Half of Africa’s wildlife at risk for extinction

Environmental news just keeps getting more and more discouraging.  Today, I read the following on the BBC:

The actions of mankind could lead to the extinction of half of African birds and mammals by the end of 2100, a UN-backed study has said.
The report conducted by 550 experts from around the world said reduced biodiversity could affect people’s quality of life.
It also found 42% of land-based animal and plant species in Europe and Central Asia have declined in the last decade.

The study said the main causes of the decline are due to climate change, pollution, and deforestation.  In other words, problems we can reduce with our actions.

Climate change is the biggest worry, as no amount of action can stop the near future threats of rising seas and extreme weather (such as periods of drought or terrible storms).  But, the hope is countries will take steps to prevent the problem from getting even worse.

If we had enough leadership and support, we could reduce deforestation and pollution quickly.  Sadly, countries like Brazil have reversed some protections for rainforests in the past year.  Palm oil plantations in countries like Indonesia continue to grow at a rapid rate.  The USA is reducing environmental protections and promoting increases of funding for the coal industry and oil exploration.

It may seem like the individual has no effect, but I firmly believe that’s not true.  Continue to be an example for others by being as environmentally friendly as you can.  Continue to learn about the issues and let companies and politicians know you care.

Today will mark the March for Our Lives in Washington.  The students from Parkland have changed the conversation on gun control in just one month.  So far, the political action has been small, but their voices are being heard and I think it is inspiring to see how a small group of vocal students have created a nationwide movement.

Perhaps we can join their generation in changing the conversation about environmental issues too.

 

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My picture: March for Science last year in my home town

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99% female

You may have seen Australia’s high temperatures in the news, reaching 117 degrees F this past week.  Obviously, this is harmful for agriculture long term, and will worsen drought and the fire season.  It also spells trouble for wildlife.  Bats have basically boiled to death, falling from trees.  Bats help control insect populations.

The Great Barrier Reef is also suffering, with coral bleaching.  Sea turtles are showing evidence of the climate change strain…scientists were surprised to discover 99% of this year’s hatchlings were female.   This gender bias is due to the high temperatures.

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(Photo of a turtle in my hometown)

Clearly, if this is a long term trend, and it looks like it will be, populations of sea turtles will become endangered.  Other animals like crocodiles and certain lizards also have gender determined based on temperature.

According to NBC News:

There are also some “practical” intervention methods scientists can take to help relieve the gender bias, such as putting up shade tents around breeding sites or spraying artificial rain to cool sand temperatures, O’Gorman said.

Holleley said that while short-term intervention could help populations, it could also have unintended outcomes and potentially make the population more vulnerable if those intervention methods were suddenly taken away because of funding or changes in administrations.

“You’re kind of in a Catch-22, do you intervene and potentially have an adverse outcome as an unintended consequence,” she said, “or do you let the population be and see what happens — it’s very difficult.”

A sobering read

The New York Magazine article by David Wallace-Wells begins with this statement:

“It is, I promise, worse than you think.”

He goes on describing climate change and how it will affect us this century.  Some points:

-Heat temperatures and humidity, especially in the tropics, will rise above levels that our body systems can handle, expect death rates of animals and humans to rise, especially among children and the elderly.

-Oceans will not only rise, they will become more acidic, further damaging coral reefs which we depend on for biodiversity.   Expect a fishing crisis this century.

-Fish will not be the only food shortage.  Drought will make once arable land useless for crops and unfrozen lands won’t have rich soil to help us out.

– Disease will spread quicker with mutations we cannot expect.  One example: There is bacterium in the Siberian ice, which can unfreeze and be ingested by animals and spread to humans.  It’s not science fiction.

-Conflict will occur as people compete for dwindling resources. Look for more war and strife this century.

-If you think the recession was tough, get ready for more economic hardship.  Remember reading about the Dust Bowl?  Now imagine that situation becoming standard in many populated areas.

Needless to say, it is a massively discouraging article, especially as we read this week that the US wants to open more coastal water for oil exploration.

The takeaway: It is not too late to care.  Support scientific R&D, live a ‘greener’ life, support organizations and businesses that care for our planet, educate yourself on the issues, and vote for candidates who are concerned about the environment.

 

 

 

Drought in Kenya

We see big natural disasters in the news that wreck widespread havoc within minutes and hours: hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires.  But, there are also huge natural disasters occurring that take time to do their terrible damage.

