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It’s been a rocky first month of the year, without a doubt, but there were some silver linings to this cloudy January. Below are the seven stories we reported this month that showcase the beauty of nature and the power of sustainable development. These are the Seven Best Things to Happen to the Planet in January 2016.

OR25, a yearling male in the Imnaha Pack, after being radio-collared on May 20, 2014. (Photo courtesy of ODFW.)

OR25, a yearling male in the Imnaha Pack, after being radio-collared on May 20, 2014. (Photo courtesy of ODFW.)

7) California Got Itself a New Wolf Neighbor

A very local story for us Californians, but we’re pretty psyched about it. In August of last year, the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife made a huge announcement: A family of gray wolves (designated the “Shasta Pack”) had established itself in Siskiyou County. These were the first wolves to make California their home in almost 100 years. This month, the Center for Biological Diversity reported that another wolf (designated “OR25”) has established himself in the neighboring Modoc County. Both OR25 and OR-7 (the alpha male of the Shastas) are descended from the Imnaha pack in northeastern Oregon.

Leopard. (Photo Credit: Craig R. Sholley)

Leopard. (Photo Credit: Craig R. Sholley)

6) South Africa (Temporarily) Bans Leopard Hunting

On Tuesday, the South African government announced that it would not issue any leopard-hunting permits for the 2016 season, effectively banning leopard hunts for the year. The decision was made by the nation’s Department of Environmental Affairs after scientists warned that trophy hunting––in addition to habitat loss, human encroachment and demand for leopard skins––may be unsustainably reducing the leopard population. There’s no guarantee the ban will be permanent (and given the financial incentives for governments to permit big-game hunting, high likelihood it will not be), but it’s always good news when governments listen to conservationists.

Image courtesy of WeFarm

Image courtesy of WeFarm

5) WeFarm Is Connecting Small Farmers With a Free SMS Service

The first of three exclusive Planet Experts stories on this list, this one details a rising company that wants to connect the planet’s 500 million small-scale farmers and help them adapt to climate change. That’s no simple task when many of these farmers live in remote, rural areas that are off the grid, but WeFarm came up with a relatively simple solution: Give them phones and let them talk to each other. Connected to a free SMS service, farmers in Kenya, Peru and Uganda can now text each other for growing advice and climate tips while WeFarm’s translators matches questions to the best answers. The company hopes to launch in Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, India and Brazil by the end of the year.

4) Dell Started Its Own Sustainable Revolution

Our second Planet Experts exclusive: The third-largest PC vendor in the world has created an ambitious plan to reduce its global footprint, improve its employees’ lives and cut down on electronic waste––and it told us all about it. Dell’s Global Sustainability Manager takes Planet Experts on an oral tour through the company’s 2020 Legacy of Good Plan, which includes reducing the company’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, ensuring 100 percent of its product packing is sourced from sustainable materials and recovering two billion pounds of used electronics.

Bees in hive (Image: Flickr)

Bees in hive (Image: Flickr)

3) EPA Finally Decides a Neonicotinoid Is Bad for Bees

Seeing as how neonicotinoids made our “10 Worst Things to Happen to the Planet in 2015” list, it was a relief to see the Environmental Protection Agency give this issue the attention it deserves. Basically, there’s been a lot of research that points to neonic pesticides being really bad for bee health, and specifically bee brains. Early this month, the EPA announced that imidacloprid, a popular neonic, poses a significant risk to honeybees. Granted, it did not examine the risks to nearly 4,000 other North American bees and pollinators (and the analysis of the study itself is more focused on individual bees than the colony as a whole), but this will hopefully lead to the EPA taking a stronger stance on neonicotinoids in general. (This one makes it so low on the list mainly through good will.)

Coal mine. (Photo Credit: Pixabay)

Coal mine. (Photo Credit: Pixabay)

2) Obama Wants to End New Coal Mining on Public Lands

Taken on its face, this is a good thing. In mid-January, the Obama administration announced its plan to halt all new coal leases on public lands in the United States. This is a significant attempt to reduce carbon emissions nationwide and, along with the implementation of the President’s Clean Power Plan, would help the US achieve its COP21 goals. The public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity, Randi Spivak, was cautiously optimistic.

“Every ton of coal, every drop of oil that comes out of our public lands will be burned and worsen climate change — setting the stage for more heat waves, freak storms, rising seas and droughts,” said Spivak. “The Obama administration is moving in the right direction with this coal decision but we’ll need more action and soon.”

Unfortunately, this bold news was shaded by less progressive actions taken by the White House this month, such as allowing special interests to endanger rare wildlife with legal loopholes and doing far too little to curb methane emissions (and only after the Los Angeles gas leak became a major concern).

Solar Suitcase in Tanzania. (Photo Credit: Rob Beechey)

Solar Suitcase in Tanzania. (Photo Credit: Rob Beechey)

1) Solar Suitcases Are Saving the Lives of African Mothers

This story was truly an honor to share. At the Earth to Paris summit last month, Planet Experts’ editor-in-chief Pierce Nahigyan sat down with Dr. Laura Stachel to discuss her mission to bring light to hospitals and clinics throughout the world. A veteran obstetrician, Stachel watched in horror as the electricity failed in the Nigerian operating room she was working in.

“I remember thinking…I am literally and figuratively powerless here,” she told Planet Experts. “I cannot do life-saving maneuvers if I can’t even see patients. To be in an operating room when the lights go out, that was the scariest thing in the world to me, realizing that a body is open and there is no light to see what there is to do next. If I hadn’t had my flashlight, I don’t know how they would have finished the surgery.”

Dr. Stachel is now trying to reduce the number of maternal and infant mortalities in Nigeria and beyond using solar suitcases designed by her husband. These solar suitcases are small, easy to maintain, easy to use, and provide medical quality lighting when hospital lights fail.

For more of the top stories of January 2016, check out these lists:

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