How Much Is Right?

How Much Is Right?

rightoeducationThe success of childhood education is directly the result of how much tax payers will pay and how good the government is that implements it.

Backpedaling in America and proudful politics in Kenya forecasts doom for those countries. Instability and war not only inhibits but defiles education. Massive government investments have assured Asia will become the political, economic and cultural center of our earth. So says PISA.

Read more

Drought of Democracy

Drought of Democracy

malielectionGlobal conservatism will fail and Mali will soon provide the evidence.

Today Mali failed running a national election. The country’s inability to foster a democratic government three years after Islamic insurgents took over the country and were then ousted by the French will force the former colonial power either to occupy the country, again, or leave it to Islamic extremists.

This is the inevitable result of climate change and global political conservatism. It is the hidden elephant in the room that will traumatize then conceivably destroy the newly emerging political regimes of the likes of Trump and Le Pen.

Read more

OnSafari: End of the Game?

OnSafari: End of the Game?

erraticWetDryBPI suppose as we age the accumulation of changes so untethers us from our foundations that it seems apocalypse is right around the corner. Nevertheless, this safari truly makes me wonder if African wilderness will be around much longer.

I remind myself that in 1979 Peter Beard published a best-selling book, The End of the Game, and his predictions couldn’t have been more wrong. There was not the near total collapse of the wild animals in East Africa he predicted, but in fact a tripling of the animal populations.

So I’m hesitant now to render a similar prediction. Few knew the East African wilderness as well and intimately as Peter Beard. Few were as moderate or unopinionated as him.

Yesterday we left the crater for Lake Manyara National Park. The crater was enormously stressed, but not by the customary impacts of a normal dry season. This was a much different dry season, one framed by the extremities of climate change.

The single-most easily observed effect of climate change in East Africa is the severity of micro-weather cells. The crater like the Serengeti was severely dry, more so than normal. But the areas hardly a few miles away in the higher elevations of the crater rim and Karatu butte were soaked. Not so much by current rain (although there has been some unusual showers) but by the floods of the last rainy season which went on nearly a month longer than normal.

Drop back down to Lake Manyara and the desiccation of the veld was as bad as the Serengeti or the crater floor. Yet the lake itself is massive. Rivers flowing into the great lake itself are so strong that tracks I used in the rainy season in March are now under water!

All this because the higher elevations – a soaked micro weather cell – continued to drain off the unusually wet season.

Grass on the veld doesn’t grow because a nearby river is flowing, but it does mean that a normal light shower provides just enough moisture to bloom grass on that desiccated veld: I guess the best way to explain this is that despite an unusually hot, dusty and dry veld, an unusually high water table supports grass growth at the slightest encouragement.

We saw ridiculous numbers of baby buffalo in the crater. (Buffalo eat very little of anything but grass.)

We encountered so many giraffe in the Serengeti around lakes Ndutu and Masek that 8-year old Donovan began each game drive by announcing, “I guaranteed you we’ll see giraffe.” Masek and Ndutu were unusually large for the same reason as the crater lake and Manyara: heavy continuing runoffs from the nearby highlands.

Giraffes main food are the leafs of the acacia tree. Deep rooting acacia trees tap easily into a high water table. The acacia near all these lakes are leafing anew and even blooming, something not normal before November.

More than a hundred elephant around Lake Masek, dozens in the crater forests, and yesterday, almost a hundred elephant in Lake Manyara is not something I expected to see, now. There were many babies, and elephant abort at the slightest indication of a drought. Elephant are the most voracious consumers of vegetation on earth. They can easily move great distances and they don’t remain in areas without food.

So why sound the alarm?

Elephant, buffalo and to some extent giraffe, easily move great distances and fairly rapidly. Other animals don’t. Impala are home-bodies, with family collections rarely shifting far. Hippo might travel ten miles a night to eat, but they don’t easily adjust their territories, returning to the same river bed or lake each morning.

