21 Wins in 2021: Focusing on the Good Stuff After Another Weird Year

Taylor Bucher

I remember sitting at my desk in my home office this time last year, exactly where I’m sitting right now. I was searching the depths of the internet for positive things that happened throughout the year in hopes of writing a year-end wrap up that distracted readers from their regular doom scrolling. Call me an optimist, but I really didn’t expect to be wrangling together another list like this for a second year in a row. But there’s one thing we know for sure now: life amidst the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted from “unprecedented” to “normal”.

Highlighting all the positive things that happened in 2021 might feel like grasping at straws, but when you take a step back and look at what humans have accomplished and overcome in a year of constant curveballs, there’s a lot to be proud and hopeful about.

  1. We rolled out vaccines like never before.
    That’s right, we fully vaccinated half the human race in a year. High five, humans everywhere! After more than a year of people being isolated from each other, a semblance of “normal life” could resume. Speaking of vaccines …
  2. The first human trial of a vaccine for HIV is looking really promising.
    This year, a team of researchers released data from clinical trials in the development of an HIV vaccine that showed a 97% response rate, according to ABC News.
  3. The White House became more diverse.
    This year saw the country’s first female vice president — as well as its first Black and South Asian one — in Kamala D. Harris, along with its first female treasury secretary in Janet L. Yellen and its first Native American Cabinet secretary in Deb Haaland at the Interior Department.
  4. The US made Juneteenth a federal holiday after decades of campaigning.
    On June 15, 2021, the Senate unanimously passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
  5. The Great Resignation proved attitudes toward work are shifting.
    Spring and summer 2021 saw a wave of resignations after employees across the globe used the pandemic to reflect on their work-life balance. In April alone, 2.7 percent of the American workforce quit their jobs, setting a new record that was then beaten again in August.
  6. Endangered animals made a comeback.
    As of 2021, pandas are off the endangered list, bison and wolves are back in Europe, butterfly populations in California and New York are exploding. Salmon is spawning in the Columbia river again, and the work known as “coral IVF” — taking eggs from prodigious areas of the reef, planting them where they’re most needed — just produced its first successful batch of coral babies.
  7. Spaceflight is starting to become … normal?
    I honestly never thought this one would happen. The dream took shape in 2021, the year Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX all started running routine trips to space and back in renewable vehicles.
  8. Renewables became the cool thing to do.
    In 2021, an estimated 90 percent of all energy projects installed around the planet were clean. The price of solar and wind power continues to plummet far beyond the most optimistic projections, and it’s making electric power so cheap that possibilities seem endless.
  9. United flew the first passenger aircraft with 100% sustainable fuel.
    In December, United Airlines proved it was possible: 100 passengers flying from Chicago to Washington, DC, were the first in the world to do so with one engine running on 100-percent non-petroleum-based sustainable fuel made from sugar water and corn.
  10. Dutch “bee hotels” helped bee populations remain stable.
    More than 11,000 people counted bees as part of the Netherlands’ national bee census in 2021, and they discovered urban bee populations have remained steady over the past few years. It is believed that a number of initiatives — from hollowed out plant stems that act as “bee hotels” to a ban on chemical weed killers — are helping the bees thrive.
  11. 77 countries in the world have now announced full or partial bans on plastic bags.
    FINALLY. Let’s keep it up.
  12. Rain was recorded at the highest point of Greenland’s ice sheet.
    Amid the battle against global climate change, rain fell in Greenland’s Summit region, approximately two miles above sea level, for the first time since observations began in the 1980s. Temperatures rose above freezing in August, causing rain to fall for several hours, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.
  13. A thought-to-be-extinct orchid was found on a London roof.
    A rare species of orchid was found growing on top of an investment bank in London, despite scientists believing the plant was extinct in the UK.
  14. The world’s largest jewelry brand released its first lab-created diamond collection.
    Pandora announced it would stop using mined diamonds in its jewelry and introduced its first synthetic stones. The company cited affordability and customer demand for ethically sourced and environmentally responsible materials as reasons for the shift.
  15. The world’s first 3D-printed school opened its doors.
    In less than 24 hours — 15 to be precise — affordable housing group 14Trees built an entire school in Malawi this July using 3D printing technology.
  16. Facebook is in being taken down a notch.
    When whistleblower Frances Haugen showed that Facebook doesn’t care about the clear harm it’s doing in the world, governments around the world decided that if Facebook can’t manage itself properly, perhaps it should be broken up or regulated as a public utility. 
  17. Concerts and Broadway shows came back!
    At this point, they should probably all be hosted by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
  18. Netflix users stepped outside their comfort zones.
    Netflix kept viewers watching by adding more non-English content, like Spanish “Money Heist,” French “Lupin” and its biggest hit, South Korea’s “Squid Game,” and American audiences fell in love. 
  19. Britney was freed.
    The moment Britney supporters waited so long for finally came: Britney Spears was released from her cruel and unjust conservatorship. And I think we can all agree that took too long …
  20. Keeping up with the Kardashians was canceled.
    This one isn’t very monumental, but I think we can all agree the world is now a better place now.
  21. Wisconsinite highlight: Scientists revealed that cheese isn’t bad for you (really!)
    In February, when all memories of seasonal goodwill and cheer had faded away and we were left with nothing but the cold, mocking whispers of the winter wind, scientists gave us a reason to keep going. Speaking out against unfounded rumors that cheese is an evil, murderous entity, one scientist told WIRED: “There’s almost no evidence that cheese causes weight gain—and in fact, there’s evidence that it’s neutral at worst.” This stigma-shattering analysis helped cheese to rebuild its reputation globally—and that’s grate. Read more at WIRED.

There are still so many reasons to look back on 2021 with gratitude, so let’s look at the new year with optimism! 

Author Bio

Taylor Bucher

As a Copywriter at Esker, Taylor uses her creative writing experience to write engaging marketing content that educates audiences on the benefits of automated business processes. If she’s not in the office, you’ll most likely find her exploring hiking trails, guessing the breeds of dogs she sees on the street and then asking the owner to see if she’s right, or catching a concert at a local music venue.

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