Recapping the last three episodes of The Upside which aired on 7, 14, and 21 June 2022.
Episode 6 from 7 June 2022:
2:30pm “Ebola is defeated”
This is a huge announcement: France24 reports that the professor who discovered Ebola, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, has declared that the disease has been defeated!
Muyembe was a field epidemiologist in 1976 when a mysterious illness emerged in a small village in what was then called Zaire, now DRC. The symptoms of the disease, a haemorrhagic fever, included high temperature, vomiting, and bleeding. More than 15,000 people have died from Ebola in the years since, 11,000 of them during the most recent outbreak in Western Africa.
Thanks to the development of effective clinical treatments and successful vaccines, the disease is no longer considered a threat, but is preventable and more importantly curable.
If Ebola emerges, “we interrupt the chain of transmission, we vaccinate all those around a positive case, and we treat those who are ill,” Muyembe said.
“If the outbreak is declared in time, it can be over in a week,” added the virologist, who heads up the DRC’s National Biomedical Research Institute and also coordinates the fight against Covid-19 in the country.
I’ll finish this story with Muyembe’s full quote announcing the end of Ebola:
“For 40 years I have been a witness and a player in the fight against this terrifying and deadly disease and I can say today: it is defeated, it is preventable and curable.” – Jean-Jacques Muyembe.
Bonus Health-Related Story
The New York Times reports that a drug trial unexpectedly obliterated rectal cancer in every single patient.
A small study of patients with rectal cancer yielded an astonishing result: All of the participants completed the trial with their cancer being undetectable by any kind of exam or scan. None of them had significant side effects. “I believe this is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer,” one of the study’s authors said.
The patients in the study took a drug called dostarlimab, which unmasked cancer cells and allowed the immune system to identify and destroy them. The research will need to be replicated, and it’s unclear how long remission will last.
3pm LGBTQ News
Several good developments related to the LGBTQ community:
- According to the BBC, the Church of Scotland will now allow clergy to conduct same-sex marriages in church.
274 members of the General Assembly in Edinburgh voted to change church law so that same-sex couples will be able to marry in church in services conducted by ministers. Church of Scotland ministers will have the choice of whether or not they choose to celebrate these same-sex services. 136 voted against the measure.
- ABC News reports that Canada is now allowing gay men to donate blood.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference the ban should have ended 10 to 15 years ago, but research proving it would not affect the safety of the blood supply had not been done by previous governments.
Trudeau said his government spent C$5 million dollars (US$3.9 million) on research into the safety aspects of changing the blood donation rules and multiple scientific reports showed “our blood supply will continue to be safe.”
- And finally, as reported by Reuters, Greece has banned conversion therapy. The Greek parliament ruled that psychologists and other health officials will face fines and a prison term if they violate the law. The country’s current national strategy is based on reforms promoting gender equality.
The Greek Health Minister told parliament this week, “there were some false treatments that stated that when a minor has chosen a different sexual orientation, his parents could supposedly proceed with ‘treatments’ for this child to ‘return to normality’. Obviously these treatments not only are not a therapy but they are not supported scientifically.”
3:30pm Great News on Renewables
The IEA’s Renewable Energy Market Update for May 2022 states that renewable electricity capacity additions broke another record in 2021 and biofuels demand almost recovered to pre-Covid levels, despite the continuation of logistical challenges and increasing prices.
The growth of renewables so far this year has been much faster than expected. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is also having an impact on renewables progress, with many countries proposing policies to accelerate the transition to clean energy technologies as part of moving away from dependence on Russian supplies of gas.
The IEA’s executive director, Fatih Birol, said in a press release that renewables are essential to “improving energy security, in addition to their well-established effectiveness at reducing emissions.”
As a reminder, greenhouse gas emissions, primarily carbon dioxide, are a primary cause of climate change and are the result of human activity, directly linked to changes in global temperatures. That’s according to the IPCC report, “Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis.”
Episode 7 from 14 June 2022:
2:30pm Oldest Solo Pacific Voyage
Welcome to the 7th episode of this radio show. For today’s set of good stories from around the world, I wanted to do something slightly different. There is a particular sort of story that always lifts my spirits and even, dare I say, inspires me to look beyond myself and my circumstances. These stories fill me with wonder, hope, desire.
