22 Problems Solved in 2022
2022 was just another gyear—there was death, and there was destruction, and there was disease, and there were wildfires, and hurricanes, and earthquakes, and drought, and poverty, and pollution, and war, and terrorism, and habitat destruction, and rising temperatures, and human rights violations, and dysfunctional political systems, and widening wealth inequality, and worrisome leaps forward in AI, and steps towards the precipice of nuclear armageddon, and an ever-present inclination that the present degree of chaos truly is unprecedented. These issues matter, but they’re not the only things that matter. Through it all, the world got better. Whether it balanced out to a net improvement is perhaps up for debate, but the fact that things did get better is not.
We are leaving 2022 without problems with which we entered 2022. This matters—the world of the future is defined by the actions of today, so just as much as we fight against and lament the issues of today, we should celebrate the successes that compound into a ceaseless inclined march of human progress. So, that’s what we’ll do. For our final video of 2022, we’ll cover 22 problems solved this year.
Some mean little in the grand scheme, others could define society within a few more trips around the sun. Some were celebrated by few, others consumed our media for days. And some might not be accepted by all, but none portray a meaningfully contested position as a solution—rather, in the fine scrub of it, they portray the democratic system as a potential process through which problems can and do get solved. Like all else, solutions should be celebrated when and where they happen.
So, to start our story of 22 problems the world solved in 2022, let’s start beyond it, in the cosmic. In a perfect world, we’d solve potential problems before they materialized; we’d be proactive. While this isn’t a perfect world and we generally aren’t proactive, we, or more accurately, NASA did solve one potentially enormous problem well ahead of time with its Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART.
This September, after ten months since launch, the test culminated in a 1,300 pound or 600 kilogram spacecraft roughly the size of a refrigerator smashing head-on into an asteroid called Dimorphos. Now, Dimorphos wasn’t actually headed toward Earth, it was just orbiting around another larger asteroid, Didymos, some seven to 10 million miles away. Instead, this was a test to see if ramming into an asteroid would knock it off its course—a concern of existential proportion in the event that one b-lines toward us in the near future.
Fortunately, the test was a success beyond expectations. After the collision, Dimorphos was pushed about 500 feet closer to Didymos, shortening its orbit by 32 minutes which, for NASA employees expecting a change in course around 10 to 20 minutes, was a major proof of concept and a first success for their planetary defense strategy. In existential news of the terrestrial variety, the United States agreed to join the Kigali Amendment this year as part of the federal government’s efforts to phase out the most problematic carbon substances. This amendment follows the 1987 Montreal Protocol, a climate treaty that phased out 100 types of ozone-depleting chemicals known as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which started destroying Earth’s ozone layer. The problem was, manufacturers replaced CFCs with hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which aren’t great either. While the ozone hole did get smaller, HFCs have a far worse greenhouse effect than CO2.
Whereas carbon dioxide has a warming potential of 1 based on its ability to trap heat, and methane has a warming potential of 34, HFCs have warming potentials ranging from 1,370 to 4,180, which makes them way worse for climate change. So, the Kigali Amendment expands on those original ozone depleters to phase out 100% of HFCs, which means manufacturers in the US and most of the rest of the world won’t be able to use these compounds at all by 2050. While HFCs are out as of this year, comeback stories are in.
In an age of massive biodiversity loss, it turns out that some animal species are making dramatic recoveries. Across Europe, over fifty species are returning in record numbers after reintroduction to expanded habitats across the continent—for example, the European Bison has made a spectacular comeback despite having been thought to be extinct in the 1920s. Since 1971, their populations alone have increased by 399 percent, with reintroductions in Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, and now, the United Kingdom. The first baby European bison born in the UK in thousands of years was introduced this summer in Kent, where it can help reduce flood risk and restore a diverse ecosystem, which can help slow the effects of climate change. And while this news doesn’t cancel out the global mass extinction event currently underway, it presents a road map to getting back to biodiverse and resilient ecosystems.
Turns out, when humans step back and give animals just a bit of breathing room, they can return from the brink and even thrive. Another scientific advancement that helps life thrive is the vaccine. In 2021, the first ever vaccine was approved by the World Health Organization to prevent malaria.
