#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.

Guns & Climate

Guns & Climate

samburugunsMore guns make more war and less guns make less war and the truth is shown clearly today in Kenya’s Samburu district.

Since the incredible arming of Kenya by the Obama administration for the Somali Invasion four years ago, the number of weapons in northern Kenya has increased by a ridiculous amount. It’s particularly noticeable now that the war is winding down.

Guns don’t wind down.

So all the tens of thousands of unused machine guns and grenades have reached the black market and they’re available for a song.

The Samburu district of Kenya has always had a sort of wild west flavor, including messy cowboy entanglements. For one thing it’s where two historically antagonistic tribes, the Turkana and Samburu, meet.

Both tribes hold creation myths stating that God created cows only for them, so if the other tribe has cows, they must have stolen them. The young warrior class is charged with recovering as much of these stolen goods as possible.

So cattle rustling has existed at least for as long as anyone has written about the area, well back to the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s different, now.

To begin with, there’s more competition. There are more people, so more food and more cows are needed at the same time that climate change is exacerbating the desertification of these northern areas.

So while it used to be pretty much an ethnic conflict between two or three major tribes, today the issue of enough land for grazing is just as important.

The Kenyan government is moving perhaps too quickly to ameliorate this by generating new local revenue from deep-hole oil wells financed by the Chinese.

But the most important difference is how people fight.

Instead of using spears and clubs, the fights are now almost exclusively with very sophisticated guns.

Guess where they might come from? Amazing, isn’t it, that they cost less than fashioning a good spear?

In the most recent cases it appears the warring factions are better armed than the police.

Kenya has a strict firearm policy: it’s not easy as a private citizen to own a gun. But in the Samburu district of Kenya it’s hard to find a Samburu without a gun.

In an attempt to reduce the weaponry, Samburu authorities announced an amnesty several weeks ago for anyone who turned in an illegal firearm. That program expired Tuesday and “no firearms had been surrendered.”

It is, of course, a common argument promoted by arms manufacturers that peace prospers when more people have guns. This presumes that the vast majority of people are good and only use guns to defend themselves.

That argument is about as cogent as the idea that God created all cows for Samburu.

Rainy Days Are Here Again!

Rainy Days Are Here Again!

tsavoeasteleEl-Nino’s coming! This means I’m carefully reviewing all the safari itineraries for next year.

We’ve known that El-Nino was on its way, but the extent of it is only now being understood better. For safari guides like me, it’s going to be a challenge.

El-Nino effects different places differently. In my home in the Midwest of the U.S., temperatures will be mild and there will be lots less snow than normal.
RainySeason15-16
On the California coasts and the south of the country, heavy rains … some which have already begun.

And that’s the prediction for East Africa where most of my safaris occur. The chart to the right was taken yesterday from the Climate Prediction Center of NOAA.

It shows the “precipitation anomaly” for three-month periods, starting from the top: Sep-Nov; Dec-Feb; and Feb-Apr. The bluer the shading, the greater the added precipitation expected.

Heavy rain is generally good for the animals. It just causes us guides some transport difficulties.

I realize, now, for example, that my penchant for traveling into the backside of Lake Manyara National Park is likely going to be impossible, as there are two river washes likely to be too high.

It means that multiple vehicle safaris only will be allowed into off-road areas of the NCAA, where black cotton soil, some quicksand and marsh turf, could become saturated. We space our vehicles out a bit further from one another so that multiple vehicles don’t get stuck at the same time in the same place.

On the other hand, there should be some impressively good news for the Kenyan portion of the my safaris, including Samburu, the Mara and Tsavo East.

These normally dry areas will likely get some water. In fact as shown by the picture above presumably taken in the last week, the rains have already greened up Tsavo East, a good month or two before normal.

That’s good. It will increase the survivability of animal births, pretty up the veld and reduce the horrible dust we normally have to endure in these areas.

So don’t change your plans! Just make sure that your safari operator is prepared! In fact, it’s usually been in years of unusually high rains that I’ve had the best experiences with the Great Migration!

