Europe/Americas update: September 18 2017


New science suggests that the Paris climate agreement’s pie-in-the-sky 1.5 degrees Celsius limit might not be so pie-in-the-sky after all:

The 1.5C target was set as an aspiration by the global Paris climate change deal in 2015 to limit the damage wreaked by extreme weather and sea level rise.

It was widely seen as impossible because analysis at the time indicated it required carbon emissions to fall to zero within seven years, a speed deemed “incompatible with democracy” by one climate economist.

However, an updated analysis using the latest data shows the global carbon emissions budget that meets the 1.5C goal is significantly bigger than thought, equivalent to 20 years of current annual emissions.

The scale of the challenge remains huge but it means that, if the world’s nations ratchet up their emissions cuts in future as intended under the Paris deal, the expected “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on people and the natural world could be avoided.

Rapid decreases in both renewable energy costs and in greenhouse emissions are also causing this rare outbreak of climate optimism.



Vladimir Putin got to watch some of the last parts of the joint Russia-Belarus Zapad 2017 military exercises on Monday. Which is nice for him.

In more compelling news, a former Soviet military officer named Stanislav Petrov died on Monday at the age of 77. You may not have heard of Petrov before today, but there’s a decent argument to be made that most of us are only alive today because of the level-headedness he exhibited way back in 1983:

Stanislav Petrov was on duty in a secret command centre outside Moscow on 26 September 1983 when a radar screen showed that five Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched by the US towards the Soviet Union.

Red Army protocol would have been to order a retaliatory strike, but Petrov – then a 44-year-old lieutenant colonel – ignored the warning, relying on a “gut instinct” that told him it was a false alert.

“The siren howled, but I just sat there for a few seconds, staring at the big, back-lit, red screen with the word ‘launch’ on it,” he told the BBC’s Russian Service in 2013. “All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders.”

Instead of triggering a third world war, Petrov called in a malfunction in the early warning system. But even as he did so, he later admitted, he was not entirely sure he was doing the right thing.

As it turns out, Petrov had done the right thing, it was a malfunction, and we’re all here to honor him in death today because he made the right call back then. Rest in peace.


The dream has died, folks:

Moscow’s ambassador to the United Nations said the United States and Ukraine have told Russia they will not work on a Russian proposal to deploy United Nations peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine, the TASS news agency reported.

Russian President Vladimir Putin this month suggested armed U.N. peacekeepers be deployed to eastern Ukraine to help protect ceasefire monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and to help end a conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatists, which has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014.

Putin originally said the peacekeepers should be deployed along the line of contact between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists, but later said they could also be deployed in other areas where OSCE inspectors work.

However, Washington and Kiev also want peacekeepers to be deployed along those parts of Ukraine’s border with Russia which Kiev does not control.

That last part proved to be a bit of a sticking point for Putin, who definitely isn’t sending military aid to the eastern Ukrainian rebels or anything but simply doesn’t like a cluttered border, and so the whole idea has been scrapped.


Human traffickers are trying an alternate route into Europe that runs from Turkey across the Black Sea and into Romania, which has received about 500 migrants in the past month via this route. Both Romania and Bulgaria, its Black Sea coast neighbor, are required as European Union members to join the bloc’s “Schengen” free travel area, but neither has as yet. Still, Brussels seems inclined to accept these refugees into the EU’s refugee resettlement program anyway.


Somebody cut up and flushed tens of thousands of euros worth of 500 euro notes down several toilets in Geneva. As happens from time to time. But please, if you’re out there thinking about doing this, I urge you to employ my own highly reputable money-cutting-up-and-flushing services. Simply send the offending currency to me and I promise you that I will make sure it, or something very much like it, is properly flushed down the toilet of your choice.


More good Brexit news for the UK:

Around 10,000 finance jobs will be shifted out of Britain or created overseas in the next few years if the UK is denied access to Europe’s single market, according to a Reuters survey of firms employing the bulk of workers in international finance.

Frankfurt was by far the most popular destination for the new roles, the survey showed, with Paris a distant second.

But all may not be lost. No, scratch that, it’s definitely lost. British Foreign Secretary Sentient Mayonnaise Boris Johnson is back on his bullshit, hurling around that thoroughly discredited line about how the UK will save 350 million pounds per week by leaving the EU in Daily Telegraph essay that couldn’t have done more to completely undermine Theresa May’s precarious hold on power if he’d tried, which maybe he did. If this is Johnson’s bid to supplant May as PM, it couldn’t come at a better time and it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of sociopathic idiots.


Iceland’s snap elections have been scheduled for October 28.



Brazil’s army commander, General Eduardo Villas Bôas, said Monday that the army will not “intervene” to tamp down the endemic corruption that surrounds Brazilian President Michel Temer. Bôas was responding to a comment reportedly made on Friday by another army general, Antonio Hamilton Mourão, that the military might “impose” order if the country’s judicial and political systems failed to do so.


Next July’s election is a long way off, but polling shows that Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s leftist National Regeneration Movement is leading the field with 23 percent support. That would seem to put López Obrador in the driver’s seat to become Mexico’s next president–he’s also leading that very crowded field with around 30 percent support.


This week is the UN General Assembly session, and though several prominent world leaders have opted not to attend for various reasons, Donald Trump is there and as usual he’s the featured attraction. Trump is likely to take the opportunity of his big UN address on Tuesday to smack the institution around in order to play to his base:

But if the most undiplomatic of modern presidents avoided a confrontation on Day 1, it may have only been to soften up the crowd for a tougher message on Tuesday when he addresses the General Assembly. In a speech drafted by his hard-line policy adviser, Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump plans to challenge the world to do more to counter threats from Iran and North Korea.

“It appears that he left out the anti-U. N. rhetoric he was so fond of during the campaign and instead recognized the potential of the U.N. to be involved in solving global crises and with an important role to play,” said Rachel Stohl, a scholar at the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan research organization. By Tuesday, she said, “I would expect him to play to his base a bit and call for greater action with regards to Iran and North Korea.”

But meanwhile, other world leaders are taking the opportunity to give Trump an earful about his “America first” view of the world, and they’re likely to insist that if he wants more action on North Korea he better be prepared to do more on some of their key issues:

On the eve of the U.N. General Assembly debate, a diverse array of countries have made common cause to prod President Donald Trump to reverse course on his most controversial foreign policy initiatives — from bailing on the fight against climate change to threatening to tear up the Iran nuclear deal — and to instead embrace multilateral diplomacy.

“The world will have an overarching message for Trump this week: You have had your ‘America First’ fun, now get back to serious diplomacy,” said Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “That applies to climate change, Iran, and North Korea.”

There could be reason to pay heed to the rest of the world: The divisions over Iran and climate change complicate efforts by the Trump administration to rally the world behind a tougher response to North Korea, which has tested powerful nuclear devices and long-range missiles.

You’ll be pleased to know, these criticisms aside, that Trump’s “America first” bullshit has not precluded him from bombing the shit out of Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq:

New airstrike totals issued by the Pentagon show that American aircraft have dropped over 2,400 bombs in Afghanistan this year, far above the 1,337 dropped in 2016, as U.S. warplanes seek to roll back gains by the Taliban and incursions by the Islamic State in the country’s East.

In Iraq and Syria, U.S. planes dropped a total of 5,075 bombs in August, more ordnance than had been dropped in any month prior since the campaign against the Islamic State kicked off in August 2014. That pace has been kept up all year: Through the first eight months, 32,800 bombs have hit ISIS targets, more than the 30,743 dropped in all of 2016.

Hot damn that’s some good Americaning.

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