This year, researchers doubled down on the progress with a huge breakthrough. Malaria is a mosquito-transmitted disease that kills more than a half million people each year, making it the sixth leading cause of death in low-income countries, mostly found in Africa. Nearly 80% of these deaths are children.
It’s an exceptionally large problem for Africans especially, not only in lives lost, but also in terms of economic impact due to healthcare costs, absenteeism from work and school, reduced tourism, and lost workforce. The good news is that increasingly, there’s a solution: This new vaccine attacks the parasite early in its infection by intercepting before entry into the liver, using a combination of proteins from both malaria parasites and the hepatitis B virus. That’s the key here: By using more of the malaria protein, a University of Oxford team came up with a second vaccine that’s even more effective in clinical trials than the version released in 2021. Both still await the results of a larger trial, but an Indian vaccine manufacturer is prepared to make more than 100 million doses once it’s officially approved. Either way, the fact that there are now potential options to fight malaria before its destructive symptoms start is truly a medical miracle that will save millions of lives.
From one vector borne disease to another, there likely will soon also be a Lyme disease vaccine. But this is less a medical miracle and more a “what took so long?” story. Right at the intersection of climate change, mistrust of experts, and for-profit medicine sits Lyme disease. Because temperatures continue to rise, more of the US and Europe is hospitable for lyme-touting ticks, and because of vaccine hesitancy in the 1990s, your dog can get a protective shot but you can’t. Due to these factors, Lyme disease has doubled in the US since 1991 and it’s become the most common vector borne disease in the US. Relief, though, may be in sight, as a vaccine entered final clinical trials this year.
VLA15, as the medicine is called, has been administered to 6,000 participants in the US and Europe. Perhaps though, VLA15 is more notable for what it isn’t—Lymerix—which was once a publicly available Lyme vaccine. Lymerix had its problems: it required three doses, was only available to people older than 15, and wasn’t exactly cheap.
Now the makers of VLA15 are working hard to avoid these shortcomings. But what led to Lymerix being pulled from the market is ultimately something drug makers can’t control—snowballing vaccine hesitancy. In the end, it was unsubstantiated, but hypothetically possible claims that Lymerix could cause autoimmune diseases that ended Lymerix in the late 90s.
Since then, the disease has spread across the US and hesitancy over vaccines has dug deeper than ever, so quite a lot rides on this trial and the public’s response to it. An expectation-laden trial of the sports world ended this year with a landmark labor agreement more than six years in the making. In 2016, the US Women’s National Soccer Team sued the US Soccer Federation for gender discrimination.
Although their case was thrown out by a federal court in 2020, the dispute stretched on—until their counterparts on the US Men’s National Soccer Team helped broker a payment deal this year, a first-of-its-kind strategy among the three organizations that sets the bar for international athletics. While the men’s side gets paid more per win due to FIFA’s pay structure, the women’s side consistently performs better—having won the 2015 and 2019 World Cups and Olympic medals in 2016 and 2020—meaning they’re more likely to get the grand prize for winning the cup. So, they’ve decided to pool their winnings and split them equally, which means all players will benefit from either team’s advancement in tournaments. This solution demonstrates how sports teams can challenge sports leagues’ inequities and help their teams level up—both on and off the field. Another measure that’s driving equity comes on a plate. When Covid hit, the federal government passed an emergency act that provided free school-based breakfast and lunch for almost all students in America.
This was a way to make sure kids were eating, even when their families weren’t doing well financially—and getting full, nutritious meals, besides being a basic necessity, is linked to better grades and fewer absences. So when congressional Republicans blocked a measure to keep the free-meal waivers in place, California, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Connecticut took it upon themselves to continue the program. Colorado also just approved a ballot measure that makes free school lunch available to all, and at least five other states have introduced universal meals legislation. The idea is that by offering free meals, it destigmatizes the practice for those who depend on it, and includes students who may not necessarily qualify for free or reduced lunch, but still need it. Roughly one in six children aren’t getting enough to eat nationally, and getting to the point where it’s a federally funded program for all students may be an uphill climb. But in the states where it’s implemented—like California where nearly 6 million students benefit from the program—it’s working.
