’t stopped there. We have also see Prayer restrictions relaxed at Western Wall with an area set aside for more liberal Jews. Pope Francis continues to be busy setting-up a Commission to study Question of Women Deacons, saying the Church should Apologise to Gay People, and something that could have great affect on many countries allowing Priests to forgive abortions.
In a move we are also starting to see echo’d in the UK, Germany has rescinded 50000 historic convictions for Homosexuality. In Malawi we have seen a ban on ritual sex abuse and Florida has repealed a law preventing unwed couples from cohabiting.
Continuing on the law & order theme, the murder rate in El Salvador has HALVED, the US banned the use of solitary confinement on juveniles and low-level offenders. In a good move for both police and the public we have seen the mass rollout of body cams for the Metropolitan Police and the US Department of Justice awarding $20m to fund similar schemes in the US.
If work and personal finances are more your thing Qatar has abolished the ‘Kafala’ Labour System, Co-Op Group bosses will take a 40% pay cut; German unemployment is at its lowest rate since 1990, at its lowest for 9-years in the US, and the lowest for 11-years in the UK, not forgetting that Personal Insolvencies in the UK are at a 10-year low.
Now, this might be enough good enough positive news for everyone, but we’re not finished and some of the best and brightest stories are yet to come.
So, before we start looking at the possible medical advances of the future, lets look at the landmarks from this year. First, and perhaps most important, GSK’s decision not to file patents in poorer countries bringing the hope of modern, cutting edge medicines to those who otherwise could not afford or access them. In an era that, for many, has been shaped and defined by corporate greed this is a huge decision for a big pharma company. We have also seen Mark Zuckerberg donate $3bn to help fight Disease.
- UK Teenage Pregnancy rate lowest in Decades
- HPV infections in US Teen Girls Halved
- Lowest EVER recorded Infant Death Rate in England & Wales
- 1000s Surviving for Decade or more in UK after Cancer Diagnonsis
- UK Heart Disease deaths down 70% in a Generation
- Australian Cervical Cancer rates Halved in a Decade
In labs we have seen some amazing work as well. From the genuine successes:
- Lab-grown sperm creates healthy offspring
- Doctors 3D-Printing Living Body Parts and not only are those organs already changing how we test drugs but also helping to train tomorrows Surgeons
- We are already seeing VR Cancer Surgery Broadcasts which could revolutionise surgical training
- Bionic Fingertip allows Amputee to feel textures
- Paralysed man can now ride a bike
- Lab-grown Skin Successfully implanted and growing hair
- A Robot surgeon skilled enough to remove Cataracts
- The Scalpel-Free Revolution in Post-Mortems
- Brain Implant allowing a Woman with Locked-In Syndrome to Communicate
- Gene Therapy used to reverse sight loss
- And a Brain radio implant used to bridge a broken spinal column using Wi-Fi to reverse Paralysis
On to the stuff that’s in development:
- Blue Light Bathing may prevent surgical organ damage
- Anglo-Saxon Recipe that could kill MRSA
- MRSA Antibiotic Resistance Broken
- Tasmanian Devil Milk Fights Superbugs
- Predatory Bacteria wipe out Superbugs
- Electrical Stimulation may help with Stroke Recovery
- The Super Mead may prevent Food Poisoning
- Gel being delveloped to treat Chronic Diabetic Wounds
- Frog Foam could help with treatment of Burns Patients
- Snake Venom could be new treatment for Chronic Pain
- Gene-Reading Software could cut TB diagnosis from Months to Minutes
- Huge Leap for mass produced platelets
- Extraordinary Early Results for T Cell Leukemia Therapy
- Mice Living 25% Longer when Worn-Out Cells Cleared
- Study to help Regrow Human Teeth
- Virus Therapy turns Failing Livers into Healthy Organs
- Lithium study helps unlock aging puzzle
- Amniotic Stem Cells reverse bone aging
- Scientists may have found Cancer’s Achilles Heel
- Skin Cancer Drug giving 40% Survival Rate
- Milestone Genetic Find for fight against Breast Cancer
- Gene Editing Boosts Cancer-Killing Cells
- Game Changing Immunotherapy Cancer Drug
- The DNA that cancels Genetic Diseases
- ‘New Hope’ Drug in fight against Chagas Disease, Sleeping Sickness, and Leishmaniasis
- Protein Injection could lessen the symptoms of Alzheimer’s
- Type 1 Diabetes Puzzle Solved
- Graphene Smart Patch could help save lives of Diabetes Sufferers
- New Compound could stop malaria
- Drug Breakthrough in the treatment of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Could also give hope for treatments in Huntingtons Disease and Alzheimers
Beyond the lab, sometimes it’s hard to see the real impact of something unless you’re directly affected by it. So, one of my other favourites this year is seeing the positive power of social media helping save the life of a backpacker in Thailand or helping find an incredibly rare Stem Cell match for life saving surgery.