We normally see hundreds if not thousands of impala on a normal safari. I think so far we’ve counted 35 or so.

The first four hippo we found were frozen dead in the dwindling waters of the Seronera river, their hides already cracked wide opened and storks already picking into them.

All the 20 or so hippo we saw in the crater were crammed into the single lake at Lokitok with none in other normal areas like the well-signed “hippo pool.” At the famous hippo viewing area in Manyara we saw only a couple hippo and they were all very sick, their hides chalked with salt.

Could it be that only those animals capable of rapid shifts in territory will now survive? There’s more water than ever, but it comes as torrential rains in shorter intervals into smaller areas followed often by severe heat and drought.

Animals that can react to these anomalies might not just survive but prosper. Those that can’t will die. But the matrix that emerges will be radically different from the one that has existed all my career until now. Can the ecology retool and resync this fast?

My gut says no. But then so did Peter Beard’s almost a half century ago.

OnSafari: Crater Climate Change

OnSafari: Crater Climate Change

lionkillcraterBPLazy guys, content curmudgeons, and sassy big boys told us some marvelous stories about the crater this year. In sum, better than expected rains have relieved some tension in the wild.

Normally I find less than a few thousand wildebeest in the crater now at the height of the dry season, and these are often late birthed calves that missed the normal time to migrant and were then captured by the crater’s slightly better rainfall and subsequent scarce grasses.

This year rack up at least five thousand and it could be many more, and I’m sure that there were late birthed calves among these but it was mostly overly lazy males. After the males rut in May they sort of discard any more personal responsibilities, moving only when their belly tells them to. They lack the intuitive urge to migrate that the females have with calves in tow, and migrate only because grasses die.

Apparently the grasses didn’t die as usual in the crater because of slightly better rainfall, and moreover, the Serengeti just beyond the crater’s rim is so terribly dry that they might have turned back when they hit the dust.

Unlike the Serengeti we experienced the last few days, the crater showed some rain with slight patches of green especially on its eastern side. The rivers were flowing more than normal suggesting the rim got even more rain, and the central lake was much larger than usual, displaying a good number of flamingoes.

So the male wildebeest decided heh, what-the-heck, there’s grass here! And they were joined by several thousand zebra that are driven more by available water than the wildebeest (who also need water, but are more finicky about the type of grass they eat than zebra).

So it was a bonus for us, but potentially a very dangerous situation for these male wildebeest if the dry season now resyncs normally. Between them and the wonderfully green Mara far to the north where their brides and children have gone is one of the most desiccated Serengeti’s I can remember.

One of the first things we saw the first afternoon in the crater was a pride of lion finishing off a buffalo kill. (By the way, it was right at the edge of one of the designated picnic sites!) That was cool enough all by itself, but more telling were two big, healthy male elephants who had wandered into the area.

These old curmudgeons weren’t up to much of anything, displaying vast amounts of boredom. They sucked in great amounts of water and then let it dribble out or squirted it in funny ways all over the place, obviously not in need of a drink.

When this game got tiresome they started what I can only describe as trunk yoga. Contracting their trunk upwards, it spiraled into a corkscrew and for obviously no reason.

At first they didn’t seem the least interested in the lions and their kill hardly 40 meters away. But after they’d cycled through their list of personal games, one of them turned towards the lions and froze before a slow, lumbering towards the kill.

Most of the lions scattered, but the one big female whose belly exceeded that of any of the others, stood her ground and growled.

The 6-ton ele hesitated momentarily, then lowered his head and moved forward.

She growled some more.

Heh, what-the-heck, he seemed to say as he flapped his ears, I made my point! And he lumbered away. All in all it was just an old guy, very well fed, with a lot of time on his ears.

This morning just after dawn we followed a bunch of excited hyaenas as they headed towards a big family of buffalo. Having last March just watched such as situation ending with a dozen of these monsters tearing apart an old, sick bull, I wasn’t about to leave.

