To Sahel And Back

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

The Sahel, that stretch of harsh territory south of the Sahara desert, is a bleak region. I did some work there, in a couple three countries. I came away with the conviction that if every day, every person in the Sahel planted one fruit tree and killed one goat, in about twenty years it would be worth visiting.

Figure 1. Map of the Sahel region, shown in orange.

Anthony highlighted some science by press release in “Climate change blamed for dead trees in Africa“. The press release is about a paper that won’t be published until this coming Friday. The lead author provided the following quotes for the press release. (emphasis mine)

“Rainfall in the Sahel has dropped 20-30 percent in the 20th century, the world’s most severe long-term drought since measurements from rainfall gauges began in the mid-1800s,” said study lead author Patrick Gonzalez, who conducted the study while he was a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Forestry. “Previous research already established climate change as the primary cause of the drought, which has overwhelmed the resilience of the trees.”

I thought, “Really”? Because I was sure I remembered all kinds of recent articles about the “greening of the Sahel”. In any case, I’ll take any excuse to learn something new. So I went off to see what the rainfall records had to say about the “world’s most severe long-term drought”.

I found three rainfall records that covered the Sahel in the time period from 1901 to the present. Two (CRU and GPCC) are available from KNMI Climate Explorer, and one (Sahel Index) can be downloaded from the University of Washington. I used the same geographical area as used by the University of Washington, from 10-20°N, and from 10°W to 20°E. The results are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Three different estimates of rainfall in the Sahel region, 10-20°N, 10°W-20°E. Bright red line shows the 9 year Gaussian average of the median of the three estimates. Photo is of the Sahel region, Senegal

I’m sorry, but I’m not seeing either a “severe long-term drought”, or a drop of “20-30 percent in the 20th century”, or a human fingerprint in that record. Modern times are drier than mid-20th century, but not much different from the first part of the century. Rainfall has gone up, and it has gone down, and then back up again. Nor is there any obvious correlation with the general warming of the planet over the same time period. Given the close agreement of the three records, I think we can have reasonable confidence in the data.

I did enjoy his claim that “Previous research already established climate change as the primary cause of the drought.” Climate change causes droughts? Interesting theory. Does climate change also cause not-droughts? I wonder what else is caused by climate change, given that the climate has always been changing.

Finally, I was not mistaken that I remembered articles about the “greening of the Sahel”. Here’s information from the Encyclopedia of the Earth, from National Geographic, and from the Global Warming Policy Foundation regarding how the Sahel has been getting, not drier and browner, but wetter and greener ever since the 1980s.

Conclusions? My only conclusion is that folks are getting desperate for funding, and that the manufacturing of climate pseudo-catastrophes is a booming cottage industry.


PS—I’m dead serious about planting trees and killing goats. The main cause of what desertification occurs in the Sahel is humans, but not by way of CO2. We do it by burning whatever will burn to cook our food, and by letting the goats destroy the rest.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
December 13, 2011 1:36 am

Way to Willis – fruit and goats – right on! I lived in N Nigeria for a couple of years in the mid 60s – my first experience of a coup…

December 13, 2011 1:37 am

That was in fact Way TO go Willis, of course…

December 13, 2011 1:40 am

Well done Willis. It doesn’t take much research to debunk the alarmists out there with their begging bowls for more funding. How come this cr@p gets published in a peer-reviewed document? What are the peer-reviewers doing to allow it to be published?

December 13, 2011 1:41 am

Notice the uptrend in rainfall from 1910 to 1950 and the decline from 1950 to 1980 and then increase since. So the rainfall increases when temperature increases, rainfall declines when the global temperature declines. This is further confirmation that the changes in rainfall are likely due to changes in the Intertropical Convergence Zone which migrates North and South in response to changes in global temperature. As temperatures warm, the ITCZ moves farther from the equator. When temperatures cool, it’s maximum Southern migration lessens.
Another point of validation for natural variation.

December 13, 2011 1:41 am

Good sleuthing. Don’t worry about claims made, they’ll be ignored by those who count. The real headline out of Durban should have been:
Climate Change changed to Climate Hope and Change

December 13, 2011 1:42 am

You are right about goats. Here in Portugal they even eat hard trees; can’t imagine what they are capable of there.
Then, it’s the same Kilimanjaro story: you get rid of the vegetation, moisture disappears, and then, be it snow or rain also tends to be less frequent. The planting of trees is urgent, and it has been even analyzed. Please see, for instance:
Then, there’s the Horn of Africa, where one of the worst droughts in the last decades is happening. No wonder that they don’t like to talk about it, because the IPCC was predicting a steadily increase in rainfall:
They just get almost everything wrong!

Old Goat
December 13, 2011 1:53 am

Suddenly, I feel a little safer, should I visit the Sahel…

December 13, 2011 2:00 am

Interesting that they appear to get over 400mm of rain a year.Here in Australia a lot of our wheat crop is grown in areas that have less than 400mm of rain annually.

Stephen Wilde
December 13, 2011 2:02 am

Going by this and the previous related thread there is much agreement developing that this climate change at least, is a consequence of latitudinally shifting climate zones which is my particular hobby horse.
Furthermore old papers are coming more to the fore showing that up to about 30 years ago many scientists were following that track as part of the mainstream.
Since then, climatology has been sidetracked but hopefully common sense is returning.
It is likely that everything that we have perceived as climate change has in fact been nothing more than a redistribution of energy across the Earth’s surface as the speed of energy flow through the Earth system speeds up or slows down as a negative response to ANY forcing.
The important issue is as to the nature of the primary forcings and they would appear to be solar and oceanic in origin. Any effect of more CO2 would be miniscule in comparison.
AGW proponents should be asked how far our CO2 emissions would shift the climate zones compared to the natural solar and oceanic effects.

A. C. Osborn
December 13, 2011 2:02 am

Willis, of course there was a 20-30% reduction, if you only look at the high of 1955 and compare it to the low in 1983. We are talking “Climate Science” here after all you know.

A. C. Osborn
December 13, 2011 2:03 am

Willis, is there any data for the “Mid 1800s” as stated in the Paper?

December 13, 2011 2:08 am

@Old Goat
Just don’t go with Willis.

December 13, 2011 2:08 am

Odd how the mind works first thing in the morning. Willis wrote goat, and I thought Pontiac GTO (first or second generation). Sorry for going off topic, Willis. I’ll go make a cup of coffee.

December 13, 2011 2:14 am

Climate change is a change in state and it itself changes nothing. It is a description of a change that has already occurred. Grasslands to deserts. Forests to savanna.
If I were you Willis, I would not fall into the AGW crowd’s use of the term ‘climate change’. Climate change as a cause the way warmists and climate ‘scientists’ always use it is itself an oxymoron, and in reality, this earth has not seen any real climate change for quit some time. However, speaking of the Sahel, it might be one of the most recent a century or more ago.
The warmists are picking at grains of sand and by it are being great deceivers. Every story like this is but another nail in their own professional coffin, a sick joke on science ignorance, every warmist’s scientific ignorance.

John Marshall
December 13, 2011 2:18 am

My previous blog blamed the PDO and AMO but I forgot the local’s love of goat meat. I also forgot that goats are browsers not grazers and can climb to areas in a tree beyond human ability, I know because we kept goats a few years ago and remember on goat walking along the edge of a fence top to get to an apple tree to feed. So perhaps they should kill all the goats and keep sheep, who can’t climb trees, and still plant fruit trees.

December 13, 2011 2:23 am

I think you’re dead right on the goats Mr. Eschenbach, I saw a graph breaking down various farm animals in global farming, there may be a correlation to goat numbers and desertification, but the remarkable data was regarding the increase in goat numbers. see [1]
Allan Savory [2][3] has developed a grazing management system which has proven to reverse desertification in Zimbabwe, during a 10yr drought. [4]
The technique (time controlled grazing) is to mimic natural herd movements that grasses evolved to cope with, by fencing off sufficient grazing for one or two days, and moving the herd on to a new fenced area. Pasture is fertilised by the herd, has time to fully recover to it’s most nutritious stage before allowing the herd back on the same patch. I know of one farm in Virginia [5] that has increased topsoil depth by 18″ in 6 years utilising these techniques, 3″ per year! The depth of topsoil supports higher productivity so much so the animals can stay out all winter, digging through the snow as natural herds once would have, which also reduces the overheads of winter housing.

December 13, 2011 2:24 am

Willis yo did not use the cliamte filter for your data, it looks like a hockey stick and can be turn either blade up or down depending on your required out come.
Please apply the filter, blade down for this study of drought (up for proof of increased flooding of course).

December 13, 2011 2:35 am

Such a bogus article, masquerading as science. Willis dislikes an article based on a press release. It doesn’t appear he bothered to look up the actual peer-reviewed article. He then does a quick internet search and downloads three data-sets. He puts the data into a nice little graph, and adds his own 9-year running Gaussian average (?). He then eye-balls it and exclaims that he cannot see any downward trend (even though he never plotted a trend line). His scientific conclusion is that “rainfall has gone up, and it has gone down, and then back up again” with no “obvious correlation” with global warming. He thinks that analysis qualifies as science. And you all buy it. Quite pathetic if I may so.
For those who want some real, heavy scientific reading, here is a link to the peer-reviewed article by Gonzalez et al.
By all means, criticize the paper with detailed scientific results and analyses. Not with whimsical eye-balling of a hastily put together graph.

Peter Stroud
December 13, 2011 2:46 am

Just another indication that we should take nothing the warmists write/say at face value. Thanks Willis.

December 13, 2011 3:00 am

Ditto rukidding. 400 mm is about 16 inches in real measurements, and that’s exactly what the Palouse gets. Is the Palouse an unproductive desert? Nope, it’s the most profitable wheat-growing area in America.
In other words, rainfall isn’t the important measurement. Temperature, soil quality, and human skill make the difference. Mostly the latter.

Hexe Froschbein
December 13, 2011 3:08 am

(about dairy goats)
“The lactation period of the milking doe is 305 days. During this period, the average doe in the herd will produce 1500-1700 pounds of milk, or about ½ gallon or more per day on average.”
Also goats are very hardy and do not need much tending, when you compare it to the effort you need to make to keep other livestock.
So, asking the Sahel people to kill their goats is just like the UN is asking North Europeans to freeze (to death at times) to save the planet.
Unless you fix the protein problem and make goats obsolete by bringing something that is superior that works out better than goats(short-term as well as long-term), no amount of rain will sort the Sahel, goats in numbers would even be a menace to a rainforest jungle with their appetite.
(Ironically this is a problem that we actually *could* solve with the tech that we currently have, unlike the ‘we want energy from nothing’ stuff…)

December 13, 2011 3:19 am

all formalia and no substance, could you tell us what your trend line looks like for the period Willis and the data he is using is refering to? And please stop playing that Hockey Team peer reviewed-card, it’s kind of pathetic.

December 13, 2011 3:22 am

@Garrett, the article is hidden behind a paywall, how convenient.

Alexander Vissers
December 13, 2011 3:22 am

Not only is change inherent to climate but climate change cannot be the cause of one of the key parameters of climate, precipitation. It is the other way around, a shift in average rainfall would result in “climate change” in the subject region.