2016 has also seen some amazing feats of science and engineering giving some spectacular insights into our world, ourselves and the stars. Here, if I have to pick on particular favourite it would have to be the dramatic journey of Solar Impulse. Last year we thought it was all over for this amazing solar powered aircraft but, repairs complete, this year saw the plane finish its around-the-world journey. However, this herculean effort is not the only technology story worthy of note.
Looking inward we have seen Zeptoseconds, the smallest moment in time yet, recorded; that single celled bacteria can see as the whole cell acts as like a tiny eyeball; newborn neurons have been seen in a living brain for the 1st Time; the world’s smallest machines yet made; and even the biological wheels & motors that drive living cells have been imaged for the 1st Time. We have even caught a single piece of anti-matter to find out its secrets.
If we jump out to the macro scale we see the earth shattering revelations such as the discovery of Gravitational Waves and the epic implications they have for physics and our understanding of the universe; the largest Solar System yet has been seen by Astronomers; we’ve seen the number of exoplanets discovered double; plus the Hubble Telescope has set a New Cosmic Distance Record. Closer to home, there is a growing body of evidence for a 9th Planet in our Solar System; the Juno Probe has sent Close-Up images of Jupiter giving us a new perspective on the Gas Giant; clouds have been seen on Pluto for the 1st time and for anyone struggling with Flat-Pack we’ve seen an inflatable pod successfully added to the International Space Station.
In terms of human engineering and ingenuity we have amazing advances in Artificial Intelligence with Google’s AI doing, what was once thought impossible, and defeating a Go Master. In terms of biggest, we now have new title holders for world’s Largest Radio Telescope and the World’s Largest Aircraft. We have Flat Lenses which may revolutionise Optics and we have even taught bacteria taught to bond carbon and silicon. However, my particular favourit here wins out for its simplicty, utility and elegance, it’s the World’s 1st Flat-Pack Truck
Okay, last section I promise, as it is already Christmas Eve. This time of year is often a time of reflection and, like each generation at a certain point, we like to think that we have a pretty good handle on things as we look to the future for wisdom and new discoveries. However, 2016 has revealed some amazing revelations about out past.
- Marlowe Credited as Shakespeare’s Co-Writer
- Mozart & Salieri collaboration Discovered
- Hidden Degas Portrait Revealed
- Lost Kahlo painting found after 6 Decades
- Sophisticated Geometry used 1400-Years Earlier than Thought
- Ancient Urban Networks discovered around Angkor Wat
- New Monument Found at Petra
- 5000-Year-Old Brewing Kit discovered in China
- 12000-Year-Old Cave Art found in East Timor
- Oldest ever Human Genome Sequenced and may rewrite our understanding of early Human History
- Oldest Axe discovered in Australia
- Oldest Known Land Fossil
- 99 Milllion Year Old Amber Fossil gives amazing insight into lost world
Well that’s my positive news summary for 2016 done.
Please remember that this is just the highlight reel. There have been plenty more positive stories from this year, that we’ve been privileged enough to witness. From the heroics of emergency services, dramatic rescues, hostage releases, and a great many stories of simple human kindness that remind us that we are not alone.
If you have found something positive here, or know someone who could use a different perspective on 2016, please share this with them so that this holiday season leaves less of a bitter taste and they can face 2017 more determined than ever.