I’m talking about tales of adventure, feats of exploration and times that the sturdy and the brave – even if they felt anything but sturdy and brave at the time – overcame obstacles.
So, today’s Upside stories are all adventures.
First: an 83 year old man named Kenichi Horie has become “the oldest person in the world to complete a solo, nonstop voyage across the Pacific Ocean — and he says he is still ‘in the middle of my youth’ and not done yet.”
The AP reports that Horie took off from a harbour in San Francisco in March and spent 69 days crossing the vast Pacific Ocean on his 6 metre boat, a Suntory Mermaid III. He completed his voyage by arriving at the west coast of Japan before being towed back home to Shin Nishinomiya, where cheering crowds welcomed him back. While he did bring some medicines with him on the voyage, Horie reports that he only needed to use eye drops and band-aids on the trip.
This is not Kenichi Horie’s first exploration achievement: according to the AP, “In 1962, became the first person in the world to successfully complete a solo nonstop voyage across the Pacific from Japan to San Francisco. Sixty years later, he travelled the opposite route.”
I find this man so inspiring: despite this feat, he is far from done with adventure.
“I want to be a challenger as long as I live,” he said. He went on to say, “I imagine my next voyage would be even more fun.”
3pm Project Possible
For our next story, epic feats of adventure and resilience from former soldier and current extraordinary mountaineer Nimsdai “Nims” Purja.
Purja, who was born in Nepal, climbed 14 8,000 metre mountains in just over six months along with a team of extremely good Nepalese mountain climbers. After he was told that “fewer than 50 people have ever completed” this goal of summiting these gigantic mountains, and that doing so in such a short time frame would be impossible, Purja named his venture “Project Possible.”
According to Esquire, “he climbed the first, fourth, and fifth tallest mountains in the world—Himalayan neighbours Everest, Lhotse, and Makalu—in 48 hours. He climbed number three, Kanchenjunga, in one single-day phase rather than the usual four, then nearly died trying to save another mountaineer suffering from oxygen deprivation, all while hungover from a raucous night out in Kathmandu.”
Most mountain climbing stories – actually, most adventure stories, period – that we encounter are told by Westerners, so while Purja’s story is fascinating and inspiring on its own rather astounding merits, it’s even more important to hear his perspective. And you can definitely learn more about this amazing man and his team’s epic feats.
There is a documentary on Netflix about it called “14 Peaks,” which Esquire describes as “a celebration of the Nepalese climbing community, so often badly underrepresented in western discussions of mountaineering… But mostly, it is a rolling series of borderline incomprehensible human endeavours, the triumph of a mortal’s will against the towering strength of the natural world.”
Purja also wrote a book about the experience called Beyond Possible, with a pull quote featured on his website, “I was raised in the Gurkhas and made in the British Special Forces. But I became a badass in the mountains.”
3:30pm Great Circle
For our final adventurous upside, I wanted to tell you about a fantastic book I finished only today: Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead.
Now, I know I said I wanted to highlight adventure and exploration on this week’s show, so you might be wondering what a fictional novel has to do with that. I want to tell you about it because the book is so inspiring and captivating, it pulls you into its truly epic adventure that goes literally around the globe. The novel is also, in my opinion, a tremendous feat of research by Maggie Shipstead: it’s obvious that she spent countless hours reading about the groundbreaking female aviators in the last century, such as America’s Amelia Earhart and New Zealand’s Jean Batten.
As Shipstead describes in the book, a great circle is the largest circle that can be drawn on a sphere. If one was to cut a sphere along the line of one of these great circles, it would be exactly cut in half. So Earth is a sphere, and some of its great circles are its lines of longitude like the prime meridian and also its equator. The “great circle” in the novel refers to the main character’s goal: to circumnavigate the world, flying across the north and south poles.
As Eva Holland writes in Outside magazine, “The rich history of female aviation, and how little of it we choose to remember, got Shipstead chewing on narrative ideas that involve disappearance and death.” It was a statue of Jean Batten spotted at Auckland’s airport that first inspired the idea for the novel.
I thought the book was a profoundly realistic globetrotting adventure with a journey crossing a hundred years and almost countless miles, through world wars, oil painting, wild childhoods, Antarctica, lonely Pacific islands, and ill-fated loves. It’s made me want to learn more about the real life pioneers of aviation and adventure. So, my last upside for the week is indeed a book recommendation, the 602 page 2021 Booker Prize short-listed novel Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead.
