Points of Progress: Argentina works to combat anti-Semitism, and more

Places where the world saw progress, for the June 29, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States 

A team of apple detectives has discovered 10 apple varieties thought to be extinct. North America once boasted 17,000 unique apple varieties, but only around 5,000 are confirmed to exist today. Of those, just 15 make up 90% of U.S. apple production. Recent discoveries include the ancient Sary Sinap, which originated in Turkey, and the Streaked Pippin, which could date back to 1744 in New York. E.J. Brandt and David Benscoter are the fruit sleuths behind The Lost Apple Project, a nonprofit that searches abandoned farms and orchards in the Pacific Northwest for long-forgotten apple trees. They aim to rescue both the apples and the history of the pioneer families that brought the trees out West.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Apples cling to a tree at Cider Hill Farm in Amesbury, Massachusetts. Rare varieties can be rescued via tree cuttings.

Their unusually high yield this fall nearly doubled the duo’s total to 23 rediscovered apple types. The United States is the second-largest apple producer in the world after China. More choices for consumers is important, say agriculturists, to give domestic apples a competitive edge against imported fruits and to encourage genetic diversity. (The Associated Press, Smithsonian Magazine)

Why We Wrote This

This is more than feel-good news – it's where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to inspire you.

2. Argentina

Argentina has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. In the latest move to address its history of Nazi refuge and anti-Semitic violence, its foreign ministry announced on June 7 that it would use the universal definition “to contribute to the fight of the Argentine Republic against anti-Semitism in all its forms.” More than two dozen countries have adopted the IHRA’s definition, and Argentina’s foreign minister called on public and private institutions to do the same. Argentina’s ambassador to Israel, Sergio Daniel Urribarri, who in 2011 became the first governor to require comprehensive Holocaust education for all schools in his province, said the new definition will also help to continue developing Holocaust remembrance as an official Argentine policy. (JNS, The Jerusalem Post)

3. Ireland

More than 50 Irish companies are following through on a 2015 pledge to halve their carbon footprints. The group of companies, which includes Gas Networks Ireland, Sodexo, and Tesco, promised to reduce direct greenhouse gases by 2030. The average emissions intensity reduction among participants jumped from 36% to 41% last year, according to a new study. This year, the pledge expanded to include some indirect emission sources, such as water consumption and business travel. “Ireland has a huge challenge ahead to transition to a low carbon economy but also embrace the opportunities a net-zero world will offer,” said Tomás Sercovich, chief executive of Business in the Community Ireland, one of the pledge’s coordinating partners. “Our aim for the pledge is to provide leadership, set a collective ambition and drive practical action.” (The Irish Times)

4. Egypt

In Egypt, where summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees F, architects have figured out how to cool the interior of buildings without using traditional air conditioning. Firms such as ECOnsult are using local materials and innovative designs, including heat-reflecting roofs and insulating air layers, to bring comfort to businesses and government buildings across the country. Green buildings can also help reduce carbon emissions by lessening the need for electrical-power cooling. One worker in Egypt’s Western Desert said his team’s upgraded ECOnsult buildings are cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter by 9 to 12 degrees. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

5. Australia

For the first time in a decade, Australia’s morepork owl population on Norfolk Island has grown, thanks to the survival of two fledglings. The recent discovery is a huge boost to one of the world’s rarest owls, with an estimated population of 45 to 50. It’s not the first time the species has been close to extinction – in the 1980s the population declined to a single female. Conservationists on the remote island brought in mates from a subspecies in New Zealand, creating a hybrid line of morepork owls. Recent efforts to save the owl include building nest boxes and reducing predators. However, the owls had not bred successfully since 2011. Park manager Melinda Wilson said that discovering the chicks was one of the most special moments of her career. (BBC)

Outer Space

A spacecraft the size of a casserole dish has broken the record for smallest satellite to detect a planet outside the solar system, proving that modest machines can make meaningful contributions to astronomy. Asteria was part of NASA’s CubeSat program, meant to test the capabilities of tiny satellites made from privately manufactured, interlocking parts.

Engineers prepare Asteria for launch in April 2017. The roughly 4-by-8-by-12-inch miniature space telescope was deployed from the International Space Station in November 2017.

It spotted the raging hot “super earth” dubbed 55 Cancri e by catching dips in light as the planet passed by its host star. But this wasn’t part of Asteria’s original mission. The pioneering CubeSat satellite completed its initial task – to simply stay focused on an object for a long period of time – in 2018, and continued gathering useful data for two years before ground crews lost contact with it. Asteria’s success is good news for the CubeSat initiative, which aims to provide low-cost technology options to researchers and students around the world. (Inverse, Popular Mechanics)

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