Junked Java

Junked Java

climatechangecoffeePerhaps this will help Senator Inhofe wake up: coffee.

Coffee prices are escalating in part because coffee production worldwide is taking a nose dive.

Some of the finest coffee in the world comes from the Kilimanjaro highlands. Or did. According to Reuters, “hundreds of farmers in the region are abandoning … coffee and cotton.”

The Reuters report is less provocative as to why than the Union of Concerned Scientists: “Climate change is threatening coffee crops in virtually every major coffee producing region of the world.”

UCS explains that coffee in particular is very sensitive to a slight increase in temperatures. Coffee also requires more stable climates with regular amounts of precipitation.

All that’s changing, and particularly in the Kilimanjaro highlands. The Tanzanian government announced a 29% decline this year in coffee production.

Farmers didn’t need the study released recently by a prestigious university in South Africa correlating the decline in coffee production to an increase in the highlands’ night time temperatures.

“Coffee beans are no longer profitable as my harvests keep on falling,” a villager in the Kilimanjaro highlands told Reuters: “I need fast-growing crops I can sell for a quick income.”

Coffee is a long-term agricultural investment. It takes at least three years, and usually five, for a new coffee tree to produce beans. After that it can continue producing for up to 50 years, but the orchard requires lots of water and constant tending.

The South African study documented an increase of a little more than 2 degrees F over a decade, enough to reduce the harvest by a third.

Large numbers of farmers throughout the East African highlands are therefore abandoning coffee for quick growing and quick selling vegetables … and flowers. The “cut flower” industry is growing in leaps and bounds in East Africa as the demand for them grows in Europe. Major European airlines now make their scheduling decisions more on the cargo of cut flowers than on passengers.

Many other farmers are turning to crops like sunflowers and casava which are less sensitive to climate change.

For the time being the crop changes will not likely effect the Tanzanian economy. The cut flower market like coffee requires high initial investment but pays off much more quickly.

Demand for food throughout Africa grows by the minute, and Tanzania remains a net exporter. The agricultural sector of its economy is growing the fastest.

So perhaps the major effect of this current news will be on Senator Inhofe, reported to love his coffee … even during droughts and floods and tornadoes.

Snow Ball from Hell

Snow Ball from Hell

snowballMy nine weeks in Africa convinces me the most pressing issue of our time is climate change.

I’ve returned from a series of safaris with some of the most memorable moments of game viewing in my career. I met some incredibly wonderful new people and reacquainted myself with a number of dear clients.

From South Africa through Botswana into Tanzania, new political and conservation initiatives gave me optimism, but unfortunately the common theme dominating every single day was how destructive climate change has become:

To the animals, to the veld and most of all, to the people.

Of course negligence, corruption, bad politics and dysfunctional science also provide plenty of negative influences as well, but there is nothing – nothing more threatening to Africa’s future than our unprecedented global warming.

Cape Town normally has a mean high temperature in March of 77̊F. On March 3, while I was in Johannesburg, the temperature reached 108̊F, a whopping ten degrees higher than ever seen there before.

An alarming two percent of the precious Cape Flora Zone, the most unique and smallest of the six such zones in the world, was lost to fires.

We toured the wine country on highways with fires on both sides.

In Botswana a quarter of the unique Okavango Delta was lost this year to drought and fire. This is unheard of.

I arrived in Tanzania at the end of a six week drought. That drought came after record rainfalls in December, amounts that exceeded half the entire season’s normal precipitation in places like Ndutu.

The drought ended with devastating downpours. The Serengeti Super Storm that we experienced just a few days ago may be unprecedented.

The flip-flopping of extreme climate: droughts to floods to droughts, decimates animal populations as we discovered this year with the wildebeest. It endangers and enrages animals, as we discovered with several elephant events.

But most significantly, it’s destroying people’s lives.

Though my second safari saw a Tanzania as pretty and green and lush as I have ever seen, the withered and stunted crops that had survived a traditional schedule of planting at the beginning of the rainy season had already succumbed to the drought.