Episode 8 from 21 June 2022:
2:30pm The End of Oil Drilling in the Arctic?
Hello and welcome to the Upside, episode number 8. I know this is a trite thing to say, but I can’t believe it’s already been a full week since I was in the studio talking to you all about the better side of news and playing the latest rock and pop music. It really just flew by for me. How has your week been? I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve gone back to university to get a degree I started working on more than 20 years ago. The new school term started yesterday for me, so I’m back to research and writing papers, which makes me very happy. I hope you’ve had a happy development in your life over the past week as well!
For this week’s Upside, we’ll be hearing good news on conservation from around the world. Stay tuned to hear three different stories, at 2:30, 3, and 3:30pm.
Before we get into our first conservation story, a quick note: when I say “conservation” I mean “nature conservation,” which Wikipedia defines as “the moral philosophy and conservation movement focused on protecting species from extinction, maintaining and restoring habitats, enhancing ecosystem services, and protecting biological diversity.”
Now, onto our first story: oil drilling may be on its way out in the Arctic as three big oil companies exit from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Washington Post reports that the companies “have given up opportunities to explore for oil in” the refuge, which is a “vast, unspoiled landscape” in Alaska. Oil drilling rights have been fought over here for approximately 50 years.
The companies are: Regenerate Alaska, which is part of an Australian company, Chevon and Hilcorp. All have cancelled or given up seeking leases on the land.
Why this sudden shift? Well, you might have heard that the previous administration in America under Trump had controversially awarded these leases in the last few weeks before leaving the White House. The federal government under President Biden suspended these as one of its first acts last year, creating obstacles for oil corporations that require time and money to fight.
However, it’s not all political machinations that should be credited with saving this pristine refuge, which is also a “critical habitat for the Southern Beaufort Sea’s remaining polar bears.” As The Washington Post reports, drilling in this beautiful but very remote region is tremendously difficult: “There are no roads or facilities, so building the infrastructure to support oil exploration would be costly. There has long been strong opposition to drilling in the refuge, which has only intensified as climate change worsens, driven by burning of fossil fuels. The Alaskan Arctic has warmed at least three times more than other parts of the country, posing new risks to oil infrastructure on the North Slope as permafrost melts.”
3pm Nature Recovery in the UK
For our next story, we go to the United Kingdom, where the Guardian reports that work is now underway on five projects to “tackle wildlife loss and improve access to nature.”
These projects encompass almost 99,000 hectares of land in the West Midlands, Cambridgeshire, Peak District, Norfolk and Somerset. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Natural England has dedicated almost two and a half million pounds to habitat creation, community connectivity via footpaths, natural land management and recovery, and carbon storage.
The work will involve areas of rural farmland and inner city urban environments. It is hoped to stop the decline of biodiversity in the UK while increasing access to green areas in an equitable way through community consultation. As environment minister Rebecca Pow remarked, it will “[enable] us to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.”
You can read more about the different projects in the Guardian article, which I have linked in this episode’s show notes.
3:30pm Koala Protection
For our final conservation story, we go much closer to home, to Queensland Australia, just north of us here in the Bellingen Shire. It is also reported by the Guardian.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced on Twitter that the Queensland government is “committing $24.6 million to protect koalas across South East Queensland,” and that the point of the funding is to preserve the existing koala population through habitat protection and restoration.
Queensland’s environment minister, Meaghan Scanlon, said, “This funding will help us do so much work for our much-loved koala population, but it also allows us to do some really important work for threatened species.”
This type of initiative is so vital for Queensland, which has “the highest number of threatened species in Australia that faced habitat destruction due to ‘shocking rates of land clearing’” according to Dave Copeman, the director of the Queensland Conservation Council.
$14.7 million of the funding will be used to recover the habitats of threatened species native to the state, both on land and in the seas.
Earlier this year, the Queensland government bought land formerly used for large cattle stations west of Cairns. This land – more than 131 thousand hectares – was returned to its traditional owners for preservation and to “[ensure] the region’s iconic natural and cultural values are protected,” according to a government statement. About the land acquisition, environment minister Scanlon remarked that the former cattle station land connects with existing protected areas and “[provides] further opportunity to protect the Great Barrier Reef by stabilising two catchment areas that flow into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.”