Like a lot of social issues, it has to start somewhere. A development we all may well benefit from in the near future started somewhere in Europe this year. That’s because the European Parliament voted almost unanimously to adopt a universal charging port standard by 2024, agreeing upon USB-C for portable devices. The initial announcement obviously made the world’s number one tech company, Apple, a bit ruffled, because it runs its iPhones on the proprietary Lightning cable, maintaining a corporate strategy that all things begin and end under it. But, they capitulated this time, and all iPhones will now make the transition to the USB-C design, more commonly found on Android devices. Upon making the announcement, Apple’s Greg Joswiak said the switch would affect 1 billion people worldwide.
Not only does it streamline tech for the users, but it’ll speed things up as the USB-C cable transmits data quicker than Apple’s Lightning cable. Additionally, standardizing ports will save $338 million in e-waste per year, according to one European report. So, really, this is just good news for anyone with a phone. And in good news for anyone with a car, electric vehicle markets around the world have surpassed the so-called tipping point for electric vehicle adoption, with the United States hitting the threshold this year.
According to the Diffusion of Innovation Theory pioneered by communication theorist EM Rogers, the rate at which a new product becomes popular after entering the market looks like this: an S-curve. Sales initially comprise only a small share of people, known as the innovators and early adopters, and the innovation might still fizzle out. But once it reaches this critical inflection point, it is considered validated as an innovation, starts to enter the mainstream, and growth picks up rapidly. For EVs, the inflection point is generally accepted as 5 percent of total vehicle sales, so after countries hit this mark, there’s a corresponding surge in popularity, which means the US could soon see EV adoption spread even faster—especially considering the expanded EV tax credits authorized in the recent Inflation Reduction Act. With the addition of the US, 19 countries now have EV industries that comprise five percent or more of total vehicle purchases, also including the United Kingdom, Norway, South Korea, and Germany.
In South Korea, EV sales have already increased to 21 percent of the market, while in Norway, they comprise over 83 percent. No one knows exactly how many orphaned oil and gas wells dot the US, they just know there are a lot—perhaps as many as 3 million—and that they’re leaking methane, and a lot of it. Abandoned and incorrectly capped wells are bad for water quality through what they spew locally, and are devastating for the climate through the highly variable, sometimes extreme amount of greenhouse gasses they release into the atmosphere. The good news is that they were considered in the infrastructure bill. The legislation earmarked $4.7 billion for identifying and capping these wells which
is the largest sum ever committed to legacy polluters. In August, the project officially began when the Department of the Interior released $560 million to 24 states to begin capping high-priority wells on private and public lands. Each state is approaching the project slightly differently. Some, like Ohio and New Mexico, are prioritizing work in disadvantaged communities. Others, like Arizona and Montana, are working to ensure that small businesses are awarded contracts to do the work.
Regardless of approach, the process of identifying, measuring, and eventually filling the wells with concrete is labor intensive and expensive to the point that Pennsylvania prices the capping of a single well at $33,000. But as an upside, this serves as an example as to how job creation can be built around curbing emissions. Another win for human health this year recognized the benefits of broadening access to nature for mental well-being.
Spending at least two hours in nature per week is linked to reduced blood pressure and stress levels, as well as lowered anxiety and depression, according to studies published in Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And now, doctors in Canada can prescribe nature to their patients through the PaRX program, which covers the cost of a park pass for patients who could benefit from more time spent in nature. Originally piloted in British Columbia by Dr Melissa Lem, Canada has now broadened the program to include every province because of its success, as it can ease symptoms of health conditions ranging from ADHD, to heart disease, to diabetes. Canadians can now visit any of Canada’s 80 national parks for free if their doctor prescribes it—and other governments, like the Weld County Health Department in Colorado, have followed suit to help more people access the healing power of nature. Mental health has also been top of mind at the Pentagon. Suicide is an intensely difficult problem to solve.
As Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth rightly put it, “one suicide is one too many.” But the daunting challenge of eliminating suicide in the armed forces hasn’t stopped military leaders from trying. In the second half of 2021, after an increase in suicides in 2020 compared to the year prior, the Army implemented a new suicide prevention policy for the fiscal year of 2022.
