Europe/Americas update: February 14 2018


Well folks, it’s been fun. I hope whatever supremely heat- and water-resistant creature inherits this planet does a better job with it than we did:

A draft United Nations climate science report contains dire news about the warming of the planet, suggesting it will likely cross the key marker of 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, of temperature rise in the 2040s, and that this will be exceedingly difficult to avoid.


Temperatures could subsequently cool down if carbon dioxide is somehow removed from the air later in the century, the document notes. But that prospect is questionable at the massive scales that would be required, it observes.

The 1.5 degree target is important for Pacific Islanders who would like to remain Pacific Islanders. It’s not extinction-level, but when we start blowing through 2 and 3 degree targets then we’ll be talking about some really dire outcomes. There is of course the possibility of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but it is highly likely that any technology we create to do that at a large enough scale to make a difference will bring with it some potentially terrible side effects.



Turkey and Greece are fighting again:

Tensions between Turkey and its NATO ally and neighbor Greece continued to escalate today over a collision in the Aegean Sea. Speaking on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos accused Turkey of “provocative behavior” and declared, “It goes beyond tolerable levels.”


Kammenos’ comments followed a telephone exchange between the countries’ prime ministers late Tuesday in a bid to tamp the crisis down. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said he told his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras that Greece must refrain from acts that strain ties. The Aegean should be “a sea of friendship,” he said.


The latest crisis between the traditional foes erupted when a Turkish patrol boat drove into a Greek one near the contested Kardak islets in the southeastern Aegean Sea.

Kardak is disputed territory, one of a few of those in the Aegean, and the Turkish government is paranoid that Greece and/or Cyprus might try to exploit Turkey’s preoccupation with the Kurds in Syria to expand their territorial claims in the eastern Mediterranean.


German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel says that Serbia will have to recognize Kosovo’s independence before it can be accepted into the European Union. Obviously Gabriel doesn’t speak for the EU, but certainly his words, as Germany’s top diplomat, carry weight. This is the first serious signal that Serbia will have to do more than just learn to live with Kosovo in order to get into the EU.


Emmanuel Macron says he wants to be more proactive in imposing French secularism on the country’s Muslim minority, but at least one leading French Muslim is warning him to ease up on that front:

“Everyone must stick to their role,” Ahmet Ogras, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), told Reuters in an interview.


“The Muslim faith is a religion and, as such, takes care of its own household affairs. The last thing you want is the state to act as guardian,” said Ogras, a Frenchman of Turkish descent who has led the CFCM since mid-2017.

I don’t know anything about Ogras or the CFCM, but this point seems inarguable to me. It’s hard to imagine any Muslim reacting positively to whatever Emmanuel Macron has to say about the proper role of Islam in politics.


Boris Johnson spoke at length about Brexit today and, bless him, reaffirmed my conviction that he’s the dumbest English-speaking politician in the world outside of America:

The speech drew criticism Wednesday for offering no new details about what May’s negotiators are seeking — or how they intend to wrangle the Europeans into yielding. There was no further clarity on trade and tariffs, on how London’s powerhouse banks will fare or on the fate of Europeans in the U.K. and British citizens residing on the continent.


Instead, Johnson oddly promised, “We will continue ever more intensively to go on cheapo flights to stag parties in ancient cities.”


He added, “There is no sensible reason why we should not be able to retire to Spain.”

Well, there might be if Spain doesn’t want you all retiring there. But I’m sure when you guys throw one of your delightful stag parties (?) in Toledo or something, the Spanish government will welcome you with open arms. Even while you’re busy kicking Spaniards out of Britain.

In considerably more serious news, negotiations on forming a new power-sharing government in Northern Ireland collapsed on Wednesday, with the Democratic Unionist Party apparently walking out over a lingering dispute with Sinn Féin over the role of the Irish language. The longer the two parties go without an agreement the more the region will come back under direct rule from London, which is really not in anybody’s best interest. It’s particularly not in anyone’s best interest with Brexit looming, since whatever deal the UK strikes with the EU may very well impact Northern Ireland more severely than the rest of the country.



A bomb went off during Carnival celebrations in the city of Oruro on Tuesday, killing at least four people. It’s not clear who set the bomb or why–some people in Evo Morales’s  government are blaming the opposition, but so far there’s no evidence to support those accusations and it’s not like Bolivia has been wracked by political violence in its recent past. What makes this bombing particularly troubling is that on Saturday there was another explosion a mere two blocks away from the site of this attack that killed eight people. Bolivian officials said that explosion was caused by a faulty gas canister (hence we didn’t mention it here), but now they say they’re going to reexamine that explosion to see if maybe it was also deliberate.


I highly recommend reading this Guardian account of an indigenous Amazonian people’s fight to reclaim their village and land from illegal gold miners:

In January, this reporter was the only non-indigenous member of a warrior party sent to PV Village to reclaim it from the miners. The expedition navigated the entire 226km length of the Tropas River.


For the Munduruku, the Tropas is now a dead river, muddy and toxic with mercury. Around PV Village, the waters are lined by strips of barren land, fallen trees, huge holes dug by excavators, scattered huts and unpaved roads used by motorcycles, tractors and quadbikes.


“Game used to be very easy here – pig, deer, tapir. But it is all gone due to the machines and pollution. Now, only one stream still has fish, but they are all sick from mercury”, said 70-year-old Chief Osvaldo, in a conversation inside his hut, which remains in the village. “This damage will remain forever.”


Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro will not be allowed to attend the Summit of the Americas in Peru in April, according to Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Kuczynski, along with many other Latin American leaders, has criticized Maduro’s decision to go ahead with a presidential election in April without reaching an agreement with the Venezuelan opposition on how that election should be conducted.


New polling has leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador increasing his lead heading into Mexico’s presidential election in July. López Obrador is currently sitting at just over 27 percent support, up around 3.5 percent from his performance in the same poll in January. Centrist Ricardo Anaya comes in second with 22.3 percent, up almost two percent from January. The ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s candidate, José Antonio Meade, comes in third with 18 percent, down slightly from January, and looks like he may be in real danger of missing out on the runoff.


A new medical study of the US diplomats afflicted and/or attacked while they were in Cuba has cleared up almost nothing except maybe for the theory that they were all faking it or caught up in some kind of mass hysteria. The study concludes that the diplomats suffered very real neurological damage from whatever it was that happened to them, but it is still entirely unclear what that might have been. Infection seems to have been ruled out, as has a chemical agent. Most of the diplomats reported hearing some kind of noise to go along with their affliction but audible sound has never been observed to produce these kinds of effects.


Oh, you’re still here? Well, don’t mind us. We’re busy killing each other.

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