No longer tangled and pointing in the right direction. turgaygundogdu/Shutterstock.com

Celebrating solutions that chip away at big problems: 3 essential reads

Editor’s note: As we come to the end of the year, Conversation editors take a look back at the stories that – for them – exemplified 2018.

Slowing the pace of climate change, increasing access to health care and comprehensively covering the news are very different but worthy goals with some things in common.

One is gridlock. The nation’s leaders are doing little to solve these problems.

Another is sticker shock: Holding the line at 2 degrees Celsius of global warming – or less – would cost trillions of dollars and require systemic change. The same goes for securing adequate medical treatment for all Americans. Reporting the news costs billions, but nobody knows how to pay that tab either.

To see how disheartening this is, search the internet for the terms “climate change,” “health care” or “newsrooms” and “despair.” You’ll generate hundreds of thousands of hits or more.

That’s why I like to pause, especially at the year’s end, to celebrate innovations and encouraging trends that chip away at huge challenges.

1. Bypassing drug shortages

For example, the emergence of Civica Rx is encouraging. The nonprofit generic drugmaker, which launched in 2018, will soon begin producing 14 hospital-administered generics. Most of them are too scarce to meet demand.

The venture has not disclosed its business model. But “should it choose to do so, Civica Rx could theoretically set the price at or near the cost of production,” writes Stacie B. Dusetzina, a Vanderbilt University health policy and cancer scholar. That would make a big difference in a country where pharmaceuticals can sell for triple what they cost elsewhere.

If Civica Rx succeeds at making treatment in hospitals cheaper and better, there will be fewer excuses for not fixing the rest of the health care system’s broken pieces.

2. Scrapping emissions

Just as Civica Rx makes it possible to feel more optimistic about the future of U.S. health care, the industrial-scale repurposing of steel and aluminum holds promise regarding climate change.

Scrap metal gets recycled the way cans and boxes from your household do, only on a bigger scale. Repurposing metal from demolished buildings and nonroadworthy cars saves money, tempers landfill problems and uses much less energy than starting from scratch.

Because the process requires less power, it “has a much-smaller carbon footprint,” explains Daniel Cooper, a University of Michigan mechanical engineer. “The greenhouse gas emissions for recycling steel are around one-quarter of what they are for making new steel, and recycling aluminum cuts emissions by more than 80 percent.”

Granted, China’s unwillingness to import as much American junk as it used to due to trade tensions is disrupting global scrap markets.

But the U.S. could potentially use all of steel and aluminum it throws out right here, Cooper contends. That would cut down on emissions even more by bypassing the carbon released into the atmosphere from hauling cargo across oceans.

3. Teaming up between newsrooms

The traditional way to cover the news is inefficient. Many journalists often report on the same events and scandals, working in isolation and duplicating efforts.

That’s starting to change, observes Magda Konieczna, an assistant professor of journalism at Temple University.

A growing number of news organizations “are sharing their high-quality journalism with other outlets,” she explains. “By teaming up, they can inform bigger audiences about the problems like corruption, environmental dangers and abusive business practices.”

Most of the time, the sharing involves news nonprofits without big audiences, Konieczna finds. This collaborative approach helps “elevate the quality of the media where people are already going for news: newspapers and newscasts, whether directly or through Facebook and Twitter.”