But this time it was different. The family had dozens of youngsters and almost as many newborns. I noticed that one group of hyaena was actually cleaning up the after-birth, while others were testing the health of the newborns with quick little sorties into the herd.

Buffalo birth year-round and like elephant tend to abort when conditions are poor. That’s why we don’t usually see a lot of births in the dry season, but this dry season is obviously not so dry … at least here in the crater.

Normally the big males of the family guard the rest, but heh, what-the-heck, it was such a beautiful day the males had disappeared somewhere! Later we’d find them lulling about in mud and water chewing their cud near a wonderful patch of green grass. So it was the mothers who were now darting back at the hyaena to protect the youngsters.

I’m sure I’ve anthropomorphized the couple days in the crater a bit more than I usually tolerate of others, but it was a mostly happy situation, with the crater more beautiful and full of animals than is normally the case in the dry season.

Anomalous seasons have a potential, though, to turn ugly. The thousands of wildebeest that elected to remain behind in the crater and not migrate, or the many new born buffalo who need several months of voracious eating to grow strong enough to survive, have hung their fates on the hope the crater won’t turn as dry as the neighboring Serengeti.

Normally, rains don’t return before November.

But the wild often predicts outcomes better than meteorologists. Climate change is confusing weather patterns all over the place. Perhaps this year, in this one place, it will all be for the better.

OnSafari: The Blob

OnSafari: The Blob

climatechangeLook, if you’re reading this you probably believe that human induced climate change is a serious problem. But like me, you might not have considered it more serious than a bunch of other problems effecting the human race.

I’m in London between my Alaskan Trip and my African Safari, and as far flung as these destinations seem they’re all bleeding to death from climate change. Racing from one extreme point in the world to another, my view about climate change is sharpening in a terrifying way.

London is hot and London is in a recession. Last week portions of central England had temperatures in excess of 105F. Brexit was precipitated mostly by immigration from a war weary Mideast whose conflicts are easily extrapolated from climate change. As the nexus of European finance, the pound and the Euro are melting.

I just left Alaska where literally every day was a reminder of how radical its climate is changing, from the great cold north to a warmer, more insipid environment that has lost so much of its biomass in what seems like the blink of an eye.

For the third year running, the normal winter Aleutian storms didn’t occur. Instead, what the Prince William Science Center calls the “Blob” has replaced it, a horribly large persistent mess of hot water.

Usually the Aleutian storms gurgle and mix the planet’s northern seas, refreshing phytoplankton and cooling the oceans. Instead temperatures are as high as 7 degrees F above normal all the way down to nearly 200 feet. You can follow all this on the Blob Tracker.

I saw the ramifications of this on my just completed trip: much reduced wildlife and birds. Statistics show that more than 25,000 murres have died of starvation, that whales are also starving and dolphins have disappeared. Mid and long term predictions for the salmon industry are scary, possibly wiping out the king altogether.

And as oil prices plummet the state is left taxless while its thousands of miles of roads built on permafrost crumble. Drought and heat are starting wild fires as bad as in California.

It makes sense that this is all coming into such stark focus. All my life I’ve wandered to the extremities of earth, curious to experience the most remote, the least developed. And these are obviously where any change – social or political or ecological – will be most noticeable.

The fact, of course, is that climate change is effecting every part of the world. The weird and dramatic weather over North America leading to more tornadoes, more wildfires, more drought and more flooding is something that we who live there see every day on the news.

But as disastrous and horrible as this is, we’re dealing with it. There is FEMA and other improved government agencies ready to manage the evacuation and then the rebuilding in record time. Farmers are compensated as they change their planting and harvesting habits, much less re-engineer their seed.

As California designs skyscrapers and bridges for earthquakes, Florida and New York are readying plans for the erosion of their coasts.

But add to this innovation to survive the unexpected arrival of millions of refugees, the nice plans for disaster are thrown asunder, and that’s what’s happening in the UK right now. Sure, politicians will tell us there are many other reasons, but I’ll be darned if they don’t all devolve into manifestations of climate change.

