It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of Elon Musk, it was the age of Mark Zuckerberg. It was the season of Novichok, it was the season of the backstop. We had WTO terms before us, we had our hoard of food and medicine before us. In short, 2018 was a year as wretched as the one that preceded it.
That’s only half the story, though. As in 2017, there was plenty of good news over the past 12 months. Some of it made the headlines, most of it didn’t. We are on a declinist kick at the moment and nurse our gloom from the intrusion of optimism. By way of a psychic corrective, here are 18 positive stories that came out of 2018.
1) India unveiled the world’s biggest healthcare programme
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s free medical scheme, inevitably dubbed ‘Modicare’, will cover the poorest 40 per cent of India’s 1.25 billion population. In a country where the average family spends 60 per cent of its income on healthcare, and where a lack of basic provision is estimated to kill 1.6 million every year, Modicare marks a major stride towards first-world status.
2) In more and more places, love was love
This year saw the state’s claim over the private lives and personal choices of its citizens reduce further. Homosexual activity was decriminalised in India and Trinidad and Tobago. Same-sex marriage became legal in Jersey and civil unions in San Marino while courts in Bermuda and Costa Rica struck down anti gay-marriage statutes and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that member states could not restrict the benefits of marriage to opposite-sex couples. Elsewhere, a referendum to ban gay weddings failed in Romania after only a fifth of the electorate turned out to vote and Hong Kong recognised same-sex partners for visa purposes.
3) The weed got freed
The costly and calamitous War on Drugs continued its slow march to surrender. Canada became the second country after Uruguay to legalise recreational cannabis, an admission that a century of prohibition had failed in one of the world’s biggest consumers of pot. South of the border in California, marijuana use became legal for over 21s; the most populous US state now allows possession of one ounce or six plants at home. The Constitutional Court in South Africa overturned the convictions of three smokers and ruled that prosecuting those who spark up a spliff at home was an invasion of privacy. Best of all, the BBC got to run the headline ‘South Africa’s highest court legalises cannabis use’.
4) The Catholic Church condemned capital punishment
The Holy See was already down on the death penalty but the Catechism permitted it ‘if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor’. In August, a revision was announced in which capital punishment was designated ‘inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person’. It marked a milestone in the global campaign to abolish this expensive and ineffective relic of 20th century penal policy.
5) Apple became first publicly listed US company to break the $1 trillion mark
Capitalism. Still got it.
6) Sisters did it for themselves
The #MeToo movement hit the skids in 2018 when sexual assault claims of varying plausibility failed to stop Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh from reaching the US Supreme Court and a series of antisemitism allegations put the Women’s March under the spotlight. If the self-proclaimed women’s movement stumbled, women themselves picked up their stride. Gina Haspel was sworn in as the first female director of the CIA and Stacey Cunningham became thefirst woman to head up the New York Stock Exchange. Mia Mottley was elected the first female prime minister of Barbados while Femke Halsema became Amsterdam’s inaugural woman mayor. Nevada became the first US state with a female-majority legislature, women in Saudi Arabia finally got to drive, and suffragette Millicent Fawcett was honoured with Parliament Square’s first statue of a woman.
7) Donald Trump got some things right
His administration remains mostly a horror show but the 45th president managed a few commendable decisions in 2018. He moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, withdrewfrom Barack Obama’s discredited nuclear deal with Iran, presided over the lowest unemployment rates since 1969, and posthumously pardoned Jack Johnson, America’s first black heavyweight who was convicted on a morals charge by an all-white jury in 1913.
8) Kim we be friends again?
One of 2018’s most remarkable stories was the thawing of hostilities between North and South Korea. Donald Trump’s historic sit-down with Kim Jong-un in June was followed by a flurry of cross-border initiatives by Pyongyang and Seoul, from Moon Jae-in’s warmly received speech to the Mass Games to South Korean engineers visiting to help the North improve its rail infrastructure. For its part, the Juche-run dictatorship agreed to shutter one of its main missile sites. Kim even gave the South some Pungsan hunting puppies and was pictured doing the K-pop hand gesture. (Ask your kids.)
9) Migrants became happier
Despite the many benefits of resettling in another country, migrants have previously recorded markedly lower levels of happiness than native populations. The 2018 World Happiness Report documented a dramatic convergence between the two groups, so much so that the top ten happiest countries are among the top 11 for migrant happiness. ‘Immigrant happiness, like that of the locally born, depends on a range of features of the social fabric, extending far beyond the higher incomes traditionally thought to inspire and reward migration,’ the report’s authors noted. ‘The countries with the happiest immigrants are not the richest countries, but instead the countries with a more balanced set of social and institutional supports for better lives.’
10) China got its act together on pollution
Four years after a crackdown on smog, Chinese cities recorded an average drop in pollution particles of 32 per cent in 2018. In Beijing alone, $120 billion was spent cutting pollution by a quarter. Coal mines were shut down, coal-fired power stations ordered to lower emissions and cars restricted in major cities including Shanghai and Guangzhou.
11) Heroic rescue efforts saved lives around the globe
Happy endings all round when it came to these human disasters. Twelve schoolboy soccer players and their coach were thought to be doomed after becoming trapped in a subterranean cave complex in Thailand. Against all the odds, however, all 13 were brought to the surface alive and well after more than two weeks underground. In South Africa, all 955 Beatrix gold mine workers stranded underground by a power failure were rescued while an Indonesian teenager was saved after being swept to sea in his fishing hut for 49 days.
12) Australia unveiled world-first sea rescue drones
Australia’s Surf Life Saving chose January to roll out its innovative unmanned sea rescue drone, designed to make it easier and safer to locate stranded swimmers. Just a few hours later, the device was put to the test when two teenagers were cast adrift off Lennox Head, New South Wales. The drone then conducted the world’s first rescue by unmannered aerial device, bringing the boys safely ashore.
13) A double amputee reached the summit of Everest
China’s Xia Boyu first tried scaling the world’s highest peak in 1975 but ended up losing both legs to frostbite after giving his sleeping bag to a fellow climber who had fallen ill. In 2018, the double amputee returned to the mountain and finally reached the summit.
14) The England cricket team smashed a world record
In June, England made history when it turned in the highest ever one-day total in international cricket against the Aussies at Trent Bridge. Alex Hales and Jonny Bairstow helped secure the 242 runs by which the hosts trounced their Antipodean rivals.
15) Medical science had quite the year
Paraguay became the first American country in 45 years to eradicate malaria while the Lancetestimated Australia was 20 years away from eliminating cervical cancer. An Italian woman became the first recipient of a bionic hand with a sense of touch and the first baby to come to term following the transplant of a dead patient’s womb was born in Brazil.
16) Chocolate got sweeter
Mars announced a $1 billion sustainability scheme that will see all their chocolate produced from responsible sources by 2025. Key among their goals is to reduced deforestation, child labour and poverty within the cocoa production industry.
17) Every village in India was electrified
In April, authorities in India announced that electricity had now reached all 600,000 villages in the country. It was the culmination of a £2 billion programme first announced in 2015.
18) Twice in a lifetime
In May, a Sydney man won the New South Wales lottery jackpot. Twice. In the same week. The anonymous gambler picked up two seven-figure cheques after matching the winning numbers on Monday and five days later on Saturday. He told lottery organisers: ‘I’m not going to be stupid with it. I wouldn’t mind buying a place at Bondi Beach.’