Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro failed to attend the summit of leaders of seven South American countries with Amazon Basin territory to address the devastating fires now consuming the rainforest. Duque claimed a medical emergency, and was represented by his foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, at the meeting in Colombia's Amazonian city of Leticia on Sept. 6. The presidents of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia as well as Araujo, the natural resouces minister of Guyana and vice president of Suriname agreed to form an "Amazonian cooperation network" to track deforestation across borders. Venezuela, despite having a large swath of Amazonian territory, was not invited, as Colombia does not recognize the presidency of Nicolas Maduro. Brazil has the largest share of the Amazon by far, and Bolsonaro's failure to attend was assailed by environmentalists worldwide.
Hurricane Dorian's slow, destructive track through the Bahamas fits a pattern scientists have been seeing over recent decades, and one they expect to continue as the planet warms: hurricanes stalling over coastal areas and bringing extreme rainfall. Dorian made landfall in the northern Bahamas on Sept. 1 as one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record, then battered the islands for hours on end with heavy rain, a storm surge of up to 23 feet and sustained wind speeds reaching 185 miles per hour. The storm's slow forward motion—at times only 1 mile per hour—is one of the reasons forecasters were having a hard time predicting its exact future path toward the US coast. With the storm still over the islands on Sept. 2, the magnitude of the devastation and death toll was only beginning to become clear. "We are in the midst of a historic tragedy in parts of our northern Bahamas," Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told reporters.
Central Africa's rainforests are currently being consumed by a vast system of forest fires dwarfing even those that are ravaging the Amazon. Hundreds of thousands of hectares have been engulfed by flames over the past weeks—to comparatively little notice in the world media. Bloomberg reported Aug. 23 that Weather Source satellite data recorded 6,902 fires in Angola over the past 48 hours, and 3,395 in the Democratic Republic of Congo compared to 2,127 in Brazil. French newspaper La Voix du Nord states, "In Angola, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Zambia, thousands of fires consume phenomenal amounts of vegetation." Since the beginning of 2019, it is the DRC that has recorded the most fires, far ahead of Brazil. NASA attributes the fires to "widespread agricultural burning," as farmers employ slash-and-burn methods to clear land for crops.
President Evo Morales announced Aug. 21 that Bolivia has contracted a Boeing 747 "Supertanker" to help extinguish huge forest fires in the Amazon have that have spread over the border from Brazil. The giant air-tanker, capable of carrying up to 19,200 gallons (72,680 liters) of water or fire retardant, was flown from California to Viru Viru International Airport in Bolivia's eastern city of Santa Cruz, on lease from the firm Global Supertanker. Morales has also mobilized army helicopters to evacuate affected communites deep in the rainforest. Some 500,000 hectares of forest are now said to be in flames in Bolivia. (Fire Aviation, TeleSur, Folha de S.Paulo, Aug. 22)
A lawsuit brought by a Peruvian farmer and mountain guide against a European utility over the imminently threatening impacts of climate change in the high Andes has been stalled for months in the evidentiary stage, partially due to the lack of an inter-governmental legal assistance agreement between Germany and Peru. Earlier this year, the Higher Regional Court of Hamm, in North Rhine-Westphalia, made a request to the government of Peru to be allowed to inspect the alpine lakes that are the subject of the lawsuit. This is expected to take at least one year to arrange. Meanwhile, signs mount of the glaciers above the lakes becoming destabilized by warming, portending a regional disaster.
A Special Report on Climate Change was released by the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Aug. 8, focusing on greenhouse gas emissions and its links to desertification, land degradation and food security. The report warns that the "rise in global temperatures, linked to increasing pressures on fertile soil," risks "jeopardizing food security for the planet." According to the report, about a quarter of the Earth's ice-free land area is subject to human-induced degradation, such as soil erosion and desertification. The effects of global warming have led to "shifts of climate zones in many world regions," further exacerbating land degradation, and leading to extreme weather conditions such as floods and droughts. The reports warns: "The stability of food supply is projected to decrease as the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events that disrupt food chains increases."
Puerto Rico on Aug. 7 swore in its third governor in less than a week, Wanda Vázquez Garced, after the removal of Pedro Pierluisi by order of the commonwealth's Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that his appointment was unconstitutional. Pierluisi had been the chosen successor of Ricardo Rosselló of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP), who stepped down Aug. 2 following two weeks of mass protests. The protest wave began after group chats between Rosselló and his staff were made public, disclosing ugly homophobic and misogynistic comments aimed at political rivals, including San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz of the opposition Popular Democratic Party (PPD). The comments also included cruel "humor" aimed at victims of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in 2017.
Hundreds of bicyclists staged a "die-in" in New York's Washington Square Park July 9, expressing outrage over the spate of killings of cyclists on the city's streets. Three deaths came in a one-week period, finally prompting demands for public action: Robyn Hightman, a 20-year-old bicycle messenger and track racer, was killed by a truck driver in Manhattan. Ernest Askew, 57, riding an e-bike in Brooklyn, was hit and killed by a teen driver. And Devra Freelander, 28, an artist, was killed by a cement truck driver, also in Brooklyn. (Bicycling, July 10) Hundreds of people gathered at 6th Avenue and West 23rd Street after the slaying of Hightman there on June 24. Hightman was the 12th cyclist killed on New York City streets in 2019; 10 were killed in all of 2018. (Gothamist, June 25)