And that brings me as I will be tomorrow to Africa. The least developed, the most neglected of modern planet earth, it has truly “weathered” the storms of slavery and colonization, but now as I watch its nutrient lands erode in floods and droughts, and politicians increasingly disposed to ignore the wilderness, I feel like climate change is the straw which will break the lion’s back.

I can’t blame them, of course. With incredibly limited resources and less attention from a caring developed world that must deal with its own growing crises, Africans have little choice: people matter more than animals. Farms matter more than wilderness.

Worse, the spark of radical ideology which has turned the Mideast into an uncontrollable disaster could easily do the same to Africa. People need food.

Of all the indescribable beauty I’ll encounter over these 7 weeks of traveling to the far corners of the earth, or all the grand and natural drama, I’m overwhelmed by the looming catastrophe of climate change.

Trump. Income inequality. Incessant war. Growing racism.

Nothing is as irreversible. Nothing has such far reaching and rapid effects as climate change.

OnSafari: Arctic Heat

OnSafari: Arctic Heat

muskoxThe ecology of Planet Earth’s Far North is mysterious and often perplexing, today complicated more than anywhere else by global warming. Our first full day in Fairbanks introduced us to the remarkable biology of this Far North.

I love to start in Fairbanks, and most of my clients spend a full two nights here, and quite a few, three nights. I’ve documented during my 40 years of coming here the creeping of global warming which all of sudden now seems out of control.

It’s 85 degrees F as I write this, at 3:30p Wednesday afternoon. Fairbanks’ norm is upper sixties/lower seventies. It’s been beautifully clear, frightfully sunny all morning until the afternoon skies are massively obstructed by unbelievable storms. There was a time when most of the Far North never experienced lightning.

It’s here folks, and it’s here in spades. Shops in Fairbanks don’t have air-conditioning; it just was never needed. Now every door in town is propped way open, second floors are closed down because they aren’t ventilated well enough, and the city’s old time population just doesn’t know what to do.

The ice cap and glaciers are disappearing, the coastline is eroding fast, oyster farms are dying because the water’s getting too hot and salmon seasons are all screwed up.

The roads within the University of Alaska campus are constantly being rerouted because of sink holes (they’ve had four this year), as a result of the permafrost melting.

We started at the fabulous welcome center which is ideal for my briefing and then visited the University of Alaska’s Large Animal Research Station. Here we learned of the work being done on reindeer, caribou and muskox.

Reindeer are originally Russian caribou that have been domesticated for a long time. But it was interesting learning about their differing biologies: the reindeer are much more biologically precarious, growing antlers sometimes at the rate of 2″ per day! The mystery is why, and how relatively rapid domestication produces such variance with the wild animal.

We were told the remarkable story of what may be the most interesting of the Far North animals, the muskox.

Now farmed for its exquisite qiviut wool, the muskox was probably extinct in most of the Arctic by the 1900s, probably a mixture of over hunting and disease. Today there are nearly a half million and many are farmed for their extraordinary wool, a dozen times warmer (more insulating) than sheep’s wool and softer than cashmere.

There are few animals that thrive at -40F and get sick at 50F. That’s the muskox, and needless to say may be as threatened as the polar bear by global warming.

Tomorrow we head into Denali. Unfortunately I’ll be out of wifi for several days, but please come back the beginning of next week for the continuing reports of the trip!

OnSafari: Alaska Melts

OnSafari: Alaska Melts

alaskaclimatechangeEveryone in the world but Republicans accept global warming, even now many very conservative Alaskans.

Waiting for my luggage in Fairbanks I listened to a conversation from a family member meeting a local warning him that the permafrost had melted so much during his two weeks away that they might not be able to get their truck home.

According to the Weather Channel, Fairbanks had it hottest first half of the year on record, a whomping 7 degrees above average.

“In fact, 14 of the top 15 January-June 2016 temperature anomalies were in Alaska,” the report points out.

