A Look Back At 2020: What Have We Accomplished?

A Look Back At 2020: What Have We Accomplished?

A Look Back At 2020: What Have We Accomplished?

We can’t ignore the reality of what 2020 represents and what this year and the compound impact of various negative events on our lives. Nevertheless, the bad news has us all fatigued and tired. We need a break.

And that is exactly what Rand Rescue wants to give you right now – some good news to break the narrative of dissent.

As online bickering gained momentum in the past year and news networks saturate our social media with political, medical and financial distress, most of us have missed some of the positive stories and progress  in 2020.

Lightning-speed vaccine

One of the greatest headaches for epidemiologists worldwide following the breakout of Covid-19 was how long research and development of vaccines usually takes. In general, vaccines take years to develop. The shortest term  for vaccine licensing before 2020 was for mumps. The infection was isolated over months from throat washings which biomedical scientist Maurice Hilleman took from his child who had fallen ill. Clinical trials two years from the date that Hilleman had his ‘winning’ formula, and licensing occurred a few months thereafter. All-in-all the process took about 3,5 years.

But Hilleman didn’t have the pressure of global catastrophe, pooled resources, technology and funding at the disposal of scientists today. The Covid-19 virus is said to have broken out late December to early January, and scientists the world over had commenced SARS-CoV-2 genome testing by mid January. The first vaccine safety trials started in March 2020, and in November 2020 it was announced that US pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer, along with their German partner BioNTech had created a vaccine which had passed Phase 3 of vaccine trials. The vaccine was found to be 95% effective in preventing infection across all ages, with no serious safety concerns.

Of course, countries will have to authorise vaccine usage individually, which is why the UK jumped the queue – purchasing 40-million doses of the vaccine with the first batch due to be delivered in the second week of December. 

Irrespective of your stance on vaccination, the remarkable breakthroughs achieved through international scientific collaboration and dedication is not something to scoff at. We applaud the scientists working around the clock to save human lives.

Since the vaccine is not yet 100% successful and widely tested, we’re also likely to see more advancements in Covid-19 vaccination in the near future. As with all vaccines, there is also a chance that some side-effects haven’t been properly identified yet, but this shouldn’t be a deterrent to take it especially for those who are at higher risk.

Lockdown ‘PandEmic’ Love

Despite multiple efforts over years, zoologists at Ocean Park zoo in Hong Kong could not get their resident panda pair Ying Ying and Le Le to do the deed and procreate. After decades, scientists merely figured the pair to be incompatible.

That was until lockdown restrictions in Hong Kong barred visitors to the zoo. Apparently all Ying Ying and Le Le needed was a bit of privacy (and perhaps some boredom) and what do you know!? Le Le started his flirtation early March, and his efforts paid off. Ying Ying conceived for the first time.

Zoologists state that they may restrict public viewing during mating season for animals who are endangered and need to procreate. They also noted that the lack of foreign scents may have been a contributing factor as successful mating for certain species requires them to pick up on hormonal secretions which may be obscured by multiple other scents and smells in the air.

Google DeepMind algorithm advances oncology

Google has been part of our lives in many different ways since the tech giant launched in the 2000s. But we could not have envisioned that a Google Artificial Intelligence algorithm would become part of oncology in 2020.

The algorithm was employed for cancer screening and was found to be far more effective at early cancer detection than any previous human intervention.

The hope is that a collaboration between tech giants and medical researchers could provide enhanced screening, testing and treatment across the board and offer hope for those suffering from chronic or critical conditions.

Death from cancer at lowest level

Cancer has been one of the biggest threats to human life in the past few decades. And although the prevalence of cancer death is increasing annually as population grows, cancer deaths have decreased drastically in the past decade with the lowest recorded death toll from cancer recorded in 2020.

Of course, some may argue that cancer deaths are mistakenly attributed to Covid-19, but this is a false assumption as deaths relating to both Covid-19 and cancer are still linked to cancer. Moreover, incidence of death due to cancer has decreased annually since 2015 with the largest annual drop recorded in the past year.

Renewable energy surpasses fossil fuels in Europe

For the first time in history, renewable energy has surpassed fossil fuels as a source of energy in Europe.

