Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Coming Home from Uganda

Gray Crowned-Crane

I’ve spent the last two weeks in Uganda. I finished my packing during the heady days of the World Series and the glorious aftermath of my beloved Chicago Cubs winning it all, and left the morning after my hometown held a parade that drew an estimated five million people, united in a way Americans never are anymore, all wearing Cubby blue. When Russ met me at the airport last night, he bundled me up in a warm coat, gloves, a scarf, and a brand new baseball cap—the official Chicago Cubs World Series Championship hat.

Once I escaped the nightmare of a delayed flight on my way to Uganda—a delay that lost a day and a half of our tour, including my only chance to see an African Shoebill and zebras—I spent two weeks away from news and snow, and in the company of well over 400 species of birds, including Uganda’s national emblem, the Gray Crowned-Crane, which gave me some of my finest photo ops of the entire trip. I spent my birthday with Mountain Gorillas, and during the two weeks came upon iconic mammals including the African Elephant, lion, leopard, giraffe, hippopotamus, chimpanzee, and a variety of monkeys and antelopes. In the coming weeks, my blog will be filled with photos of all these and more.

Me and a Mountain Gorilla

African Elephant

African Lion

In Uganda, I spent time on a boat trip through a beautiful protected marsh. November is within the rainy season, but the locals told us how unpredictable rainfall has been in recent years because of climate change. The water levels were distressingly low, something even a visitor from Minnesota could see because the plants bore a clean mark where the normal water level is, which was well more than a foot above where the water level is right now in the middle of the wet season. The Ugandan government is working tirelessly to get people to plant trees, and to exploit clean energy wherever possible to offset climate change. Uganda is a country where science and education are valued: we watched children every morning trudging long distances to school. It reminded me of my own childhood, when America valued education, and worked hard to be competitive in the sciences. We were first to the moon. Our scientists were the ones who found the vaccines for polio, and the profit motive wasn’t even on their radar: Salk gave all rights to the vaccine to the American people, not patenting the results of his hard work.

But Uganda is far ahead of America in their understanding of what is happening with regard to climate change, and their willingness to roll up their sleeves and attack the problem as a unified nation, even as they are so far behind the US in the wealth and capacity to make major, large-scale changes. After hearing from so many Ugandans about the issue, it was disconcerting, to say the least, to return to news that the next administration has named Myron Ebell to lead the transition of the EPA. Ebell isn’t a climate change skeptic—that at least requires an open mind to review the science. He’s a political hack and lobbyist with vested interests, who out-and-out denies what the vast consensus of objective scientists and even major oil corporations around the world have learned, and what anyone with any historical awareness can see is already happening. In my school child years of the 50s and 60s, it was the competition between the US and Russia that put these two nations ahead of the rest of the world in science. Now, with a new Administration extraordinarily friendly to the worst elements of the Russian kleptocracy, we’re taking huge strides backward in science. Ebell runs a think tank that defends the most dangerous pesticides and other pollutants, not based on science but on the short-term profit motives for major corporations. Imagine if Richard Nixon had appointed to his cabinet someone who said the Cuyahoga River fires were actually good for human health and the environment—that would be the equivalent of Ebell at the EPA.

Coming home from a major adventure is always bittersweet. But I’ve never before felt the unsettling disappointments of this time, when I saw a destitute Third World country so far ahead of my beloved United States of America in its respect for science and in having the public and governmental determination to tackle the largest problems facing all of us. Donald Trump promised to get rid of the current system of lobbyists calling the shots, yet Myron Ebell is one of the worst lobbyists of all. I hope the people who voted for Mr. Trump call him to task for this egregious break with his campaign promise. The whole world is watching.

Gray Crowned-Crane