Periods of drought have been extending and intensifying all over the world this century. In countries such as Kenya, drought causes food production to fall significantly, plunging more families into poverty.  Obviously, the lack of resources also adversely affects the elephant population.  The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust updated their supporters this week:

It has been an especially trying month this September with too many orphaned babies pouring through our doors, victims of the ongoing drought in large parts of the country, meaning that mothers cannot produce the milk required for their young babies and are even collapsing and dying from exhaustion themselves. It is heartbreaking to watch another factor contributing to the decline of this species when they already have so much to contend with; aside from poaching and clashes with communities they now have to face shortages of food. We work hard on the ground in Tsavo, home to Kenya’s largest population of elephants, contrasting and maintaining our wind-powered boreholes, to alleviate the pressure of water shortages but we know the main contributing factor this year is the scarcity of vegetation. Our DSWT funded Kenya Wildlife Service Mobile Veterinary teams have been kept very busy on the ground too, attending to multiple cases and assisting in rescues as well.img_1566

(photo: DSWT)

Climate change skeptics

IMG_1552It’s hard to believe with all the scientific studies and with all the news stories of once-in-a-hundred year storms every week that there are still many climate change skeptics in the US.  But, polling shows many Americans do not believe in climate change.

The Environmental Defense Fund published five suggestions on how to discuss the issue with skeptics.  My summary:

1. Don’t dismiss or insult them, just refute their ideas (but super gently).  Calling someone ignorant is a sure fire way they will tune you out.  You need to have a civil discussion.

2. Don’t paint a portrait of catastrophe.  Even though you want to shock them into believing in science, it might just make them feel helpless.  Instead, talk about new technology helping the economy and how cleaner air and water is good for everyone, particularly kids and grandkids.

3. Find areas they care about – if they love animals, talk about climate change hurting species like elephants.  If they fear immigration, talk about migrations of populations and conflicts that arise from lack of resources due to climate change.  If they are religious, point out that religious leaders such as Pope Francis have supported international cooperation on climate change issues.

4. Find the personal in the world.  Hearing stats of large numbers or seeing floods in far away lands sadly doesn’t make a lasting impression.  Hearing about a family who lost everything in Harvey after losing it all in Katrina may be more memorable and heart wrenching.

5. Know facts.  Be smart and do your research and use reputable sources.  The latest thing you saw on Facebook doesn’t count…unless it was a link to Nature or some other reputable scientific journal and you read it.

 

More elephants rescued from sea

Last month, an elephant made international headlines for being stranded out to sea and having the Sri Lankan navy rescue it.

This week, two more Sri Lankan wild elephants were at risk of drowning.  From The Guardian:

The navy said the pair of wild elephants were brought ashore on Sunday after a mammoth effort involving navy divers, ropes and a flotilla of boats to tow them back to shallow waters.

Photos showed the elephants in distress, barely keeping their trunks above water in the deep seas about half a mile off the coast of Sri Lanka.

“Having safely guided the two elephants to the shore, they were subsequently released to the Foul Point jungle [in Trincomalee district],” the navy said in a statement. “They were extremely lucky to have been spotted by a patrol craft, which called in several other boats to help with the rescue.”

The two incidents occurring within weeks of each other may seem odd.  Not only that, but a pod of stranded whales had to be rescued in May by the Sri Lankan navy.

The Sri Lankan lagoon waters this year are very shallow, so elephants are crossing them, not always recognizing the danger that lies in the ocean ahead.  The cyclone season was early, and brought the worst rain since the 1970s.  The animals are having trouble adjusting to the extremes in weather, just like us humans.

USA pulls out of climate agreement

Selfish and ignorant.  Those were my first thoughts when I found out the USA has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord.

The agreement was not perfect, but what on a such a massive scale could ever be deemed perfect?  It was inspiring to see the world come together with goals to help our planet.  195 countries, to be exact.

We all share this planet, after all.  We all breathe this air, and we all drink this water.  We all seek shelter from storms.

Supporters of the President will say the agreement was economically unfair to the USA and now the USA can be free to pursue it’s own goals.

But now, we join Syria and Nicaragua as the countries who are the outsiders on this issue.

We have willingly turned our back on diplomacy.

If worst comes to worst, we may have turned our back on the basic health and security of our children and grandchildren.

If worst comes to worst, this will be the defining moment when we have decided to condemn the entire world to higher temperatures, bigger droughts, rising seas, severe storms, migration, conflict, disease and starvation.

The USA is currently the #2 polluter in the world.  If our industries become unregulated, our levels of pollution likely rise in the name of short term profit while creating great long term harm.

Even if the US impact is small, it can push the most vulnerable countries underwater – such as the Maldives (population 325,000), Seychelles (87,000), Kiribati (102,000), and the Solomon Islands (585,000).

We must hope that despite not being part of the agreement, our industries will continue to invest in new technologies and try to find cleaner and safer ways to create energy.

We must speak out and support those who do what is good and right for the environment and criticize and hold accountable those that do not.

We must support science.

We must support one another.  This is our planet.  We share it with billions of humans, animals, and plants.

So here we are.  What we do matters.  How we vote matters.

Walk with grace, leave small footprints, but keep your eyes open and use your voice.

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(Photo taken at local March for Science)