News Got You Down?

News Got You Down?

If the headlines make you anxious, here’s what you can do.

On Friday May 10th 2019, Thought Starter published the very first ‘do-something-about-the-news letter’. It’s a tool for fighting the firehose of negative headlines drowning us every day — a way of surfacing what’s going well in the world and making space for more good to bubble up.

Every Friday, we pick a recent news story and share one simple thing you can do to make things better. Readers tell us it makes them feel less anxious, provides a sense of control and gives them hope.

To share that with the rest of the world, we’ve republished a year’s worth of news and related actions here. Scroll down to explore the areas most important to you. Want more? Subscribe to join thousands of people changing the world every week.

  1. Protect the environment 🌳
  2. Confront discrimination ✊
  3. Defend democracy 🗳
  4. Improve your community 🏘
  5. Respond to disasters 🆘
  6. Do something for yourself 😊‎

PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT

Photo by Markus Spiske

Preserve biodiversity 🐯

One million species are at risk of extinction. To stem the decline, the Jane Goodall Institute, Rainforest Action Network and Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation are calling on world leaders to protect 30% of lands and oceans by 2030.

What can you do?

The meat industry has a huge impact on biodiversity. Starting today, see how many days you can go without eating meat. These recipes will help.

Tackle climate change 🥊

Temperatures in Europe broke records as deforestation in the Amazon accelerated. Responding to the climate crisis, some countries have committed to a net-zero emissions goal by 2050.

What can you do?

If your country hasn’t committed to net-zero (👋 USA), contact your elected representative and demand legislation on a legally-binding target to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. If you live somewhere with a net-zero goal in law already, switch to a renewable energy provider to do your part.

Stop ocean plastic 🐳

Explorer Victor Vescovo found a plastic bag seven miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. This happened shortly after Sarah Ferguson completed an awareness-raising Swim Against Plastic around Easter Island through some of the highest concentrations of microplastics in the world.

What can you do?

Say no to single-use plastics: carry a reusable water bottle and coffee cup, politely refuse plastic straws and cutlery. Friends of the Earth has lots of suggested alternatives to plastic for every room in your house.

Save the bees 🐝

In just three months, pesticides killed more than 500 million bees in Brazil. Mass die-offs of bees have also been reported in the US, Russia, Canada, South Africa, Argentina and Turkey in the past two years.

What can you do?

In cities, where flowers are harder to come by, bees become exhausted. Feed them by planting flowers in your garden, on a balcony, or in a window box. Failing that, make a simple bee bath, because bees get thirsty too.

Make a fashion statement 🎩

London Fashion Week came under attack for encouraging overconsumption, increasing pollution and exploiting garment workers. In protest, social enterprise Craftivist Collective dropped ‘mini fashion statements’ into clothes pockets to support Fashion Revolution, a movement promoting transparency, sustainability and ethics in the industry.

What can you do?

Buy fewer, better-quality clothes (second hand, if possible) in a timeless style you’ll want to wear for years. Then take good care of them. Check out Good On You which rates the impact of thousands of fashion brands.

Invest in the future 💰

The Association of Big Ten Students passed a resolution calling on their universities to divest from fossil fuels. This follows similar demands from millions of students and alumni at Harvard, Yale and Oxford. By contrast, customers of Triodos Bank know their money is being invested responsibly. Its website lists every organisation it finances, living up to its promise: ‘your money has the power to change the world’.

What can you do?

Make sure you’re happy with the way your bank uses your money. Find out which UK banks rank best (and worst) on ethical finance. If you’re in the US join this campaign to urge banks to act more ethically.

Say no to fossil fuel ads 🙅‍♂️

Daily newspaper Dagens ETC announced it will stop running advertising for fossil fuel companies. The editor-in-chief said, ‘How far can journalism go when it is bankrolled by forces that have everything to gain from blocking a shift in public opinion?’

What can you do?