Not just agriculture is disrupted. In my own industry, tourism, extreme weather and unpredictable flip-flopping of season terribly disrupts property management that has until now depended so much on predictable seasons.

Building and renovations – particularly on the exteriors of lodges and camps – have traditionally been done at the end of the rainy season, which coincides with a lingering low tourist season: May and early June.

Landscaping, tempering of murramed walkways and gravel paths, sealing of tarred thatching … these depend on a wetter environment that have traditionally occurred at the beginning of the rainy season.

But now it’s anyone’s guess as to when it will rain or not. And when it does, it’s so severe that traditional construction methods are jeopardized.

You can’t understand global warming by any one moment. Senator Inhofe’s foolery on the Senate floor challenging the veracity of global warming by heaving a snowball is the basest of stupidity.

The main result and symptom of global warming is radical changes in climate. Yes, the world is slowly warming and that has many long term effects.

But short term devastation is not the result of warming, but of extremes: more violent weather, more cold then more hot, more drought then more floods, following on the heals of one another quicker and quicker.

That’s the horror I witnessed this season in Africa, and I felt ashamed and embarrassed at how my society at home seems so insensitive to this and therefore terribly inhumane to the less fortunate of the world.

We’re much more capable of protecting Brooklyn from the violence and rising of the sea than islanders can protect Honiara. We can react more immediately to changes in our fishing seas, to threats to our agriculture and even just to the disruptions of our commute to work than any place in Africa can.

So we kick the can down the road with greater confidence that the road spans a long enough period of time that something can be figured out: that new technologies, or new political alliances or who knows what will ultimately come to our rescue.

Africa can’t wait. The wilderness, the animals, the people … they don’t have the luxuries of our development.

Climate change is killing them far more effectively than ebola or ISIS.

OnSafari: Eles & Climate Change

OnSafari: Eles & Climate Change

Hans Wede in Tarangire.
Hans Wede in Tarangire.
Elephants up close but safely is what our Tarangire experience was all about!

I was in Tarangire two weeks ago as the drought broke, and it seems like the rains ever since have been especially hard.

I wouldn’t say “relentless,” but according to the folks there it was sure close to relentless. The 6-week drought was serious, and among the exploding grass and deep green of the park are sand straws and dead twigs.

Drought/flood/drought/flood seems to be the new normal here, and it was absolutely not normal in the old days.

Now staying in the farming community of Karatu it’s crazy to see all the vibrant almost luminescent green of the valleys and hillsides that frames corn fields of nearly failed crops.

A farmer in Illinois can handle climate change a lot better than a farmer in Karatu. The animals in Tarangire are handling it just fine … so far, as evidenced by the enormous numbers of very healthy elephant with many, many very young babies.

In fact a random family of elephant in Tarangire is likely to have a new-born, several 2- and 3-year olds, a 5-year old or two, and at least one 8-year old. That suggests a long streak of health.

Lucas Massimini bargaining at Mto-wa-Mbu.
Lucas Massimini bargaining at Mto-wa-Mbu.
The amount of water falling on the equatorial regions of the world is increasing. But it now comes in periods of unbelievable cloudbursts spaced by drought. The result is devastating for African farmers.

Erosion is unbelievable. Overgrazing which has been a problem for decades, is exacerbated and the stock gets sick quickly from feast and famine, something that a lion can do but a Guernsey cannot.

Our elephant encounters in Tarangire were terrific. I spaced our two vehicles among three families that were near the track not far from Silale, and we just sat there for nearly an hour.

We watched the babies slip and slide, the toddlers wrestle, the young males trumpet, random trees felled for seemingly little reason, and sadly, a very old and big female out of habit pull up grass and stuff it into her mouth but then drop it because she had no more teeth left for chewing.

Less than two months ago I was in Botswana which I often see reported as the world’s best elephant experience. It’s excellent for sure, but as I’ve been saying for at least ten years now, the best elephant experience is Tarangire!

