a few things that are getting better
Some proof that the world isn't going to hell in a handbasket (at least not yet).
SEAWEED You probably don’t think much about seaweed beyond noshing on a salad or getting it tangled around your legs at the beach, but Aussie boffins have their eyes on the underwater algae as a key way to battle climate change. The idea is to farm it on a massive scale – not only does it grow super-fast, it also doesn’t require nitrogen-heavy fertilisers like earth-bound plants do, and it absorbs carbon at a much, much faster rate. (Which is all pretty great for reducing dodgy emissions in the air.) There are also a tonne of weird and wonderful ways that seaweed and its byproducts can be used, including biodegradable plastics, construction materials, artificial body parts and cosmetics. Plus, adding algae to a cow’s regular diet has been found to decrease their methane production (aka cow burps and farts) by a whopping 20 per cent. Not bad for a stinky sea plant.
HAVING PERIODS IN NEW ZEALAND On the spectrum of reasons to skive off from school, lack of access to period products is a pretty un-fun one. And yet, according to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, one in 12 young people in New Zealand were missing classes because they couldn’t afford to buy tampons or sanitary pads. To help improve school attendance – not to mention the wellbeing of said period-havers – free menstrual products are now available in schools across the country. Which is pretty bloody great. Similar steps are being made in other parts of the world, as well: Victoria and South Australia now provide pads and tampons at no cost in every government school; and last year, Scotland became the first country to make the products free, period.
TASSIE DEVILS Tasmanian devils have had a rough trot. First, they were wiped out across Australia thanks to the introduction of invasive dingoes. Then, while taking refuge in the country’s most southerly state, they became endangered due to the spread of a nasty ‘devil facial tumour disease’. And to top all that off, they were defamed by Warner Bros., depicted as a dim-witted, grunting, short-tempered cyclone that eats everything in its path, including trees and boulders. Thankfully, their luck turned around in 2021, when wild Tassie devil joeys were born on mainland Australia for the first time in 3000 years. A trio of conservation groups began the reintroduction process back in 2011 to save the species from extinction. So far it’s been a roaring success, which bodes well for other struggling Aussie critters like the brush-tailed rock wallaby and the long-nosed potoroo.
VIRTUAL REALITY Once, virtual reality seemed like a far-fetched technology reserved for the kinds of futuristic films that suggested we’d all be hoverboarding about by now. These days, the digital simulations can help pull us out of a mental health funk. Since headsets no longer cost an arm and a leg, a tonne of research is being done on VR’s therapeutic possibilities – starting with treatment for anxiety and phobias. Patients are exposed to their trigger virtually and can work through their feelings from the safety of their therapist’s office. A similar approach is being trialled for folks with PTSD – especially war veterans. As one boffin said: “We use the best technology to train soldiers for war; we should use the best technology to fix the mess afterwards.” Yet another experiment involves using VR to ease symptoms of depression. The patient first practises expressing compassion to another human – then the script is flipped when they’re faced with a simulation of themselves. Whoa.
DOLLY PARTON Sure, Dolly Parton was already a deadset legend. That’s an undeniable fact. But at 75, the bedazzled country star just keeps on upping the ante. Consider this: in 2020 alone, she notched a top-10 track on the Billboard charts (in the ‘hot dance/electronic’ category, no less), won her ninth Grammy Award, released a holiday album, starred in a Netflix film, spoke out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, narrated a series of bedtime stories to comfort children who were scared in isolation and, oh, casually donated a million dollars to COVID research, which was used to fund one of the first approved vaccines. Basically, she’s kicking some serious butt, while spreading her dang light all over the world. (And her scent too, apparently – Dolly’s Christmas on the Square co-star Talia Hill claims that when she walks into a room she “smells like heaven”.)
OUR FLEXIBILITY No, not the literal kind (unless you’ve been doing a bunch of yoga and stretching, in which case, good job!). The flexibility we’re referring to is one of the few silver linings of this global pandemic we find ourselves in: a newfound acceptance of technology that has allowed us to do things like work, have medical appointments and take classes from home. Upsides include fewer stressful commutes, less pollution from cars spewing nasty gases into the blue, the option to travel while you work, and greater access to crucial services for folks who didn’t have it before. (Those in rural and remote communities or with limited mobility especially benefit from things like telehealth appointments.) Plus, you can do your laundry on your lunchbreak instead of cramming all your chores into that brief window between getting home and going to bed. And for that, we are very grateful.
‘SKIN-TONE’ CRAYONS In a real ‘why did this take so long to happen?’ kind of moment, art supply peddlers Crayola have released a pack of crayons, pencils and textas that represent a more diverse range of skin tones (40, in fact), so littlies can draw themselves more accurately. They even teamed up with a fella who used to work with MAC Cosmetics to develop the Colors of the World line, because, you know, when it comes to matching epidermal tints, folks in the make-up world know what they’re doing. The hope is that kids will feel a sense of belonging and acceptance right from the get-go, instead of having to choose between stark white, dark brown and some manky shade of peach when doodling a self-portrait, or a picture of their friends. It took more than eight months of mucking around in the crayon lab (and in field with parents, teachers and diversity experts) to get the range of shades just right. And according to excited feedback from art-loving tots, it was all very worth it.
NOISE-BASED RAGE If the sound of someone casually munching on popcorn at the movies makes you want to hulk out in a serious way, you may well have a disorder known as misophonia, where certain noises trigger intense emotional or physiological responses. But there’s good news for both you and the innocent noise-making folks around you: a cause of the condition has recently been discovered. Research led by Newcastle University in England has found people with misophonia have increased connectivity in the brain between the auditory cortex and the motor control areas related to the face, mouth and throat. As a result, other people’s mouth sounds feel like they’re intruding into their own bodies – basically, their brain thinks it’s actually involved in making the icky noises. Which is very confusing. Thanks to this revelation, new therapies can now be developed (and family dinners can go down without huge, blow-up arguments).