December 13, 2011 3:23 am

I’ve mentioned before how impressed I was by the reforesting of parts of the western Ghats of India, and the difference I saw between a visits in 1974 and 2000. They still had goats, but the boys who herded the goats were educated to stop climbing up into trees and snapping off branches. In the shade of the young trees grasses grew, which I didn’t see in 1974. There was even some light rain in November, which is the start of the dry season. However the biggest change was the use of propane for cooking, rather than wood and dung. Fossil fuels made the difference. (Some vehicles ran on propane, too, replacing horse-drawn and oxen-drawn carts.)
In Africa the French were trying to reforest areas, but when nations became independent they wanted to be rid of all signs of their oppressors, and unfortunately the little trees were a symbol of oppression, and got cut down.
During the MWP the American Southwest was apparently much moister. Where we see bare, red sandstone buttes and mesas today, green vegetation climbed the sides, and grew on the tops. The winters were warmer but, interestingly, the summers were cooler, due to clouds and rain which the vegetation likely enhanced. At the start of the LIA there was a 100-year-drought, which wiped out some Mound-builder cultures to the east, as the Anasazi hung on, due to their amazing irrigation systems. However the buttes and mesas were denuded of vegetation, as people needed fuel for the colder winters, and this may have meant that, when rains returned, the run-off was of the gully washer sort we see today, which totally destroyed the irrigation systems.
The cycles of climate bring changes in rainfall. I think man can make deserts bloom, if they apply careful thought, care for the land, a great deal of hard work, and have patience. However sitting about stirring swizzle sticks in Durban, playing king-of-the-world with other people’s money, involves reckless thought, ignorance of the land, no work whatsoever, and a complete lack of patience.

Lew Skannen
December 13, 2011 3:35 am

I was also in N Nigeria recently for a few years and I would agree that tree killing and goat population are the two main problems for trees.
Both of these are, of course, driven by human population which is certainly not decreasing…
Climate, changing or otherwise, is the least of the trees problems.

Mike M
December 13, 2011 3:35 am

Nothing points to the dishonesty of the CAGW ‘movement’ than this topic. The graph clearly shows that the worst drought of the 20th century occurred during the coolest period not the warmest.
There was a sliver of truth that slipped out from them explaining the increase of US snow fall in the last few winters being due in part to the air holding more moisture. That appears to work as well in Africa as well as North America.

December 13, 2011 3:36 am

@Garrett: I read the abstract of the paper referenced. It starts out: (my bold)

“Increased aridity and human population have reduced tree cover in parts of the African Sahel and degraded resources for local people”

It goes on to equivocate about the fact that there is correlation between tree density and climate change. I don’t see that as causation. Trouble is, I don’t have the $31.50 needed to get the whole paper so perhaps you can quote some key parts from it here.

Cold Englishman
December 13, 2011 3:42 am

Yep, me too, I worked in Africa for years, and Willis has it spot on. Goats are the single worst thing that has ever happened to Africa – continent wide north and south, yet there are some idiots who actively encourage it:-
But don’t get me started on Oxfam, They were in Kenya when I was there in 1965, oh yes, that’s right, they were sorting things out nearly 50 years ago.
Er, not doing too well are they? Be like me avoid them like the plague.

December 13, 2011 3:43 am


December 13, 2011 3:53 am

Holy cow/goat!
5 more minutes of investigation revealed two interesting documents:
“Although numerous trees and their final products are central to local livelihoods and their decline of particular concern to all villagers, in cultivated fields, trees generally represent a nuisance because they complicate animal traction, compete with crops and attract birds, bees, snakes and harvesters. The lack of tradition in managing indigenous trees, the slow growth and vulnerability of indigenous fruit tree seedlings remains a major factor discouraging farmers from fencing and protecting them.

December 13, 2011 3:58 am

At the risk of sounding like an animal rights nut, I must inform you that you sound too anti-goat for my liking. I raise goats. They are friendly, and will follow me when I hike, and, unlike my dog, they don’t rush off to chase cats, and never get a face-full of porcupine quills. They have taken a pasture I have that was overgrown with brush, and turned it back into an open field of lush, green grass. Their milk is better for people who have trouble digesting lactose than cow’s milk is. Their meat is lean and not “marbled” with fat, and tastes better than lamb, in my opinion. Africa needs protien. You can starve, eating fruit.
Of course, goats sneer at fences. Mine have a habit of visiting neighbors that makes me unpopular, however that is not their fault. That is my fault.
Don’t blame the goats for over-grazing or killing trees or eating the neighbor’s flowers. Blame the goat-herders.

December 13, 2011 3:59 am

“if every day, every person in the Sahel planted one fruit tree and killed one goat, in about twenty years it would be worth visiting”
Been there and have to say it’s hard to disagree…..
Africa should be able to feed itself rather well without bush meat and ghastly primitive farming methods – but the parasites that are the governments and bankers always seem to grab/plunder every entire successful crop from a static farm.
I’m minded of the tribulations of the rather brave Zimbabweans who set out to farm in Nigeria.
Google Serach

Nora Stein
December 13, 2011 4:05 am

35 years ago (when the Sahel, was, well, really Sahellish) I went to a talk about it at my HS (a peace love and granola school hence talks about the Sahel). The guy claimed that Israeli scientists had fenced in a piece of desert to keep out the goats and within 5 years it was a blooming place. I have always wanted to look up that research, but that was the days of libraries, wonder if I could find it now, or whether it was a trope among those that worked in those areas. However, as Hexe points out, the main sticking point is that goats are a reliable, cheap source of meat. Food comes first.

December 13, 2011 4:06 am
December 13, 2011 4:06 am

Good information on rainfall patterns in the western Sahel since 1800 was published in 2001 by Dr. Sharon Nicholson (Florida State University) in the journal Climate Research, 17: 123-144. The abstract notes: (a) the recent late 20th Century severe drought was not unprecedented; (b) a similar dry episode prevailed during most of the first half of the 19th C; (c) the few changes in temperature that have been demonstrated during the late 20th C drought were ‘small scale’; (d) ‘recent decades of dry conditions in the Sahel are not in themselves evidence of irreversible global change’; (e) Sahel rainfall is driven by ocean temperatures. Possible exacerbating effects of human land use (misuse) on rainfall are noted as requiring much more detailed and extensive data. Such facts ashould now be becoming available.
One such source of data is the recent (2009) book ‘Living on the Edge’ (L.Zwarts et al.) published in English by KNNV Publishing, Holland. The Dutch ecological team graphically show how rapidly the western Sahel is being degraded rapidly by intensifying human activities ranging from over-stocking with grazers (cattle, sheep) and browsers (goats) by pastoralists, the removal of trees and scrub, and not least by governments damming major rivers and causing loss of wetlands. The region is fast becoming an ecological disaster area. An essential read.
In the eastern Sahel (Sudan),where I worked in the late 1950s-early 1960s, much vegetation has since been destroyed by human activities – largely a result of the protracted war conflicts in many areas but also due to mis-guided government agro-schemes (UNEP Environmental EIA Resource Manual, Case Study 4, c.1998).
I thoroughly endorse Willis’ comments. The AGW alarmists completely ignore other factors (natural and human-caused) in their statements and prophesies concerning the on-going and adverse changes to this once ecologically rich Sahelian zone.

December 13, 2011 4:14 am

Aw come on Willis not another goat kills man story 🙂
Great post but they do seem to make it easy for you?

Claude Harvey
December 13, 2011 4:16 am

“Plant a tree. Kill a goat.” Words to live by. I see we’ve already heard from the “Goat Anti-defamation League”. You may also expect a howl from “The Society for Prevention of Human Interference with Natural Tree Reproduction.”

Robert Dammers
December 13, 2011 4:32 am

Which is another reason why distribution of bottled gas for cooking is probably one of the most important development steps imaginable: addressing deforestation in the Sahel, and all the terrible environmental and health consequences of the “Asian Brown Cloud”, caused by the use of biomass for cooking.
LPG – you know it makes sense 🙂

Rhys Jaggar
December 13, 2011 4:33 am

There’s another scare story in today’s Independent by Steve Connor. Apparently in the Arctic north of Siberia there are bubbling froths of methane which is ‘a dangerous greenhouse gas’ allied to all the usual scaremongering.
If it is bubbling, which is more likely:
a. Some kind of vent on the sea bedreleasing warm gases?
b. Spontaneous release from a sea bed warming uniformly?
My take is that if it is temperature related, the bubbles would be uniform across the region, whereas if it were vents, it would be more locallised.
I’m no expert, perhaps those that are would care to comment?

December 13, 2011 4:38 am

Great article, Willis. It is interesting what you get when you Google “greening of the Sahel”. Here is the Voice of America results:
Niger is located in the Sahel area south of the Sahara. The west African country is largely hot, dry desert. But since the nineteen eighties Niger has gotten a lot greener.

December 13, 2011 4:42 am

It is completely meaningless to compare the Australian wheat belt or the Palouse with the Sahel simply based on rainfall. You must account for rainfall patterns, evaporation, soil types, topography etc.
The Palouse is cold with negligible evaporation for most of the year. The summer is hot but brief.
The Australian wheat belt typically has relatively high winter and spring rain fall.
Wheat is a deep-rooted heat tolerant annual crop that evolved in the Middle East. If it manages to reach the subsoil moisture after germination it will survive to maturity without additional rainfall.
The Sahel is hot all year round, has very high evaporation and summer rainfall. This means that any vegetation must survive many months without water. The Sahel is also extensively overlain with sand which means the soil drains rapidly and little nutrition is available for plant growth.
There are many regions in Australia with a similar climate to the Sahel. They rely very heavily on irrigation to grow crops and raise livestock.

P. Solar
December 13, 2011 4:47 am

>> Climate change causes droughts?
they have discovered that climate change causes climate change. Brilliant.
Give them another grant and they may be able to show when the weather changes the weather is different.

