1. Gasoline Gridlock
Yes, the high price and tight supply of petrol brought misery to millions of drivers, like these poor souls in Manchester, England. But what's bad for car owners is good for nature. Like the 1970s oil shocks, this year's turmoil will spur production — and sales — of cars that use less gasoline. That will mean a cleaner planet and better odds against global warming.
2. Green Games
Sydney's Olympic organizers set out to make their Games the greenest ever — by utilizing solar power, mass transportation and recycling. Hard-to-please conservationists complained that officials themselves still buzzed around in gasoline-powered cars, among other sins, but Sydney deserves some credit for shining the Olympic torch on the environmental cause.
This year alone U.S. President Bill Clinton protected the wilderness by establishing or expanding 10 national monuments, decreeing that no roads would be built in 23.5 million hectares of public forest and setting up the largest U.S. nature preserve, an underwater paradise off Hawaii. If George Bush wins the election, he could reverse some of these actions, but with a weak mandate, he may not dare to do so.
4. You Can Go Home
About 20,000 penguins rescued from a South African oil spill and moved 800 km to safety were released to return home after the oil dispersed. Three were fitted with global-positioning-system tracking devices, and well wishers followed the penguins' progress on the Internet.
The Kowloon-Canton Railway, which links Hong Kong with mainland China, wanted to build a branch line that would cut right through a bird sanctuary sheltering 210 avian species. But protests persuaded Hong Kong officials to withhold a permit — one of the few times the city has favored ecology over economy.
1. Amazon Assault
Will it be a road to disaster? Ignoring objections from conservation groups, Brazil decided to complete the paving of a highway, BR-163, through a part of the Amazon rain forest that is particularly vulnerable to drought and fire. While the road will help Brazil boost soybean exports, scientists fear that if settlers burn trees to clear land in this area, the flames will spread, sparking the worst conflagration the Amazon has ever seen.
2. Plea Denied
Rejecting arguments from activists led by Medha Patkar and author Arundhati Roy, India's Supreme Court approved the building of a series of dams on the Narmada River. The project,which is expected to submerge thousands of hectares of forest land that is home to tribal folk, farmers and fishermen, is so controversial that the World Bank stopped funding a Narmada dam in 1993.
If Herman Melville's great white Moby Dick were patrolling the Pacific, he would no doubt want to take a bite out of Japan's whaling fleet. Conservationists have long decried the nation's practice of killing up to 500 minke whales a year for research — and then selling the meat in home markets — even if it is approved by the International Whaling Commission. But Japan made matters worse this year by defying the IWC and going after small numbers of sperm and Bryde's whales, which are endangered. Washington was so incensed that it barred Japanese fishermen from U.S. waters.
An expedition to the forests of West Africa turned up no trace of Miss Waldron's red colobus. While some scientists still hoped that the creature, last seen in the 1970s, would reappear, others declared that this monkey is the first primate to go extinct since the 1700s.
5. Blue Danube
The accidental release of 10,000 cu m of cyanide and other toxic chemicals from a gold-reprocessing plant in Romania sent a stream of poison through tributaries leading into the Danube River, killing countless fish — and otters, herons and white-tailed eagles.