Next: Manyara & the crater!
TarangireElephants

Cape of Good Hope Not Enough

Cape of Good Hope Not Enough

FiresInTheCapeGlobal warming disrupts my landmark Cape/Botswana safari, but compared to what may happen a decade from now, I don’t think anyone will complain.

A 12,000-acre wildfire has closed one of the Cape’s most spectacular coastal highways and today threatens Table Mountain National Park.

These areas are not simply major tourist attractions, but arguably the most precious of the world’s six floristic kingdoms.
FloristicRegions
The Cape is about 35 degrees south longitude. So is much of Australia and South America. California is about the same, but north. All these coastal areas in their summers are experiencing record-breaking hot temperatures, high dry winds and … unprecedented fire.

“Unless there are rapid …reductions of greenhouse gas emissions …Australia will experience more heat waves and bush fires,” a climatology professor at the University of Melbourne has warned. 2014 and 2015 were the worst years for wildfires in Australia’s history.

The 2014 Chilean wildfires nearly destroyed the port city of Valparaiso.

The Brazilian government has warned of a 160% increase in wild fires as endless lines of flames destroy huge portions of the Amazon.

We all know what’s happening in California.

Light rain yesterday slowed the fire’s advance in The Cape and there’s hope that “heroic” (many volunteer) fire fighters will get control, today.

But the spectacular Chapman’s Peak drive into The Cape Peninsula from the city is closed, and it’s likely to remain closed long after the fires subside.

The destruction of the foliage on the steep cliffs that rise from Chapman’s is now compromised, and rock slides are more likely.

Chapman’s Peak is one of the main tourist attractions and in a very personal way it displays how global warming is lasting and destructive. Everyone remembers catastrophes in personal ways: Saturday 35,000 bicyclists convene at The Cape for the world’s largest timed marathon race. The route has been slashed to less than half its original 70 miles.

We pay attention to the catastrophe of an event, but then we move onto the heroes who ended it never paying enough attention to the long term trends and destruction.

I remember the 1996 Yosemite Ackerson Fire which burned 60,000 acres and may actually now stand as one of the markers of global warming. But at the time it was rationalized as a necessary ecological event, just today as many in The Cape are viewing today’s fire.
capefloristickingdom
The Cape is arguably the most precious of the six floristic kingdoms on earth for little more reason than how small it is. The Ackerson fire was 60,000 acres large. This Cape fire is currently 12,000 acres, a fifth the size of the Yosemite catastrophe.

But Yosemite sits in the world’s largest floristic kingdom, the boreal. The fire was infinitesimal over that immense area.

The Cape’s precious floristic kingdom is less than 800,000 acres large and this fire could destroy almost two percent of that kingdom, an area with a remarkable 8,700 species of plants of which two-thirds are endemic. This rivals the Amazon’s biodiversity and dwarfs the boreal biomes in which Yosemite is found.

A good friend here told me yesterday that “we’re just going to have to learn to live with this” as she repeated the mantra of the importance of fire in rejuvenating plant species.

It’s true that the fynbos biome requires fires more often to remain healthy than the great pines of Yosemite. Most scientists think the optimum for any fynbos plant is 7 years.

But I disagree substantially with my friend’s shrugging off this occurrence. When understood globally we begin to see how sinister global warming has become.

This Cape fire is not a singular event. It’s part of the longitudinal band we can now clearly call the planet’s “Ring of Fire.”

Caused by global warming, increasing fires reduce the plants that produce our oxygen while the actual combustion contributes to increased greenhouse gases. This is precisely the exponential advance that scientist have been warning us about for years.

Yes, heroes should be applauded and firefighters are among the most laudable. But it’s time, folks, to start focusing on the villains.

And among the most notorious of today’s villains are the climate change deniers like our own Senator Inhofe who now chairs the American Senate’s most important environmental committee.

Can you believe that? But I doubt Senator Inhofe even knows what a floristic kingdom is. His cronies in Kansas and Texas have been doing everything in their power to eradicate such nonsense from the public school textbooks.