There are those Alaskans who are spinning this to their advantage, of course. Conservatives are rather inflexible at times.

The federal government’s “U.S. Climate’s Resilience Toolkit” is in large part a Congressional concoction for doing just this. The agency points out that Alaska’s much higher temperatures have already resulted in more internal precipitation and a longer growing season.

Yet its science can’t be spun. With a 12-degree projected increase in Alaska’s far north, the additional precipitation and melt will be devastating to Alaska’s native American communities, and the government sees this as the first real threat to American lifestyles.

“These villages are particularly vulnerable to erosion and flooding impacts resulting from extreme storm events, especially those in areas that do not have the ability or resources to quickly respond or rebuild after disasters,” the agency concludes.

Another sweet-and-sour addition to the panoply of Alaskan climate changes is that fracking is now possible where it wasn’t before, and that giant cruise ships can now sail the Northwest Passage, two controversial moves that conservatives spin as good for the economy.

There has been tremendous pushback to Texas-based BlueCrest Energy’s fracking that’s just begun in the Cook Inlet. But the Obama administration has given the green light and of course Alaskan authorities couldn’t be happier.

But the four-mile long horizontal wells underneath areas of permafrost seem to be a catastrophe ready to happen. Unlike in the lower 48, though, many of these vast areas are unpopulated. Bears don’t complain of methane coming out of the kitchen faucet.

Serenity Cruises leaves Seward on August 16 for the largest tourist cruise ship ever to sail the Northwest Passage. The 32-day voyage has long been sold out, and the average price paid by the 1070 passengers is $50,000 ($20-120,000 range). There are 655 crew and almost every guest has a butler.

It won’t be the first tourist cruise to sail the passage, that was Lindblad’s Explorer in 1984, but unlike Lindblad’s 80 passengers the Serenity is a monster.

Both the Canadian and American governments have been mobilized for the voyage. Enormous federal costs have gone into preparing for disasters at sea. The Serenity’ tourist ship will be preceded by a Serenity logistic vessel that includes 6 helicopters and is designed to ensure exact navigation among icebergs, among many other potential hazards.

The “shore excursions” will feature native American communities in Alaska, Canada and Greenland before the boat docks in New York in September. There is enormous controversy as to whether these new visits by so many tourists at once and for such a short time is a good idea or not.

I’m sure that aboard Serenity’s cruise will be quite a few climate deniers, but clearly that’s their public orientation, the blatant hypocrisy of a conservative ideology propagated by people who really don’t believe it.

As I’ve often said America is in a better position than perhaps any other society to deal with climate change. Kenyan businessmen can’t quickly alter their revenue stream from a hurricane infested Bahamas to an exciting undiscovered Northwest Passage as the owners of Serenity are doing.

But there’s more to our planet than extracting profits from it. The damage to native communities and to the flora and fauna that construct our ecosystems is certain to be great and largely unpredictable.

How will Serenity play that one?

Traffic Problem

Traffic Problem

bouldersHuman/wildlife conflict isn’t limited to dangerously powerful elephants walking over an impoverished Tanzanian farmer’s watermelon field. Several days ago in a thoroughly modern city in The Cape one of the world’s most endangered animals suffered a serious blow from … car traffic.

There are few animals in the world as endangered as the African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus), sometimes called the Jackass penguin.  Just over 25,000 breeding pairs remain of a sustainable population of 1.2 million birds that existed only a half century ago.

This is a far greater catastrophic decline than that of elephants or lions, and it shows no sign of abating.

Read more

Bird That Proves Climate Change

Bird That Proves Climate Change

climatecarmineIn North America we’re currently documenting the fascinating “Spring Migration.” Almost 4,000 birds fly up here to breed as spring begins.

Two months ago I was in Africa documenting a different migration. Of all the birds I’ve watched going and coming in both hemispheres of the world, one story really stands out: Africa’s carmine bee-eater.