Worldwide, renewable energy sources increased by 14% while fossil fuel usage dropped by 10% and coal power dropped by 8.3%. In Europe, renewable energy now accounts for 40% of the EU’s power (from January 2020 to June 2020), with fossil fuels contributing 34%.

Most of the renewable energy in Europe is generated by wind and solar, with Denmark topping the EU charts at 64% renewable energy, followed by Ireland (49%) and Germany (42%). Coal as energy source fell by more than 30% in Europe this year.

Covid-19 has put many countries on the back foot with regards to reaching their emission goals, and unfortunately this has reduced the global capacity to produce electricity from renewable sources. Luckily the EU is putting in extra effort to contribute to global clean energy goals while other countries and continents are still playing catch up.

Neuralink offers ray of hope to for brain disorders

The madness of the media in the last few months has obscured much positive news as most people tend to only read the most outrageous news headlines without further insights into the stories behind the headlines.

As Covid-19 has been attributed to anything from Bill Gates, 5G, bioweaponry, crowd control and political strategy, it’s no surprise that most people did not take kindly to the news that Elon Musk and his team are planning on rolling out their microchip brain implants.

Yet what most people failed to register is that these implants are aimed specifically at alleviating symptoms and restoring quality of life for people who suffer from dementia, Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries. The implants give people the capacity to communicate with external devices using the microchip technology which will no longer render them helpless and trapped in their own bodies.

The device consists of more than 3 000 electrodes thinner than hair which monitor around 1 000 brain neurons and allow the external Neuralink technology to decode and transcribe the needs of the individual. Though it’s still in its infancy, the development offers a ray of hope to people who are struggling with neurological conditions.

An alternate intervention for climate change

When one thinks of Woody Harrelson, your reference would probably be limited to your knowledge of series and films – is it Cheers? Natural Born Killers? Zombieland? True Detective?

Well, if you’ve been stuck in front of your TV in the past few months like so many others, perhaps you recall that Harrelson is the narrator for the new Netflix documentary, Kiss the Ground.

The documentary shines a spotlight on remarkable interventions in farming practices worldwide and how these interventions could be far more effective at tackling climate change than merely reducing carbon emissions. The new approach has the secondary benefit of allowing farmers to continue making an income from their land by simply following no-tilling practices, using plant cover to retain minerals and integrity of topsoil and planting/raising a variety of plants and livestock to create environmentally self-sustainable areas.

It is a game-changer which can make farmers custodians of the earth, despite previous scorn against them.

Nursing home Christmas hunt

In an effort to keep spirits up, an Ohio retirement home gave their residents nerf guns with instructions to ‘go hunting’.

Although the activity was aimed at merely keeping lonely residents occupied, video clips of the nerf wars have made it onto international online platforms to everyone’s delight.

The nursing staff dressed up as deer and invited residents to the recreation hall, which was recreated into a ‘Christmassy’ forest scene. Residents were then encouraged to hunt ‘deer’ by shooting their nerf guns at the staff.

South African students excel at online learning

Various universities in South Africa have been scratching heads after crunching the numbers around student success and pass rates for 2020.

Given how much lockdown constrained educational institutions and how much work had been ‘lost’, the perception was that post-school learners would struggle tremendously with learning this year. Unlike secondary schooling where curriculum adaptation could be readily imposed on Gr R – 11 (and partially for Gr 12), varsities could not simply discard parts of their curriculum—these curricula are linked to the National Qualification Framework (NFQ) in South Africa. Adjustments to one curriculum affects the qualification framework and could also see varsities or colleges lose the accreditation of their courses.

Many students will also have to move on to other varsities or jobs outside SA borders. If the NFQ is compromised, this could see them be rejected.

Despite expectations of failure, however, it seems South African students have fared far better through the online groups learning and tutoring made available due to lockdown. In fact, such was the success, that the government has urged all institutions to consider offering online learning as a mode of learning for courses which must traditionally be taken in person.

Scientists create plastic-eating super enzyme

Earlier in 2020, scientists revealed their engineered bacteria which produces enzymes called PETase and MHETase. These enzymes can break down PET plastic—found in thousands of man made products from water bottles to carpets—into molecules which can be dissolved, broken down or absorbed by other bacteria.

Though the bacteria had been discovered by Japanese scientists in 2016, the breakdown process had been incredibly slow, and not feasible for large masses of plastic.