Waterworld

Waterworld

thiswasfarmlandThe devastation of the torrential rains now falling on southern Africa is an unprecedented catastrophe of global warming.

“The worst flooding in the history of Malawi,” according to Bloomberg News,
has forced the president to declare more than half the country a disaster zone.

Southern Tanzania, northern Mozambique and large parts of Zimbabwe and Zambia are also seriously effected.

The number of people displaced may soon exceed one million. Already a quarter million have lost their homes.

Professional climatologists in South Africa today said there’s not enough time left to adjust society, and that all that’s left to do now is to educate the population so they can better understand the weather warnings as they come:

Global warming has no less effect on the United States than southern Africa: we all know this well by now. The difference is that our infrastructure might be capable of absorbing the catastrophes. We might be able to build sea walls the way the Republicans want us to build border fences. We might keep the rising sea at bay.

The developing world has nowhere near the resources for that kind of response.

The mega deal between China and the U.S. will take decades to have an impact. It seems to me problematic that it will positively impact even our own future, but there’s no question the developed world will not benefit from it.

Just look at Africa right now.

By the time reduced emissions by the developed world produce any noticeable benefit, the number of seasons of catastrophic flooding and drought in Africa will have devastated the continent.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what this means.

Material destruction leads to human misery. Diseases spread quickly, infrastructure like health facilities is destroyed, crop production is massively interrupted, so there is an exponential rate at which misery develops.

The dissatisfaction which then breaks down the societies will leave weak ones obliterated and stronger ones, like South Africa, with serious public uprisings.

Developed countries like our own will be unable to provide enough assistance to seriously turn things around. Just as we’re learning that wars in the Levant don’t work, we’ll learn that disaster response in the developing world won’t work.

As we accept that cruel truth, we’ll draw back into our own levies to watch the world outside our high tech shores dissolve away.

That’s the real possibility for man’s legacy. If the developed world survives, it will not have a pretty face.

When Night is Day

When Night is Day

aardvarkinsunAnecdotal evidence that global warming has caused a decline in African animals is slowly but surely being confirmed by field science.

No one argues that Africa abate its growth, and it comes as no surprise that this growth is directly linked to global warming. Industry is mostly fired by fossil fuels: CO2 heats the atmosphere while more wealth builds Africa.

The immediate benefits to Africans are indisputable. But the ecology of the continent is suffering greatly and more quickly than we ever imagined.

The World Wildlife Fund’s “Living Planet Report” contends that nearly half of the world’s animal species have been lost since 1970.

This is beyond astounding. My children’s children will have a planet with only an eighth of the animal species around when I was born.

One irony for African wilderness is that some of its better known areas, like East Africa with its great national parks like the Serengeti, show visibly improved biosystems. This, too, is directly linked to global warming.

The great East African wilderness lies on the equator. One of the effects of global warming has been increased rain as the melting of the poles increases ocean levels and precipitation worldwide. One result in part coupled with an early management approach to the Serengeti has been to nearly triple many of the larger animal species like wildebeest and zebra.

But move hardly 200 miles north or south of these equatorial wildernesses and the story dramatically changes.

Increased global precipitation is not falling equally across Africa or anywhere else but as torrents as extreme weather events even while global warming burns deserts into many other areas.

Global weather has become a nightmare, as the American Meteorological Society recently documented. The band along the equator seems to be handling this pretty fortuitously, but nowhere else.

Travel south and wildlife populations in places like Kruger National Park, the Okavango Delta and many private reserves are falling precipitously.

While elephant populations in East Africa are probably too large, in southern Africa they’re dangerously small. Buffalo and other large herding animals like eland are declining, and rarer antelope like nyala, sable and roan are also in decline.

Exact science on large animal decline is difficult, because much of it is human caused through poaching. But go down a notch to slightly smaller animals, and the science is becoming compelling.

An excellent indicator species is the anteater, or aardvark. A study recently concluded by scientists from Johannesburg’s prestigious Witwatersrand University claims that only animals whose behavior can accelerate adaptation will survive.

