Our 9 favourite positive news stories from 2020

Our round-up of the best stories from Earth News|Collected last year

Having lived through 2020 (or if you’ve just watched the Netflix comedy spoof “Death to 2020”), you would be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t a smidgen of good news to come out of the year that was. It was, indeed, a tough year for so many of us. We felt it too.

But, in true Earth Collective style, we continue to bring you hope and positivity whenever we can!

Let’s start today, by taking a look back at some of the best things that happened in 2020 for the planet and the species that call it home.

Here is our round-up of our nine favourite positive stories from our weekly series Earth News|Collected in 2020.

Penguins in an aquarium in Chicago had the chance to experience “the other side of the glass” in March

A feel-good video that went viral on Twitter showed the penguins of Shedd Aquarium in Chicago on “the other side of the glass”, leaving their enclosures and visiting other attractions at the aquarium.

Since the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago closed to visitors to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, the penguins had been allowed to leave their habitat and explore the rest of the aquarium. The aquarium posted to Twitter a heart-warming video of one of the penguins, named Wellington, meeting some fish in the Amazon exhibit.

The aquarium told the Chicago Tribune that “without guests in the building, caretakers are getting creative in how they provide enrichment to animals. Introducing new experiences, activities, foods and more to keep them active, encourage them to explore, problem-solve and express natural behaviours”.

Because of world-wide lockdowns, the planet was able to breathe, for a moment.

Early in 2020, the unparalleled measures introduced to contain coronavirus in countries around the world, had a significant positive impact on the environment. As millions of people worked from home, flights were cancelled and global economic and industrial activity ramped down, we saw a reduction in emissions across the world. And with a drop in dangerous air pollutants, the air we breathe was cleaner than it had been in years.

This was seen most prominently in China, where a reduction in coal and crude oil use led to a 25% drop in CO2 emissions across a four-week period, which experts suggested would result in an overall fall of 1% in China’s carbon emissions over the course of the year.

There were also significant drops in nitrogen dioxide in both China and Northern Italy, following reduced industrial activity and car journeys. Meanwhile in New York, traffic levels in the city were estimated to be down 35% compared with the previous year. This meant that emissions of carbon monoxide, mainly due to cars and trucks, fell by around 50%.

Professor Róisín Commane of Columbia University said at the time that the air was “the cleanest I have ever seen it”.

Bird poop spotted from space helped locate new emperor penguin breeding sites in the Antarctic.

It’s said to be lucky if a bird poops on you – the jury is still out on that. However, for the most iconic of Antarctic residents, large patches of sea ice stained with bird poop was indeed a very lucky sign in 2020.

The poop stains allowed satellites to find a raft of new emperor penguin breeding grounds in the Antarctic, lifting the global emperor population by 5-10%, to perhaps as many as 278,500 breeding pairs! A very happy discovery, given the species is likely to come under severe pressure this century, as the White Continent warms due to global heating.

Let it rain! More than one third of NSW became officially no longer in drought.

In a case of ‘slow and steady wins the race’, ‘consistency is key’, ‘every little bit helps’ – and other appropriate catchphrases, there was good news for more than one third of New South Wales, which was declared officially no longer in drought in August 2020. According to ABC News, regular rain in part’s of the state’s central west, south coast and Sydney basin helped NSW recover from one of the worst droughts on record.

After working hard to save water during the drought, regional towns and cities, such as Orange, had received enough rain and inflows that the high-level water restrictions looked set to be eased.

The Mayor of Orange, Reg Kidd, commented: “I think it’s made us be a lot smarter, particularly in New South Wales, how we’re coming out of this drought.”

The teenie, tiny Elephant Shrew was rediscovered after half a century in hiding.

Well, not exactly hiding, but certainly thought ‘missing’ as the last scientific record of it was taken in 1968. The adorable little creature – called the “Somali sengi” (or Elephantulus revoilii) – is related to the elephant, even though it is only about the size of a mouse, and was rediscovered in August in Africa.

Somali sengi. Image by Steven Heritage.

These cuties mate for life, can get up to speeds of 30km/h and eat ants by sucking them up through their trunk-like nose. They had been put on the Global Wildlife Conservation group’s “25 most wanted lost species” list, but after receiving tips that the sengi might be in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, a search party was sent out to find out. The scientific team on the search successfully found and caught 12 sengis in traps.

