OASIS' affiliated faculty, Michael Wehner on climate change and human health in Africa

See original article here.

By Andrea Thompson

Already home to some of the most environmentally vulnerable populations on the planet, Africa looks to increasingly feel the sting of climate change through more frequent, widespread and intense heat waves.

Extreme heat that would be considered unusual today could become a yearly occurrence there by mid-century, onenew study suggests, and the trend will emerge earlier there — and in the rest of the tropics — before it does in more temperate areas, another finds.

The studies, both detailed this month in the journal Environmental Research Letters, emphasize the undue burden that some of the poorest populations on the planet — often those that have contributed least to global warming — will face from climate change, the authors say.

“They don’t have the capacity to respond to such heat waves,” lacking the kind of warning systems and regular access to health care that help those in wealthier countries cope, said Jana Sillman, a co-author of the first study, and a climate researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway.

An increase in extreme heat is one of the clearest implications of the overall warming that has resulted from decades of unabated emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Warming has been shown toincrease the odds of such extreme events already today, and heat waves are expected to become increasingly intense and frequent at all regions across the planet as temperatures continue to rise.

Because the tropics have less variation in their day-to-day and season-to-season temperatures, that means the trend of more extreme heat will emerge sooner and will reach higher heights than in more temperate locations.

Those areas also happen to generally correspond to the regions where the world’s poorest and richest populations live, respectively. The tropics are home to some 4 billion people, the U.N. estimates.

One of the new studies used climate models to link cumulative carbon dioxide emissions to extreme heat occurrence and showed that fewer emissions were needed to see an increase in the number of extremely hot days for the poorest fifth of the world’s population than for the wealthiest fifth. Among the most impacted regions were West Africa and the Horn of Africa.

“Our results show extreme hot days will become more frequent with continuing emissions, and for some tropical regions these increases will become more apparent much more quickly,” lead author Luke Harrington, a PhD candidate at the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute, said in an email.

The other study used regional climate models to looks specifically at the trends in heat waves in Africa, looking both at events in terms of their severity and their duration.

Even though people living in tropical areas are more adapted to hot temperatures than those in more temperate climes, there is a limit to the human body’s tolerance of heat. The background warming of the planet means that heat waves now and in the future push closer to that limit than they once did, just as a rising tide lifts the height of the waves.

Sillman and her colleagues found that Africa is already seeing heat waves that are more intense, more frequent and that cover a larger area than ever during the last couple decades of the 20th century. And the models suggest that heat waves considered unusually extreme today could become a yearly occurrence by 2040 if greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed.

By the end of this century, they could happen even more often, particularly in the tropics where there aren’t seasons like temperate areas.

“The heat wave is not limited to the summer,” Sillman said.

The impacts to human health from such heat waves could be exacerbated by humidity. Though neither study incorporated this factor, other studies have shown that heat stress (a measure of both temperature and humidity) will increase in much of the tropics, including in places likely to see some of the biggest increases in population.

Many of these areas lack the resources to help people cope with extreme heat — such as reliable access to safe drinking water and cooling centers — and don’t always have the systems in place to warn residents that a heat wave is coming.

Awareness around these issues is increasing, though: A series of deadly heat waves prompted the city of Ahmedabad, India, to work with NGOs toset up a Heat Health Action Plan that includes warnings and reminders of where residents can go to keep cool and hydrated.

Intense heat can also affect the productivity of economies, particularly for work based outdoors like construction and agriculture. A recent U.N. report estimates that 1 billion workers in vulnerable countries are already subject to impacts from extreme heat and that lost work hours could deal a major blow to developing economies.

Heat also affects the crops and livestock that people in many areas rely on for survival — drought and heat have led to severe food shortages in parts of Africa this year.

“The threat to Africa is multi-faceted. Threats to human health via heat waves is but one of them,” Michael Wehner, a climate researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said. “Disruptions to agriculture, combined with a rapidly growing population in some countries is also of great concern.” Wehner was not involved with either study but has conducted research on heat extremes.

How much Africa and other precarious regions are impacted depends on how the world as a whole decides to respond to the threat of climate change, including whether countries stick to their commitments to the Paris climate agreement. With a certain amount of warming guaranteed, though, adaptation to future conditions will also be necessary.

