The values that led humanity forward this year
Much of 2022’s progress was propelled by inventive efforts to find solutions or make discoveries. Sometimes these inventions began with one small idea.
An entrepreneur from Ivory Coast noticed that his parents, who don’t read, couldn’t use smartphones – so he designed one himself. In Rwanda, “smart canes” expanded mobility for those with visual impairments, just as all-terrain wheelchairs gained ground in U.S. parks. One resident of a Kenyan refugee settlement helps provide internet access to hundreds of others using solar panels. And an engineer in Canada began building furniture from recycled chopsticks.
Why We Wrote This
In 2022, we chronicled 233 moments of progress around the world. In each case, values pointing to a global, shared humanity cleared the way for the right solution to take shape. We take a look at five of the values that drove much of the progress we saw.
In other cases, new ideas took years of collaboration. In a first for ocean energy, a wave energy converter completed a successful first year off the coast of Australia’s King Island. Turkey opened Europe’s first carbon-negative biorefinery, while Finnish engineers pioneered the first “sand battery” for storing green power. The Nature Conservancy helped Belize restructure its debt, freeing up $4 million annually for marine conservation over two decades. The largest vertical farm in the world opened in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. And all around the world, people are reaping the power of the sun: East Africa’s first tests of agrivoltaics began outside Nairobi, Kenya, and Europe’s largest floating photovoltaic farm is operating in Portugal.
Around the world, people are caring for the planet and each other. In large-scale action for the environment, more than 5,100 square miles of protection for water, land, and glaciers was established in Argentina, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and Chile, while the island nation of Niue is protecting 100% of its ocean. In Niger, researchers estimate that farmers encouraged at least 200 million trees to grow back across 15 million acres. South Korea now recycles nearly 100% of its food waste. And Austria is helping pay for repairs to electronics instead of landfilling them.
The United Nations will create a binding framework by the end of 2024 to guide the elimination of plastic pollution. It declared access to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment a universal human right.
The commitment was seen at the community level, too. More than 355,950 pounds of trash was removed from the Ohio River. Using a payment for ecosystem services model, citizens have planted over 2 million trees in southeastern Brazil since 2005. Gazans were able to return to their beaches after massive infrastructure improvements. And refugees in Algeria designed useful furniture out of plastic waste. There are signs environmental responsibility will become second nature for future generations; the United Kingdom’s Department of Education began work on a national climate curriculum. And in a commitment to improving safety, Hoboken, New Jersey, has eliminated traffic fatalities for four years running.
People everywhere fought to protect the right to a dignified life. In many cases, that meant pushing for a decent standard of living, no matter one’s social class. Spain passed a law to give over 370,000 domestic workers the same labor protections as other workers. Morocco expanded paid paternity leave from three to 15 days for public workers. Some 25,000 previously unhoused people in Houston were moved into homes, California students were guaranteed access to free menstrual products at school, and banks across the United States canceled or lowered overdraft fees, which disproportionately affect lower-income households.
Steps were also taken to protect the dignity of children, marriage, and sexual orientation. Child marriage became illegal in the Philippines and has declined in Nigeria; forced marriage and sexual abuse were outlawed in Indonesia. France banned conversion therapy in defense of LGBTQ rights.
Other initiatives gave marginalized communities new recognition and power. Residents of informal settlements in India received latitude- and longitude-based addresses – a step toward accessing resources and services – while women from villages in the northern part of the country, excluded from traditional governance structures, formed their own political assemblies.
The push for equal rights and opportunities was seen in government, science, sports, and beyond. In a year when women’s rights came to the forefront of protest movements in Iran and other places, women have continued to break barriers. The Netherlands achieved gender parity for the first time in its government, while Senegal came as close to parity as West Africa has seen. The first all-women newsroom opened in Somalia, and the U.S. women’s soccer team won equal pay with the men’s team. Nicole Mann became the first Native American woman in outer space. Ayesha Malik became the first woman on Pakistan’s Supreme Court. The drive for equality wasn’t limited to gender. Australia welcomed its most diverse government yet. Mexico, Andorra, and Cuba legalized same-sex marriage, and the latter commemorated Latin America’s first LGBTQ history month.
A wider appreciation of cultural diversity also took center stage. India’s Constitution was translated into Santali, a tribal language spoken in northeastern India. Tens of thousands of precious manuscripts of African scholarship saved from Timbuktu became available to all, while scholars began compiling the first Oxford Dictionary of African American English. And 3D technology helped Alaska Natives and other peoples to preserve traditional art forms and foster study of Indigenous cultures.
Progress was not an individual pursuit but required a willingness to work together amid differences. Many examples highlighted the need for Indigenous expertise. In Ecuador, a national court determined that extractive oil and mining projects need consent from Indigenous communities. In Canada, Indigenous groups joined forces with scientists, business, and government to triple the number of caribou in a British Columbia herd. Meanwhile in California, 523 acres of redwood forest were returned to Indigenous guardianship.
Communities around the world reaped the benefits of cooperative thinking. In a bid to prevent flooding from storms, over 500 New Orleans residents have banded together to build green infrastructure. In Egypt, a traditional peer-to-peer lending system gained new life through phone apps, helping small business owners get going. And couples in England and Wales can divorce cooperatively, and without having to point fingers, thanks to a “no-fault” law that went into effect last year.