The vast majority of media companies take money from fossil fuel advertisers, and so profit from the climate crisis. Let’s get more of them to stop, starting with one of the biggest: sign this petition to ask Facebook to ban fossil fuel companies from advertising on its site.

Keep an eye on the planet 🌍

The same week Earth Day celebrated its 50th birthday, new data confirmed 2019 was the hottest year in Europe since records began, and the second-hottest globally.

What can you do?

Even in a pandemic lockdown, you can look after the environment. Download Earth Day’s Earth Challenge 2020 app for easy ways to help scientists track plastic pollution and air quality near you.

Have better adventures ⛺

Overcrowding on Mount Everest claimed several lives as large numbers of inexperienced climbers left guides unable to cope.

What can you do?

As the world emerges from social distancing measures consider the impact of your travel and pick locations off the beaten track. Atlas Obscura is full of ideas. Or be inspired by Alastair Humphreys’ ‘microadventures’ — short, simple, local and cheap adventures that are still exciting, challenging, refreshing and rewarding.


CONFRONT DISCRIMINATION

Photo by Kyle Glenn

Stop racism in its tracks 🛑

The Euro 2020 qualifying match between England and Bulgaria was stopped twice due to appallingly racist behaviour in the stands. Educational charity Show Racism the Red Card called on UEFA to ‘demonstrate that there is no place for racism in football by bringing the strongest possible sanctions.’

What can you do?

The behaviour in Bulgaria’s stadium was particularly extreme, but casual racism is all around us. And because it can feel uncomfortable to confront friends’, family members’ and coworkers’ more subtle racist behaviour, it’s even more pernicious. Watch this video to learn a simple and effective way to call out a joke, slur or throwaway remark next time you hear it.

Confront sexual assault 🙅

In the week Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of two felony charges including rape, singer Duffy revealed she was ‘raped and drugged and held captive over some days.’ While celebrity cases make the headlines, sexual assault is alarmingly common. To challenge the behaviour that enables it, University College Dublin announced a mandatory ‘bystander intervention’ lesson for all incoming undergraduates.

What can you do?

Read the It’s On Us campaign’s guide on how to safely intervene to stop sexual assault. Although it focuses on universities, it’s relevant anywhere.

Show some LGBT love 🌈

A UK survey by social research agency NatCen showed a decline in acceptance of gay sex for the first time since the AIDS crisis.

What can you do?

2019 saw the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots which inspired the modern gay rights movement, including Pride celebrations around the world. Learn more about this important bit of history, then follow this practical advice to be a better LGBT ally.

Champion women ‍🙋‍♀️

International Women’s Day saw rallies across the globe to raise awareness of continuing discrimination against women. In Spain, women marched for equal working rights and the right to abortion. In Pakistan, they called for an end to violence against women. At the border between Turkey and Greece, women held a demonstration demanding they be permitted to cross.

What can you do?

Before the end of the week, tell a sister, daughter, mother, friend or colleague why you admire or appreciate them. That might sound small compared to the scale of the challenge, but it will really mean something.

Help normalise disability 💪

Actress Ali Stroker became the first wheelchair user to win a Tony Award. She was named best featured actress for her role in the Broadway play Oklahoma! and dedicated the win to every child who has a disability and has been waiting to see themselves represented in theatre.

What can you do?

Many of us are a little ill at ease about disability. The #EndTheAwkward campaign, fronted by Breaking Bad actor RJ Mitte, produced a series of short and funny videos on how to be cool around disabled people (including things they’re tired of hearing about their sex lives). Watch and learn.

End period poverty 📆

Kenyan media reported the suicide of a 14 year-old girl ‘shamed at school’ when her period stained her uniform. Globally, period poverty prevents women and girls from reaching their potential. Amika George, founder of Free Periods, was instrumental in the UK government’s decision to provide free sanitary products in schools from 2020. Sarah Groustra’s school newspaper column on the stigma of periods persuaded Brookline, Massachusetts to provide free sanitary products in all town-owned bathrooms.

What can you do?