“Emissions reductions can ameliorate these increasing risks, but even in rather dramatic emission reduction scenarios, the change in heat waves is still very large,” Wehner said.

OASIS' Alisha Graves discusses Green Sex for Climate's Sake (at 21 mins, 25 secs)

Having 1 less baby better for climate than a Prius or solar power.  Madeline Ostrander and Alisha Graves.  

Alex Smith
EcoShock Radio

The old saying about the circus: "There's a sucker born every minute". But hundreds of new humans are born every minute, as the human population continues to multiply. Many will be Western-style super consumers, the ones who drain resources and fill the skies with greenhouse gases. If we can't control that urge, a major climate disruption may do it for us.

"Green sex" - Do it for the climate. We'll find out what that means with Alisha Graves. She has a Masters in Public Health from the University of California. She's co-founded and leads a group called the OASIS Initiative, which stands for Organizing to Advance Solutions in the Sahel. 

Alisha Graves is also a research fellow for Project Drawdown, a group of scientists and other experts working to create a livable climate future, led by Paul Hawken.

Public health expert Alisha Graves: 

To hear some environmental groups tell it, all we have to do is install solar energy and drive electric cars - problem solved. But can we really tackle the climate issue without talking about population? 

Our instant mental defense is to tell ourselves it's those billions of peasants "over there" somewhere who are responsible for the population impact. What's wrong with that idea? Think of it this way: if you decide not to have a child, you have done far more to reduce greenhouse gases than buying an electric car or installing solar panels. That is because every new consumer born is a heat engine.

We talk about the IPAT formula: I = P × A × T

As Wikipedia explains it, "Human Impact on the environment equals the product of Population, Affluence, and Technology. This shows how the population, affluence and technology produce an impact. The equation was developed in the 1970s during the course of a debate between Barry Commoner, Paul R. Ehrlich and John Holdren."

Sex is such a powerful urge. It can drive our lives even when our brains are barely involved, maybe especially when our brains are weak. Do you believe that rational debate can change sexual behavior? It's interesting to discover that half the babies born in the United States were unintended. So fifty percent of the time, there was no conversation like "should we do this?" Meanwhile, states like Texas are making it harder and harder for a woman to access a safe and legal abortion. At times I'm sure we are going backward in population control, not forward.

Then Alisha gives us a quick snapshot of conditions in the Sahel. That's the region in Africa just south of the Sahara Desert. The Sahel country of Niger has the highest fertility rate in the world: huge families born into utter poverty and lack of health care. Studies show that half the children of Niger are stunted, both physically and mentally. The Oasis Initiative is seeking solutions.

Alisha links to the paper titled "Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals" by Paul Murtaugh and Michael Schlax as being useful in this whole debate on climate and population. You can read the full text as an online PDF here.

Of course, you should also check out the Project Drawdown web site.

You can listen to the podcast here

2nd Annual Sahel Leadership Program Launched in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

The OASIS Initiative, a project of University of California (UC) Berkeley, through its partnership with USAID/ SAREL, launched the second annual Sahel Leadership Program (SLP) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso with a weeklong intensive training session (February 1-6, 2016). The program is catalyzing a critical mass of emerging leaders in the region – from a variety of professional backgrounds (government, civil society and academia) with expertise to contribute to population, food security, and improved resilience. Participants are chosen from the following fields: sustainable agriculture and nutrition, girls and women’s empowerment and family planning. Participants gain a better understanding of how the Sahel’s uniquely rapid population growth (the fastest in all of human history), poses serious challenges for food security later this century. The program also highlights local solutions for overcoming these challenges, especially sustainable approaches for improving food production and incomes and ways to slow population growth through voluntary family planning and delaying marriage and childbearing. 

This year’s program brought together 29 participants from Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Senegal and Mauritania. The momentum generated during the weeklong intensive training will be followed by a structured mentoring program, a country-specific group dissemination project and engagement in the SLP network. The OASIS Initiative and partners are seeking continued support to ensure the goal of a critical mass of emerging leaders is achieved through a minimum 10-year commitment to the program. At the opening and closing ceremonies, Dr. Djimé Adoum charged the group to leave the progam with “lots of spice in their bellies” to make change across the region and invited participants to strengthen their links with CILSS in order to become involved in the many region-wide programs they are launching in 2016. The SLP 2017 intensive training is planned for next January in Niamey, Niger.