December 13, 2011 4:53 am

Ah, how lovely, Garrett. Yet another peer-reviewed article, presenting research paid for (I am quite certain) by federal funds (that is, us), that we can download for the modest price of $31.50. Or yes, since I can go through Duke I can get it for the price of five minutes of additional effort to hook up through LibX, charging the taxpayers yet again (who ultimately pay Duke’s subscription fees).
So yes, we can read the abstract of the actual article at your link, but even the abstract is indeed made more dubious by the graph generated by Willis up above. Quite a lot more dubious, because it does indeed show that while rainfall is indeed quite variable in the Sahel on a multidecadal scale over the 20th century, the overall trend is quite clearly almost flat. There is a 30% max-to-min variability, but the overall trend is perhaps a 5% decrease, if that. Do you need Willis to actually fit a line to the data to see that? Or would you prefer to cherrypick a fit just to the stretch from 1955-1980 to be able to claim 30% reduction? Or would you rather cherrypick specific sub-regions in the Sahel that were drier than this overall average (so you can ignore the ones that were wetter to produce this overall average)?
The climate is always varying. Everywhere. Some places get wetter, some get drier. The US “dust bowl” drought was back in the 30’s, for example. Try to blame this event on global warming. Or try to write a paper attributing the
lack of a drought to global warming. In NC, the worst droughts in (tree-ring) recorded history were the series of droughts from 1560 to 1650 — the Spanish Mission drought, the Lost Colony drought, and the infamous Jamestown drought. The Lost Colony drought was the most extreme 3 year drought in the last 800 years. The Jamestown drought was the most extreme 7 year drought in 770 years. In both cases it simply didn’t rain (much) for 3 or 7 years at a time, dwarfing the 2 year drought I experienced myself in NC back in the 1980s, when I used to drive my car 1/4 mile out onto the lake bed of Lake Michie to park to get close enough to the waterline to launch a boat.
If either of these were strongly correlated with a “temperature” event, it would have to be the incipient Maunder Minimum and LIA — indeed the worst seven year event in the last 800 years ended in 1215 and was likely correlated with the end of the MWP. But then, the two year drought in the 80’s was correlated with relatively warm weather.
This illustrates the extreme silliness of looking at 100 years slices of local climate in carefully selected locations to attempt to prove a global phenomenon. If one looks back at an 800, or 1000 year record of Sahel rainfall and temperature, there are almost certainly droughts that were as severe and prolonged as any in the 20th century, although given the size of the Sahel you might be able to carefully cherrypick an outlier region that had the most extreme drought in the 20th century (just as if you pick over the entire US you might find the dust bowl and be able to show that it was more extreme than the Jamestown drought). The worst drought in the US, however, was the one that occurred in the Younger Dryas (return to ice age conditions ~9000 BP). Or was that the US? Southwest was unusually wet, Midwest and East extreme drought.
This article perfectly demonstrates the fundamental problem with Climate Research these days. That problem is confirmation bias and its close cousin, cherrypicking. This problem is the elephant in the room that no one dares look at. CAGW is a global hypothesis of weather that is supposed to be extreme over geological time scales. How, then, can this hypothesis be supported at all by the reporting of any extreme weather event carefully selected by region and time period to be “global” neither in space nor in time?
No, Hurricane Katrina wasn’t “proof of CAGW” — it was extreme only if one limits one’s window of observation strictly in space and time. Excessive rainfall in Bangladesh (another favorite example of Al Gore) is not “proof of CAGW”, it too is extreme only if one limits one’s “historical window” strictly in space and time. Interestingly, if one plots the total energy released in tropical storms, if anything it has been diminishing in recent years even as global temperatures were supposedly increasing — and that doesn’t necessarily mean anything “globally” either except that tropical storms thrive on temperature differences (like any heat engine) so that more uniform temperatures warmer or cooler probably will reduce the available free energy that drives them.
Somewhere on Earth records are set every day for extremes in weather — hottest high, lowest low, wettest wet, driest dry. Somewhere, every year, an “extreme” weather even occurs — a “drought” or “flood” year for a region, or a really big hurricane. Someone infected with CAGW-CB (Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming — Confirmation Bias) disease quite literally cannot help but to be drawn to these extreme events, because they are interesting and because they do real damage so people care. They don’t care that they aren’t extraordinary on either a global spatial scale or a global temporal scale — they are extraordinary on a human lifetime scale, especially to the people that live through them on the spatial scale of human habitation.
And here’s the rub. An honest job of refereeing would simply reject the CAGW-event conclusion in any paper that made a local claim as supporting the global hypothesis. Period. A really honest job of refereeing would require the CAGW hypothesizers to make concrete predictions that could falsify the hypothesis if those predictions were unmet, and only allow papers to address the conclusion if they were in some way double blind controlled so that negative evidence was presented along with positive evidence.
Sadly, that seems not to happen. Al Gore claims that polar bears are drowning as sea ice vanishes, that hurricanes are getting stronger, that droughts are getting droughtier, that flood are floodier and it is All Our Fault and because he can support each and every assertion with some piece of published crap, with some photograph taken out of context, with some extreme event that happened somewhere (ignoring even more extreme events that took place long ago or far away or both) people become, and remain, panicked and concerned. Steig et. al. publish a paper asserting that Antarctica is getting warmer, when the opposite is true — one peninsula in Antarctica is getting warmer — the continent itself is almost without exception in a cooling phase — and yet this paper — with the most garish color scheme possible — is yet another cover story in Nature “proving” warming. Science immediately does move in to criticize, and eventually it becomes clear that this result is bullshit, but does Nature ever publish a cover story entitled “Never Mind, Sorry, Antarctica is Cooling After All”?
One can go down the list. There are so very many places where the evidence for CAGW does not fit the neat little pattern associated with the hypothesis — especially if one considers the global, geological time data — but those places never receive equal attention. Indeed, they don’t receive public attention at all!
CAGW supporters had damn well better end up being right, or they will have dealt a blow to scientific credibility that will take a century to heal. Unfortunately, at this point the entire careers of hundreds of people are irrevocably bound up in “proving” the hypothesis, and scientists from front line researchers (and paper reviewers) to journal editors to politicians stand to lose “everything” if negative evidence is presented or if it is conclusively shown that CAGW-CB disease has run amok in the community or both. Career ending stuff, stuff that would embarrass everybody from the Nature editorial board to the Nobel committee (how do you take back a Nobel Prize when the science it was granted for turns out to be not only flawed, but deliberately mispresented to accomplish a political goal?).
Nature, of course, could give a rat’s ass for human politics. Mere confirmation bias cannot obscure a true sea-change in the weather for very long, and every day the physics improves. We quite literally haven’t had the tools (computational or observational) needed to address the problem until the last two or three decades — not long enough to accumulate a full complement of data global data through even a single round of the multidecadal oscillations that we know are a dominant determinant of the global climate and that are strongly correlated with weather extremes in a systematic way. We have been handicapped in that the world has been coming down off of a multi-cycle Grand Solar Maximum, the longest, strongest set seen for 9000 years, and we have (really) no truly reliable data that permit the reconstruction of global temperature averages over that kind of time scale — even satellites are proving an elusive source of global temperatures accurate to within 1 degree absolute, and land or sea based thermometer data is notoriously unreliable (no matter how you choose to try to “correct” its reliability, an ad hoc correction of unreliable data is less reliable, not more reliable, especially if one is trying to use the data to address a hypothesis that closely depends on the correction selected, see CAGW-CB disease).
Still, for 30 years the temperature record from satellites is at least moderately accurate — the most accurate and only truly spatially global record of temperature we have. A tragically short time period — completely inadequate to address temporal variation on even a locally meaningful time scale (given that a complete solar cycle is 22 years, multidecadal oscillations have period on the order of 30-60 years) but one that gives us hope that as we actually do see the PDO and NAO at long last change their phase while we are watching from the sky with accurate instrumentation, with the Sun returned to a far more normal state, we might finally get enough data over the next 30 years to be able to build a quantitative model that has some actual predictive skill. In the meantime, we might even learn or figure out more physics connecting solar state to climate, and be able to quantitatively put the various hypotheses that describe this (or entirely new ones) to the test.

Jack Simmons
December 13, 2011 5:14 am

Just got done reading 1493. Good read and I recommend it highly.
1492 saw the beginning of the Columbian exchange, the movement of peoples, animals, insects, plants, and microorganisms from their native habitats into new areas.
Earth worms were extinct in North America prior to 1492; ice sheets scrapped the top soil away. Europeans needed something to provide ballast for ships arriving in North America intended for the shipment of tobacco (another part of the Columbian exchange). Soil from Europe filled the bill nicely, which contained earth worms.
Without earth worms, leaves tend to pile up in the forests, favoring trees and bushes with shallow root systems. Earth worms consume the leaves, depositing droppings underground, favoring trees and bushes with deep roots. This process continues to the present with the spread of earth worms.
Honey bees were introduced from Europe for their honey and pollination of fruit trees, also brought over from Europe. Peach trees of Georgia and the Carolinas are not indigenous, they are invasive species. Same with apples and cherries. Honey bees are notoriously promiscuous in they will pollinate any plant and take up residence in any hollow space.
Would this mean no cherry picking in North America without the Columbian exchange?
Indians called honey bees the ‘white man’s’ fly. It represented the invasion and destruction of their homes, fittingly armed with stings.
Europeans also brought over horses, cows, goats, and pigs. The latter are very destructive of Indian style gardens, viewed by Europeans as uncultivated collections of maize, gourds, and beans.
Potatoes, tomatoes, maize, and sweet potatoes were introduced into Europe, bringing an end to the periodic famines of Northern Europe. Peasants in France were convinced potatoes caused leprosy, until a patch of potatoes was guarded until harvest time. They thought it must be valuable as a rich man was guarding something valuable. France did not accept the potato until the French revolution.
Potato helped fuel the Industrial Revolution because the common man now had a secure source of cheap and plentiful food.
China received the sweet potato and maize along with silver via trade routes to the Philippines. Chinese farmers could now grow something in the sandy, dry soils above the river plains. This led to the cultivation of land on hills, leading to erosion and a population explosion. There was now more than rice to grow in China.
Rubber tree plantations in Southern China and Northern Indochina are now replacing the native forests, even as I write this. This has led to changes in regional climates and great prosperity for the farmers there. There is still no substitute for real rubber. It is inevitable the fungus responsible for rubber tree blight with eventually find its way to these new rubber plantations. This will denude the monoculture on the region because all the other types of trees have been removed.
Goats in Sahel, rubber trees in Indochina, smallpox in North America; it’s all the same story, just different players. We live in a different world than we had five hundred years ago. Some of it has been bad, most very good.
Has nothing to do with a trace gas, which has very little to do with ‘climate change’.

Steve Keohane
December 13, 2011 5:17 am

Thanks Willis. I was surprised by the amount of rainfall, expected less than what we get in Colorado, where we grow peaches, wheat, sugar beets etc.

Don K
December 13, 2011 5:26 am

It’s been fifty some odd years since I took Geography 100 — which turned out to be a very interesting course. I don’t think things have changed much in that world. Basically, the Sahel is part of a worldwide desert belt that lies between the tropics and the mid-latitudes in many (not all) parts of the world. The tropics are wet and dominated by East to West windflows. The mid-latitudes are wet and are dominated by West to East windflows. In that model, global warming pushes the desert zone North, cooling pushes it South. That’s very simplistic — with lots of exceptions.
But it does suggest that “average railnfall” across the Sahel is likely to be a dubiously meaningful metric. 400mm (about 16 inches — same as Santa Barbara) might mean 25 inches in Tunis and 5 in Khartoum … or vice versa.

Larry Geiger
December 13, 2011 5:35 am

Hi Willis
I found the rainfall graph very interesting. During the 30s and 50s there was also a lot of rain here in Florida. The lakes in north Florida were full to overflowing. I used swam in those lakes as a youth and went to summer camps located on the shores of those lakes. Many of them are now nothing more than damp prairies. I really do hope this is a cycle and that I may once again see some of those lakes filled again. I have no idea how what’s happening in Florida might be correlated with what’s happening in Africa but it’s interesting.

Ex-Wx Forecaster
December 13, 2011 5:36 am

I think what I like best is how this precip graph looks very much like the 20th century temperature graph: temperature goes up, precip goes up. Temperture goes down, precip goes down. It would seem the people of this region should be happy with global warming.

Dave L.
December 13, 2011 5:40 am

Don’t forget donkeys — they are vegetation destroyers in Southern Africa. They cannot climb like goats, but they can uproot plants and completely destory them.
Overherding is the major factor. Numbers of animals constitute the measure of wealth, not the health of the animals. Consequently there are usually far too many skinny animals grazing per unit area.

December 13, 2011 5:42 am

While goats and sheep are very effective at killing by eating seedling trees, they don’t generally kill mature trees.
If mature trees are dying as this study says then the likely reason is a lowered watertable which tree roots can no longer reach. Which indicates misguided damming and irrigation practices as mentioned in earlier comments.

December 13, 2011 5:46 am

RGB, thanks for your effort in answering Garretts claims in such a detail. The only mistake you made concerns the Nobel Peace Prize, it was not awarded to the IPCC Hockey Team on the basis of scientific achievements, it could not since the Nobel Committee consists of Norwegian retired politician with no scientific compentence to review any science. It was based on the political achievements of the IPCC hockey team. In fact, the Hockey Team members that use the Nobel Peace Prize as some kind of cerificate for the quality of their science are only able to show their own vanity for publicity.

December 13, 2011 5:49 am

Traveling across unpopulated areas of the Sahel (where I did some work back in the 1970s), you could see a lot of scrub growth. But when the shrubbery disappeared, you knew you were within a few kilometers of a settlement…and in range of the grazing goats. Solution to desertification: eat more goats!
Best clue to the cluelessness of the report: “since measurements from rainfall gauges began in the mid-1800s” So the most recent 100 years are the worst in 150 years…statistically meaningless.

December 13, 2011 5:53 am

rukidding says:
December 13, 2011 at 2:00 am

Interesting that they appear to get over 400mm of rain a year.Here in Australia a lot of our wheat crop is grown in areas that have less than 400mm of rain annually.

What’s the latitude there? The Shahel gets a heck of a lot of sun, that’s gotta lead to a lot of evaporation and transpiration.

December 13, 2011 5:57 am

I haven’t seen the paper but when reading the press release quotes, I took it to mean that the rainfall for the entire 20th century was down 20-30%, compared to the last half of the 19th century. It does appear that the GPCC record was much higher preceding 1900 (the dashed line in the original chart.) Are the 19th century data available somewhere?
Also, I would guess that by saying “Climate Change” the author was implying “caused by AGW” but I don’t see that in the abstract. However, it’s not surprising that a change in the climate affects the environment. It’s been happening for billions of years now and it’s not news that it’s still occurring.