Mandatory wellness checks, suicide prevention teaching and training, new handbooks for senior commanders on mental health, and integrated prevention efforts aimed to create positive climates were some of the main tenets established in the comprehensive overhaul. While these practices in name border on military jargon, it’s clear that the increased focus is working, as active duty Army suicides dropped 21%, along with declines in family member and civilian staff suicides, through the first three quarters of 2022. The effort goes beyond the Army, too, as the Department of Defense has worked hard to counter dated assumptions concerning mental wellness and has begun the process of hiring an additional 2,000 mental health personnel while continuing to develop strategies that destigmatize searching out help. Remember MRNA vaccine technology, the innovation that was successfully implemented for the first time in Covid-19 immunizations? Thanks to that, it’s now being tested to protect against HIV too. Unlike traditional vaccines, which inject a weakened virus into our bodies to trigger an immune response, Messenger RNA is genetic material that tells our bodies how to make proteins. Researchers had been experimenting with it for years, but they went into overdrive to specifically create MRNA that teaches spike proteins how to ward off Covid.
Now, the National Institutes of Health is running a series of trials to see if this same idea can be applied to HIV, a virus that has defied successful vaccines since the 1980s when it emerged, and has since killed more than 40 million people. If successful in this stage, the vaccine would then go on to efficacy trials, and cautiously optimistic scientists said there could be a promising inoculation within a couple of years. The pandemic caused art museum attendance and budgets to plummet, and one way institutions combatted this was to sell art from their collections, aka deaccessioning it, to raise funds to pay for things like salaries and maintenance.
The issue was that this practice was previously banned by the Association of Art Museum Directors, who argued that pieces should be kept in public collections, worried that museums would sell off their most valuable pieces for the most profitable return. The board temporarily allowed it for two years during Covid, but like a lot of pandemic pivots, this one is sticking around. Recently, the same group voted to let museums sell their works to finance caring for their collections, with some serious guardrails, including the restriction that funds cannot pay for salaries, but have to directly go to the works themselves, such as buying acid-free paper, frames, and storage material.
In the long run, however, it keeps museums open, and that’s probably the biggest win for everyone. More efficient running was also the story for the world’s fleet of motorized two-wheelers in 2022. More specifically, it was a great year for the Taiwanese battery company, Gogoro.
Gogoro builds swappable batteries and charging stations for electric motorbikes across Taiwan and in August they announced a major milestone: they had reached 500,000 subscribers to their swappable battery network. In September, they announced that their operation, which had already spread across all of Taiwan with 2,200 swap stations, was expanding into Israel and Singapore. While the conversation around EVs often revolves around cars, the arrival and expansion of swappable batteries and electric motorized two-wheelers is critically important in places like Southeast Asia where around 80% of households own motorized bikes. Not only are these bikes incredibly numerous, they’re notoriously dirty.
The average two-stroke engine rickshaw emits the same amount of soot as ten Jeeps, making a transition to electric all the more exciting. Already, Gogoro by itself accounts for 25% of the new two-wheelers sold in Taiwan while a host of other Asian manufactures, like Honda, are looking to crack into the market. Though swappable batteries are yet to prove viable in cars, Gogoro’s subscription service provides users an important alternative to power transportation. Major technology developments haven’t been confined to roadways, either. Ethereum is one of the most important open-source blockchains in the world, and its native currency, Ether, has the second largest market capitalization of any cryptocurrency.
In other words, Ethereum's massive, so when it completely flipped its validation model in September, it was a big deal. Prior to the flip, Ethereum, like nearly all other blockchains, used the Proof of Work model, where miners and their powerful computers verify transactions and create blocks. But this year Ethereum flipped to what is called the Proof of Stake model, which opens up the process of transaction verification and block-making to any potential validator willing to stake their own Ether as insurance. Now, the very reason crypto mining exists is to ensure transactional security and accuracy, and that’s where the stake comes in.
