Shootings, kidnappings, murders, cyberattacks. On a typical day, the news can be gruesome and discouraging. But today, as I was cycling along the Eastern Shore’s wonderful bike lanes, I started to think about some good things that have occurred in recent years. Here are just a few.
A Cleaner America. As a child, I remember riding in the backseat of my parents’ Dodge and noticing trash along the highways. Today that is much less the case. In fact, when biking, I frequently see people picking up other people’s trash and disposing it. Although not perfect, our parks and roads are much less littered than they were in times past.
A Commitment to Recycling. In every city I visit, I see diligent people recycling paper, plastics, etc. We’ve come a long way on that front. Clearly, we still have a long way to go, but we are making progress. Plus, there is a welcome movement to move away from plastic bags, Styrofoam cups and containers, unnecessary packaging and other single-use items.
Bike Lanes. The U.S. has more and more bike lanes, and I say that’s a good thing. On my last international trip before the pandemic, I went to Amsterdam. I could not believe how many people bike everywhere. They bike to trains, to offices, to markets, to churches—families bike together. It appears everyone has a bike. Biking is growing in popularity across the U.S. Many cities are building more accessible bike lanes and providing racks for bike parking. Some cities even provide opportunities to rent bikes and drop them off at other destinations.
Increased Connectivity. It wasn’t all that long ago, that I would read about a book in the NY Times Book Review and then wait until I drove to a bookstore or library to access it. Today, I can read a review and order the book on my iPad in a matter of seconds. It’s the best thing ever. Not just that, but it’s so easy to access information now. The other day I had forgotten who George McGovern’s running mate was in 1972. Within seconds, I Googled the info and said, “Oh yeah, first he picked Eagleton, and then Shriver”. We take all this access for granted. Some may say we are too connected, and they have a point. But think how lucky we are to have access to the The Spy each day so we can stay informed about local goings on. And though many of us are “Zoomed” out, it has been incredible how much work has gotten done remotely during this past pandemic year.
Organic Foods. Over the last decade, there is much more emphasis on reducing pesticides and additives in foods. These organic foods are still more expensive, but innovative people are finding ways to make these foods more available at more reasonable prices. Farmers’ markets—including Easton’s and other Eastern Shore towns–are more popular than ever and for many there is a return to growing their own vegetables and home cooking with fresh local ingredients. This farm-to-table movement is gaining traction with creativity in offerings spawning wonderful new cottage industries.
Medical advancements. We still have a long way to go to cure cancer and other diseases. But progress is being made. Substantial gains have been made to identify diseases earlier, treat them, and take precautionary preventative steps to alleviate many diseases from occurring. In the last week alone, there have been breakthroughs on treatments for prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Additional medical breakthroughs may be just around the corner. In his new book The Code Breaker, Walter Isaacson discusses the discovery of gene editing—a technology that could help eradicate cancer, heart disease and a host of other ailments. On the other hand, so far progress has been disappointingly slow regarding addiction and mental illness, although gene editing holds some promise there as well.
Exercise. Many more Americans are focusing on the importance of exercise. And it’s easier than ever to make that happen. Not everyone can afford a Peloton or similar device, but for those who can, it has never been easier to access strength, cardio, yoga, meditation, spinning classes and more. Others are running, power walking, swimming, kayaking, biking, etc. It’s a delight to see an active, energetic America.
Cleaner Waters. We still have issues across the U.S. with red tides, bacteria in the water, Flint, Michigan water types of disasters, etc. However, there has been progress on this front. The Chesapeake is cleaner than it was 10 years ago. One study from the Chesapeake Bay Program indicated that about 42 percent of the bay and its tidal tributaries recently met clean water standards. And thanks to the efforts of several ecological associations, the water quality in many rivers, lakes, and streams across the U.S. has improved.
Smoking. Cigarette smoking has reached an all-time low. Slightly more than 13 percent of Americans smoke – a decline of approximately two- thirds in the more than 50 years since the first Surgeon General’s report warned of the dangers of smoking. Still nearly 38 million Americans smoke every day. And smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States.
Hybrids. In recent years, we have been introduced to hybrid cars, bikes and even boats. This means less reliance on fossil fuels, and, in the case of bikes, more flexibility and, for boats, less noise pollution. Hybrid cars, of course, are the stepping stone to completely electric cars. I see more of them on the road and at charging stations every day. In a somewhat tangential aside, let’s not forget the invention of the hybrid dog which meant more choices for hypoallergenic dogs. My niece who has cystic fibrosis now has a hybrid hypoallergenic dog as a pet—yet another breakthrough. (I, of course, can’t say enough good things about my goldendoodle Lucca—perhaps the best dog in the history of best dogs.)
Endangered Species. We have made substantial progress in saving endangered species. The U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) is the most effective way to protect at-risk species from extinction. Currently 99 percent of the species on the list have avoided extinction. The best way to protect these species is to protect the places where they live. We are doing a better job at that as well.
Democracy. It’s hard to believe I’m touting democracy as an accomplishment during these turbulent times. But let’s remember that more Americans voted in the 2020 election—two-thirds of the voting eligible population—than in any other in 120 years. That says something. Let’s hope more and more people continue this trend so that their voices can be heard. The key to strengthening our democracy is having more people vote—not fewer.
Racial Understanding. Finally, although there has been considerable racial unrest in this country, there has also been an increase in understanding the various challenges this country faces from a race perspective. It has been heartening to see people of all races fighting for racial equality and justice and supporting efforts to ensure that racial equity improves in the U.S.
Thomas Edison once said, “Restlessness and discontent are the necessities of progress.” I agree. Still, at times it’s satisfying to pause and reflect on just how far we’ve come—and then remember how much more there is to do.
Maria Grant was principal-in-charge of the Federal human capital practice of an international consulting firm. Today she focuses on writing, reading, piano, gardening, nature, biking, and kayaking.