December 13, 2011 6:07 am

Garrett, have /you/ analysed any Sahel precipitation data? The abstract of the paper, which is available on line, though the article itself sits behind a paywall of about $31, makes no direct mention of any time series analysis, or any reference that might be accessed if one wished to make an independent assessment of what has been observed. No doubt you have read the paper carefully. How else could you be so sure about its full content. Perhaps you could verify for us that the actual primary data have been archived, and if so where they may be found. I would be delighted to look really closely at the relevant time series.

Craig Loehle
December 13, 2011 6:14 am

Overuse of firewood is because the do-gooders do not want them to have electricity, and the too-many-goats problem is because of lack of roads and banks. Without a bank, the only way to store your wealth is as livestock so you keep lots of them.

Mikael Pihlström
December 13, 2011 6:19 am

The IPCC 2007 WG I report does not indicate any pronounced future drying of the
Sahel band, rather the opposite. The precipitation loss, based on regional models
is projected to occur more to the North, e.g the Mediterranean coast area.

December 13, 2011 6:23 am

I think the most important insight of Willis is in the third to last paragraph, and can be summarized in the seemingly paradoxical statement that climate change is a constant.
Constants cannot explain variance. Period.

Pamela Gray
December 13, 2011 6:26 am

A couple decades ago, churches were sending farm animals all around the globe to local poor families in need of a cottage industry. What kind of animals you ask? Americun of course. Those goats just might be the ones we sent.

David L. Hagen
December 13, 2011 6:29 am

Satellite images show very dramatic impact of grazing on one side of a fence and not on the other. E.g. see ranches.
I’ll second Willis’ observation on goats.

Bob Moss
December 13, 2011 6:30 am

From 2005:
Global warming could end Sahara droughts, says study
Writing in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the scientists say the increased rainfall could “strongly reduce the probability of prolonged droughts”.
Reindert Haarsma, who led the research, said: “We were surprised that it was such a big rainfall signal. There is a lot of uncertainty in this kind of prediction but it is possible the Sahara region could benefit from climate change.”

So … no matter how the climate changes (more rain / less rain) there are climate models that predict it and thus the change will confirm “climate change” (formerly known as global warming).

December 13, 2011 6:35 am

Willis, I don’t know if I told you yet. I think I have discovered a correlation between the leaf area index (LAI) and the entrapment of heat (warming). You will get this if you carefully study my tables here.
However, to be able to put a figure to that correlation I need to actually get the actual LAI figure at the places where I measured.
Is there anyone here who can help me to get the actual figures of the LAI that is being talked about here:

December 13, 2011 6:36 am


December 13, 2011 6:44 am

I generally agree with Willis but I have to disagree somewhat with him this time. The average rainfaill from 1900-1950 appears to be about 470mm while from 1950-2010 it is closer to 410, a drop of almost 20%. Hoiwever, if you analyze the trends a little more closely you see that dropoff in rainfaill happened from 1950 to the 1970s, when the earth was supposedly headed for an ice age. From the 1980s up ithe rainfaill has been increasing as the worst part of AGW was supposedly occurring.

Richard Hobley
December 13, 2011 6:45 am

I liked this the excerpt from the “Global Warming Policy” document referenced in the article.
“However, the greening cannot be explained solely by the increase in rainfall. There were vegetation increases in areas where rainfall was decreasing, suggesting another factor was responsible for the greening in these areas. This other factor might have been the rise of atmospheric CO2 levels. The aerial fertilization effect of the ongoing rise in the air’s CO2 concentration increases greatly the productivity of plants. The more CO2 there is in the air, the better plants grow. Rising atmospheric CO2 levels also have an anti-transpiration effect, which enhances the water-use efficiency of plants and enables them to grow in areas that were once too dry for them.”

Joachim Seifert
December 13, 2011 6:54 am

you figured out the GOAT problem and valuable info was added by the goat keeper Caleb, and then also by Frosty and Hexe Froschbein…..Well, goats are wonderful, pleasant, cute ….animals… I live here in Spain, bought a plot of land, which is under nature protection (no HUMAN action permitted), rainfall as in the Sahel of 400 mm/year, now I will get a contractor in with goats and they will clear my plot NATURALLY from all those heather/rosmarin and “mata”-shrubs….
These animals are a MENACE to nature, ripping the plants out with the roots….GREAT!….
GOATS belong to the steep mountains, where they survive on ripping out moss….
They do not belong into the flatlands where they damage indigenous nature (which includes insects, smaller and larger animals, which live in symbiose with regional plants…), GOATS do not belong into the Sahel zone….., now other alternatives: As in the Bible: the true
FLATLAND animals are SHEEP…..
Lamb stew and sheep cheese are very delicious…. The Bible says: ….”and then they sacrifized a LAMB to welcome the guests…..Why not stick with the old tradition? And continue with animals of the high mountains, which harm the Sahel….?
What is neededd for Africa is as Willis says, get one goat off a day…… but now: BRING one sheep in a day… the sheep respect the plants and the roots but nibble on the tops…….

December 13, 2011 6:54 am

ca. 515 (max 9 yr avg.) to ca. 410 mm/yr (2009) is ca. 25% so cherrypickingly, they’re right, 20 to 30%.

December 13, 2011 6:59 am

Garrett says:
December 13, 2011 at 2:35 am
LOL. That abstract is priceless. They site two rainfall studies. One is for the period 1950-1980, so….. not so much “long term”. The other is much longer term! 1900-2100!! Yep. They predicted the future with their models, so this paper can use it as “facts”. “Peer review” is a joke in climate science.

December 13, 2011 7:05 am

As for the rainfall chart in this article, the period from 1970 to 1990 would be a real tear jerker if you had a farm in the Sahel. In just a few years, the rainfall went from 500mm a year to less than 300mm a year. A dry land farmer in West Texas would not be able to grow anything in that time frame. The plant distribution would shift from from a grassland to a desert sagebrush. Most grasses, trees in the wetter canyons and bushes in other areas would die. This is significant.
So, I think the conclusion that the Sahel was in a long term drought is true and its also true that while it is getting wetter, its nothing like the turn of the century when there were some very wet years. They are critical for groundwater recharge. It is also true that the Sahel has been much wetter in the past and much drier.
I’d agree with Willis that overgrazing is the most pressing issue in most subsistence grassland societies with respect to maintaining biological productivity. The trees and grasses that might have survived a drought or two are eaten by the goats and their reserves are exhausted and they die. The plants also help with the water cycle in that they put moisture into the air and keep the ground cool and slow runoff.
In reading the various articles on the internet, the Sahel is entirely dependent on monsoon flow and the ITCZ. Which are entirely dependent on global weather patterns.

December 13, 2011 7:07 am

Another wonderful deconstruction !!!!
Great job Willis.

Bruce Cobb
December 13, 2011 7:08 am

There have been many recorded periods of drought in the Sahel, and there is nothing to suggest the drought of the 60’s into the early 90’s was in any way unusual. Recent studies in 2006 and 2009 suggests a leading role is played by the AMO. From wikipedia: A 2006 study by NOAA scientists Rong Zhang and Thomas L. Delworth suggests that the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation plays a leading role. An AMO warm phase strengthens the summer rainfall over Sahel, while a cold phase reduces it.[29] The AMO entered a warm phase in 1995 and, assuming a 70-year cycle (following peaks in ≈1880 and ≈1950), will peak around 2020.[30]
A 2009 study by Shanahan et al. found further evidence for a link between the AMO and West African drought.[31]

Assuming this is true, we can expect the recent greening of the Sahel to continue for another decade or so.
This “study” of Gonzalez’ is nothing more than one more pathetically desperate and
fraudulent attempt by government-funded “scientists” to link “manmade climate change” with naturally-occurring climatic events.
@Garrett: As Warmist trolls go, your meager attempts come off as mere arm-flailing. Please try to do better. Thanks.

December 13, 2011 7:11 am

“While goats and sheep are very effective at killing by eating seedling trees, they don’t generally kill mature trees.
If mature trees are dying as this study says then the likely reason is a lowered watertable which tree roots can no longer reach. Which indicates misguided damming and irrigation practices as mentioned in earlier comments.”
Well, as a farmer with experience in this, during droughts, goats will eat the bark off mature trees. Humans will cut off the branches to feed them to the goats. As trees are further stressed, insects will also feast.
I agree about groundwater levels, but where there are goats, it is far worse.

December 13, 2011 7:12 am

The main cause of what desertification occurs in the Sahel is humans, but not by way of CO2. We do it by burning whatever will burn to cook our food, and by letting the goats destroy the rest.
Willis, may I implore you to be careful with the use of the “we” word? I am not burning Sahel vegetation, and I am not letting or forbidding any goat to do anything. I have no goats.
The climalarmists say I am responsible for global warming using the “we” technique, and say I must personally offer sacrifices to appease the mighty ugly bitch from hell, Gaia.
I’m sure your use was a simple oversight.

December 13, 2011 7:23 am

“Potatoes, tomatoes, maize, and sweet potatoes were introduced into Europe, bringing an end to the periodic famines of Northern Europe. ”
The rise of property rights and a market economy in the Netherlands and the invention of enclosure is what ended famine in Europe. Land gradually shifted to those who were the most productive thus replacing subsistence agriculture with profit based farming. Farmers then abandoned the fallow system and then went into double and triple cropping and the heavy use of manures and legumes. Animal husbandry took off. New crops were tried. This movement spread to England and Scandinavia and Prussia. France and most of the rest of Europe resisted both property rights and the market economy until the early 1800s and as a result regularly starved.

December 13, 2011 7:27 am

Trade is the answer, Willis, not war on goats! Everyone wins if the Sahelians send their goats to Patrick Gonzalez (with a couple of Azawakh dogs). It will start a research endowment at UC Berkeley and create a sustainable source of funding for the study of the region. Goats to Berkeley, research papers and press releases to Sahel, relief to the rest of us.

Crispin in Waterloo
December 13, 2011 7:39 am

I think you’re dead right on the goats Mr. Eschenbach, I saw a graph breaking down various farm animals in global farming, there may be a correlation to goat numbers and desertification, but the remarkable data was regarding the increase in goat numbers. see [1]
Allan Savory [2][3] has developed a grazing management system which has proven to reverse desertification in Zimbabwe, during a 10yr drought. [4]
In Namibia it is called ‘holistic veld management’ and was developed in the late ’80’s by Allen. He is in the USA now. I visited a farm a few minutes outside Tsumeb where it was being practised. The standard (government method) rating of the farm was 750 cattle (on 35,000 acres). Using the system the farmer had 1100 and spare capacity of perhaps another 250. An essential element is the removal of all non-native plant species.
It addresses the big problem of thornveld encroachment which is directly caused by cattle left to wander where they want, eating only the preferred grasses. As a result what they do not like proliferates. If you draw a line north-south from Johannesburg, just about that whole area west of that line has a thornveld encroachment problem. Holistic veld management forces the cattle to eat things they do not prefer before moving on. In Namibia they are not brought back to graze that patch again for 7 years. SW Botswana has the same problem of too many stubby trees. At the Mpisi Ranch (fattening ranch) in Swaziland the place went from open grassland in 1975 to a choked thicket in 2000 because of inappropriate grazing.

Chris B
December 13, 2011 7:40 am

No tree is safe with hungry goats around. Without trees evapotranspiration diminishes and deserts form.

Chris B
December 13, 2011 7:44 am

Shoulda said:
Without trees evapotranspiration, and therefore rainfall, diminishes and deserts form.

December 13, 2011 7:47 am

Robert Brown says:
December 13, 2011 at 4:53 am
The worst drought in the US, however, was the one that occurred in the Younger Dryas (return to ice age conditions ~9000 BP). Or was that the US? Southwest was unusually wet, Midwest and East extreme drought.
Yes. The western shore of the Chesapeake Bay has 3 ft+ deep windblown dust deposits from the YD. Talk about a cold, dry dust bowl! That would have been a severe cold-steppe climate right where I’m at now! The native inhabitants at the time either fled southward or perished.
One gets the sense that our climate now is rather benign & beneficial, no?

