Let’s start with the obvious: 2020 was a massively disappointing year, right from the jump. In January, we learned that 162 billionaires have the same wealth as half of humanity, and that we’d just muddled through the hottest decade on record. Then, February came and the coronavirus pandemic began to touch all of us.
The losses piled on after that: the death of more than 1.7 million people worldwide from COVID-19, record unemployment and ongoing business closures, incidents of police brutality throughout the country, and the death of women’s rights champion and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
But amid all our struggles, there were glimmers of hope in the form of actual good news. (We know, it’s hard to believe.) Below, we rounded up 18 positive things that happened in 2020.
Bong Joon Ho made history as the first Korean to win the Best Director Oscar
In February, South Korean Bong Joon Ho won the Best Director Oscar for his film “Parasite,” becoming the first person from the Asian nation to take home the award. The film went on to take home the top prize at the Academy Awards — the first time any foreign-language film ever won Best Picture.
“Once you overcome the 1-inch barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many amazing films,” the director previously said during a Golden Globes acceptance speech through a translator.
Finland moved to give new dads time off with their newborns.
In February, Finland’s new government announced plans to give all parents the same parental leave, in an effort to “promote wellbeing and gender equality.”
According to the BBC, paid allowance will increase to a combined 14 months, which works out to 164 days per parent. The decision comes as many other European countries move toward more equitable approaches to paternity leave. Sweden famously has the most generous leave policy, offering parents a combined 480 days of parental leave.
Congo discharged its last Ebola patient.
The last Ebola patient being treated in the Democratic Republic of Congo went home from a treatment center in early March, according to the World Health Organization. It was a huge step in the country’s fight against the second-deadliest outbreak of the disease in history.
Dogs trained to protect wildlife have saved 45 rhinos from poachers in South Africa.
The dogs, including beagles and bloodhounds, among other breeds, were trained from birth to track down poachers alongside humans in Greater Kruger National Park. The project is run by Southern African Wildlife College and Ivan Carter Wildlife Conservation Alliance. In the last decade, 9,442 African rhinos have been lost to poaching.
People around the world rose up to protest police violence and racial injustice.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, protests arose in nearly all major cities across the United States. They broke out globally, too, extending to more than 60 countries in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and against racial injustice and police brutality.
“The death of George Floyd was the spark that spread across the world,” a protestor in Paris said in June. Large demonstrations happened in South Korea, the United Kingdom, Turkey, New Zealand and elsewhere, while activists in the U.S. notched some pretty major wins.
Crayola unveiled new inclusive skin-tone crayons.
In May, Crayola unveiled its most inclusive skin-tone crayons yet. The “Colors of the World” pack includes crayons that represent over 40 skin tones, giving kids the chance to “accurately color themselves into the world,” the company said.
“Crayola hopes our new Colors of the World crayons will increase representation and foster a greater sense of belonging and acceptance,” Crayola CEO Rich Wuerthele said in a news release. “We want the new Colors of the World crayons to advance inclusion within creativity and impact how kids express themselves.”
The Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration’s effort to end DACA.
The Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ employees are protected by civil rights employment statutes.
In another landmark decision in June, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ employees from being discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
It was a 6-3 ruling, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch joining the four liberal justices in the majority.
“Today,” Gorsuch said, “we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear.”
Thanks to stay-at-home orders, animal shelters are more empty than ever.
Across the board, shelters, nonprofit rescues and private breeders reported that the pandemic created a huge consumer demand for dogs and puppies as people stayed at home.
Twenty percent of respondents to a Nielsen survey in July said they adopted one or more dogs or cats between March and June, up from less than 5% over the same time last year.
According to a report from Shelter Animals Count, a nonprofit that collects stats on sheltered animals, shelter intake overall is down 24% compared to last year.
Polio was officially eradicated on the African continent.
Asian Americans scored big in Major League Baseball.
This was a year of historic firsts for Asian Americans in Major League Baseball: In October, Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts become the first manager of Asian descent to led his team to a World Series victory (and the second Black manager to do so).
Scotland became the first country to make period products free.
In November, Scotland passed a bill to make period products such as tampons and pads free to all who need them.
The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill, which passed unanimously, requires local authorities to make sure that period products are accessible free of charge. According to NPR, schools and colleges must make period products freely available to students. Designated public places have to do the same.
Period poverty, or inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education, is a problem that impacts women across the globe, including in the United States. A 2019 study of low-income American women found that nearly two-thirds of the women surveyed did not have the resources to buy menstrual hygiene products at some point during the past year.
The COVID pandemic drove a record drop in global carbon emissions in 2020.
At least staying at home benefited the environment a bit. Global greenhouse gas emissions fell by roughly 2.4 billion tons this year, a 7% drop from 2019 and the largest decline on record, according to new research from the University of East Anglia, the University of Exeter and the Global Carbon Project.
The 2020 election saw the most voter participation in 120 years.
COVID-19 may have have made the voting process a little different, but it didn’t deter voters. More Americans voted in the 2020 election — two-thirds of the voting eligible population, in fact — than in any other election in 120 years.
The election led to historic wins for LGBTQ+ people and women of color.
All eyes may have been on the presidency, but in lower level races, LGBTQ+ candidates and women of color were busy making history across the U.S.
At least 50 women of color (including 46 Democrats) will serve in the next Congress, breaking the previous record of 48 set in the previous election, according to a report by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Big winners include Cori Bush, a Black Lives Matter activist and the first Black woman that Missouri has sent to Congress.
Democrat Mauree Turner, a 27-year-Muslim who identifies as Black and non-binary, was elected to the Oklahoma state Legislature. And in Delaware, Sarah McBride, a 30-year-old LGBTQ activist, became the nation’s first openly trans state senator and the highest-ranking openly trans lawmaker in the country after winning her race.
It was actually a really great year for space exploration.
Life on Earth left a lot to be desired, but things were looking up in space. In 2020, NASA launched its most advanced rover yet to Mars and landed a spacecraft on an asteroid. And, for the first time since the Space Shuttle retired in 2011, a SpaceX rocket sent American astronauts to the International Space Station.
Hundreds of religious leaders called for a ban on conversion therapy.
The declaration, put out by the Global Interfaith Commission on LGBT+ Lives, also called for an end to violence against and the criminalization of LGBT+ people. Signers included Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, the president of the Academy for Jewish Religion, California; and Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, president of the Alliance of Baptists.
“We recognize that certain religious teachings have, throughout the ages, been misused to cause deep pain and offense to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex,” the commission said in a statement. “This must change.”
Thanks to the COVID vaccine, the biggest vaccination campaign in history has begun.
No list of this kind would be complete without mentioning the best news of the year: the remarkably quick development of COVID-19 vaccines. In November, drug maker Pfizer announced it had created a vaccine that was more than 90% effective. Days later, Moderna announced it had developed a vaccine with similarly positive results: a drug that is 94% effective.
The vaccine rollout began in earnest in the U.S. on Dec. 14, with essential health care workers first in line. As the year comes to a close, more than 2.1 million does have been administered, according to a nationwide tally from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In late December, COVAX, a global alliance created to provide poor nations with coronavirus vaccines, said it has supply agreements to provide nearly 2 billion doses to participating countries.