The Upside Show Notes – Episode 15

2:30pm Better Urban Design

First up, a story from Nature that asks, “how can we design cities in a way that’s sustainable for both humans and nature?”

The short answer is: bats.

When Kate Jones first held a tiny pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) while studying conservation as an undergraduate, it was love at first sight. The biodiversity researcher now uses urban bat populations to study the interface between ecological and human health. “Protecting the natural environment while incorporating it into urban spaces is crucial,” she says. “Ecologists and architects need to talk to each other about the design of our cities.

I learned some surprising things about bats while reading this story: they live for approximately 40 years, longer than I thought; they’ve evolved ways to repair their DNA; they have super immune systems as well that viruses have to adapt to in order to infect them, which spells trouble for us if they spillover. 

Anyway, the article is pretty fascinating and discusses things way beyond bats, such as how to predict outbreaks of emerging disease through mapping urban biodiversity. If you find this topic generally interesting, you should check out an area of science called One Health which is what I’m aiming to work in after I get my degree: how human health is affected by and also impacts biodiversity, ecological sustainability, and the climate.

3pm Keeping Wildfires At Bay

The Guardian reports on a community-led initiative in Peru’s Sacred Valley aimed at stopping wildfires before they start through a mix of educational awareness and controlled burns. 

Peru experienced extremely strict lockdowns and a high mortality rate from COVID-19; as a result, many left the capital Lima to return to their villages in the Andes, and once there, used planned burns to clear land that was unused for years. Unfortunately some of those burns got out of control, leading to this new program.

“High Andean valleys are fragile ecosystems that don’t repair quickly. Thousands of years’ worth of topsoil can be washed away if it rains after a fire,” says Joaquín Randall, who runs the programme alongside disaster-management officials and volunteers. “It’s much easier to stop someone lighting a match than to put out a 1,000-acre fire.”

The story then points out a sobering statistic: while it’s recommended to spend 50% of funds on preventing fires, a mere 1% of funds globally are used for planning and prevention and instead half of available money is currently being used to fight fires.

Learn more about this 13-brigade initiative and it’s success – so far – at limiting the number of wildfires in Peru between Cusco and Machu Picchu in The Guardian.

3:30pm Round-Up

For our final segment, as usual, a round-up.

The WHO says the global child mortality rate has dropped by 60% over the past three decades, with the number of annual under-5 deaths plummeting from 12.6 million in 1990 to five million in 2020. The leading causes of death are birth complications, pneumonia, diarrhoea, and malaria, all of which are now being treated with affordable interventions in health and sanitation.

Children are leading the fight against dengue in Rio de Janeiro by breeding mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia – a bacteria that blocks the transmission of dengue to humans. Cases have fallen by 95% since 2015. Similar efforts in Indonesia and Colombia have reduced cases by up to 89%, and programs are now being rolled out across Mexico, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Fiji, Kiribati, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu.

Healthy life expectancy (the number of years spent in a good state of health) increased in Africa by an average of ten years per person over the last two decades, from 46 years in 2000 to 56 years in 2019. Improved access to health services and progress in the fight against infectious diseases have played a big role. Relief Web

The sharp rise in healthy life expectancy during the past two decades is a testament to the region’s drive for improved health and it means that more people are living healthier, longer lives, with fewer threats of infectious diseases and with better access to care and disease prevention services.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa

The UN reports that Zambia has become the latest country to commit to abolishing the death penalty. While a moratorium has been in place since 1997, this is the first time the measure has been approved by its legislature. It joins a growing list of African nations to have abolished the practice – Guinea in 2016, followed by Chad in 2020, Sierra Leone in 2021, and the Central African Republic, as we reported in a previous episode, earlier this year.

The Proximities newsletter reports via France 24 and Reuters that Singapore has decriminalized gay sex by repealing a colonial-era law. Section 377A of the penal code was introduced under British rule and carried a two-year sentence for sex between two men. “Private sexual behavior between consenting adults does not raise any law and order issue. There is no justification to prosecute people for it nor to make it a crime,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said. “This will bring the law into line with current social mores and I hope provide some relief to gay Singaporeans.” Lee said the move would not impact Singapore’s traditional family values.

Single-use plastic bag use in England has fallen by 20% after an increase in price from 5p to 10p last year. The average person now buys around three single-use carrier bags a year compared with 140 bags in 2014. Since charges were first introduced in 2015, total usage in England has decreased by 97%. Read more about this story in BBC.

And finally, news closer to home:

According to The Guardian, Australia is phasing out battery eggs, after a lengthy battle between the egg industry and animal welfare groups. The reforms, announced yesterday, state that egg producers must phase out the use of conventional layer hen cages over the next 10 to 15 years, and by 2036 at the latest, depending on the age of their current infrastructure.

I had to look up what “battery eggs” meant, so maybe you’re a little unclear as well: Battery cages are used on factory farms to confine egg-laying hens. According to Voiceless, the Animal Protection Institute, it’s currently estimated in Australia, “that over 10 million battery hens are confined to small cages as part of standard egg production, unable to perform even their most natural behaviours.”