December 13, 2011 7:49 am

Plant a tree, kill a goat. Message brought to you by People Eating Tasty Animals. After all, tree’s can produce a great spice for goat meat.

December 13, 2011 7:55 am

Joachim Seifert says: “…the true
FLATLAND animals are SHEEP…..”

Joachim: I have worked with hill sheep in the Highlands of Scotland; believe me, sheep are indigenous to hill and mountain. They’re just not quite as omnivorous as goats.

December 13, 2011 7:57 am

The problem, as with many other parts of Africa, is one of poor governance not one of climate , fruit or goats.
The rapid adaptation of say, Holland as mentioned above, to climatic and crop challenges was possible because of good governance and social structures. These arose because there was no “big brother” to bail them out from cocking it up. Just as you expect your teenage son to learn lessons from the big bad world that actions have consequences so it must go with nation states.
The Sahelian climate is not impossible , the solutions are available, but as long as incompetence in government is rewarded with misguided aid all we will get is more incompetence. It’s like paying single mothers to be single mothers, you get a lot of single mothers followed by societal issues.
The simple fact is that Africa has not got the carrying capacity for it’s population managed by their medieval governments and archaic thinking. Bad governance is the problem and we are it’s enablers.

Oscar Bajner
December 13, 2011 8:08 am

Myna birds (Acridotheres tristis) and Cane Toads (Bufo marinus) are two examples of species that can cause havoc when introduced to an ecosystem that has never seen them before.
Goats are the masters of disasters. They single mindedly set about reverting ANY ecosystem they are introduced to, to a true desert. (The polar ice caps are a desert, the goats got there first 🙂
Well said Willis. Save the Whales, harpoon a Goat.

December 13, 2011 8:18 am

Dutch docu about the trees and the green wall.
part English spoken

December 13, 2011 8:20 am

Searching the Internet for pig exclusion fencing in Hawaii shows this kind of damage to the earth is not the exclusive domain of goats. Exclusion fencing is an unpractical solution but does show dramatically not only the impact of the animals but also the rapid recovery possible when this pest is controlled. It is a travesty this kind of control is not available for rogue climate scientists who see every problem as having a human cause with a governmental solution.
I don’t imagine it is any different for goats. Even cute goats that avoid porcupines.

December 13, 2011 8:36 am

Crispin in Waterloo says:
December 13, 2011 at 7:39 am
Thanks for posting, very interesting stuff.

Gary Pearse
December 13, 2011 8:47 am

Stuart Huggett says:
December 13, 2011 at 1:36 am
“Way to Willis – fruit and goats – right on! I lived in N Nigeria for a couple of years in the mid 60s – my first experience of a coup”
I, too, worked in Northern Nigeria from 1964 to 67 as Geologist-in-charge of the Geological Survey’s branch office in Jos (nice title – I was the only geologist and I had a Nigerian typist and a messenger with a bicycle – there was no telephone, the messenger made daily visit to the telegraph office and local message delivery), in the central north part of Nigeria. I mapped reconnaisance geology over about 20-30,000 sq mi in two regions of the Sahel: a large tract of Precambrian east of Jos (with Jurassic(?) alkaline ring complexes and Eocene (?) to recent volcanics in the western part) and also in northwestern Nigeria in the Sokoto/Yelwa (on the Niger) area. It was drier than hell during the dry season (two of my clinical thermometers broke that weren’t desert grade!) and I used the river beds as roads and ran two to three day compass and pace traverses from the rivers to remote parts of the area – I did this alone without an assistant, a thing wouldn’t recommend trying there now. When the rains came the rivers rose quickly and you could be stranded for months on the wrong side of the last river before the road. You had to watch the horizon for clouds late in the season because a rainstorm 20 mi away could flood your river with the sun all shining around you. I, too, was present for, I believe, 3 military coups and a wave of riots and killings (Hausa/Fulani muslim northerners killing Christian Ibos and Calabaris working and living in the North – Jos had one big one with the last train for the south leaving and there were more than a few bodies on the streets). After the civil war broke out, largely south of where I was working, I continued mapping (the British who populated the government bureaucracy stated that we should carry on and mind our own business and we would be okay). I had an incident where a school teacher I met who was living in the small village near a missionary settlement (Sudan Interior Mission) where I was renting a small house for my work, wound up reporting me to the authorities as a suspicious character, probably spying for the rebels because of the compasses and maps etc. and the mysterious trips I was going on. One day, I was pursued on a traverse for three days by a posse carrying clubs, spears and implements but I didn’t know this at the time because they naturally stuck to the trails while I was travelling cross country on compass lines. When I got back to the mission settlement after two more traverses, the head missionary with the pleasant name of Bessie Barney exclaimed “Thank God you are alive!” They told me the story and advised that I get out the region and back to Jos immediately. When I got there, my driveway was full of vehicles and I came into household with my wife weeping and being consoled by geologists and their wives over a report that I had be captured and executed by patriotic citizens. Apparently word got to Maiduguri on Lake Chad that I had been killed and the geologist there drove to Jos to report the sad tale. Man we had a grand party that night!

December 13, 2011 8:51 am

I came away with the conviction that if every day, every person in the Sahel planted one fruit tree and killed one goat, in about twenty years it would be worth visiting.

Bingo. That’s exactly how the Israelis reclaimed the wasteland known as Palestine, and made it bloom.

Steve Oregon
December 13, 2011 8:52 am

Caleb said, “Where we see bare, red sandstone buttes and mesas today, green vegetation climbed the sides, and grew on the tops”
Is that what it looked like during the Chaco culture?

Steve In S.C.
December 13, 2011 9:14 am

Not to be confused with “Hogan’s Goat”.

December 13, 2011 9:25 am

In a Wikipedia entry, there is the following comment: “As disruptive as the droughts of the late 20th century were, evidence of past droughts recorded in Ghanaian lake sediments suggest that multi-decadal megadroughts were common in West Africa over the past 3,000 years and that several droughts lasted far longer and were far more severe”.
Any discussion of droughts in the Sahel without mention of the history of droughts, it seems to me, is intentionally deceptive. It does rather detract from the importance of the study in question, however.

December 13, 2011 9:27 am

Funny how all the replies to my earlier post have almost all missed the point I was making. I’ll try to make myself more clear:
Doing a quick grab of data and making a conclusion by eyeballing a hastily drawn graph is not scientific. If you want to scientifically criticize an article, then be scientific about it. Science is as much about the method as the actual results and conclusions that are produced.
As for the paywall preventing most of you from accessing the article, well that’s up to the journal and not the authors. Journals have to make money somehow, but I can understand your frustration. I’m sure a free pdf version will come up on a Google search over the next few days or weeks. If you ask nicely (give it a go), maybe even P. Gonzalez will send you a copy by e-mail:
On that site you’ll see his evil climate scientist face. He might just bite you through your computer screen!

Dave Wendt
December 13, 2011 9:46 am

These recent posts about the Sahel reminded me of this paper, for which unfortunately I hadn’t kept a link. It took a while to find it again.
Irrigated afforestation of the Sahara and Australian Outback to end global warming
Leonard Ornstein · Igor Aleinov · David Rind
Abstract Each year, irrigated Saharan- and Australian-desert forests could sequester
amounts of atmospheric CO2 at least equal to that from burning fossil fuels.
Without any rain, to capture CO2 produced from gasoline requires adding about $1
to the per-gallon pump-price to cover irrigation costs, using reverse osmosis (RO),
desalinated, sea water. Such mature technology is economically competitive with the
currently favored, untested, power-plant Carbon Capture (and deep underground, or
under-ocean) Sequestration (CCS). Afforestation sequesters CO2, mostly as easily
These guys suggest it would be economical using desalinized ocean water, but I think it could be done even cheaper by assembling a fleet of heavy duty ocean tugs to grapple icebergs shedding off of Antarctica, hauling them to the coasts of Africa and Australia, beaching them there and collecting the melt water to be pumped inland for irrigation. Admittedly I have only done a rough BOTE calculation on this,on a night quite a while back when I saw that Richard Branson was offering a big prize for the best plan to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. There may have been some liquid lubrication of my mental processes involved, the memory is a little vague.
They are already doing this kind of thing in the North Atlantic, although they are only moving the icebergs enough to keep them out of the shipping lanes so that the grappling techniques might require some innovation to complete the much longer hauls required. Using desalinization would almost require that the system be mostly or entirely publicly financed, but although it might take a demonstration grant to get the iceberg system launched, I could envision private capital moving in to develop it. Possibly even iceberg futures on the CME someday

December 13, 2011 9:47 am

Garretts hit and run shows the level of blinkered fanaticism we are up against. Even an idiot can see from the data and the anecdotal evidence that the sahel has been reported as greening for two decades, which is in line with the uptick in precipitation levels shown on Willis’ graph. Even the papers abstract notes human causes, which involve zero land management and an inbalance in livestock.
Its not rocket science to question the papers conclusion that its all down to CO2, it just takes a brain.

December 13, 2011 9:56 am

Mike M says: “…There was a sliver of truth that slipped out from them explaining the increase of US snow fall in the last few winters being due in part to the air holding more moisture. That appears to work as well in Africa as well as North America.”
That’s a very small sliver. More moisture can create more precipitation, but to go all the way to snow can’t be explained by increased temperatures. Another 13.3% beyond the energy of condensation has to be removed to make snow, and more yet to get it to a temperature where it will accumulate. Hot can’t make cold.

December 13, 2011 10:40 am

There’s some Chinese fellow named Dai Aiguo at the National Center for Atmospheric Reseaarch who claims the whole planet is turning into a desert. He has a mathematical and theological disciple who hangs out on Amazon predicting the end of agriculture by 2050 or so. He claims areas of severe drought have tripled in the past 40 years or so. I argued with him for a while, which gave me the opportunity to study up on alleged drought in the Sahel, Australia, North America, China, and Siberia. At the end of the day, I concluded that God must be hiding all these new deserts on the moon, because they aren’t present anywhere on this planet.

December 13, 2011 10:42 am

Actually, I think I concluded there might not be room for all the missing deserts on the moon, either.

December 13, 2011 10:42 am

I have to agree about the goats and the cutting for firewood. I lived in Africa for 40 years and as the populationshave exploded, so has the desertification. Stripping vegetation results in poor soil and erosion follows. I’ve seen entire tracts that were fertile fifty odd years ago become useless wasteland. Kill the goats, control the destruction of the vegetation and watch the deserts retreat again.

December 13, 2011 10:59 am

I’ve always wondered if these areas could benefit from using coppiced woods in order to support their need for forestation as well as wood, etc. Seems that there was a lot of regulation on it in medieval Europe to make it work well over time.
While bottled LPG works great short-term, eventually, they will have to go back to wood. It would be good if there was wood there when that time comes.

December 13, 2011 12:00 pm

Re: Pethefin. remember, Obama was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize immediately after taking office. For not being Bush, basically. They also awarded one to the founder of the PLO and inventor of modern terrorism. The Peace Prize is worse than a joke.

