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.


(Photo taken at local March for Science)








Climate Vulnerable Forum

Today the BBC wrote about a meeting of the Climate Vulnerable Forum.  In it, the group strongly defended the Paris Climate Agreement.   The group of 48 countries is especially concerned because the United States has threatened to pull out of the agreement.

Not surprisingly, many of the most vulnerable countries are also home to elephants – countries like Cambodia, Kenya, and the DRC.  As I’ve written in a few posts, one of the main reasons elephants are endangered is climate change.  Many elephants have died from severe drought and others have moved into human populated areas searching for food (thus increasing human-elephant conflict).  Climate change has increased the number of those turning to poaching to make a living, after family farms have faced extreme hardships.   Climate change has also created human conflict over resources, leading to war and famine.  In such dire circumstances, obviously the fate of elephants and conservation do not receive much consideration.

The Paris agreement had modest goals, and as the Climate Vulnerable Forum said the fate of one billion plus people depends on international cooperation.  One piece of good news from the forum is that some countries are trying to go above and beyond the goals to reduce emissions.

From BBC:

At the last major conference of negotiators in Marrakech last November, members of the CVF committed themselves to moving towards 100% renewable energy as soon as possible.
“Costa Rica produces 100% renewable energy most of the year,” said William Calvo, the country’s adjunct chief negotiator.
“But we won’t stop there: we are tackling now the transport sector and hope to even export renewable power more widely in the region.”
The idea that other countries are capable of picking up the slack if the Americans pull out of Paris gained support this week with the release of an analysis showing that India and China are likely to overshoot existing targets to cut carbon.



March for Science on Earth Day

IMG_5797An estimated 800 people showed up at 9:30am on a cold Saturday morning to March for Science in my city.

The March for Science coincided with Earth Day, and events took place worldwide.

Activists are hoping to shed light on the importance of science funding and support – after all, we need science to make medical breakthroughs and advances, to help us create better technology that will allow us to have cleaner energy, and to provide governments with evidence-based research so government policy can be more effective for all.  As Neil deGrasse Tyson says, our goal is to “Recognize what science is and allow it to be what it can and should be in the service of civilization.”


My city has two major research universities.  Here’s a snippet of an article about the effect of proposed budget cuts on one, from USA Today:

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, billed as a “Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” would leave big holes in research funding.

The budget has raised a host of concerns from University of Rochester officials, who noted that federal funds account for the lion’s share of UR’s research budget — 72 percent of $361.7 million last fiscal year, which ended on June 30.

“The proposed cuts would severely impact our research programs and university operations, curtail our ability to recruit and retain research talent and train the next generation of scientists, and significantly diminish the university’s contribution to regional growth,” said UR President Joel Seligman, in a recent message to UR faculty and staff.

Photos: taken by me


I had a personal reason to attend The March for Science.  My dad was an engineer at Kodak, and his team was honored by the EPA in 2003.  He received the award for developing and commercializing the Particle Transfer Roller (PTR), which is today used by almost every film lab and film-to-video transfer facility, and it reduces the use of solvents in cleaning film.  He won the award for protecting the ozone layer.

He was always interested in environmental technology.  Here’s an article about another project he did from Film Journal in 2004:

Silver-applicated soundtracks require toxic redeveloper solutions that use 10 chemicals on the EPA watch list. As much water is used in the print-washing process as would serve the drinking water needs of a city of 100,000. Soundtrack application errors are a major cause of print rejection. Their silver content complicates the disposal of the more than 10 billion feet of used film stock annually. All in all, this old technology had become ever more costly, in environmental impact as well as in dollars and cents…Anticipating environmental legislation that might affect the film industry in the future, John Pytlak of Kodak approached Ioan Allen of Dolby Laboratories in the early 1990s. He thought there might be an electronic solution, and that Dolby’s soundtrack expertise could help find it. He was mostly right on both counts…The result was the formation in 1998 of the Dye Track Committee that today includes motion picture distributors, exhibitors, film stock manufacturers and film laboratories, all dedicated to replacing silver-applicated analog 35mm soundtracks with pure cyan-dye tracks. That year also saw the beginning of extensive testing, spearheaded by Dolby, Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, Technicolor and Deluxe.

Coral Reefs

Last night I watched a PBS News Hour special report on coral reefs.

The situation is worse than I thought.

Here are some excerpts:

“Half the size of Texas, spanning 1,400 miles, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on the planet. It is rich in beauty and diversity, but it is dying, as the ocean waters steadily warm.”

“Since June of ’14, we have had continuous bleaching somewhere in the world. Globally, over 70 percent of the coral reefs around the globe have been exposed to the high temperatures that cause bleaching.”

“It is clear warming water is the culprit, and reducing our use of fossil fuels is the only solution.”

Seeing how the US is now debating whether to adhere to the Paris Agreement to reduce fossil fuels, this is terribly discouraging.

Video: YouTube, National Geographic

Another PBS report taught me that sunscreen damages coral reefs too.  The chemical ozybenzone, in particular.  So, if you are going to snorkel, scuba, or swim, think twice about wearing typical sunscreens. According to the report, “The U.S. National Park Service for South Florida, Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa recommend using “reef friendly” sunscreen (those made with titanium oxide or zinc oxide, which are natural mineral ingredients) and wearing clothing and hats to protect the skin from the sun.” Certain tourist areas in Mexico have banned chemical sunscreens – not only because they harm the environment, but because damaged and bleached coral reefs can also hurt the tourist economy.  People want to see the beautiful colors and diverse wildlife – sadly, these may be very rare within the next 10-30 years.