“Many species will not be able to evolve fast enough to adapt to the rapid rate of current climate change… most large mammals simply don’t reproduce quickly enough to allow for adaptive traits to be selected,” the report explains.

Aardvark are the focus of the study not just because of demonstrable changes in their own behavior, but because so many other endangered animals depend upon them.

The report found that aardvark are trying to adapt their behaviors to an increasingly hot and dry environment caused by global warming.

In one astounding finding, the scientists show that aardvark are now foraging in daylight hours as well as through the night as usual. It had previously been presumed that their eye physiology would not allow this, but as their food sources dwindle they’re forcing it.

The unstated implication is that this won’t work in the long term, and that eye physiology will stop any long term behavioral change.

Aardvark holes are used by scores of other animals and birds, and as the number of dens decline so will populations of anteater chats, porcupine, warthog, pole cat, meerkats and others.

The WWF report focuses heavily on human/animal conflict as probably the single greatest factor effecting the planet’s decreasing biodiversity. This is certainly, for example, the reason lions are declining so quickly continent wide.

But studies as those from The Wit on aardvark complement this understanding with recognition that as adaptive as world creatures are, behavioral adaptation will simply not be quick enough.

The WWF along with many other organizations believe there is a path out of this through management of global warming with the technologies like solar energy that we already possess.

I don’t see it. Frankly, I can imagine a future world adequately under control for human development. But I just can’t see a path that will retain our current magical biodiversity.

Too Many Bugs in Africa?

Too Many Bugs in Africa?

BlackFliesSo you’re worried about too many bugs in Africa? Try walking my dog.

First timers to Africa always worry about bugs. Yes, we do have bugs in Africa and here’s an estimate as to how many and the worst ones:

TSE-TSE FLY
Tse-tse flies are the only bugs that will make you flinch. They bite, like horse flies. My worst encounter was in the Omo in Ethiopia, but few people go there.

Over my normal safari routes, the worst places are hot forests, like Tarangire National Park in Tanzania. But not everywhere in Tarangire, just in a few places, and only in the daylight and only when it’s hot.

In a worst case scenario you might count 17 to 23 tse-tse flies in your car on a game drive for about 20 minutes.

FLIES
Normal everyday house flies. The only time we ever have them is when we’re among the great herds, just as you might among cattle in the west. For the same reasons.

Flies are bothersome, but they don’t bite most people, only bad people. And the spectacle of being among the great herds is so enthralling that no one remembers there were flies.

In a worst case scenario you might count 38 or 39 flies on your car (usually on the outside) when you’re among the herds.

MOSQUITOES
Mosquitoes are bad but you can’t feel them in Africa because the bad variety carrying malaria is half-size. You don’t even know when it bites you because it doesn’t leave a mark or welt and doesn’t itch.

They only come out at night and are easily repelled by DEET.

In a worst case scenario you get malaria but you’ll never be able to count them because you can’t see them. Probably … 2.

BLACK FLIES IN JO DAVIESS COUNTY
Flipping back out of Africa to my home in North America, I estimated this afternoon on my 45-minute walk through the forest with my dog that we encountered 1,247,610 or 620 black flies.

Here’s how I determined that number:

In a 2 cubic meter area that is more or less the walking area my dog and I create as we go through the forest I estimate there are 200-300 black flies. Black flies exist primarily at 5’1″ above the ground, which is where my nose is.

They also swirl at around 5’7″ which is where my balding head would be if not covered by a hat.

So extrapolating an average of 250 flies per cubic meter, I figured we walked about 2.5 kilometers and multiply that twice for the cubic area and you get around 1.25 to the minus 1 million.

Jo Daviess County is 1,603,000,000 square meters large. Top that up to 2 meters high and you have a container that can hold about 75 trillion black flies.

That’s where I walk my dog. Remedies? People say Absorbine Junior or Vanilla Senior. Frankly I think you’d need a commercial size vacuum cleaner mounted on your head to do anything at all.

So don’t ask me about bugs in Africa.