John Garrett
December 13, 2011 12:36 pm

Emphasis supplied
“It is remarkable to think that these treeless desert lands were, half a million years ago, humid tropical forest lands, with now-extinct primates and a rich diversity of plants and animals— a far cry from the impoverished biota that populates the interior of northwestern Africa today.
If the reader is wondering what happened to the rainforest, the unsurprising answer is… global climate change. It is not a new phenomenon: climate change is the rule, not the exception. And climate change was the rule long before humankind came to dominate our earth or to infuse our atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Climate change, extinction, and speciation have been acting in concert for many millenia. Past climate changes in the climate of northern Africa certainly caused local extinction pulses. These have been well documented by paleontologist Scott Wing, who has written of the Koobi Fora flora and fauna— a now vanished humid tropical world in northern Africa.”
Bruce M. Beehler, Ph.D.
“Lost Worlds: Adventures In The Tropical Rainforest”
p. 201
Yale University Press
New Haven, 2008
( Dr. Beehler is vice-president of Conservation International and a leading authority on birds of paradise )

December 13, 2011 1:05 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
December 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm
If you refer to humans as “they”, I gotta admit, I’m watching the movie “Zombieland” on TV right now, and at the moment anyone who calls humans “they” kinda makes me nervous …

Ha ha. How about “some humans”? “The humans” do not make deserts, or let goats run loose to destroy their neighbor’s crops.
I only point the pronouns out because so many use them to implicate all the humans in whatever dastardly deed has been done by one or some of them. Using this slight of language, taxes on all the humans are argued, and individual freedoms are deposed.
Saying it was done by we humans implies to me there is a collectivist will somewhere that I am supposed to join to order to right our species’ wrongs. I have never in my life felt the least bit obligated to join such an event, and there is a plenitude of them advertised around the world.
If the goats are finally removed from the Sahel, and I did not participate, can anyone say that “we humans” have solved the problem? I am a human I like to think.
Do not the owners of the Sahel then have a new problem (where to graze their goats) now that the preferred use of their property has been forbidden by the humans?
So while I’m not at all impressed by many things that we humans have done over the centuries
I’m sure you are impressed by some of what some of them have done, and will be impressed by some of what some of them will do, should you live long enough.
I personally try to be careful not to take credit for anything any other human has done. I didn’t do what they did, and it seems arrogant to me to say “we humans” have accomplished anything worthwhile. Neither do I take responsibility for “we humans'” sins.
Before God, whose opinion is the only one I really care about, I will only have to answer for what I personally have or haven’t done. He isn’t going to ask me why, as part of the human race, I let goats run the Sahel, and he isn’t going to give me a reward for inventing and distributing the polio vaccine.
saying it was done by “those humans” rather than “we humans” doesn’t get the goats out of the Sahel …
“We humans” does? Those are powerful words, if that is the case 🙂
All said and done, I have appreciated a number of your posts. You at times make us humans look so much better, as a whole!

December 13, 2011 1:13 pm

The Sahara is Timbuctu’s Mediterranean beach. Lake Chad makes for a tolerable climate indicator for the western Sahel, and its growth seems to be somewhat inversely correlated to rainfall–greater evaporation beats higher rainfall. But it has grown a little lately in spite of the grazing and irrigation which take their toll on the lake. Curiously terminal lakes worldwide show a high degree of correlation independent of latitude, arguing against the importance of the ITCZ.
And yeah, the Sahara is plush with rock art depicting a savanah full of grazers during the last ice age. Holocene river systems are covered with sand, as are Greco-Roman/Phoenician cities.

December 13, 2011 2:14 pm

How reliable are these “measurements from rainfall gauges” ? In the 1970’s we have visited a large number of rainfall gauges in a certain Asian country, they were typically placed close to the house of the village teacher or chief. Some had covered the installation with a roof so it would not get dirty, another had replaced the glass jar with a clay pot, etc. etc.

Bill Parsons
December 13, 2011 2:52 pm

After reading Caleb’s peon to goats, I have to rethink my own anti-goatism. It seems to me I’ve seen enough to believe in their (potential) weed-fighting-fertilizing capabilities.
A goatherd was hired to bring her goats into a Denver city park to de-weed and fertilize a few dozen acres of open space. The other end of the park was landscaped for baseball and tennis courts, lots of trees and everywhere else, planted in grass which was regularly-mowed.
About 30 goats were trucked in each morning, and released into a moveable pen where they would spend the day under the watchful eye of the goatherder; when they had clear one plot, and trampled in their own fertilizer, they were moved to the next. A few months later the area was cleared of weeds, and the native species were already reestablishing themselves in the first few green squares of soil.
I chatted with her once, while we watched the bio-engineers doing their highly selective work. They went right for the most noxious weeds, and left the grasses, which are their last choice. Unaffected by plants that make other livestock sick, they gobble up the larkspur, locoweed, and hemlock. A few of the weeds I saw in the “before” picture of that area: Canadian thistle, sweet clover, cheat grass, mullein, and yucca. I couldn’t believe it, but they even ate the browning, crisp stalks of curly dock. They loved dandelions, knapweed and spurge.
What species of goat they have in Africa, and what they would eat, I have no clue, but the situation might be similar. I have read about, and travelled a little in Africa, and from what I can gather, it seems unlikelye that goats are finishing off the trees int he Sahel. Combined with some potentially droughty conditions (lower rainfall and lowering water table, etc), the people are probably delivering the coup de grace when they lop off tree limbs for fodder, firewood and temporary huts and enclosures.
Thanks for the post. I also want to commend – and recommend – the comments of Crosspatch for a plausible explanation of the climate changes occurring in this area. NOAA has a good explanation of the ITCZ, which they urge us to pronounce “Itch”. Sort of like a sun rash.

December 13, 2011 3:07 pm

Frosty 12/13/11 @ 2:23 a.m.
posts references to Allan Savory and the Savory Institute’s multi-decadal, on-the-ground experience of natural carbon sequestration through reintroduction of grasslands via effective herd management. Looking at the desertification maps, it IS alarming that such vast areas, globally, are losing to the atmosphere CO2 that formerly was building plants. Good job in tackling THAT loss, on so many levels.
There is also a Savory Institute website with drop-down video menu, mostly short clips from meeting with Texas ranchers, one longer clip from a 2009 presentation in Ireland. The techniques through which Mr. Savory’s African ranch land went from dry baked to lush forage have subsequently been introduced in NZ and USA, as well Ireland, with remarkable results.. Not only the grass coming back, but the consequence with water cycle, and topsoil accumulation. Like a miracle, it is, though patience and planning are part of the cure. Catastrophic hysteria would be counter-productive to so common sensical an approach.
According to his presentation in Ireland, under President Jimmy Carter Mr. Savory provided instruction to our Ag Dept., with the subsequent comment from the Aggies “we’ve been doing it all wrong.” My question: how many ranchers presently are aware of and trying out Savory’s holistic management techniques, or are we doomed to the feedlot mentality. Mr. Savory has an engaging approach to private property management,
Mr. Savory, it seems, is one of those heretics, like Mr. Watts, who keeps on in spite of, for the sake of, the herd.

December 13, 2011 3:20 pm

London gets a little over 600 mm of rain a year; that’s foggy, rainy London.

December 13, 2011 3:30 pm

Having crossed the Sahara I can testify tithe accuracy of this summary as to the cause of desertification.

Gail Combs
December 13, 2011 3:32 pm

PS—I’m dead serious about planting trees and killing goats…..
Sigh, I really love goats but they will destroy an area if allowed to over graze.

Gail Combs
December 13, 2011 3:43 pm

John Marshall says:
December 13, 2011 at 2:18 am
My previous blog blamed the PDO and AMO but I forgot the local’s love of goat meat. I also forgot that goats are browsers not grazers and can climb to areas in a tree beyond human ability, I know because we kept goats a few years ago and remember on goat walking along the edge of a fence top to get to an apple tree to feed. So perhaps they should kill all the goats and keep sheep, who can’t climb trees, and still plant fruit trees.
Nah, just wipe out half the national herd….
And to think I was just discussing what were good recipes for my old bill goat with a local restaurant owner a half hour ago.

Gail Combs
December 13, 2011 3:58 pm

Frosty says:
December 13, 2011 at 2:23 am
I think you’re dead right on the goats….
Allan Savory [2][3] has developed a grazing management system which has proven to reverse desertification in Zimbabwe, during a 10yr drought. [4]
The technique (time controlled grazing) is to mimic natural herd movements that grasses evolved to cope with, by fencing off sufficient grazing for one or two days, and moving the herd on to a new fenced area. Pasture is fertilised by the herd, has time to fully recover to it’s most nutritious stage before allowing the herd back on the same patch…..
Yes, that technique works very very well. It also allow you to actually increase the total number of animals an acre will support.
The other part of the program is to graze different species in rotation to keep the re-infestation from worms down.
My farm is divided so I graze each pasture one week per month. A “Sacrifice area” where animals are kept while worming (wait 48 hrs before turning out) or if the pastures are not usable is also recommended.
The increase in topsoil helps hold moisture and thus prevent run off of precious water.

December 13, 2011 3:59 pm

Interesting debate – I do not usually read comments.
Firstly, I am a paid up (student) member of AAAS and I can confirm the paper referenced by Garrett has not been published and does not seem available on the Science website when I do a search.
Secondly, I live in southern Australia and a few years ago we drove accross the Nullabor to Western Australia and then north through the middle. Was stunned and amazed to see thousands of goats running wild, eating their way through everything. Apparently culled once a year by helicopter for goat meat but otherwise left alone. So, not only does Australia have Indian Mynahs (ghastly birds, seen them see off magpies), cane toads, camels, wild horses, wild pigs, wild cattle but now wild goats.
I commonly wonder why all the greenies ignore these real problems and focus only on a suposedlly little increase in warming. And where is it anyway? Will pay good money for some warmth – looks like we may have the heaters on for Xmas day!

Gail Combs
December 13, 2011 6:11 pm

Bill Parsons says:
December 13, 2011 at 2:52 pm
After reading Caleb’s peon to goats, I have to rethink my own anti-goatism. It seems to me I’ve seen enough to believe in their (potential) weed-fighting-fertilizing capabilities…..
kMc2 says:
December 13, 2011 at 3:07 pm
Frosty 12/13/11 @ 2:23 a.m.
posts references to Allan Savory and the Savory Institute’s multi-decadal, on-the-ground experience of natural carbon sequestration through reintroduction of grasslands via effective herd management….
My question: how many ranchers presently are aware of and trying out Savory’s holistic management techniques, or are we doomed to the feedlot mentality. Mr. Savory has an engaging approach to private property management….
The information from Allan Savory is out there in the form of pamphlets available from the USDA coop ext office. I have a filling cabinet full of the information as well as books including a really great one on grasses in North Carolina.
The idea of using goats to clear my pastures instead of herbicides is straight from the extension office. Bill Parsons is correct goats do a great job of controlling things like sweet gum saplings, poison ivy, black berry, wild rose, green brier, Johnson grass, witch grass and other weeds I have yet to identify.
The big problem is not only getting the information out but the COST of the fencing needed to control the animals because a herd dog and a child are not going to keep a goat from the tender young shoots. (My goats are presently behind a five foot fence to protect my winter rye but the billy just climbed out of the pen so into the cook pot he goes as do any other climber/jumpers)
BTW feed lots have nothing to do with pasture management. Tax payers subsidizing grain makes feed lots cheaper that pasture. Get rid of the subsidy and you will see the grazers back out on pasture. However the food prices will also go back up to what they should be. The price of cars and housing has increased since the 1970’s when we went off the gold standard but food prices have not kept pace. Worse the price increase went into the pockets of the middle men and not the farmers.

…Since 1984, the real price of a USDA market basket of food has increased 2.8 percent while the farm value of that food has fallen by 35.7 percent, according to C. Robert Taylor, professor of agriculture and public policy at Auburn University. Taylor says there is a “widening gap” between retail price and farm value for numerous components of the market basket, …..
At a major farm rally in Washington, D.C. in March [2000], farmers served legislators a “farmers” lunch. The lunch included what would typically be an $8 lunch — barbecued beef on a bun, baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, milk and a cookie. The farmers charged only 39 cents for the meal, reflecting what farmers and ranchers receive to grow the food for such a meal…..

