“Into each life some rain must fall.” That's a line from the poem "The Rainy Day" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. If that's true, then for most of us 2021 seemed like a monsoon. 


Considering all of the trials and tribulations of the past year, it's a bit of a surprise to learn that in some respects it was a very good year. Wired magazine did some research and came up with “Twenty-one Things That Made the World a Better Place in 2021.” (


For example, any year when scientists determine that cheese isn’t bad for you has to be registered on the plus side of the ledger. “Speaking out against unfounded rumors that cheese is an evil entity, there’s almost no evidence that cheese causes weight gain—and in fact, there’s evidence that it’s neutral at worst.” This tells me that we can now consider grilled cheese sandwiches a health food, right? Are you with me?


Technology made some forward strides in 2021. One happened when the world’s first 3D-printed school opened. “In less than fifteen hours affordable housing group 14Trees built an entire school in Malawi this July using 3D printing technology.” The company accomplished this in order to show how to combat the classroom shortfall in that country. 


If you think that's amazing, another development could make your head spin – a human mind has been wirelessly connected to a computer. “Researchers at Brown University successfully transmitted brain signals wirelessly to a computer for the first time. The move is a breakthrough as the removal of cumbersome wires takes this tech one step closer to being available for home use.” Home use? Just think. Your mind imagines you want a beer and your cooler instantly sends one to your easy chair. Football Sundays will never be the same.  


Developments on the energy front gained momentum this past year, too. United Airlines flew an aircraft with totally sustainable fuel. “In December, one-hundred 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. The fuel is said to burn up to seventy-five percent cleaner than petroleum-based fuels.” 


On the ground: “Thousands of diesel-powered school buses could get a second life as all-electric vehicles. EV maker SEA Electric and school-bus dealer Midwest Transit Equipment are partnering up to help accelerate the electrification of school buses. The two plan to convert ten thousand existing school buses to battery power over the next five years.”


This is pretty cool, but there's more. “These electric buses will also be equipped with vehicle-to-grid capabilities. SEA’s power system allows buses to feed electricity back into the power grid from their batteries when they aren’t in use.” 



Electrification of school busses and other vehicles will increase the demand for batteries. That's great news for the US economy. “December has been a big month for battery-making in the US. Automakers are rolling out their plans to ramp up EV production. Today battery plants in the US have a production capacity of fifty-seven gigawatt hours. By 2030, new battery facilities are expected to bring the domestic total to more than 700 gigawatt hours from twenty-one US-based plants.” (


One of those new plants could be in Lansing. “GM is considering spending $2.5 billion to build the plant on 590 acres adjacent to its Lansing Delta Township Assembly plant. The plant could bring more than one thousand jobs to the area.” 



Clean energy is good for the environment, but there was more positive environmental news in 2021. “Microbes in oceans and soils across the globe are evolving to eat plastic. The research found 30,000 different enzymes that could degrade ten different types of plastic. The study is the first large-scale global assessment of the plastic-degrading potential of bacteria and found that one in four of the organisms analyzed carried a suitable enzyme.” (


When it comes to environment, it turns out that we live in the right place. We reside in what's called a “climate haven.” In short, we are the place where everyone will want to be in the future. 


“The upper Midwest could soon be the most sought-after living destination in the United States. The curb appeal of the Great Lakes region is that it appears to be a relatively safe place to ride out the wild weather of the future. It’s far from the storm-battered Eastern seaboard and buffered from the West’s wildfires and drought, with some of the largest sources of fresh water in the world. The Great Lakes help temper the bitter winds of winter and cool the muggy summer.”


Not only that, Michigan is particularly attractive. “Rising temperatures are beginning to take some of the bite off winter weather. Michigan, in fact, is turning into wine country, with vineyards growing warm-weather grapes like pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.” (


Well, all of this is dandy, but perhaps the oddest development in the past year comes from Germany. “Berlin's public transport company has come up with a way for passengers to unwind from the stress and COVID – edible hemp tickets. BVG is offering customers the chance to buy day tickets impregnated with hemp oil, which it promises will have a calming effect when they are eaten.” (


These are made from edible paper and are sprinkled with three drops of hemp oil. Company officials say: “This way you can travel hassle-free around Berlin all day and then simply swallow your stress along with your ticket." Fill in your own wisecrack here. 


Finally, check out the Neff Zone holidays page at There's a link to the NORAD Santa Tracker, sort of a Christmas GPS.


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and