No more coal
Germany is planning to close all 84 of its coal-fired power plants—which provide some 40 percent of the country’s power—and replace them with renewable energy sources within 20 years. A commission made up of state and federal government leaders, industry representatives, environmentalists, and scientists developed the plan, which includes some $45 billion in compensation to the communities and businesses hardest hit by the phaseout. The government says it wants at least 65 percent of future energy needs to be met by solar, wind, and hydroelectric power; the rest will come from natural gas, much of it likely imported from Russia. Nuclear energy will not be in the mix: Germany decided to shutter its 19 nuclear plants by 2022 following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
Tornado smashes city
The strongest tornado to hit Cuba since 1940 tore up Havana this week, killing at least four people, injuring some 200 more, and completely destroying 123 homes. The funnel cloud had a wind speed of 186 mph and spent 16 minutes crashing through neighborhoods, narrowly missing the port and the National Capitol Building. Cars were hurled through the air and electricity poles toppled, and a hospital had to be evacuated in the night after all its windows were blown out. When the winds died down, said resident Julio Menendez, Havana’s 10 de Octubre borough looked “like a horror movie.”
Name fight over
Despite violent protests and the opposition of more than half of Greek voters, the Greek parliament voted last week to end a 27-year dispute with neighboring Macedonia over that country’s name—by recognizing its slightly changed new moniker, Republic of North Macedonia. Ever since Macedonia declared independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece has objected to its name, saying it is a usurpation of Greek history and implies territorial designs on the northern Greek province of Macedonia—home to most of the ancient kingdom led by Alexander the Great. Greece had blocked Macedonia from joining NATO and the European Union because of the disagreement; it can now pursue membership in both blocs. The settlement is a blow to Russia, which strongly opposes NATO’s expansion.
Brazilian police this week arrested five people—including three employees of the mining giant Vale—after a dam collapse at a Brazilian iron ore mine left at least 84 people dead and more than 270 missing. The breach sent a tidal wave of mining waste and sludge crashing into the town of Brumadinho. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said resident Nestor José de Mury, who lost a nephew and coworkers. “It killed everyone.” Some 24,000 people have been evacuated from the area, as a river of red mud spread across the land. Authorities arrested three Vale executives as well as two engineers who had ruled the dam “stable” in September; the Environment Ministry has fined the company $66 million.
Build that wall
Denmark’s Agriculture Ministry has begun building a $4.6 million fence along its 43-mile border with Germany to keep wild boars from entering the country. Two wild boars in Belgium recently died of incurable African swine fever, and the government said it can’t take the chance that a wandering animal might infect the $4.5 billion Danish pork industry. With 12 million pigs across 3,000 farms, Denmark has nearly twice as many porkers as people. The 5-foot-high steel fence will be sunk at least 1½ feet below the ground to prevent pigs from tunneling underneath. Critics say the fence is an ineffective political stunt, since boars can easily pass through the gaps where the fence stops for roads and streams.
Only gay lawmaker flees
Wyllys: In exile
Brazil’s only openly gay congressman has fled the country, citing death threats and a growing climate of homophobia. Jean Wyllys, a leading gay-rights activist and former reality show star, was re-elected for a third term last October but has chosen not to be sworn in this month. “For the future of this cause,” he said, “I have to stay alive. I don’t want to be a martyr.” Wyllys said Brazil was no longer safe following the murder last year of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco, a political ally, and the election of President Jair Bolsonaro, a virulent opponent of gay rights. Soon after Wyllys made his announcement, Bolsonaro tweeted “Great day!” and a thumbs-up emoticon.
Russia held a military parade in zero-degree weather this week to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the lifting of the 1941–1944 Siege of Leningrad. More than 1 million people died, mostly of hunger, during the two and a half years that Nazi forces surrounded the city, now known as St. Petersburg. Some 5,000 people signed a petition denouncing the parade, saying such military pomp was an insult to the memory of those who slowly starved to death. “I am against militarism,” said survivor Yakov Gilinsky, 84. “War is horrible.” President Vladimir Putin, a native of the city whose elder brother died in the siege as an infant, skipped the parade and instead visited a memorial to the dead.
Challenge to Netanyahu
Israel’s former army chief Benny Gantz has formed a political party to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the April elections. Positioning himself as a centrist, he called for a strong military response to cross-border attacks but also pledged to seek peace with the Palestinians. Gantz criticized Netanyahu, who is facing possible indictment for corruption, for acting like “a king.” Joining his new party was another former general, Moshe Yaalon, who quit as Netanyahu’s defense minister in 2016, saying that “extremist and dangerous forces” had taken over the Israeli leadership.
Deportee files suit
Adam Crapser, who was adopted from South Korea by an American couple at age 3 and then deported to his native country 38 years later, is suing the South Korean government and the agency that processed his adoption. Crapser, now 43, was abused by two sets of adoptive parents in the U.S., neither of which filed U.S. citizenship papers for him. He has a wife and two children in Vancouver, Wash., but because of criminal convictions for assault and firearms possession, he was deported in 2016 and sent to South Korea—a country completely unknown to him, where he doesn’t speak the language. Crapser’s lawsuit says the South Korean government and the Seoul-based private adoption agency were negligent in sending thousands of children abroad without securing citizenship for them. U.S. law changed in 2001, granting automatic American citizenship to all new foreign adoptees.
Japan’s Supreme Court has upheld a law that requires transgender people to be sterilized if they want to legally change their gender. Transgender campaigners had asked the court to overturn the 2004 law, which requires any person wishing to alter their gender on legal documents to have “no reproductive glands or reproductive glands that have permanently lost function.” The court unanimously threw out the appeal, saying the law was constitutional and prevented “problems” in parent-child relations that could cause societal “confusion.” Transgender advocates were upset by the ruling. “It is unthinkable in this day and time that the law requires a sex-change operation to change gender,” said lawyer Tomoyasu Oyama. The court did encourage lawmakers to review the law regularly so it keeps pace with changing social values.
Jihadists bomb cathedral
Philippine authorities have blamed the Islamist separatist group Abu Sayyaf for twin bombings at a Catholic cathedral this week that left at least 21 dead and 80 wounded. Abu Sayyaf has waged a campaign of terror on the Mindanao island group since the early 1990s in its quest for a separate Muslim state. It pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014, and ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. The country is mostly Catholic, but the Mindanao region is 20 percent Muslim. It has been under martial law since 2017 because of separatist unrest. “The Jolo cathedral was guarded by soldiers 24 hours a day,” said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. “We will never know how the bombers got in or near the church, as the soldiers guarding the main door all died.”
Port Augusta, Australia
Cooling a koala
A record-breaking, weeks-long heat wave across Australia has killed wildlife and caused wildfires, dust storms, and power outages. Temperatures in the southern city of Adelaide rocketed to 116 degrees Fahrenheit, while the town of Port Augusta set a new record high of 121 degrees. The outback town of Noona—population 14—hit the highest minimum temperature recorded overnight in Australia: 97 degrees. Possums burned their feet on melting roads, while the native bats known as flying foxes dropped dead by the hundreds. Snake home invasions were up, too, as pythons seeking water found it in people’s toilets and showers. At least one woman, Helen Richards, was bitten on the bottom while using the toilet.