Talking openly about periods is a good start. You can help women and girls in your local community by buying sanitary products for a food bank as part of your regular shop. Or get involved in The Red Box Project and Period.org.

Confront gender discrimination at work 🙅‍♀️

League of Legends maker Riot Games paid a $10 million settlement to 1,000 women who worked there over the past five years. The lawsuit described a workplace rife with ‘crotch-grabbing, phantom humping, and sending unsolicited and unwelcome pictures of male genitalia.’ Women who spoke out against this ‘men-first’ culture faced retaliation.

What can you do?

Look out for your co-workers — when you see something say something. You can disrupt the situation: ‘Hey, I need your thoughts on an urgent issue.’ Or check in the with victim: ‘Are you ok?’ Or talk to a colleague: ‘Did you notice that?’ Or confront the harasser: ‘Why did you do that?’ Just don’t stay silent.

Give credit where it’s due 👏

The Renegade dance was created by 14 year-old Jalaiah Harmon, but when it went viral she wasn’t given credit. The New York Times picked up the story, sparking a debate about creative and cultural appropriation. The NBA helped set the record straight, inviting Jalaiah to perform at its All-Star Game.

What can you do?

Not sure why this matters? Watch this quick explainer, then share it to make sure creators like Jalaiah become as famous as their creations. You can tag her on Instagram, TikTok or Twitter to show your support.

Celebrate women of science 🔬

Male inventors outnumber their female counterparts by seven to one. To redress this balance, you have to start early. Last year Girl Scouts of America launched 42 new badges for cybersecurity, coding, space exploration and citizen science. In the UK, Girlguiding offers badges in inventing and construction.

What can you do?

Download and print these beautiful posters commissioned by the Nevertheless podcast featuring female STEM role models. Put them in your school or workplace to inspire a new generation of girls and women in STEM.

Please drink inclusively 🍻

The Great British Beer Festival banned drinks with sexist names, such as Dizzy Blonde and Leg-Spreader 🤯. The Campaign for Real Ale, who organises the event, also banned labels with suggestive images.

What can you do?

Simply boycott brands that rely on sexist tropes to get your attention.

Challenge gender stereotypes ⚤

Digital assistants are fuelling sexism and negative gender biases. Their female names, default voices and submissive responses reinforce ideas of women as subservient.

What can you do?

Give your digital assistant a male voice. Apple users can find instructions for Siri here, and here’s how to change Google Assistant. Microsoft is expected to provide a male option for Cortana in 2020. Echo users have no such luck — send a message to Amazon’s engineers by telling Alexa you want a male voice option. Beyond bots, Plan International has a simple guide on how to challenge gender discrimination wherever you see it.


DEFEND DEMOCRACY

Photo by Edwin Andrade

Empower young activists ✊

A survey of UK parents and their children found a strong activist streak in the so-called ‘Alpha generation’ (those born since 2010). The researchers found that one in five has already attended a protest, while 57% do not feel gender matters — only 32% of their parents agree.

What can you do?

Surprise a child you know with a gift that can make a real difference.

Participate in democracy 🗳

In July 2019, the UK found itself with a new Prime Minister voted for by 0.14% of the population, while Ukraine’s parliamentary elections promised a coalition between a comedian and a rock star.

What can you do?

In every democracy, the future is determined by those who turn up. The easiest way to make a stand is to vote, at every opportunity. Next time, take at least one other person (ideally someone who wouldn’t normally bother) to vote with you. Between now and the next election, there’s plenty more you can do to stay politically active, even if you’ve only five minutes to spare.

Fight fake news 🚨

Following widely-reported ‘deepfake’ videos of Mark Zuckerberg and Nancy Pelosi, the media explored the devastating impact deepfakes could have on political campaigning and wider society.

What can you do?

Before sharing content online, try to be sure it’s not deliberately false or misleading. Use this as a guide of what to look out for. If you’re concerned about a piece of content, you can actively report it to a fact checking team like Snopes (in the US) or Full Fact (in the UK).