This “migrant” makes three separate migrations, changing its direction three separate times and it tells us probably more about long-term climate change than any bird in the world.

Read more

COP21 Obfuscation Detritius

COP21 Obfuscation Detritius

COP21Today on Earth Day only one major head of State (from France) attends the signing statement at the United Nations of COP21, the breakthrough global climate agreement negotiated in Paris last year.

French President François Hollande is the star. He was instrumental in negotiating African developing countries into the deal, but there aren’t any African Heads of State here to sign with him.

John Kerry signs for the U.S. Obama is not here as he’s telling Cameron who’s not here, either, not to leave the EU.

Should we worry?

COP21 is good, but its worst part is another acronym, INDC, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, that was created at the behest of the developing world and negotiated principally by Hollande.

The premise is that development cannot be compromised in the poorer countries of the world.

As Bolivia and Ecuador explained in a joint statement during the negotiations, “These climate reparations would give to economies relying on progressive extractivism the necessary resources to transition to clean energy without having to sacrifice their social and redistributive policies.”

Translate: pay us not to burn fossil fuels. The implementation in nicer language will be written in each country’s INDC.

In other words, Kenya will forge head with additional solar, wind and other non-fossil fuel methods of making power, but primarily only if Britain, the U.S. and Japan – its principal aid givers – pay them to do so.

I think this is remarkably fair. But it’s politically dicey.

Most Americans (69%) now support efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, BUT … they do not believe (45%) that climate change is a “serious problem.”

What was that?

That’s the same position in 10 of the major 17 countries who pushed through COP21. Only in India, Germany, Canada (only barely, 51%), Mexico, Brazil, Italy and France does the public accept that climate change is a “serious problem.”

So that’s how dumb the world is, and that’s why Hollande is at today’s signing ceremony. France, he is saying, is not as dumb as America or China where (get ready to scratch your head) 71% of the public supports international treaties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but only 18% believe that climate change is a serious problem!

I would love for some data from Africa, but except for South Africa (56% support reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but only 45% believe climate change is a serious problem) polling in other African countries doesn’t exist.

You see if you stripped out the motive for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, then what replaces it?

In developing countries it’s pollution. Pollution is as much an issue in Nairobi as Beijing.

In the developed countries it’s … what? Support for fracking? I just don’t know.

Here’s another take. It’s likely today that most Africans, and maybe even most Americans, recognize that climate change is real. Whether you elevate climate change to a “serious problem” is the key.

There are so many problems in Africa with greater priority, like food and water and poverty, that even if it’s plausible climate change contributes to these, it isn’t as important so the moving goal post of “serious” might not be reached.

In America I think it’s more contentious: it’s political.

Alas for the straight-talker Trump and the clear-headed Sanders, our only solutions to sweeping away the detritus of obfuscation?

No Vote Can Change This

No Vote Can Change This

AfricaDroughtWeather events – like football – keep getting nastier, and the more we comment on them the less attention we pay.

El Nino is flooding away America, but it’s also drying to a crisp much of southern Africa. That’s what severe weather is all about: When part of the world burns up another part freezes solid.

FEWS, the world’s early famine warning system, issued a severe drought alert last week for portions of eastern southern Africa. FEWS is not a weather forecaster per se, but an organization that anticipates what the weather will do:

In this case, a “food security crisis … is considered likely in the latter half of 2016 and early 2017.” ‘Food Security Crisis’ is just a step above “famine.”

Absolutely the world’s best forecaster globally is America’s own and proud NOAA. (That’s only since the Obama administration, by the way. Previous Republican administrations had eviscerated its funding.)

NOAA predicts a moisture deficit crisis for all of Zimbabwe, more than half of Mozambique, much of Zambia, some Botswana and nearly the entire eastern half of South Africa.

NOAA’s predictions further out suggest a return to normal. From FEWS perspective, though, that’s not good, because starting in March “normal” in southern Africa is the start of a long dry season.

