The week's good news: May 4, 2023

It wasn't all bad!

Pet birds (budgerigar parrots)
(Image credit: Jan Sochor/Getty Images)

1. Pet parrots form friendships through video chats

A feathered friend is just a phone call away. Parrots are smart, social creatures, and a group of scientists recently studied 18 pet birds to see whether they could use technology to forge relationships. The parrots were taught to ring a bell if they wanted to request a video call, and then could look at a tablet with photos of other study participants to choose who to chat with. The owners were told to keep the calls short and end them if their parrot became distressed. "The notion of choice was very important," researcher Rebecca Kleinberger told The New York Times. The parrots learned the bell system fast, and were regularly asking for calls. The owners reported they enjoyed connecting with their new friends and were highly engaged, looking intently at the screens, mirroring behavior, and singing. There are risks with too much screen time for parrots, but also social benefits — the birds, researcher Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas told the Times, use this technology "in very individual and very beautiful ways."

The New York Times

2. Philadelphia's successful plastic bag ban is inspiring other Pennsylvania cities

Residents of Philadelphia have found that going plastic-free is the way to be. The City Council passed a ban that started on July 1, 2021, barring retailers from giving customers single-use plastic bags and paper bags not made of at least 40 percent recycled material. To measure its impact, a study was conducted between June 2021, to set a baseline, and August 2022. In a report released in late April, researchers said more people are toting reusable bags, and the ban has kept an estimated 200 million plastic bags from being used, the equivalent of filling Philadelphia's City Hall with bags every eight months, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Prior to the ban, 1 million plastic bags were used every year in the city, officials said. David Masur, executive director of the environmental advocacy nonprofit PennEnvironment told the Inquirer that "overall, the ban had a huge, very positive impact. Municipalities all over Pennsylvania are now following Philadelphia and implementing their own plastic bag bans."

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The Philadelphia Inquirer

3. Decades after missing audition, 92-year-old gets to high kick with the Rockettes

Mary Silvestri was a few decades late to her audition, but worth the wait. As a teenager, the 92-year-old Connecticut resident was supposed to audition for The Rockettes, but missed out because she "couldn't get to New York alone and no one could take me," Silvestri said. Her family recently contacted The Rockettes to share her story, and they invited her to come to their latest audition at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan. "We always love making someone's dream come true," Rockette Amarisa LeBar told People. Silvestri arrived ready for a day of dancing, and did just that, doing high kicks and learning how to bevel. She also gave a pep talk to the 800 Rockette hopefuls who came to the audition, saying, "Just keep moving, keep going, and keep going to dancing school. Do your routine and enjoy it. You have to enjoy what you're doing."


4. U.S. adult smoking rate hits all-time low

Adult cigarette smoking in the U.S. dropped to an all-time low last year, new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. Based on health surveys from more than 27,000 people, only 11 percent of adults reported smoking in 2022, a decrease from 12.5 percent in 2021, The Associated Press reports. Cigarette smoking has been on the decline since the 1960s, when 42 percent of adults were active smokers. Over time, smoking has been proven to cause a number of health problems, and the habit became less socially acceptable, with indoor smoking bans further driving down usage.

The Associated Press

5. Acacia bush encroaching on grassland is sustainably harvested to make charcoal

The Good Charcoal Company is living up to its name. Launched in 2020 by Ben Jablonski and Rob Silverman, the company's mission is to create chemical-free charcoal, help Americans experiencing food insecurity, support farmers in Namibia, and restore grassland. The charcoal is derived from acacia, and burns cleaner, hotter, and longer, so not as much needs to be used. In Namibia, acacia trees are encroaching on open grassland, which is bad for people and the cheetahs who need the grassland to be clear for hunting. Dozens of farmers are harvesting the acacia, allowing them to make a living while protecting the grassland. People in the United States are also benefiting, as The Good Charcoal Company partners with local community groups to host free barbecues once a week for people in need or living in food deserts; so far, the company has provided more than 33,000 meals in several states, including Texas, Georgia, New York, and Tennessee.


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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.