Let’s tune in to “Sunny Side Up News,” with your host, David Pogue…
Good morning! Well, you’d never know it from the headlines, but 2023 was a great year for good news.
For starters, inflation is finally slowing down, and may even lead to lower interest rates in the New Year. Looks like the Federal Reserve might have pulled it off: Cooling inflation without triggering a recession.
down … property crime rates are down … more Americans are getting college degrees … and carbon-dioxide emissions per capita down.
And how about some news with a little more flash?
For decades, we could only envy the rail systems in other countries. That’s why Brightline Rail, in Florida, might surprise you. It has just built the first new privately-owned American rail line in 100 years. It makes 16 round-trips a day between Orlando and Miami, which take just three-and-a-half hours.
“There’s a lot of easy-to-grasp advantages to taking a train,” said Brightline CEO Michael Reininger. “It’s faster. It’s safer. It’s cleaner. But on top of all of those, you get the gift of time back by taking the train.”
And Florida is only the beginning. Just last month, the government contributed $8.2 billion toward rail projects in 44 states, including the country’s first bullet train, which will take passengers between Las Vegas and Los Angeles at 200 miles an hour.
“Others are gonna jump in as well,” said Reininger. “And so, this really is, we think, the ice-break moment for what will be a new transformation in train travel in America.”
Sometimes, good news means reversing bad news, and there was a lot of that in 2023.
Brazil’s previous president burned down 8.4 million acres of the Amazon rainforest, the largest carbon sink on the planet. But the new president has slowed that deforestation by 48% in only eight months.
There’s hope for redwood trees, too. California’s giant redwoods can live for more than 2,500 years, so it was devastating when the 2020 wildfires burned up Big Basin Redwoods State Park, leaving nothing behind but blackened trunks.
But this year, something amazing appeared: new green buds growing back! It turns out that for centuries these trees have been harboring a secret reserve of buds beneath the bark — a little insurance for worst-case scenarios.
But as good-news categories go, the big winner this year was medicine. We got the first-ever over-the-counter birth control pill; and new treatments approved for Alzheimer’s, RSV, and muscular dystrophy.
And then, the game-changer in obesity and diabetes: the mainstream arrival of drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Zepbound.
Reshmi Srinath, the director of Obesity Medicine at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, explained: “Typically what it does is, it slows the way food moves through your gut. So, you feel less appetite, you feel less cravings. Clinical trials have shown Wegovy’s average weight loss was around 15 percent [of body weight], and with Zepbound up to 20 percent or more.”
She called the results significant: “Patients who come and who have really tried their best but have failed … could really benefit from some of these drugs.”
Best of all, it’s not just about losing weight: “It’s their blood pressure, their cholesterol, their diabetes — being able to say, ‘Oh, you don’t need your blood pressure medicine anymore,'” Srinath said. “So, really these are tremendous, tremendous gains, and something that is really a breakthrough.”
2023 was the year artificial intelligence got real. Software like ChatGPT set off waves of terror about jobs, misinformation, and humanity’s future. But there’s more to the AI story.
For example, AI can now spot breast-cancer tumors that people miss. In California, within two months a new AI program spotted 77 wildfires forming before any person had a clue.
And in Los Angeles and New York, AI hooked up to traffic cameras is changing stoplights in real time, to keep traffic flowing.
As Stanford professor Erik Brynjolfsson points out, “Not only is it not the end of the world, I think we’re going to have potentially the best decade of flourishing of creativity that we’ve ever had, because a whole bunch of people, lots more people than before, are going to be able to contribute to our collective art and science.”
Finally, air travel is one of the last great challenges in decarbonizing the planet. Airplanes pump out about a billion tons of carbon dioxide every year, and as we all know, there’s no such thing as a clean electric plane.
Or is there?
Above Burlington, Vermont, a striking new airplane — an all-electric aircraft made by Beta Technologies — has taken to the skies. It seats six, and can fly for a couple hundred miles on a charge.
And according to Beta founder and CEO Kyle Clarke, that’s only the beginning: “Every year, batteries get better and better. That means in seven years, we’ll double that [flying time]. And another seven years, we’ll double that again.”
He says there’s no question we will soon fly on electric-powered jet liners.
Beta expects to begin flying cargo in 2024, and passengers in 2025, but it’s just one of more than 300 companies working on electric planes — aircraft that are quieter than gas-fueled planes, simpler to maintain, and much cheaper to fly. Many of them can take off and land vertically, and you know what that means: Where we’re going, we don’t need runways.
That’s all for today — actually, that’s nowhere near all — but remember: Bad news breaks suddenly, but good news happens everywhere, all the time.
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Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Remington Korper.