Combined with the failure of rains in the past rainy season because of El Nino, food production will be lost over much of the area.

Tourism may also be effected. Earlier this year a number of Okavango Delta camps suspended their water-based activities because the water levels were so low.

There’s been some improvement, but not enough according to the University of Botswana:

“Tourism activities have so far become the first casualties of the on-going drought as water levels go down in the Okavango Delta,” a professor of tourism from the university warned last week.

My own sources suggest it’s not quite that bad yet, but water-based activities are being assessed on a daily basis.

More critical to the wildernesses of southern Africa, though, antelope populations like sassaby, wildebeest, hartebeest and zebra are declining. These great herds are less adaptable to drought conditions than other ungulates like giraffe and buffalo. (From a tourist point of view, by the way, dry conditions usually mean better predator encounters.)

Further east, though, including the great Kruger National Park, its equally famous surrounding private reserves like Sabi Sands, and almost all of Zambia’s reserves could face real trouble next year. When elephants start dying tourism isn’t exactly boosted up.

Humans can’t handle a drought as well as animals.

“Now that the drought has become even more severe, [food] production has nosedived,” the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board announced a couple weeks ago.

South Africa’s third largest city, Durban, began water rationing last July, and the situation has worsened considerably. By November publicly provided water systems were cut back 50% to both residences, businesses and farmers.

Sunday Durban began distributing bottled water to more than 2 million residents.

Compared to those in the South we in the North handle climate change pretty well, at least so far. Despite the headline news of apartments in mudslides, entire cities flooding down the river and beachfront eroding away, we aren’t starving and we aren’t likely to.

That’s not the case in the South. South Africa is the exception, although the climate situation there is so severe that it’s likely to put the country into a recession. But even that academic economic term carries a certainty that while dinners-out will be fewer, dinners-in will still happen.

Elsewhere in Africa’s south, that’s not the case. With each new climate change event there is greater hurt put on the world. Building walls might prevent the pain from getting to us right now, but someday it’s just going to get too severe.

#2 : Climate Change

#2 : Climate Change

thiswasfarmlandThe most undeniable effect of global warming is the extremity of today’s weather, and nothing hit me harder than the Super Storm in the Serengeti last spring.

We can all recount weather events which we thought were particularly harsh or unusual. But when I took my vehicle to the top of a little hill on the plains in the Maasai Kopjes, it was truly terrifying. Click here to read the account of that awful afternoon.

While that was the most extreme of the extreme, there were similar events on all my safaris last spring, and it was happening throughout the sub-continent.

Global warming has been pummeling sub-Saharan Africa for a number of years, so climate change per se is not the story. The tragedies it’s causing and the attempts to prepare for even worse times are the stories:

You’d think that after years of being depressed, the escalation of coffee prices would be a boon to the highlands of East Africa, and it is … if they can grow it! Coffee is extremely sensitive to temperatures, especially night-time temperatures. The rise of a single degree centigrade is decimating East Africa’s highland coffee plantations.

Inevitably the disruption of the normal climate for people who already live in climate-stressed areas pushes them to a breaking point. One effect is increased conflict, as demonstrated this year in Kenya’s Northern Frontier among tribes who have always had limited resources, but who are now fighting among themselves for what’s left.

Many believe these kinds of incidents will soon combine into a massive, unorganized but global uprising.

Yet Africans are trying to do something about it, and their efforts are definitely part of the reason this is the number 2 story of 2015.

South Africa, which has lots of coal and even nuclear power plants, is investing heavily in mega solar power projects.

I’ve actually written about a number of these massive mega-projects throughout Africa. But there are also thousands of smaller, individual and truly heart-rendering initiatives as with the young entrepreneur Tom Osborn of Kenya.

As the years pass and the rain tumbles doesn’t it seem strange that some still deny climate change? How inconceivable that we would elect people like James Inhofe, and worse, give him a platform for his denial!

Most people right around the world know this is the world’s most pressing single issue. ISIS might topple Mosul, but climate change will topple the Himalayas.

