5 Things to Be Thankful For This Year

Whether it's the chaos in Kabul or the malaise in Brussels, today's headlines are often downright depressing. But it's not all doom and gloom in the world. Here are a few of the best reasons we should all give thanks.

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
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The smoke stacks at American Electric Power's (AEP) Mountaineer coal power plant in New Haven, West Virginia, October 30, 2009. In cooperation with AEP, the French company Alstom unveiled the world's largest carbon capture facility at a coal plant, so called "clean coal," which will store around 100,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide a year 2.1 kilometers (7,200 feet) underground. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)


Carbon Emissions Are Finally Falling

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The good news:  The Earth got an unexpected reprieve in September when the International Energy Agency found that worldwide carbon emissions had fallen 2.6 percent in 2009, the biggest reduction in 40 years. Of course, the main driving force behind the fall was the global economic crisis, which resulted in lower industrial output. But the IEA also credited new emissions standards and energy efficiency policies in the United States, Europe, and China. Since 2007, U.S. emissions have fallen 9 percent -- the first decline in a century -- thanks in large part to reduced usage of coal. The IEA is now arguing the recession will make it much less difficult to reach the emissions reductions needed to avert the worst effects of climate change.


Carbon Emissions Are Finally Falling

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The good news:  The Earth got an unexpected reprieve in September when the International Energy Agency found that worldwide carbon emissions had fallen 2.6 percent in 2009, the biggest reduction in 40 years. Of course, the main driving force behind the fall was the global economic crisis, which resulted in lower industrial output. But the IEA also credited new emissions standards and energy efficiency policies in the United States, Europe, and China. Since 2007, U.S. emissions have fallen 9 percent — the first decline in a century — thanks in large part to reduced usage of coal. The IEA is now arguing the recession will make it much less difficult to reach the emissions reductions needed to avert the worst effects of climate change.

On the other hand:  When the global economy begins to heat up again, emissions are likely to increase along with it, particularly in Asia’s rapidly growing economic powers, India and China. And with next month’s Copenhagen summit scuttled before it even begins, world leaders appear no closer to the kind of international regulation that could make the recent gains permanent.

Al Qaeda Is Going Broke


Al Jazeera

The good news: In June, al Qaeda no. 3 Mustafa Abu al-Yazid released an audiotape that focused less on waging global jihad or spreading the terrorist group’s ideology than on the constant concern of all organizations – raising money. “We, in the battlefield in Afghanistan, are lacking a lot of money and a weakness in operations because of lack of money, and many mujahideen are absent from jihad because of lack or absence of money with which they can carry out jihad,” Yazid complained. The increasing ability of authorities to trace and disrupt terrorist financing — not to mention the hit that al Qaeda donors in the Persian Gulf region likely took from the financial crisis — are clearly having an effect.

On the other hand: David Cohen, assistant Treasury secretary for terrorist financing, recently said that while al Qaeda does appear to be in its “weakest financial condition in several years,” the group’s Taliban ally’s ability to finance terrorist attacks on U.S. forces is increasing, thanks to involvement in a wide range of illegal activity and increased international funding.


The Recession Hasn’t Led to Chaos



OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images

The good news: The effects of the worldwide economic recession have been devastating, to be sure — millions have lost their jobs in the developed world and millions more face desperate poverty and hunger in developing countries. But the dire predictions that the economic downturn would lead to widespread political instability or lead to an upsurge in extremism haven’t come to past. Yes, governments have collapsed in Iceland, Latvia, and a few other small countries, but even these countries’ democratic systems never faced a major threat. And while the rising popularity of far-right parties like Britain’s BNP is troubling, centrists have dominated recent European elections. In India, the ruling Congress party held off a populist challenge from the Hindu Nationalist BJP. Rising economic power Brazil also looks likely to stick with a center-left government in next year’s election.

On the other hand: Hopes that the recession would undermine the authority of resource-dependent authoritarians in Russia, Iran, and Venezuela have also proven unfounded. Vlad, Mahmoud, and Hugo are still making mischief.

 

Swine Flu Is Starting to Peak


PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images

The good news: While this undoubtedly looks to be the most severe flu season in the last decade, now that flu has claimed more than 6,000 lives worldwide there are signs that the epidemic is starting to slow, contrary to experts’ worst predictions. Although 700 people died of the disease in the last week of October, the number was down to 179 by the week of Nov. 8, according to the World Health Organization.  The pandemic now shows signs of having peaked in its epicenter — North America –and is holding steady in Western Europe. In the Southern Hemisphere, the disease appears to be on the wane. Antiviral medicines are also proving effective at preventing flu deaths.

On the other hand: Despite the overall downturn, the disease continues to spread to new countries and the epidemic seems to be growing more severe in the Middle East and East Asia. And there are always other potential outbreaks to worry about.


Sarah Palin Isn’t the U.S. Vice President



Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

The good news: Vice President Joe Biden’s gaffe-prone public appearances have made him a favorite target of comedians and bloggers, but the publicity tsunami surrounding the release of Sarah Palin’s memoir Going Rogue: An American Life is a reminder how close the United States came to having a complete foreign-policy neophyte a heartbeat away from being commander in chief. In the book, Palin continues to defend her description of Alaska’s proximity to Russia as a foreign-policy qualification, complains of the difficulty of the McCain campaign’s vetting process, and says she was unprepared for the hostile nature of the now infamous Katie Couric interview at the United Nations. Whatever one thinks of Biden’s position on the Afghan troop debate — less nation-building, more drones —  we can at least be thankful that Palin isn’t in the room when these decisions are being made.

On the other hand: Palin seems to be laying the groundwork for a presidential run in 2012. While her chances seem slim at best, her influence within the conservative movement is growing and it would be foolish to rule the maverick from Wasilla out completely.

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Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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