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FC102: A God By The Name Of Possibility

Plus, flying grain silos, moonhacks, the Planthroposcene, and good news on dementia in the US and Europe, plastic bags in the UK and childhood stunting in Senegal.

Future Crunch
Future Crunch

Future Crunch is a weekly roundup of good news, mind-blowing science, kind humans and the best bits of the internet. This is the new premium edition: we're sending it to all our subscribers for the next 95 days. The new model will begin on the 16th November 2020 (you can read more about it over here). After that you'll have to subscribe, or you can choose to keep getting the free edition. You can check or upgrade your subscriber status here.

Good news you probably didn't hear about


How many times have you heard someone say that because we're living longer, we're more likely to experience cognitive decline? Not true. The risk of a person developing dementia in the US and Europe is now 13% lower than it was in 2010 (Alzheimer’s is falling too, by 16% per decade). Researchers think it's down to less smoking, better cardiovascular health, and better education. NYT

Between 1992 and 2019, Senegal cut its rate of stunting prevalence in half, from 34.4% to 18.8%. Improved access to post-natal care, education, water and sanitation now means the country has the lowest stunting burden in French-speaking West Africa. Exemplars

British retailers sold 226 million single-use plastic bags in the 2019/2020 financial year, 322 million fewer than in 2018/19. That's a 59% drop in a single year. The average shopper now buys four bags per year, compared to a whopping 140 in 2014. Guardian

A record 26 US states removed 90 dams in 2019, thanks to a growing movement of environmentalists seeking to restore rivers to their natural state. In total, 1,722 dams have been removed across the country since 1912, and as they disappear, fish are returning in droves: Atlantic salmon, alewives, baby eels, shad and brook trout, to name a few. NYT

Conservationists are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the re-introduction of red kites to the United Kingdom. In the 1980s, these majestic birds of prey were persecuted to near extinction. Following one of the most successful re-wilding programs in history however, there are now an estimated 10,000 birds across the country, including 1,800 breeding pairs. BBC

Indistinguishable from magic


We were promised flying cars; instead we got flying grain silos. This is the first flight of a full size prototype of Starship, the vehicle SpaceX hopes will take us to Mars. That's the 30m tank section, powered by a single Raptor engine (a grain silo is actually a pretty good size comparison). The final version will have six engines, stand 50m tall and carry 100 tonnes of equipment and personnel. Youtube

Scientists from Australia and China have designed a powerful water filtering technique that uses sunlight, instead of heat or electricity. Their secret weapon is a super porous metal compound with the largest surface area per unit measure of any known material (a single teaspoon contains the area of an entire football field). One kilogram absorbs enough saltwater in 30 minutes to create 150 litres of fresh drinking water. Inverse

Joseph Campbell, eat your heart out. By analysing over 40,000 novels, films and short stories, a team of British and American researchers has identified an 'invisible' blueprint for storytelling structure across generations and cultures. They've even built a website that allows you to analyze your own stories for the same patterns. Science Daily

A few years ago, the CDC identified a nasty bacterium called C.difficile as the most important antimicrobial-resistant threat to US healthcare, requiring ‘urgent and aggressive action’. Scientists have risen to the challenge: a treatment made of live bacteria just passed Phase 3 trials, putting it on track to become the first-ever application to the FDA for microbiome therapy. Xconomy

"Only mankind has a God. A God by the name of possibility". Since January, construction has been underway in Yokohama on a huge Gundam robot. It's also the size of a grain silo: once finished it will weigh over 25 tonnes and be able to walk. We know what you're thinking. Someone needs to put a Raptor engine underneath that thing. Popular Mechanics

Off the beaten track in the Dark Forest


"Who made this planet liveable and breathable for animals like us? Say it out loud: the photosynthetic ones". Anthropologist Natasha Myers' work is equal parts science, beauty and mystery. She thinks it's time for us to conspire with the plants and step into The Planthroposcene. She's got a point (see also: the quantum physics of photosynthesis). ABC

DEF CON, the famed hacker convention, has just wrapped up and by far the coolest thing on the program was a competition called the Space Security Challenge (a.k.a. Hack-A-Sat). Their target was the moon. Specifically, shooting a photo of the moon. With a hijacked satellite. In orbit. FreeThink

Lodden Thinks is a simple but brilliant three player game, and one of the best things to come out of the world of poker. Two players take turns guessing the third player's answer to any question. The real answer doesn't matter (the crazier the question the better). All that matters is what they think the third player will say.

Say hello to Fulu Muziki, a collective of artists from the DRC who "come from a future where humans have reconciled with Mother Earth and with themselves." They create all their instruments from rubbish and they sound incredible. Start here, and then dig for other artists on the Nyege Nyege label. Youtube

Human: Kind


Meet Magdalena and Marcela Machaca, two Quechua sisters – both agricultural engineers – who build traditional reservoirs high in the mountains of Peru to ‘cultivate’ rainwater. Their grandfather introduced them to the ancient spiritual practice of sowing and harvesting water when they were children. In 1994, they started building reservoirs through their organisation, Asociación Bartolomé Aripaylla.

Since then, they have built more than 120 reservoirs, which today provide the city of Ayacucho with 15 million cubic meters of water per year. Instead of large walls, they build small stone and clay dikes, directing runoff so that it doesn't spread over the Andean slopes, but instead infiltrates the subsoil and recharges the aquifers. “We do not put anything on the floor, if we put clay there, we would waterproof it and it would not filter” explains Marcela.

Even as climate change dries up the region, and the ice disappears from the surrounding peaks, there have been no water shortages, thanks to their decades of work. They see the practice as both a spiritual and musical calling, with the act of building accompanied by the charanguito, a traditional instrument. “We sing to the water and talk to it,” explains Magdalena. “We are nature, we are part of her. We must never stop talking to the water, we must give it affection and a lot of understanding.”


That's a wrap, we'll be back next week (plus some announcements about upcoming deep dives and webinars). Let us know what you think of the new format!

Hope you're hanging in okay out there, don't forget that on the other side of the white water there's more flow. Much love,

Gus, Tane, Becs and the rest of the Future Crunch team

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We're a team of science communicators. Our mission is to foster intelligent, optimistic thinking about the future, and create a 21st century that works for people and the planet.