(For my summary of the top 10 stories in Africa in 2015, click here.)

Rumblings of Revolution

Rumblings of Revolution

PhotoPix by William Hong / Reuters
PhotoPix by William Hong / Reuters
Many believe – I find it intriguing – that the mounting catastrophes of global warming will undo the global economic system with rapid and radical redistributions of wealth.

Ergo, global revolution.

If this right, we must view conferences like the one today in Paris as presaging a very violent future. The powers-that-be seem to know what to do, but seem incapable of doing it.

I find the rather humorous now technical term employed by conference negotiators, “mitigation,” particularly revealing. For the COP conferences it’s the “nice way” to justify wealth distribution to the poorer countries incapable of the investments needed to prepare for global warming.

That’s what they say, anyway. What they really mean is mitigation against another Arab Spring, another Syrian civil war, another Ukraine, another series of mass migrations.

The COP20 (the conference before this one) pledged $100 billion annually from developed countries to undeveloped countries as “mitigation” to help them avoid high carbon emitting fuels. This is offensive: hardly a drop in the bucket, almost useless. What’s worse: hardly half of the pledges materialized as one western leader after another faced pushback from their legislatures.

“$100bn is an inadequate political figure. What the international community needs to mobilise … is in the order of trillions,” Seyni Nafo, spokesman for the African Group of Negotiators, told the press at the conference.

“Mitigation” admits that the world’s order is changing as human suffering accelerates: ISIS leaders may be evil souls, but the support from the people over which they reign comes from a desperation to survive.

Desertification is a process that was identified more than 100 years ago showing that the Sahara Desert is growing. But the expansion has been ridiculously fast in just the last few years. In 1925 Lake Chad in Africa was 25,000 sq. km. Today it is only 2,500 sq. km.

The highest temperature ever recorded in October on our planet, 119F, occurred just a few weeks ago in South Africa’s Western Cape.

The link between global warming and terrorism is clear, ridiculously so as the summit occurs in Paris. It’s a simple connection that only crazy deniers try to refute. It’s a simple extrapolation of the tension on societies as their needs grow but planet earth’s bounty diminishes.

As crises pile upon one another, fixes will, too: migration, GMO agriculture, storm shelters, zoning away from coastal cliffs, etc. But only the developed world is capable of mounting these kinds of viable challenges.

Nuclear power, for example, seems like a quick fix if you discount the potential catastrophes it can produce on its own. But the cost of a single new nuclear power plant in France (which enjoys 75% of its power from nuclear) is $15-20 billion dollars. This is about a third of the Kenyan GDP.

The raw fact that the cost of fixes today is so high but exponentially greater for each moment of delay is, unfortunately, a non-starting argument where it matters most with the world’s biggest contributors to global warming: the U.S., China and India. There are still too many deniers in the U.S., too many impoverished waiting for rapid development in China and India.

There are naysayers as well as deniers. Naysayers, though, deserve our attention.

“Even if the world celebrates a Paris climate deal on December 11, the process will still have to be regarded as failure,” writes Prof. Steffen Böhm of the University of Essex.

Böhm is hardly alone in embracing the science of global warming while simultaneously insisting that the global economic system is incapable of confronting it meaningfully.

“Talking will continue until we realize climate change is a failure of a system, which – on the back of fossil fuel – is geared towards exponential economic growth. Nobody who sits at the negotiation table in Paris has the mandate nor inclination to ask fundamental, systemic questions of the logic of the dominant economic system and the way we consume the resources of this planet.”

But for the time being, for the day-to-day moments on which an Indian businessman or Kenyan farmer survive, we can only hope for greater western generosity.

But the end is nigh. No financier can reverse global warming. Nature is demanding greater justice for the deprived of mankind as the only logical way the planet can survive.

We either give it now with all the turbulence of the more privileged finally suffering some, or it will be taken away by the force of nature, and that will be much more painful to all.