Paving the Amazon with roads, fires in Chile threaten bees, Mexico might soon have an electric taxi
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February 2 – 9, 2017
Special Report on Chile’s Rivers
Chilean Patagonia is known around the world for its glacier-capped mountains, labyrinthine fjords, stunning wildlife, and unique culture. Yet for decades, the lifeblood of the region—its rushing turquoise rivers—has been threatened repeatedly by large hydroelectric projects. Explore these interactive maps to find out more about the ongoing risks to Chile’s environment from hydroelectric development and how to help preserve the natural beauty of this remote region. Learn more at: http://on.nrdc.org/2llwJiv
The heart of Colombia’s Amazon is the proposed site of a 138km road seeking to connect the Calamar and Miraflores municipalities of Colombia. While local leaders assert the intention of the road is to bring services and opportunities to local communities, many are concerned the new road will only serve to destruct “the lungs” of the planet and open the forest to development. The road was initially carved out by the FARC decades ago as a dirt path crossed only by ATVs. Many fear if the path is paved and widened, it will encourage deforestation and livestock production. The road expansion plan is also contrary to Colombia’s climate commitments to reduce deforestation to zero in the Amazon. For the time being, various groups are engaged in a dispute about the future fate of the forest, with some looking for alternative solutions. (El Espectador 2/5/2017)
A study from Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM) puts into doubt the future of jaguars in Latin America. According to scientists from the university, only 64,000 jaguars remain in the region, much less than previously believed. 33 of the 34 subspecies identified are endangered or critically endangered. Of the remaining species, approximately 90 percent of them reside within the Amazon in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil. Next, the university will work to identify subspecies populations and their individual threats and conditions in order to suggest measures to help protect the species from extinction. (El Dinamo)
Human life and property are not the only victims of Chile’s worst wildfire crisis in its history. Millions of bees in hundreds of apiaries around the country have also perished in the fires, bringing concern to politicians and the agriculture sector about Chile’s future food security. The National Beekeeping Network (FNA), with support from Senator Juan Pablo Letelier, have started a campaign to protect bee populations under threat from the fires and resulting smoke and ashes. President of FNA, Misael Cuevas, said “"It is extremely important that people understand that if we want to recover some of the flora and fauna of the regions damaged by fire, we have to start by recovering our pollinators, and those are the bees." (El Ciudadano 2/3/2017)
Giant Motors, controlled by Inbursa, the financial arm of Carlos Slim, is working on launching a 100 percent electric vehicle assembled in Mexico, by Mexicans, for Mexicans. "We are developing a Mexican electric vehicle that is not only assembled [in the country], we want it to be designed and coupled with the needs of Mexicans, with respect to prices and cities," said Elias Massri, director of Giant Motors Latin America. The firm’s plan is for these vehicles to become Mexico City’s fleet of electric taxis. Giant Motors expects to have prototypes ready by the end of this year with the goal of launching the vehicle by 2018. (Forbes 2/8/2017)
A study completed by the University of California found that an automobile ban implemented in Mexico intended to reduce air pollution has not caused a measureable impact on air contaminant levels. The ban, now in effect for over nine years in Mexico City, serves on a rotating basis based on the last digit of a vehicle’s license plate. The program, titled “Hoy No Circula”, was deemed necessary after the United Nations declared Mexico City to be the world’s most contaminated city in 1992. According to the report, “the expansion of the program has had practically no perceptible impact on air quality.” The scientists behind the study concluded that the policy proved ineffective since individuals did not rely on public transportation during days in which they could not drive. Instead, motorists opted to use taxis or other family vehicles. (BBC Mundo 2/2/2017)
While banning vehicles may not be a silver bullet solution to air pollution on its own, there is proof it can be useful as part of a multi-faceted approach. According to Bogota’s Secretary for the Environment, a one-day automobile ban in Bogota contributed to varied reductions in air pollutants. Particulate matter saw around a 30 percent reduction, while CO2 was reduced by 39 percent. Residents of the Colombian city, however, want to know how these reductions can be sustained during the rest of the year. The World Health Organization has branded Bogota as one of the world’s most contaminated cities. (Publimetro 2/6/2017)
Close to 60 percent of Brazilian beaches are contaminated enough to threaten the safety of beachgoers. This according to a study from Instituto Estadual de Medio Ambiente, a sub-agency of Brazil’s Secretariat of the Environment and Hydrological Resources. Furthermore, 30 percent of these beaches had “bad or terrible” conditions for at least three months last year. As the city of Salvador de Bahia begins its carnival season, only five of 37 beaches had appropriate conditions for bathing. Some six million foreigners are expected to visit Brazil this year, with the bulk heading to Rio de Janeiro. While the most popular beaches in the northern part of the country are the most affected by pollution, conditions remain favorable in the south of the country. The beaches of Parana and Rio Grande do Sul have 98 and 95 percent “good” conditions. (Clarin 2/7/2017)
This week's blog features contributions from Michael Khayan.