The new engineering has amped up these enzymes and now allow plastic to be broken down within a few hours. Though it isn’t efficient in decomposing polyvinyl chloride (PVC), scientists are hopeful that the advancements can be used to modify other enzymes capable of dealing with this waste.

Italian nonnas keep pasta-making art alive

In an effort to keep the art of pasta-making alive, an Italian community created the YouTube channel ‘Pasta Grannies’ in 2018. Though the channel has been around for the past few years, new life was breathed into the initiative in 2020 under lockdown.

The channel not only gives younger generations access to knowledge and skills from their nonnas,  but it has provided a lifeline for older generations who have suffered tremendously from isolation amid the pandemic.

The channel hopes to encourage other nations and cultures to showcase their elders’ skills during lockdown and to provide a platform for interaction between different generations.

Bird-friendly turbines in Norway

Onshore wind farms have received much scorn from various camps over the years, and one of the culprits which attracts such scorn is the mass incidence of birds killed by the turbine blades.

Birds are disarmed by what scientists call ‘motion smear’ which doesn’t allow them to view the blades in rotation.

Norway’s solution to the problem is so simple, and so effective, it’s remarkable that it’s taken so long to achieve.

By painting just one of the three blades of the turbine black, birds can identify all three individual blades while in flight and it’s created an immediate 70% drop in bird fatalities linked to turbines.

Uganda’s gorillas fighting back

Mountain gorilla populations in Africa have been under threat for years, and despite conservation efforts, the threat increases every year as poachers target both the gorillas and those who aim to protect them.

In 2020, however, the mountain gorillas of Uganda are fighting back on their own terms. This year has seen twice as many gorilla births as 2019 in one of Uganda’s national parks, and scientists hope that this is an indication of higher birth rates elsewhere in Uganda and Central Africa.

Arnhem replaces asphalt with grass

For a country whose land is sinking every year, there are few recourses to tackle the problem, especially when the problem is compounded by flooding and unstable ground structures.

In Arnhem, however, city planners have devised a long-term plan to prevent flooding and heatwaves and retain ground integrity. The city plans to replace a minimum of 10% of its asphalt with grass and other greenery in the next 10 years.

The project is estimated to be able to absorb 90% of rainwater in soil and prevent it from running off into sewers or causing erosion. At a mere 13 metres above sea level, Arnhem has struggled tremendously with flooding while their parks have conversely suffered droughts.

The plan will also include planting trees along the roads which will not be replaced to cool the areas, and supply more trees around parks, ponds and shopping centres to regulate temperature.

Lego Grandma paves the way!

Rita Ebel from Germany is literally paving the way for disabled people in her town. Frustrated with the lack of accessibility and difficulty in getting around town after 20 years in a wheelchair, Rita read about a disabled person building wheelchair ramps for himself using Lego blocks.

Rita called from people across the country to send their old blocks to her and is building ramps which she places in areas of the town where people in wheelchairs may struggle to drive. Lego ramps are built and glued together so the blocks won’t break loose, and are then installed around town.

Rita has inspired other disabled people to walk around their neighbourhoods and identify areas of poor accessibility, and to tackle these issues in a way which would help others with their particular handicaps.

Largest rooftop farm opens in Paris

Despite pandemic delays, the world’s largest rooftop farm finally opened in July 2020. The rooftop farm sits atop a six-storey building in Paris and covers 14 000 square metres.

Once functional, the farm is estimated to be able to produce around 1 000 kg of fruit and vegetables per day. Not only will the farm produce fresh produce, but it will lower temperatures in the city region by absorbing radiation, and become a hub for bees and other insects.

France placed massive restrictions on neonicotinoids in 2018 after the nation realised that they’d all but eviscerated insect populations through the use of insecticides. Though the government is considering lifting some restrictions, part of their approach has been to not merely impose restrictions, but to create areas where pollinators like bees, butterflies and birds can flourish to counterbalance the harmful effects of agricultural farming practices.

Formula 1 supports coronavirus patients

With billions spent on research and development to enhance stamina and in particular lung function for drivers—F1 is certainly capable of providing medical experts with information to improve oxygen transportation for Covid-19 patients.