Stand up for your beliefs ✌️

As talk of a Brexit-themed general election dominated the UK news, 1.5m people tuned into BBC Parliament (an all-time high for a channel more used to 70,000 viewers). An election became inevitable when 21 government rebels were sacked for voting in line with their beliefs, rather than their party.

What can you do?

Whatever your beliefs, your government can only represent you if you use your vote. Whether you’re in a country with an impending election or not, it’s never too early to register to vote.* Multiply your impact by ensuring one friend, one family member and one colleague are registered too.

*UK specific link. US readers can register here. For other countries, visit your government website.

Support a free press 🗞

In October 2019, Australian newspapers blacked out their front pages in protest against restrictions on the press. Reporters Without Borders publishes an annual World Press Freedom Index ranking 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. Australia ranks 21st. Do you think your country ranks higher? Look it up. You may be surprised.

What can you do?

Even in countries where the principle of press freedom is accepted, we should never take our free press for granted. Treat yourself today while supporting independent journalism — buy a local newspaper, become a member of your public broadcasting station, support that podcast you love, or subscribe to a quality news source.

Demand truth from politicians ✅

During the first televised debate ahead of Britain’s December 2019 election, Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party press office misled the public. It rebranded its Twitter account (@CCHQPress) ‘factcheckUK’ to pass off party lines as independently-checked facts. Will Moy, Chief Executive of Full Fact, a genuine fact-checking agency, spoke out about the incident.

What can you do?

Get your facts straight. Follow and share this Twitter list of the leading fact-checking organisations in the UK and US.

Hit the streets 📣

Protesters in Hong Kong shut down the city’s airport, as what started as a reaction against a controversial extradition bill turned into a battle to protect the independent territory’s rights and freedoms from Chinese government control.

What can you do?

Exercise your right to peaceful protest. Once social distancing restrictions have been completely lifted in your area, search for an upcoming protest near you on Eventbrite by entering your city and clicking search. Under ‘More filters’ choose ‘Rally’ as the event type, and book yourself onto whatever resonates most. Until lockdown ends you can take some inspiration from protesters getting creative online.


IMPROVE YOUR COMMUNITY

Photo by Mike Erskine

Look out for each other 👍

World Mental Health Day prompted lots of activity — from proposals to provide ‘nature prescriptions’ to those with poor mental health, to an investigation into suicides linked to changes in the UK’s tax regulations.

What can you do?

Talk. If you’re feeling troubled, find ways to talk about your feelings. And if you’re worried about someone else, talk to them and ask them how they’re doing. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a practical guide to help you get started. Helplines are here if you need them.

Stop people going hungry 🥫

The UK saw a sharp rise in the number of people using food banks. The increase has been largely attributed to welfare cuts, highlighting the very real impact of government policy on everyday life. The Trussell Trust oversees two-thirds of the UK’s food banks, while campaigning to challenge the structural economic issues that lock people in poverty.

What can you do?

Donate to your local food bank. Many supermarkets have a drop off point so you can work it into your regular shop. Here are others ways you can help.

Keep the peace 🕊

June 6th 2019 marked the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings that began the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe and helped bring an end to World War Two. Peace One Day promotes lasting peace by encouraging the world to come together on September 21st, a date the United Nations has adopted as an annual day of global ceasefire.

What can you do?

No matter where you are, you’re probably near a monument commemorating those in your city or town who lost their lives as soldiers. Click here to find the nearest one. Go for a walk there, read the message on the monument, and take a moment to reflect.

Consider what “home” means 🌍

July 20th 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the launch of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission to the moon. E.B. White wrote about the event, ‘It is traditional, of course, for explorers to plant the flag, but it struck us, as we watched with awe and admiration and pride, that our two fellows were universal men, not national men.’ Today, the International Space Station (ISS) is a rare and ambitious example of worldwide cooperation, bringing together scientists, engineers and equipment from all over the globe.

What can you do?

