Humans cleaning up: From outer space junk to village ponds

1. United Kingdom

Following a push for more inclusive curricula, the Welsh government will require schools to teach about racism and Black history. A working group found significant evidence of racial inequality in Welsh school systems and an overall lack of information on the contributions of minority communities. Its 51 recommendations include new scholarships to encourage more Black, Asian, and minority ethnic students to become teachers, mandatory anti-racism teacher training, and a requirement that history of these minority communities be part of all subjects. The government has allocated £500,000 ($690,000) to implement the group’s recommendations as part of the updated national curriculum, set to roll out in 2022.

Rebecca Naden/Reuters
Welsh schoolchildren line up on June 29, 2020. Census data shows fewer than 1% of teachers in Wales are from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Why We Wrote This

People have altered the Earth for centuries to advance civilizations. In this progress roundup, high- and low-tech solutions have the potential to correct environmental damage both for small communities and in outer space.

“If we want a society which is better for all, where there’s equality, and there’s fair representation then we need this,” said Angel Ezeadum, a U.K. Youth Parliament member who campaigned for Black history to be taught in schools across Wales. “It’s massive in terms of shaping who young people are going to be in the future.”

2. Africa

Young Africans are mobilizing to translate online materials into local languages, helping users access critical information while preserving Indigenous cultures. Although internet access in sub-Saharan Africa has grown rapidly, researchers have noticed persistent usage gaps that contribute to the digital divide. An estimated 3.2 billion people living in 3G+ network areas did not use the internet in 2019, often citing a lack of content available in their own language.

Since 2006, volunteers for the Moleskine Foundation’s WikiAfrica Education program have produced more than 40,000 Wikipedia entries in nearly 20 languages, such as Afrikaans, Dagbani, and Twi. During the pandemic, program coordinators have called on their network of translators across the continent and from the diaspora to translate relevant information from English, French, and Portuguese. Other translation projects, including University of Cambridge researcher Ebele Mogo’s “Found in Translation” website and the United Nations’ multilingual FAQ portal in Nigeria, have emerged specifically to combat COVID-19 misinformation.
Thomson Reuters Foundation, World Economic Forum

3. Kazakhstan

Looking to become a regional leader in clean energy, Kazakhstan has ramped up its emissions targets, aiming to reach carbon neutrality by 2060. As part of this effort, the Central Asian country is looking to boost renewable electricity production 10% by 2030 and 50% by 2050. Many households are already powered by more than 100 solar, biomass, wind, and small hydro plants throughout the country. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is backing Kazakhstan’s clean energy plan and will collaborate with the government on various decarbonization initiatives.

Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters
Wind turbines, pictured during sunset on Nov. 7, 2020, are producing clean energy in the Almaty region of Kazakhstan.

Arman Kashkinbekov, a board member for the Association of Renewable Energy of Kazakhstan, said the country has already accomplished a lot compared with its neighbors, but the government has adopted the legislation needed to promote clean energy technology and fast-track development: “This is only the beginning of our country’s green story.”
The Astana Times, New Europe

4. India

Joining local knowledge to government support, community-led projects are bringing India’s ponds back to life. Residents of Saligao in the northern Goa state worked together to clean up their nearly dry pond and reintroduce native plant species, ultimately restoring the natural water supply. “It was meant to be a very small initiative that some of us friends were doing but it has grown into something bigger,” said Sharada Kerkar, a member of the citizen’s group called CatcH2o. “We have done five ponds now and keep getting calls to do others.”

Ahmad Masood/Reuters/File
Children sit by a partly dried-out pond in the western state of Gujarat, Aug. 5, 2012. Today, communities across India are working to revive local ponds.

A government think tank has predicted that 40% of the nation’s 1.3 billion population will not have reliable access to drinking water by 2030. The pond revivals coincide with a new program from the Goa wetland authority allocating funds for residents who protect their local ecosystems. To build climate resilience, adaptation experts say a combination of government funding, technical expertise, and community action is necessary.
Thomson Reuters Foundation

5. Vietnam

A critically endangered species of monkey endemic to Vietnam has quadrupled under the protection of the Van Long Nature Reserve, inspiring hope for conservationists. When German primatologist Tilo Nadler first visited the country in the early 1990s, he found only 50 of the Delacour’s langurs. He teamed up with local communities to establish the Van Long Nature Reserve in 2001, and most of the country’s 234 to 275 langurs live there today.

Outside the reserve, the species is still under pressure from poaching and habitat loss, but Van Long’s success gives conservationists a road map for the langurs’ future. Mr. Nadler expects to open a second reserve in 2021 or 2022, in an area north of Van Long where around 30 other Delacour’s langurs currently live, and he wants to relocate primates from unprotected areas to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Trang An.

Outer space

A company in Japan, Astroscale, has launched the first commercial trial of space debris cleanup technology. The project, known as ELSA-d, involves two spacecraft that will perform a series of increasingly complex tasks in low-Earth orbit, showing how satellites could work together to assess the condition of a piece of space junk and drag it back into the atmosphere. They were successfully deployed from a Russian rocket in late March.

Orbiting debris pose a significant threat to working spacecraft. The European Space Agency is currently monitoring about 26,000 such objects. To protect not only the environment but also commercial assets, space organizations must now figure out how to remove them. Demonstration missions like ELSA-d, which is supported by the U.K. Space Agency, are an important step. “Only when you understand the situation can you fix and understand how the factors play against each other, can you really start to think about remediation, and how do we solve the problem going forward,” said Mike Lindsay, chief technology officer at Astroscale.
Spaceflight Now

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