#5 : Climate Change

#5 : Climate Change

climatechange.13TOP5There are American politicians wallowing in our current deep freeze as evidence there’s no global warming, and there are African farmers planting three times annually who think everything’s just fine.

It isn’t.

Climate change in Africa is my #5 story for 2013 in Africa.

The incremental warming of earth neither stops great variations in weather or singularly increases what was bad before. Still, African farmers seem a lot less stupid than some American Senators.

One effect of incremental global warming is to make the equatorial regions wetter. The equatorial part of Africa is one of its principle food baskets. But it’s only been in this generation that agriculture has grown in any significant way from just a subsistence industry.

So there are fewer good farming techniques and poorer seeds, less mechanization and irrigation, significantly no crop insurance, and basically a farmer’s harvest is beholding to Mother Nature.

I spoke with several African farmers over the last several years in Kenya and Tanzania who know that planting maize or millet three times a year is ruining their soil, but with the added moisture now available, “subsistence” is trumping “sustainability.”

There’s another reason they do it unabashedly. The common effect of global warming around the earth is to make the extreme moments of weather even more extreme.

So when a drought comes to equatorial Africa, as it normally has done forever, it’s worse. In the past small harvests were common in common droughts. Today everything is lost completely.

One could say that global warming is winning the race against modernizing agricultural in equatorial Africa.

Cyclones and typhoons (“tropical depressions” and “hurricanes” in western hemisphere jargon) have always been very rare in equatorial Africa because the spread between very hot and very humid and very cool and dry required to create these phenomena just doesn’t exist.

Not only have they been on the increase, they’ve crawled right up the Red Sea! That’s almost like Hurricane Sandy winding her way down the St. Lawrence into the Great Lakes!

Last year these kinds of unusual winds and storms in Rwanda, Tanzania, Somali and Ethiopia produced enormous devastation.

Farms are destroyed, towns are washed away, whole communities are dissolved … literally. In Kenya and Tanzania, where tourism is still a very important part of the economy, rains so heavy that they were off the charts quite nearly destroyed Lake Manyara National Park.

Farmers are anxious for solutions, and some may be coming. The most talked about one is called “re-greening” which represents numerous small-scale initiatives for dealing with climate change.

But it’s uncertain any techniques can deal with the speed of things changing. There’s just not much you can do when the entrance to a national park is covered by a mud slide.

Victoria Falls is one of the greatest tourist attractions not just on the continent of Africa, but in the world. It has always cycled from low water to high water, but about the only effect was to create a season that was safe for white water rafting.

Now the low water cycles of the falls are so low that many travel professionals are advising against a trip to the falls from September through December, the normal low water period. And conversely as well, the high water which normally comes in March – May is sometimes to great that the mist is so intense you can’t see anything.

That essentially reduces tourism to the falls by a half year!

And this cycles right back from tourism to agriculture. With such a ridiculous variance in flow from the Zambezi River that produces the falls, there is now a serious battle between the countries in the area that want to dam it to better regulate their own needs.

African politicians rightly see global warming as the real war on earth, far more important than the War on Terror.

First, Africans didn’t cause this but they’re being made not to contribute to it, and this stifles traditional development.

The developed world will not invest in African countries to mine coal, for instance. But coal is abundant throughout Africa. But there’s plenty of investment for extracting oil, which can contribute just as much to global warming as coal, because the developed world still lusts for oil.

Second, extremes in weather increase social conflict. There’s a good case to be made that the whole problem in Somalia might never have happened if the area’s agriculture hadn’t been decimated by global warming (and if the country’s fisheries hadn’t been exploited by western powers).

Even on a much more local level, the stress caused by frequent droughts followed by frequent floods leads to considerable tensions. Increased Kenyan police action in the area of the country where the desert meets fertile ground has grown exponentially. This year the military was sent in to keep warring factions apart.

I wonder if a science fiction writer in the 18th or 19th centuries looking forward into today would paint what is simply typical news to us as apocalypse.

The world can no longer deny climate change, but Africa is the poor cousin that fears being sacrificed to save the lovely pumpkin farm in the Hamptons.