Gaze up at the ISS in the night sky (download the Sputnik! app to find it) and think about how all of us are citizens of this Earth. How it’s home to every nationality, race and ethnicity. And how it’s time we started showing it, and each other, more respect.

Put differences aside 🤝

To mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Democratic presidential hopefuls linked arms at a march in South Carolina. The demonstration of unity came after an intense week of party infighting in the run up to the primary season.

What can you do?

This weekend, seize on a comment you disagree with — something said by a friend, family member or even a total stranger. Instead of arguing, ask them why they think that. Then just listen, and thank them. Later, think about what they said and whether there’s any small bit of it you can relate to.

Breathe life into the high street 💸

An independent bookshop in England was inundated with support when a tweet lamenting a lack of sales racked up more than 25,000 retweets and likes. The post acknowledged terrible weather as a possible cause, but in the age of e-commerce quiet high streets are fast becoming the norm.

What can you do?

Buy something today from a local, independent shop you’d hate to see shut down.

Help the homeless at Christmas 🎄

Dublin city council removed coats donated to the homeless from the famous Ha’penny Bridge. Dubliners had been hanging anoraks, parkas and fleeces on the landmark to help the city’s homeless stay warm this winter. The council’s action provoked a social media outcry.

What can you do?

The next time you see a homeless person, pause. Make eye contact. Smile. Say hello. And help. Pop into the nearest coffee shop to get a couple of warm drinks — one for you, one for them.

Ease loneliness at Christmas 🥰

Police in Avon and Somerset, UK revealed that nearly half the emergency calls received around Christmas 2018 were from ‘lonely people who have no one else to turn to’. They urged people to ‘make a spare card count’, sending unused Christmas cards to isolated, elderly or vulnerable neighbours.

What can you do?

Reach out to someone who might be feeling alone. Send a card, make a phone call, ring the doorbell — just say hello.


RESPOND TO DISASTERS

Photo by Adli Wahid

Talk to kids about COVID-19 😷

Schools in the UK closed following similar closures all over the world to slow the spread of COVID-19. Understandably, kids have questions and concerns: ‘Can I have a birthday party?’, ‘How long does it take to make a vaccine?’, ‘What can I do to help?’ So Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg held a press conference specifically for children.

What can you do?

Talk to kids about COVID-19 in an age-appropriate way. If you don’t know how, start here. And if you want to put their minds at ease and keep them busy for a few minutes, play them this video.

Support key workers 👏

Millions of Britons opened their doors and windows to publicly applaud National Health Service staff. This show of appreciation followed similar celebrations of frontline health workers across the world.

What can you do?

Take a moment to say ‘thank you for everything’ — and not just to medical staff. Say it to every delivery driver, supermarket employee and other essential worker unable to isolate themselves from COVID-19 in service of the rest of us.

Stay calm in this crisis 😌

The coronavirus lockdown has a negative effect on mental health. A poll showed 45% of Americans were experiencing difficulties, while police in the UK and helplines in Australia have seen spikes in mental health incidents.

What can you do?

Start by controlling your news diet. Check the headlines just once a day. Find more tips here if you’re really anxious. Also, Mindfulness app Headspace has free resources for people struggling during the crisis.

Help the most vulnerable 🆘

A study out of Spain, one of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19, shows that in addition to the elderly and those with certain underlying health conditions, the pandemic is taking a disproportionate toll on the poor, the homeless and other marginalised groups.

What can you do?

Vulnerable people aren’t always easy to spot. Print some of these cards and distribute them to a few of your neighbours, offering a helping hand.

Stay cultured in lockdown 🎨

A long list of cultural events have been cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19, including the Cannes Film Festival, Burning Man, Edinburgh Festivals, Tony Awards and Eurovision Song Contest.

What can you do?

Pay a virtual visit to a cultural institution you care about. Many museums, theatres and concert halls are offering online tours and performances to keep us entertained. While you’re there, donate whatever you can to help them stay on their feet.