Should a transaction be incorrectly verified, then the penalty is taken out of the stake. Like all things crypto and blockchain, the mechanics of this flip are complicated, but this is a world-altering change, as Proof of Stake opens the door for further decentralization, and most importantly, it slashes energy consumption by a shocking 99.95%. The transition’s already proved nothing short of revolutionary, as Ethereum’s co-founder has stated that the merge has lowered the world’s energy consumption by 0.2%—an
incredible accomplishment that benefits everyone, regardless of their thoughts on crypto. Security for a different sort of product, this time baseball memorabilia, is probably an issue that you didn’t know was an issue. Collecting things from baseball games—bats, balls, bases—is quite popular, and lucrative, in the industry, especially when they’re used to set a record, like Aaron Judge’s historic 62nd home run of the season this fall. Forgeries used to run rampant, with some estimates indicating that three-quarters of autographs were fake in the 1990s.
The MLB and FBI set out to solve this problem, increasingly adding levels of authentication and protection, and 2022 was a year for the ultimate in standard-setting. Once an item is played, so to speak, an authenticator stands as a witness and an official signator. The item, let’s say Judge’s 62nd home run ball, is then authenticated with an official MLB hologram, one that previously included a serial number.
Now, that special hologram is a security lockbox, with a two-letter prefix, a serial number, a QR code, and a validation code all affixed to a tamper-proof hologram. That’s all traceable back to its origins in a standard database, which includes some 6 million authenticated items to date. This is useful for everything from small nonprofit auctions to headline-making ones, such as for Judge’s ball which is reportedly up for more than $3 million. In ecologically useful news, this year marked the end of a 20-year-long battle to demolish four dams on the Lower Klamath river in southern Oregon and northern California that will be the biggest river restoration project in US history.
On November 17th, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authorized the demolition of these dams, which have cut off salmon from their annual patterns of migration for over a century. With over 400 miles, or 640 kilometers, of salmon spawning habitat gone, large populations have simply vanished—all because of these dams' damn presence. Salmon are a keystone species, and without healthy numbers of them swimming upstream, spawning in the upper basin, and later, dying there, the river’s sediment became trapped behind dams and without the same levels of ecologically valuable fatty acids left behind by dead salmon. This imbalance created a rapid outgrowth of algae throughout the Klamath River, including Certanova Shasta, a strain that killed off 70% of juvenile salmon in 2020. And although these dams did provide hydroelectric power, they are no longer necessary for energy generation with new local wind power installations that have more than met the region’s electric needs.
So, here’s to hoping that 2023 will be the year of the Klamath River salmon finally returning home. Information flows freely on the internet, and one of the unmanaged wormholes on the web is deep fakes—digitally altered photos and videos of real people that are manipulated, typically to spread false information. Now, Intel announced they’ve developed a solution called FakeCatcher, which they claim can detect artificial videos with up to 96% accuracy in real-time. The company’s software scans the pixels in a video for slight changes in facial blood flow, detecting what’s real about a video instead of other technologies that require raw data be uploaded and then scanned for inconsistencies that could be flagged as fake, a cumbersome and hours-long process. The program is hosted on a server and runs through a web-based platform meaning it can easily be used by social media sites and news organizations—two of the biggest opportunity markets for technology like this, where lookalike videos run rampant. Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, or PFAS, are complex human-made chemicals.
They are both scary and hard to pronounce so they’re more commonly called forever chemicals. These unnatural creations just don’t go away on their own—rather than degrade or dissipate, they stick around in our environment, in our water systems, and in our bodies pretty much forever. Originating in the 1930s and 40s, and made infamous by Dupont’s Teflon plant poisoning the town of Parkersburg, West Virginia for much of the second half of the century, PFAS have proved both extremely helpful for non-stick cooking, fire suppression, and countless manufacturing processes, while also extremely damaging to human health, leading to cancer, reproductive problems, and endocrine disruption. So we’ve kept using them, kept getting sick from them, but haven’t found a way to get rid of them. That was until this year when the long process of developing a cost-effective solution for breaking these chemical compounds down was published in the journal Science.
It turns out the solution’s, well, a solution, as Scientist Brittney Trang found that mixing PFAs with the solvent dimethyl sulfoxide, or DMSO, the chemical sodium hydroxide, and water, then bringing the mix to a boil, broke the dangerous compounds into harmless fragments. One application of this would be to treat drinking water, helping more than 2,000 American cities with PFA levels above the Environmental Protection Agency limit, according to one environmental advocacy group. While remarkably simple, the development is critically important in the fight to break these PFAS down, as tens of thousands of tons of these chemicals are released into the environment every single year.
