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.


(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.


(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.