Help victims of domestic violence 💔

At least 15 million additional cases of domestic violence are predicted as a result of the global coronavirus lockdown. American cities have reported jumps in cases, and UK domestic abuse killings have doubled.

What can you do?

If you need it, please get help. Otherwise, share this link on how to recognise the signs of domestic abuse and offer support if it’s needed. If you can, donate to Refuge in the UK, or to your state’s support service in the US — they need urgent financial support.

Stop praying for the Amazon 🦜

At the G7 summit in August 2019, world leaders pledged $20 million to fight the fires destroying the Amazon. First, Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro refused the aid. Then he changed his mind (sort of). Meanwhile, environmental campaigners dismissed the figure as ‘chump change.

What can you do?

Don’t just pray for the Amazon. Donate what you can to Amazon Watch. All donations go directly to its work with indigenous communities to stop the destruction and defend their rights and homes.

Respond to the crisis in Australia 🐨

Authorities called for a mass evacuation of communities across southeast Australia as rising temperatures, drought and winds stoked huge wildfires. ‘Climate change is super-charging our natural disaster risks,’ said Greg Mullins, former Fire and Rescue commissioner of New South Wales.

What can you do?

Take a few minutes to read this and get a sense of the enormous scale, intensity and impact of the fires. Then share it. Talking to friends, family and colleagues about climate change will help build momentum for the large-scale, serious, urgent action needed.‎


DO SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF

Photo by Tim Goedhart

Have better work-life balance ⚖️

In search of better work-life balance, London’s financial traders called on UK and European stock exchanges to cut trading hours saying this would have a positive impact on mental health and workplace gender equality.

What can you do?

Find a way to better balance work and not work (here are some ideas). If you want to campaign for a four-day week where you work, start here.

Take control of your tech 📱

A US senator drafted a bill to outlaw addictive technology, like YouTube’s auto-play videos and Facebook’s infinite scrolling.

What can you do?

Take control. Today, if you’re tempted to take out your phone just to pass the time, don’t. Even better, observe a whole day of digital rest this weekend to connect with loved ones, find silence, or do any of the other activities suggested by the Sabbath Manifesto.

Nurture a love of reading 📚

In the run up to World Book Day, the National Literacy Trust published research showing children today read less frequently than any previous generation. Singer Dolly Parton set up the Imagination Library in 1995 to foster kids’ love of reading. Today, it delivers over 1 million free books each month to children up to the age of five all over the world.

What can you do?

Get stuck into a book this weekend with someone close to you — after all, who doesn’t love being read to? If you’re feeling particularly inspired, do this.

Expand your cultural horizons 🎬

South Korean film Parasite became the first foreign language film to win the Best Picture Oscar. The 92nd Academy Awards also saw Taika Waititi become the first Māori winner of the famous statuette in an event otherwise notable for its lack of diversity among nominees.

What can you do?

Support underrepresented film makers by watching a film this weekend with a female director, an ethnically diverse cast, or a script that’s not in English. And if you like it, shout about it.

Beat Black Friday 🤑

Well ahead of the day itself, Amazon (among others) were already running ‘Black Friday’ deals. French ministers called for a ban on the event, citing the adverse effects ‘frenzied consumerism’ has on the environment.

What can you do?

Avoid buying stuff you don’t need. Instead, spend some time outdoors — maybe pick up a bit of rubbish along the way. Then have a look at REI’s ‘Opt to Act’ plan, containing 52 weekly actions to help you reduce your impact on the planet right through until next Black Friday.

Look on the bright side 😄

Headlines can be relentlessly negative. This flood of bad news isn’t good for our mental health, and can easily drown out the brilliant things happening right across the world. Positive News is a magazine ‘dedicated to quality, independent reporting about what’s going right’.

What can you do?

Subscribe to the Future Crunch newsletter for a regular dose of good news straight to your inbox. And of course, whatever 2020 brings, we’ll keep sharing ways you can help make things better too.


This is not the end.

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