But Mercedes F1 has taken it a step further. The motor giant has not merely provided knowledge bases, but is distributing breathing aids to hospitals in the UK to improve ventilators for patients suffering from the virus.

The breathing aids are modeled on the aids used by F1 drivers, with adaptions made to incorporate these into existing ventilators.

Vaquita porpoise surprises scientists

In 2019 there were as few  10 vaquita porpoises left in the wild, scientists expected to read about their extinction in 2020, and yet they were pleasantly surprised by news that marine scientists spotted vaquita porpoises with babies in the Gulf of California this year.

This is remarkable news, given that captive breeding to improve numbers has been unsuccessful thus far. Scientists spotted six porpoises together at once over their three day trek, giving them hope that numbers had already grown before the new arrivals.

Scientists also spotted illegal fishing vessels in the vicinity and were quite concerned that these vessels would hamper the good news and that the new porpoises were at risk of landing in fishing nets. Nevertheless, hopes are high that the breeding will continue and the numbers continue to grow.

Crossing the divide

Protests in the US have created incredible polarisation among racial and socio-political lines, both within and outside their country. Many people have felt compelled to choose sides in the BLM matter, and it has been a tough choice for most involved.

But remarkably, it seems the choice has been made easier by the police force itself, as police chiefs in several US cities like Camden and Flint have taken off their helmets to join protesters in their fight for black lives.

It seems a new wave of supporters have risen in a quest for human rights. This seems to have all been sparked by the ‘Wall of Moms’ who came out in droves to protect demonstrators following George Floyd’s death. These grassroots groups of all races and cultures formed human walls between police and protesters in Portland, Chicago and Tampa. The Wall of Moms sparked a second wave—the Wall of Vets.

Across the country, US army veterans followed suit to create barriers between protestors and police forces in order to keep the peace. The veterans involved stated that the police forces are less likely to attack army veterans than civilians, and that it was an easy choice to stand between these opposing forces in order to protect human lives. Federal agents were less forgiving, and in at least one instance were seen breaking a veteran’s hands and spraying him with a chemical irritant.

To answer the call of law-abiding citizens placing their lives at risk to protect others, several police forces have chimed in. These stations and their chiefs have stated that they are validating the plight of protestors as the police force should be held accountable for the loss of human life and racial profiling rampant in the system. According to them, if a force does its work properly, there would be no need for civilian protest—their own participation is therefore demonstrable of their empathy and understanding for the divide between civilians and those tasked to protect them. 

Their hope is to create a platform for police and civilians to discuss problems and connect with each other as humans on equal ground.

Youngsters take up old school hobbies

Older generations always fear that old hobbies, skills and interests will go to waste as youngsters gravitate increasingly towards new technologies. But 2020 has proven those fears to be unfounded.

The Sheku Effect postulates that younger generations are prone to taking up older trades, skills and hobbies if social influencers in their age groups reaffirm these as admirable skills. It is generally limited to music, but this year has proven that the Sheku Effect traverses many arenas.

With lockdown forcing children and parents to remain put, or to pursue activities which are mostly solitary while outdoors, there has been a remarkable spark in interest for various hobbies and skills which had fallen out of favour in recent years.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason is a renowned cellist who played at the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding in 2018. The effect is named after him as the phenomena which has presented in 2020 is said to be largely thanks to this young cellist. 2020 has seen a 68% increase in applications for residential cello courses from young musicians compared to 2019, and a 26% increase in applications for all instruments.

Online shops like Amazon, Takealot, Alibaba and the likes have noted a massive increase in hobby kits and art sales during lockdown as more and more children are encouraged to keep busy in social isolation.

Marine and Wildlife institutions have similarly indicated more than 50% increase in remote learning applications for children who want to learn about wildlife and the outdoors, while gardening shops and distributors have shown record demand and sales in 2020 for anything from small home-gardening kits and seeds to tree pruning and mycelium growing kits.

The same is true for hardware shops which have noted massive demand for small hand tools and devices suitable for children. It seems the lockdown has created an environment teeming with opportunities for nurturing skills long forgotten—quite the opposite of what so many parents have feared.

Chinese weather modification amped up

Whatever your views on weather modification, it is remarkable how much this tactic has managed to reduce weather-induced environmental damage. Earlier in 2020 the science behind cloud seeding was affirmed through a study funded by the US National Science Foundation.