Since the Ag cartel is international, farmers the world over have been [self snip] by the buyers.
Getting Used to Life Without Food

December 13, 2011 6:26 pm

Very interesting comments. Much fodder for thought. I really do enjoy the discussions that this site encourages.
It was interesting to hear the comment suggesting goats are a form of bank account, in areas where there are no banks. Sure, they die in droughts, but if the farmer is on his toes he can slaughter and get a bit of jerky and a hide. Are we smarter? What will we get if hyper-inflation hits? Even a $10,000.00/week pension won’t buy us a cupcake. In which case I’ll be hiding my goats up in my attic.
I would like to hear more about how the Israeli changed the environmental situation on the West Bank, and how they halted the over-grazing. What would be most interesting to learn is how they replaced the lost protein supplied by goat meat and goat milk.
Surely the farming of over-grazed areas could be improved, but goats do eat stuff and put up with dryness sheep and cows can’t, and therefore, properly managed, should allow local populations to eat as we eat. By that I mean, with milk and cheese and meat to supplement grain and greens and fruit.
What really bugs me, (and these are fighting words,) are the comments of some people who probably waddle when they walk, who never have gotten off their duff at the crack of dawn to do chores in awful weather when every iota of human nature wants to stay in bed, and whose chief form of exercise is to spew coffee all over their computer screen when one of us cracks a good joke. Willis is a tough cookie, and has earned the right to rebuke, because he likely could withstand the rigor of life in the Sahel, but some of you others say, “Let them do without goat” in a manner very much like a French woman who legend states said, “Let them eat cake.” (And we all know what happened to her; don’t let it happen to you.)
I brought up the Anasazi because they had no goats. Furthermore they were keenly aware of nuances of environmental laws which Nature, (and not the UN,) enacts. However, in the end, they blew it.
How do explain that, all you goat-haters out there?
My own explanation will likely draw the ire of those who put Native Americans up on a somewhat absurd pedestal, and think they are so in harmony with Nature that they burst into tears if you litter. In fact they are exactly like you and I, in that they have to survive what Nature clobbers us all with. In many situations they remember stuff we’ve neglected to remember, but when the MWP gave way to the LIA, they too got overwhelmed.
Someone asked about Chaco Canyon. If that site was merely abandoned, nature alone would not have destroyed the amazing roofs they had on their huge Kivas. In fact they might still be standing. They were the largest roofed structures in North America,until after the year 1800. Trees were dragged over 70 miles to supply beams. (No oxen, and no wheels.)
Judging from much-smaller modern Kivas, Kivas were a sort of Grange, where people met to discuss practical and pragmatic subjects, and also to pray about practical and pragmatic subjects. People divided into what they were best at: some farmers, some truckers hauling timbers, some stone masons, some irrigation engineers, and some who could give a best guess about the weather. The latter started out as the humble meteorologists of the Anasazi Culture, but warped into the Climate Scientists. They went from giving a best-guess at what the weather would be, to claiming they could control the weather.
The Anasazi were so tough they fought their way through a 100-year-drought. Credit probably should go to their irrigation engineers. (Their Climate Scientists were likely very busy dreaming up explanations for why rain didn’t come, blaming everyone but themselves.) However all was not well in Anasazi culture. The cliff-dwellings are the best locations, above the valley floor where cold air pools and poorer people dwelled; the fact they pulled their ladders up at night may indicate they were in fact “gated communities,” holding the wealthy. (It is hard to blame invading Navajo, Apache and Ute, because they were not around for another hundred years. )
When the rains returned, it was an unmitigated disaster. They were gully-washers, and cut down right into the soft sandstone of stream beds. It destroyed the amazing irrigation systems, because it was a case where rain actually lowered the water table, not just inches, but many feet. The places where water was suppose to go into the irrigation systems were now stranded high and dry. There was no way to irrigate the crops.
Everyone looked angrily at the Climate Scientists. After all, they claimed they could control the weather.
There is evidence that the Kivas and other structures did not fall due to earthquakes or invaders. Rather, the local people, outside the gated communities, got royally pissed off at the Climate Scientists. Turmoil ensued. And, after this turmoil was done, they did what smart people do when their land cannot support them. Like Okies in the Dust Bowl, they sang, “So long, it’s been good to know you,” and departed for parts unknown.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Please note that, while no goats were involved, Climate Scientists were.
Blame Climate Scientists; not poor, innocent goats.
Or, if you don’t want history to repeat itself, focus on the pragmatism of irrigation engineers, and the honesty of meteorologists who can admit their mistakes.

Evan Thomas
December 13, 2011 6:30 pm

From a retired Aussie grazier. Managing low rainfall grazing country is a skill which has been practised for well over a century in drought prone outback Australia. A prolonged drought brings special problems. Subdivisional fencing is essential, and of course permanent water for the stock. Itinerant grazing by sheep, cattle or goats is inconsistent with good pasture management. Of course changes in local cultures are much more difficult to effect than agricultural management changes. In kenya in the seventies after the European farmers left the locals promptly removed all the wire from the subdivisional fences! Amongst the many mistakes made by well-meaning novice government managers is to make local farms too small. This I have seen in Libya in a project east of Benghazi at El Maj. Yes, goats are difficult to manage; they always find the grass is greener next door.

Charlie Barnes
December 13, 2011 7:09 pm

Nora Stein referred to a talk, which she heard 35 years ago, about a verdant patch in the Sahel. I have similar memories, estimated to be 30 years or so old, but with scant details of any references to a source. I think it was a piece in one of the UK weekend colour supplements – probably the S Times or S Telegraph – about someone flying in to, say, Timbuktu and noting a small patch of greenery amongst the desert scrub. Inquiries about it on the ground told the journalist that it was a patch of land that had been protected from goats and man (and woman) and left to its own devices for a year or two.

December 13, 2011 7:39 pm

Caleb, not sure which of your paragraphs to take seriously, but you can never take the invading Navajo/Apaches out of the picture. I’ve seen many of the ruins along the Colorado River and it’s obvious that the dwellings were built for defense against grain robbers. Granted, the defenders’ numbers were pretty low by that stage, but you still have to explain why the Athabskans picked that particular time to head south, after remaining north for several thousand years. It seems to me a turn for the colder would best explain that, and that might have coincided with drier weather in the SW.
I don’t know the evidence for your 100 year gap, but I always thought John Wesley Powell got it right when he concluded Navajo war prowess did in the Anasazi. In any case the Pueblo still hate the Navajo. –AGF

December 13, 2011 8:41 pm

My goodness, take a breath there. You are hyperventilating over a meaningless issue.
Sorry, but for whatever reason, if your intention was not clear to me, it is so now. I obviously don’t know you very well. Blog posting might very well be the worst medium yet invented for communication between strangers.
Likewise, it seems my intention was not clear to you, for I was neither hyperventilating nor being emotionally spastic.
Most people correctly deduce that I must mean “people are the deforestation problem” when I say “we humans are the deforestation problem”.
Sorry for my ignorance of your idioms. So you mean “the people with deforestation problems in the Sahel are the cause of their own problems”. Forgive me for being confused; there are thousands of daily appeals that say I have a deforestation problem on my vast tracts of lands in Brazil, and on my tropical paradises in Africa. They say the planet I own together with my fellow humans is running a temperature because I exhale too much carbon dioxide and my jungles are not inhaling enough.
Most folks are happy to conclude that “we humans” can’t mean them specifically, because they’re not running goats in Senegal.
I might have at first concluded that as well, except for the fact that in most literature produced today, “we humans” now has a completely different connotation. They make gratuitous use of this phrase to castigate the entire human race and to bring them into submission. It seems ubiquitous. It happens in political policy of all persuasions, and it happens at religious services every week around the world.
It seems that far too many people are becoming conditioned to believe that they are responsible for the sins of all mankind, and must make reparations to the god of this world. That is the UN’s and most academics’ position, no?
I was simply pointing out that I think it appropriate that thoughtful ones such as yourself should be aware of it, and careful with its application. That’s all.
No doubt it is a non-issue for you, but perhaps it might be for other readers of this blog. Perhaps this post will be of benefit to them.
Thanks for correcting the formatting. And thanks for all the hard work you’ve put into the many fine blog posts here.

December 13, 2011 8:55 pm

“I came away with the conviction that if every day, every person in the Sahel planted one fruit tree and killed one goat, in about twenty years it would be worth visiting.”
I agree with the trees, but, what would they do for companionship without the goats??

December 13, 2011 9:15 pm

Some long time ago, 20 years? More? I saw an article about a scientist (the real kind…) in India.
He was seated under a lush rain forest like canopy of green (though none of the stems of the trees was more than about 8 inches thick).
He was being lauded for is work in creating a new agronomy system. One that turned the area from a denuded near wasteland of impoverished and suffering folks, into one of rising wealth, full bellies, and prosperity.
The next picture was of him, about 20 years earlier, seated in the same place. He was on a stump with a barren landscape behind him. The hills beyond were eroded red soil with little fertility left. Nearby were thin, hungry, poor locals. The area was having desertification with decreasing rains.
Then they showed the village today. Healthy, happy, well dressed and well fed people.
What was this magic system?
1) Pen the goats. Do not let them strip the land cover.
2) Plant a legume tree (a leucaena species IIRC)
3) The small fronds could be collected and fed to the penned goats.
4) In a year or so, the plant could be coppiced. The larger limbs cut. Greens stripped and fed to the goats. Wood used for cooking.
5) Goat poo collected and fermented. “Gobar Gas” piped to the mud huts and used in mud stoves to cook with. Fermented poo is great fertilizer and used both on the coppice orchard and on the garden.
At that point. you have the Virtuous Cycle underway.
With the goats penned, plant cover returns. Soils build.
With the legume tree, nitrogen is added to the soils. Roots hold soil in place and erosion stops. Soil builds…
With wood and gobar gas for fuels, woodlands are no longer lost. More importantly, by not burning dung for fuel, the rates of blindness drop. Not spending hours per day searching for fuel wood, women have time to produce more valuable things.
The fertilized gardens produce far more food from less space than before. Folks are well fed and healthier.
The added productivity of garden trimmings and legume fronds mean excess goat production. The farmers sell excess stock, their families get high quality meat (a scarce item before) and a small cottage industry has developed to make dairy products and soap. They now have money income.
The money income has brought ‘luxuries’ like electric light and TV based education…
Now that would seem to be enough, and maybe it is, but the thing the article was going on about was that RAINFALL INCREASED. By alot. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but soils that had been losing all their water (definition of desert…) to evaporation were now holding excess. That excess (shielded from solar heated evaporation) would be transpired into the tree canopy and fall as added rains. The bean tree forest tended to hang onto it’s water and recycle it, not evaporate it away. A semi-desert turned into a rain forest analog in just a decade or two. (Untreated areas did not show this effect, BTW).
All from a simple change of agronomy system. Pen the goats, bring the fodder to them, coppice but do not fell the trees.
Yeah, count me on the side of ‘pen the goats and plant a tree’…

December 13, 2011 9:41 pm

Gail Combs
12/13/11 @ 6:11 p.m.
Thanks for feedback. I didn’t know Savory dealt with goats, thought he was a cattle man by default, though in my introduction to his writings today he confesses his first interest was wildlife, and livestock were not a choice until he came to appreciate their efficacy in countering the devastation of desertification.
You provide more confirmation that the USDA has a lot of ‘splaining to do: subsidized feedlots. What I got from Savory is the land needs the animals (“mobbed and moved” as Joel Salatin at Polyface Farms styles it) in order to thrive, and the move to feedlots, however profitable in the moment, ends in deadland . The Brown Revolution is about the soil. He seems to have been gently and with political correctness dealing with the frustration of having what seems intuitive and has been demonstrated in practice meeting with opposition from an established, but failing, consensus.
Remind you of anything? Co2 is plant food.

