From child detention camps to dire warnings about climate change to Ariana breaking it off with Pete, 2018 has been full of depressing and disheartening news. But if you put on your heat-resistant gloves and sift through the burning dumpster that was this year, you can find more than a few nuggets of goodness to help round things out, including some pretty historic stuff. Here are 20 uplifting news stories you might have missed this year.
Be honest: How many of you didn't even know midterm elections were a thing until this year? A whole bunch, we're guessing, because 2018 marked the highest turnout for one since 1966, with more than 47 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot. Before you ask why we're getting hot and bothered over a turnout under 50 percent, we should remind you that a measly 37 percent bothered to vote in the 2014 midterms, which was down from 41 percent in 2010. Early voting also saw record numbers. We'll let you speculate on the reasons for this, but we can safely say that 2018 really, uh, trumped the last 50 years of turnout.
Not that long ago, it seemed like the main causes of death in the future would be "smoking too much" or "standing next to someone smoking too much." But that's not how it turned out. Cigarette smoking by Americans has reached an "unprecedented low," according to a November 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC (the "P" is silent). As in, it's the lowest it's been since the CDC started keeping track of this in 1965.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Only 14 percent of adults in the U.S. are putting death sticks in their mouths now, compared to 40 percent in the 1960s. In fact, the report says that "declines occurred in current use of any tobacco product," including using e-cigarettes or chewing tobacco like an old-timey baseball player. Researchers credit those pesky smoke-free policies and legislation, as well as the fact that this crap is getting more expensive. Maybe millennials are too broke to buy cigarettes? Or maybe not, since ...
Here's one more thing millennials are killing: not having a home. According to the Census Bureau, homeownership rates in America are slightly up for all age brackets, and way up for those under 35, having reached 36.5 percent in the second quarter of 2018 -- the highest rate since 2013. That's still lower than those fat cats in previous generations had when they were younger, but on the upside, a "historically large" number of Americans are now first-time home-buyers. This means that it's not just a small bunch of rich kids buying houses while playing a large-scale version of Monopoly.
Also, homes are being bought faster than the pace of "household formation" (read: getting hitched), meaning that people are buying because they want to go from renting to owning, not because they got married and society guilted them into it. Suck it, society!
The Giving Foundation USA released its annual report in June 2018, and it turns out we're not all a bunch of self-centered tightwads after all. For the first time ever, Americans gave over $400 billion to charity in a year, an increase of 5.2 percent over last year. And if you're thinking it was all just corporations looking for tax deductions, nope, the overwhelming majority was from individuals.
Alejandro Gonzalez / USA Today
And it wasn't just the Red Cross raking in all the donations. "Contributions went up nearly across the board," the foundation said, which shows "Americans seem to be giving according to their beliefs and interests, which are diverse and wide-ranging." Yeah, whether they're giving to a church or an animal shelter or a guy with purple hair playing Fortnite, Americans overall are a generous bunch.
We should mention that 2018 isn't quite over yet, so if everyone loses their shit and tries to turn the last week of December into The Purge, these numbers could completely change. That being said, the U.S. murder rate for 2018 is shaping up to be 7.6 percent lower than in 2017 due to sharp declines in most major cities -- proving that crime may not sleep, but it does slack off. Though a few areas did see local increases, crime across the country is down, and the overall crime rate for 2018 is projected to fall 2.9 percent from last year. The best news? If these estimates hold, most cities will "experience the lowest crime rate this year since at least 1990." We guess people aren't willing to risk death or prison before the end of Game Of Thrones.
Granted, it's not as cool as being given actual money or free tacos, but about 11 percent of the U.S. population did get an unexpected boost to their credit in 2018. Thanks to "improved standards for utilizing new and existing public records," credit reporting agencies have removed tax liens and civil judgments from their list of things they can hold against you. As you might have guessed, this change didn't happen out of the goodness of FICO's heart. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued some new rules aimed at making credit reporting more fair to consumers, and the agencies had to play along.
So how much of a boost are we talking about? For some people, more than 40 points. Millions more will likely see a jump of 20 points on average next year. Time to celebrate by taking out a big loan and spending it all on tacos!
Cancer sucks, but some types suck even more than others. Ovarian cancer, for instance, has an incredibly low survival rate, with less than 35 percent of sufferers still living five years after they're diagnosed. Even when initial treatment measures are successful and there is no remaining evidence of disease, some 70 percent of patients relapse within three years. It's a stubborn bastard.
