Points of Progress: Tasmanian devils back in Australia, and more
1. United States
A record 1,006 openly LGBTQ candidates ran for office in local, state, and federal elections this year. This tally includes primary races and the November general election, and marks a 41% jump from the 2018 midterms, according to Victory Fund, a national organization that tracks LGBTQ political candidates across multiple parties.
A 2017 Gallup poll suggests 4.5% of Americans identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, but researchers have said 0.17% of the country’s elected officials are openly LGBTQ. “For a long time there were a lot of electability concerns around LGBTQ candidates,” said political science professor Gabriele Magni, adding that recent high-profile campaigns – including Pete Buttigieg’s presidential run – have “sent a clear message that LGBTQ candidates can run and win.”
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This is more than feel-good news – it's where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to inspire you.
French lawmakers have unanimously voted to return the “Treasure of Béhanzin” – 26 artifacts seized by French troops in 1892 – to the people of Benin. The objects include statues and a royal throne, and had been held by the Quai Branly Museum in Paris. The announcement comes amid a broader debate over the repatriation of African art and artifacts. French officials say the decision is part of an ongoing effort to strengthen their relationship with the Francophone countries of West Africa.
“This vote represents a big victory for international cooperation. We have been heard and understood,” said Alain Godonou, Benin’s national museum director, who will spend the next several months revamping the museum to house the priceless artifacts. “After these artifacts are returned, we will be able to host all sorts of collections and exhibitions, including international ones.”
Spain’s government recently expanded laws targeting the gender pay gap. The new decree establishes a framework for comparing the objective value of different jobs and requires companies to provide the gender breakdown of employee wages. Workplaces that fail to disclose the latter face fines up to $220,000. The change comes as the coronavirus pandemic threatens to exacerbate the pay gap in many countries. “In this emergency situation we know that there will be no economic recovery if we don’t end the pay gap once and for all,” said Equality Minister Irene Montero. “You can’t play around with fundamental rights.”
4. United Kingdom
Londoners are breathing cleaner air after a series of transit changes reduced pollution throughout the city. The number of people living amid illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2 ) pollution has fallen by 94% in the past few years. According to an October report, London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s government has reached its goals in part by discouraging the driving of dirtier diesel vehicles, employing low-emission buses on some routes, and expanding protected cycling space. Combined with plans to extend London’s ultralow emission zone, the city is now on track to reach legal compliance in every neighborhood by 2025.
“The changes in NO2 in central London and along main bus routes were some of the fastest that we’ve ever measured,” said Dr. Gary Fuller, an air pollution expert at Imperial College London. “These successes show that our city’s air pollution is not an intractable problem.”
Encouraged by positive results in its first two years, Ho Chi Minh City is expanding its “green school model” to all grades. The city’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment, in partnership with the Department of Education and Training, has recognized dozens of schools for their commitment to sustainability. The “green schools” must utilize energy-efficient technology and address environmental issues in student curriculum.
“Green schools help to create a clean and safe environment, but also educate students about nature and environmental protection,” said Nguyễn Thị Thanh Mỹ, deputy director of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. “Among the school levels, primary school is an important foundation for forming children’s behaviours and attitudes.”
Twenty-six Tasmanian devils have been released into the Barrington Wildlife Sanctuary in Australia, marking the endangered marsupials’ first return to the mainland in 3,000 years. The devils’ disappearance from Australia was likely related to human hunting habits. Today, there are roughly 25,000 devils left on the island of Tasmania.
The reintroduction project has been years in the making. In March, conservationists released 15 of the famously rowdy scavengers in a thousand acres of fenced-off eucalyptus forest as a “soft launch.” The rest joined in September, and the team will allow that group to acclimate before introducing more devils, along with other creatures they hope will improve the country’s biodiversity. Despite the species’ reputation, Tasmanian devils pose no threat to humans. “We’ve got some basic means of keeping an eye on them,” said Tim Faulkner, president of species recovery organization AussieArk. “But essentially, now it’s over to the devils to do what they do.”