As one of the leading investors and most advanced nations in weather modification, China has managed to reduce hail damage in the agricultural Xinjiang region by 70% in 2019. Many nations use weather modification, and cloud seeding in particular to ensure rainfall and snowfall in certain regions, but none have used this tactic as widespread and successfully as China.

China plans to expand this weather modification experimentation to a massive area of over 5.5 million square kilometres—more than 1,5 times the size of India.

Though their testing has thus far not created any troubles for their neighbours, some nations—including India—are concerned that the testing will have a negative impact across borders or will be used for harm.

Scientists involved in weather modification have stated that experimentation on such a large scale could, however, be beneficial for countries like India in particular. The nation has struggled with increasingly unpredictable monsoon patterns under climate change, and weather modification could significantly reduce damage to agriculture, property and loss of life.

99-year-old WWII veteran raises R368-million for NHS

In an effort to raise funds for the UK’s NHS, 99-year-old WWII veteran Tom Moore asked strangers to bid on the number of laps he could walk around his garden in Bedfordshire with his walking frame.

Tom had initially aimed to raise around R20 000, but such was the support and public interest, that it spurred Tom on to continue walking. Despite a hip replacement and having had cancer, Tom has thus far completed 100 laps and raised more than R300 million.  Some of his benefactors include the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

Switzerland gives female dress code the cold shoulder

In another breakthrough for 2020, Swiss parliament has rolled back a regulation requiring women to cover their shoulders and arms in parliament.

The move has been dubbed a ‘little revolution’ for women by Swiss news outlet Tages Anzeiger. A mere four years ago a news editor was thrown out of the hall for showing too much shoulder.

Though it’s a small step forward, it sets a precedent for other institutions to rethink rules and regulations imposed by antiquated or overly conservative lawmakers in the past.

US sends love to Africa

A surprising benefactor for goodwill to come out of 2020 is the quilting community. Earlier in 2020, quilters from around the world had pooled resources to create blankets, nets and mittens for animals harmed in Australian bushfires.

So it’s no surprise that these needle-wielders would once more show their gumption during a pandemic. The Love Quilt Project is one of these groups.

Based in the USA, the LQP has noticed the plight of poor South Africans and dedicated their time and resources to making fabric masks for underprivileged children. Thus far the project has donated more than 2 000 reusable masks and since the project is ongoing, their donations are growing every week.

But the LQP has taken it a step further. Their site not only calls on sewers to donate their skills to masks, but they’re asking for donations for underprivileged children in South Africa. The project has created cost estimates for specific needs of children living in foster care and are asking US citizens to donate towards these fees. In addition to face masks, they also create quilts and art square packages for South African children.

As a non-profit, the group shares their costs, IRS returns and certificates on their site for all to see how funds and donations are used and distributed.

Mumbai turns pink

With less people about, animals the world over are enjoying the open space where humans tend to flock.

This phenomena is perhaps most vivid in India where flamingoes have flocked in their thousands to enjoy the peace and calm of the lakes.

One prominent lake in Mumbai has seen 25% more flamingoes in the area in 2020 than previous years. In the dwindling light of day, their pink hues seem to almost illuminate the lake as the last rays of the sun reflect off thousands of flamingos in the water.

Vienna encourages environmental tourism

In an effort to curb CO2 emissions, Austria’s capital launched a trial version of a smartphone app aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

The app tracks motion and movement and rewards local and international tourists for traveling by foot, bicycle or public transport. For every 20kg of C02 saved, users are rewarded with cultural tokens which can be exchanged at cultural venues such as the Volkstheater, Vienna Museum, Kunsthalle and Konzerthaus.

The city hopes that this will lead to more conscious tourism and offer visitors ways of enjoying cultural tours and entertainment at no cost, by simply travelling responsibly.

That’s our good news for now

There are thousands of positive stories and breakthroughs in the world today. If you’re feeling rundown and demotivated by all the negative news around you, be sure to deliberately search for those stories which put a smile on your face.

We hope you feel right and ready to tackle the last leg of the 2020 race. If you need help with forex or other cross-border financial matters, be sure to leave your details below and we’ll be in touch to discuss your needs.

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