Robin Moore from the Global Wildlife Conversation group told The Independent that the find was “a welcome and wonderful rediscovery during a time of turmoil for our planet, and one that fills us with renewed hope for the remaining small mammal species on our most wanted list.”

South Australia won the race to become first Aussie state to officially ban single-use plastics.

In 2020, South Australia became the first state in Australia to officially ban single-use plastics. The legislation was passed in parliament, in the Marshall Liberal Government’s Single-use and Other Plastic Products (Waste Avoidance) Bill 2020 and meant that from early 2021, the sale, supply and distribution of single-use plastic products such as straws, cutlery and beverage stirrers will be prohibited in South Australia.

“Today is an historic day for South Australia with the passing of legislation to ban certain single-use plastics,” said Minister for Environment and Water, David Speirs in a media release. “There has been significant community and industry support for swift action on single-use plastic products with many households and businesses across the state already taking steps to remove them.”

The legislation includes exceptions for people with a disability or medical requirement.

Other countries to ban single-used plastics in 2020 included Canada and England.

2020 was the year Sir David Attenborough joined, and left, Instagram – amongst many other achievements!

Sir David Attenborough, our hero, turned 94 in 2020, but that certainly didn’t stop his mission to save our planet. Not only did he join Instagram for the first time, but he also released multiple documentaries and launched the Earthshot Prize with Prince William.

After amassing 6.2 million followers, Sir Attenborough’s time on Instagram was short-lived. He shared his final post on 31 October, saying he’d “passed on the things he wanted to share” and reminding us that “saving our planet is a communications challenge. If enough people want change and take action, a sustainable future is within our grasp.”

Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky helped rewild the iconic Tasmanian Devil, and the video is pretty darn cute!

For the first time in 3,000 years, the Tasmanian Devil landed back on mainland Australia in 2020.

A collaboration between Aussie Ark, Global Wildlife Conservation and WildArk saw the release of 11 Tasmanian Devils into a 300-hectare (1,000 acre) wildlife sanctuary in NSW, Australia. Actors Elsa Pataky and Chris Hemsworth, friends of WildArk, were on hand to help release some of the furry critters back into the forests they once called home, in the first of three planned reintroductions.

Australia has the world’s worst mammal extinction rate. Rewilding native species like the Tasmanian Devil has an incredibly positive impact on the wider eco-system, helping to regulate populations of possums and wallabies, pushing back invasive species like cats and foxes and allowing native small mammal species numbers to recover. These “small, but mighty eco-system engineers”, like quolls, potoroos and bandicoots, help to keep forests healthy, by mixing organic material into the soil as they forage, which enriches the earth. They also bury leaf litter, which reduces the build up of flammable material on the forest floor that otherwise would act as fuel for Australia’s devastating bushfires, which this year burned more than 72,000 square miles of forest and claimed the lives of at least 34 people and nearly three billion animals.

The released animals will be monitored via regular surveys, radio collars fitted with transmitters and camera traps, gathering important data that will inform future releases, including in Tasmania and elsewhere on the mainland, to continually refine the process.

Watch the *literal* little devils in the video below. If you’d like to support the project, head devilcomeback.org.

In 2020, governments finally said NO to fossil fuels and/or committed to carbon-neutral deadlines, while Australia’s largest retailer committed to 100% renewable energy by 2025.

Amongst the countries pledging to stop funding fossil fuel in 2020 were the UK, which pledged to stop funding overseas fossil fuel projects, and Denmark, which announced it will end all new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.

2020 also saw New Zealand become the latest country to formally acknowledge the global climate crisis by declaring a climate emergency, joining 32 other nations, which had already done the same thing, including Canada, Japan, France and the UK.

Meanwhile, back in Australia, The Woolworths Group, Australia’s largest retailer, announced it would source it’s energy from renewables, such as wind and solar, via power purchase agreements, and expand its use of rooftop solar panels, which are currently installed on 150 stores and provide about 13 per cent of those sites’ energy needs.

Do you have a positive news story to share in 2021?

We love to see (and read) it! Send them to our editor Charli at cferrand@weareearthcollective.com for a chance to be featured in our weekly edition of Earth News|Collected.

Additional sources: CNN, BBC, ABC, Independent.


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