The United States abolished slavery in 1865. Well, it abolished most slavery. For over 160 years, there’s existed a single glaring exception in the 13th Amendment—that slavery was unconstitutional except as a punishment for crime—something that prisons have relied on ever since. This year, four states—Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont—closed this loophole to involuntary servitude with ballot measures that repealed the exception. In doing so, they joined, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, and Rhode Island in entirely nixing any form of slavery from their state constitutions. The issue also appeared on ballots in Louisiana during this year’s midterms, where it failed.
This failure, however, is less an indictment of the state, and more so a recognition of the importance of the exact language used. In Louisiana, some early proponents of the amendment actually decided to push against the bill as the wording had the potential to expand the use of involuntary labor in the state, while rank-and-file voters simply couldn’t parse what the amendment’s wording would actually change. Across the board, prison labor creates $2 billion a year in goods and provides $9 billion worth of facilities maintenance, while prison laborers, some 800,000 in number, make on average less than a dollar an hour, and some don’t make any money at all. While banning slavery ends involuntary labor, prison labor still figures to be important for upkeep of facilities and a major cog in what keeps prisons running. Now, though, at very least it is explicitly a matter of choice for prisoners to partake in seven states. The final breakthrough of 2022 could, when looked back on in the future, carry with it perhaps the most profound implications of them all, as this December, the US announced the biggest step toward virtually limitless, green energy to date.
The announcement came out of a much anticipated Department of Energy press conference while the breakthrough itself came in the form of nuclear fusion. Today, all nuclear power plants rely on fission—the splitting of atoms—to create energy, while fusion—the smashing together of atoms—has remained the unrealized, theoretically possible, but brutally difficult to actualize alternative. Unlike fission, fusion doesn’t create nuclear waste. Also unlike fission, we haven’t figured out how to effectively harness fusion. But we’re getting closer.
For the first time ever, an American lab produced more energy through fusion than was used to create the reaction. Firing hydrogen-rich pellets into a series of high powered lasers, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory were able to create explosions that gave off energy in the form of heat for a fraction of a second—enough energy to boil roughly 10 kettles of water. For a project that has cost somewhere near $3.5 billion, 10 kettles of water doesn’t seem like much, but proving that ignition is possible is a critical step going forward. Next up is finding a way to maintain these reactions for longer than a fraction of a second, and while the development timeline is still likely too long for fission to prove a viable solution to the climate crisis, this represents an incredible milestone towards a future of low-cost, pollution-free energy abundance as yet confined to only the most imaginative science fiction.
I had a minor, ultimately meaningless personal problem that I figured out a few years ago, so I want to talk to you about what I found as a solution. You see, I really enjoy the fun, calming process of putting on some music, maybe lighting a candle, and just making a home-cooked meal. The problem was, by the time I stopped by the grocery store, unloaded the car, gathered all the ingredients, prepped, cooked, and cleaned, it was almost time to go to sleep and my evening was basically gone. The only alternatives were to pay a huge amount for some lukewarm delivery food, or to microwave some frozen food that really wasn’t good or healthy—until I found Hello Fresh.
This is all true, I started my subscription in 2020 just by researching what the best meal subscription box was, these are all the recipe cards that I’ve accumulated to prove it, and it was only a year and a half later that they came along and started sponsoring my channels. So, if you have the same problem of not having the time to but enjoying making home-cooked meals, then this is the solution that I actually found and kept using myself, before I had any financial incentive to do so. Beyond the time-saving factor, research on HelloFresh has found that, on average, it works out to 25% cheaper and less caloric than takeout, and slightly cheaper than grocery shopping.
But the most important thing is that it’s just easier—everything comes in the exact quantities you need, with some ingredients already prepared, so you skip to the nice part of cooking, not the measuring and mixing. And the food’s actually good, and usually more varied than cooking with grocery ingredients, since you get to pick one of dozens of meals each week. So, if you want to solve this problem in your life, click the button on-screen or go to HelloFresh.com and use code Wendover21 for 21 free meals plus free shipping.