But scientists are even more stubborn. A new drug appears to drastically reduce the chances of recurrence. Half of the patients receiving it have remained cancer-free since the international study began in 2013. Fantastic news if you have ovaries or know someone who does.
Because even planning nuclear war can get boring, North and South Korea have taken a break from military tensions to remove landmines from the demilitarized zone (you know, the strip of land sitting awkwardly between the two countries). During their September 2018 shindig, leaders from both Koreas committed to "disarm" the 155-mile zone and turn it into a "place for peace and unity."
But it's not just explosives they'll be digging up. The DMZ also contains hundreds of bodies left over from the Korean War, including American, French, and Chinese soldiers. These will presumably be going back to their original countries, if only to minimize the chances of the new developments being mega-haunted (they will instead only be somewhat haunted).
Chernobyl is once again producing energy, and not the kind that can make you glow and sprout extra heads if things go sideways. The land around the power plant is still so radioactive that it can't be used for farming, or homes, or ... anything besides sitting there and soaking up sunlight. So Ukraine decided to fill the area with solar panels, and it's already generating a megawatt of power for the country.
The irradiated land is so cheap that investors were only too happy to plop down as many panels as would fit. Since it was the site of a power plant and all, it's already connected to the electrical grid as well. Ukraine hopes the site will eventually produce 100 megawatts of energy, which would help the country become more energy-independent -- that, or they're using it all to power a single giant mecha. Honestly, it would be worth it. And while we're on the subject ...
After spending a few centuries shamelessly and enthusiastically trashing the planet, it looks like we may be getting our environmental act together. Or at least, we're starting to. A February 2018 report shows that 101 cities around the world are now getting 70 percent or more of their energy from renewable sources. That "101" sounds way more impressive when you consider that the number was 42 as recently as 2015.
Also, as of January 2018, 56 cities in the U.S. have formally committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, thus increasing the chances that there'll even be a 2050.
If you've been aching to actually fill a stocking with lumps of coal, this could be your last shot. Despite the efforts of certain elected officials, and even as overall power consumption goes up, U.S. coal consumption has hit a 35-year low. Coal usage fell to levels not seen since 1983 -- just 298 million short tons for the first half of 2018, compared to 312 million short tons for the same period of 2017. So why are people turning their backs on coal? Well, natural gas is cleaner, but we're guessing it has more to do with the fact that it's also less expensive, and (depending on what the Earth has eaten lately) possibly less smelly.
In 2006, California passed a law promising to bring greenhouse gas emissions down to 1990s levels by 2020, but they were lying. No, they announced recently that they actually reached their goal two years ago, well ahead of the deadline. Carbon emissions fell 2.7 percent in 2016 (the most recent year for which data is available) to some 430 million metric tons, bringing the state back below the 431 million produced in 1990. Governor Jerry Brown bragged about how "California set the toughest emissions targets in the nation, tracked progress, and delivered results." State law now requires a further 40 percent reduction by 2030, and it appears someone's already lit several fires under California's butt to get them motivated.
It looks like there's finally a way to put all those pointless sandy beaches to good use: turn them into rice paddies. Chinese scientists have developed a variety of drought-resistant rice that will grow pretty much anywhere, including in sand and diluted seawater. Using the desert outside Dubai as a testing ground, researchers successfully grew several varieties of the rice, with one producing as much as 500 kilograms per about 800 square yards. The team will continue to expand their growing area until they've covered about 10 percent of the United Arab Emirates' desert in bland, nutritious rice. This will help prevent future food shortages -- or at the very least, if we ever reach a Mad Max future, the sides of the roads will look a lot more colorful.
In 1928, a biologist spotted the elusive Wondiwoi tree kangaroo for the first time in history, and promptly shot it to death. We've gained 100 percent of our knowledge of this marsupial -- "one of the most poorly known mammals in the world" -- from that one specimen. What if he was the Flavor Flav of tree kangaroos? That's like aliens abducting Tekashi69 and assuming he's an accurate representation of the human race.
Luckily, a second one was just spotted in September 2018, and was also immediately shot ... with a camera this time.
The tree kangaroo basically stuck its head out of the branches long enough to prove its existence and be photographed for the first time ever, before disappearing for (we assume) another hundred years or so. We don't blame him. Keep doin' you, 'roo.