December 14, 2011 1:05 am

RE: agfosterjr says:
December 13, 2011 at 7:39 pm
Are you sure you are not referring to the Fremont Culture, which was north of the Anasazi? They sure did store their grain in some hard-to-get-to places, halfway up sheer cliffs, and so forth. This does indicate a lack of trust in neighbors.
The Athabaskans (who became Apache and Navajo) reached the coast of Oregon and California around 1000, but didn’t move into the Southwest until the 1300’s. By then the Anasazi crisis was already in progress.
The word “Anasazi” is from the Navajo language, and usually is translated as meaning, “Ancient Ones,” which misses a subtle flavor of meaning. In fact the word translates to something more like “Ancient Foes,” rather than “Ancient Neighbors” or “Ancient Friends.” So perhaps the arriving Navajo and Apache did polish off some surviving Anasazi, however the collapse of Anasazi culture was well underway.
I met Archeologists in the Southwest, and none would speculate the way I do. You had to ply them with liquor to get them to say much of anything. However the ones I spoke with did suggest that it was the Anasazi themselves who “altered their ceremonial structures,” at the end.
RE: “In any case the Pueblo still hate the Navajo.”
I lived in that area and both worked and partied with Apache, Navajo, Zuni and Acoma, and I’d say “hate” is a strong word to use, especially when describing Hopi. There was a Hopi-Navajo land dispute going on, and interestingly enough, it involved the exact sort of over-grazing we are discussing. The Hopi claimed the Navajo were abusing the land. I’m not sure how they worked out their differences, but they did. No warfare was involved.

December 14, 2011 1:36 am

As I travel a lot in my country South Africa I have also come to regard the goat as a destructive animal that should be eradicated or at least be controlled as to how much it grazes, it has a voracious feeding mechanism that spares no part of any plant it comes across, they even dig up the roots!
I believe they are the root cause of most desertification of the Old World.

December 14, 2011 4:07 am

You’ve replied to my criticism by calling me a “fool”, a “jerk” and “dense”. I called your analysis “not scientific” and “pathetic”, but I made no remark as to your personal character. I do not know you and it would be a cheap shot to call you names just because I disagree with you. I would have expected you to also refrain from name-calling. I’ll leave it to other readers to judge for themselves as to the nature of your personal character.
I am aware of the validity of extra precipitation and greening in the Sahel in recent decades. Again, I never disagreed with the conclusions of your analysis. I just never considered your analysis valid in the first place because it was a quick eye-balling of data to prove a conclusion that you already felt was true. I cannot argue against an analysis that is flawed from the outset. What I find disingenuous on your part is your attempt to convince your readers of scientific facts through unscientific methodology. I find it sad that a majority (though not all) of your readers simply accept your analysis without a hint of criticism.
If your main gripe is with press releases of scientific results, then by all means hammer that issue home. It’s an interesting debate and one which I am only beginning to form an opinion on.
The Gonzalez paper is as good as published. A corrected proof has gone through the peer-review process. I presume the term “publish” is being used by journals as a legacy term of the old printed versions. I imagine that over time the corrected proofs will become the de facto “published” copies.
Best regards,
The dense fool and jerk who dared to criticize you.

December 14, 2011 4:37 am

@ Garrett
“If you want to scientifically criticize an article, then be scientific about it. Science is as much about the method as the actual results and conclusions that are produced. ”
I do not see from the available extract, any evidence of science that proves deforestation is due to anything other than goat devestation and human population influence.

Jay Davis
December 14, 2011 6:01 am

Garrett, this quote from the abstract, “Climate change forcing of Sahel climate variability, particularly the significant (P < 0.05) 1901–2002 temperature increases and precipitation decreases in the research areas, connects Sahel tree cover changes to global climate change. This suggests roles for global action and local adaptation to address ecological change in the Sahel.", tells me I don't need to spend $31.50 to read the paper. When the buzzwords "global climate change" and "global action" appear, my BS antenna go up and I'm not spending a dime on the paper. However, I might read it for a laugh if someone makes it available for free.

Tom Davidson
December 14, 2011 8:25 am

The PR acknowledges that rain gauge measurements date back to the 1880’s, but their documentation of ‘tree deaths’ only started in 1954, coincidentally (?) the wettest year in the past 110 years.
Somewhere in the forest of dead trees they managed to find some cherries ripe for the picking.

December 14, 2011 9:43 am

Caleb, at 105: You’re right. I didn’t know the difference between the Fremont and Anasazi. Too bad we don’t know what language or languages the Fremont spoke. Thanks, –AGF

December 14, 2011 10:00 am

You have a (good) answer to everyone,
except me
Is that because you don’t know?

Lars P.
December 14, 2011 1:09 pm

Robert Brown says:
December 13, 2011 at 4:53 am
Thank you Robert for taking the time to put it so clear!
HenryP says:
December 13, 2011 at 6:35 am
Willis, I don’t know if I told you yet. I think I have discovered a correlation between the leaf area index (LAI) and the entrapment of heat (warming).
Maybe the following article can help. If you ignore the CAGW bias, it shows how the carbon cycle increased:
“The uptake of carbon by vegetation and soil, that is the terrestrial productivity during the ice age, was only about 40 petagrams of carbon per year and thus much smaller: roughly one third of present-day terrestrial productivity and roughly half of pre-industrial productivity.”

December 15, 2011 1:56 am

I attacked your scientific abilities, not your personal character. If you can’t distinguish between the two then rational discussion with you will be quite difficult. A person can be pathetic scientifically and be a nice, reasonable person in all other affairs. I will always distinguish between your professional character and your personal character when evoking scientific arguments. However, calling me a dense, foolish jerk is a cheap shot on your part, and I suspect you know it.
I was responding to a press release, to try to counter the most egregious errors before more damage could be done
So you countered a press release, which was an introduction to a long research article where the arguments are laid out in more detail, by a blog post that only barely scratches the surface of the facts? How imaginative. I think I understood the context quite well actually. Again, what I found very disingenuous was that you tried to counter using science, but that your attempt at science was pathetic: you eye-balled a graph you made of data that you retrieved from the very organisations that you often accuse of misconduct. And many of your readers happily accept your “analysis” as been a done deal. Sure, you can complain about the press release, you can argue against the scientific abilities of Gonzalez et al., you can complain about some AGW supporters blindly accepting the Gonzalez paper as a done deal, but if you want to counter then you need to show that you and your supporters don’t do likewise. On this particular case, you failed to show that.
Here’s a protip, Garrett—if you come into a thread and in your first sentence you accuse your host of writing a “bogus” article, you should not be surprised when you suffer some blowback for your asininity
You can hold on to your protips. If you think you can write a blog post that’s misleading and not expect to be told so, then so far you’ve had it too easy. And if your “professional” response to somebody calling your article “bogus” is to insult them, then you and me have different definitions of the word “professional”.

December 15, 2011 4:52 am

The problem is that I need someone or the authors of this paper
to actually give me the LAI (in figures) of the places where they looked so that I can do a correlation with the warming / cooling observed in the places that I analysed.
Does anyone know how I can contact the writers (all Liu):
Liu, S., R. Liu, and Y. Liu. 2010. Spatial and temporal variation of global LAI during 1981–2006. Journal of Geographical Sciences, 20, 323-332.

Willis Eschenbach
December 15, 2011 10:16 am

Garrett says:
December 15, 2011 at 1:56 am

I attacked your scientific abilities, not your personal character.

Bullshit. You said that my article was “bogus”. That’s not a scientific term where I come from. You called it a “masquerade”, said I was “pathetic”, and described my work as a “whimsical eyeballing”.
Science at its finest. If I recall correctly, Einstein used the same terms when he disagreed with Lorentz, called his work “bogus” and said Lorentz was “pathetic”.
If you don’t think that’s a personal attack, you really should get out more, Garrett.
You won’t find one single scientific article with that kind of personal nastiness in it. Those kinds of claims are not scientific. They are just your own ugliness creeping out.
Don’t like me calling you on it? Doesn’t matter in the slightest to me. Your attack mode may not offend those around you, they may even mistake it for science as you do. I, on the other hand, find it ugly and offensive, particularly when used as your opening salvo upon entering an otherwise peaceful discussion.
If you want to discuss the science, I’m more than happy to do so. If you want to tell people they are “pathetic” and “bogus”, I’ll call you on it every time.

December 15, 2011 2:57 pm

RE: agfosterjr says:
December 14, 2011 at 9:43 am.
The best we can do is look at the languages of the surviving Pueblos, and right off the bat you find a mystery. Hopi, Zuni and Acoma are each very different; far more different than can be explained by the passage of 700 years. In fact Zuni is only remotely like any neighboring language. I think it is called an “isolate language.”
I shouldn’t speculate, but it is too much fun to resist. Perhaps the Anasazi spoke a variety of languages. Perhaps ther culture began as small, distinct city states. Perhaps it morphed into a culture where each caste spoke its own language. Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.
I’m way off the topic of goats and desertification. However that is the sort of thought Willis provokes: Broadening. Thanks, Willis.

December 16, 2011 5:12 pm

There should be a strong caveat attached to all conjectures about rainfall variability in regions at the margins of major deserts. The correlation between rainfall amounts and local temperatures is generally weak and often the inverse of the warmer = wetter presumption. That is the case throughout the West African Sahel, where rainfall comes primarily from thunderstorms, both local and imbedded in line squalls. These “tornadoes,” as they’re called locally, produce very strong cooling effects not only by reducing insolation but by sharply increasing convection. They leave behind areas where surface daytime temperatures wind up several degrees Celsius lower than in unaffected places.

December 16, 2011 7:33 pm

Thanks again, Caleb. I spent a few hours reading up on the Fremont and Anasazi, and in some respects came away with the same opinion I started with. Except that I was ignorant of the differences, like their moccasin craft–the Anasazi making them from Yucca and the Fremont from deer hooves. More than one source remarked on the possibiity of combined factors leading to the increased density and defensiveness of Pueblo construction: a changing climate as well encroaching enemies. However they were more inclined to blame Numic speakers than Apachean speakers.
And one source said the transition from Anasazi to Freemont was found on the Green River rather than the Colorado, which if correct would suggest that the ruins I was more familiar with were in fact outlier Anasazi dwellings. What might make so many different nations unite? Possibly a common enemy, and possibly the Navajo. One thing’s certain: the Athabascans covered a lot of ground, and that’s more characteristic of predators than prey.
Regards, –AGF

December 17, 2011 12:22 am

.RE: agfosterjr says:
December 16, 2011 at 7:33 pm
And I thank you, as well.
The archeologists I met west were frustratingly careful about venturing any sort of theory, because they were well aware of the dangers of “confirmation bias.” However you ask a wonderfully thought provoking question when you ask, “What might make so many different nations unite?” The truth is we’ll likely never know, but it makes a wonderful springboard for conjecture.
Here’s a couple of things to think about, until we meet again on some other thread:
We are talking about a people who were around a long time, hundreds of years, and likely went through various “periods.”
On one hand they have very different languages, but on the other hand there was an amazing system of trade, with seashells found in the ruins. The traders must have had a way to speak to quite a variety of tribes. (There was a trail from Zuni to Acoma still used in the 1980’s.)
During the plush times of the MWP there were various “kingdoms” right across the USA, including the Mound-builders, and it is difficult for or minds to get over the preconceptions of what the “Wild West” held, for what settlers saw was what was but survivors, after both the LIA cultural collapses and the pandemics of European illnesses.
The outlier settlements, such as the one you saw, were more common than most imagine. I was always running into them as I wandered in the back-country. Often all I saw left of the “unimportant” sites were just some broken bits of pots, (which annoyed road crews, because they officially were suppose to stop everything and wait for archeologist.) I had the feeling small farms were once all over the place, and the population was higher than most estimate.
Rivers such as the Rio Puerco seemed totally clogged and clotted with sediment washed from the hills, like braided streams below glaciers. Meanwhile surrounding hills seemed scrubbed clean of all but patches of subsoil. I felt it would be worthwhile for a geologist to dig a trench in the flood plain of such rivers, to determine if the sediment built up gradually, or happened all at once in some disastrous erosion-event.
Modern archeology can learn amazing things, and there is much more to be deduced. The problem is funding. Too bad so much gets blown on Global Warming. Science is getting to a point where they can find a tiny chip of wood, look at the chemistry, and figure out if it grew locally, (due to minerals of local soil,) or far away. Maybe they’ll learn to do the same with a single grain of pollen.
If you ever get tired of the Anasazi, the Greenland Viking are another wonderful mystery. Unfortunately the archeologists up there got caught in the political crossfire, when people decided to “erase the MWP.”

%d bloggers like this:
Verified by MonsterInsights