The last male Northern White Rhino on the planet passed away in March 2018. He died because he was old; he was the last because humans are greedy bastards. Without males, the species is now "functionally extinct" ... but maybe not for long. Scientists have created the first test-tube-grown rhino embryos after taking eggs from female Southern White Rhinos and fertilizing them with frozen Northern White Rhino sperm, then implanting them in a gestational carrier (surrogate rhino mommy). The idea is that after several generations of "intensive interbreeding," the Southern genes would be "diluted out," leaving an animal that's about 99 percent Northern White Rhino. Not ideal, but at least a possibility for a species not horny enough to keep themselves afloat.
A similar project is already underway to resurrect the Passenger Pigeon, the last of which was killed in 1914. Or, you know, we could just stop shooting everything that moves.
Ever tried to get rid of a mosquito? OK, now imagine trying to get rid of millions of them, and they're all trying to kill you. That's what Paraguay had been doing since 1950, when a multi-decade plan to kick malaria out of the country was put forward. Though the closest most of us are likely to come to malaria is in a textbook, it still kills hundreds of thousands of people worldwide every year, and Paraguay reported 80,000 cases in the '40s.
Today, that's officially down to ... zero.
Yep, in June 2018, the World Health Organization finally designated Paraguay as "malaria free," having completely eradicated the disease and put measures in place to prevent it from buzzing back into the country. That makes Paraguay the first country in the Americas to beat malaria since Cuba in 1973, and Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Suriname, and Belize could soon follow. Come on, guys, give Paraguay some time to shine (but not too much). And hey, speaking of Belize ...
In 2009, UNESCO added the Belize Barrier Reef to its list of World Heritage Sites in Danger, due to excessive offshore oil extraction and various other acts of human dickery. That was bad news, not only because the reef is pretty as hell, but also because of to its importance to the ecosystem. Here, we'll let someone with a fancier accent explain it:
But instead of going "What do you want us to do about it?!" and shrugging it off, Belize did everything. Thanks to protections put in place by the government and a moratorium on oil exploration near the reef, UNESCO's heritage committee determined that the reef is no longer in immediate danger, and removed it from the list in June 2018. UNESCO officials praised Belize, saying they've made a "transformational shift" to protect the reef and prevent our descendants from knowing it only as a big wet dumpster. Good going, Belize!
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean is a giant floating mass of garbage that's three times the size of France. Known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the trashberg contains some 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, weighs an estimated 80,000 metric tons, and we're pretty sure it's gonna take over the world one day.
Or it would, if the Ocean Cleanup Project hadn't just launched a massive effort to begin removing the mounds of trash using a specially designed system of floating nets. These nets should be able to remove 50 tons of garbage from the ocean every year, but more can be deployed if everything works well. And then they'll take over the world one day, probably.
It turns out Canada did something notable other than legalize marijuana this year. They also teamed up with the Tallcree First Nation and oil giant Syncrude to create the world's largest protected boreal forest (that is, a forest that grows in cold-ass weather). The area is so big that you could fit two Belgiums inside it -- but please don't, because it's full of threatened species and stuff.
Dan Kraus, a conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, calls the area a "matrix of forest and wetlands and waters," saying it is "one thing we can really share with the world, and give to the world in terms of conservation." We're onboard with protecting forests, and pretty much any gift from Canada that doesn't involve Clamato.
According to a United Nations report, the ozone layer is pulling a Wolverine and healing itself, and could even be repaired within our lifetimes (unless you're really old, in which case, uh, sorry). If it continues at the current rate, scientists say the layer above the Northern Hemisphere should be completely repaired by the 2030s, and the Antarctic one sometime in the 2060s. The ozone hole over the South Pole peaked in size in 2006, at 11.6 million square miles; this year it was 9.6 million square miles. NASA even confirmed it. Yes, 9.6 million is less than 11.6 million. They probably needed a special calculator for that one.
So happy holidays, everyone! Donate to charity, reduce your carbon footprint, and try not to kill any people or endangered animals over Christmas!
Support your favorite Cracked writers with a visit to our Contribution Page. Please and thank you.
Follow us on Facebook. And we'll follow you everywhere.
Instagram influencers are often absurd.
A good horror story is hard to pull off.
All commercials are a least a little weird.
These actions stars were so bad at being badass, they were just ass.