Contrary To What You Hear, Global Warming Has Been Good To Africa

Published October 25, 2012

Michel Nasibu, an advisor in the International Development Advisory Section of KPMG East Africa, wrote a compelling column Monday expressing concern about global warming devastating his continent. It is easy to empathize with people who are sincerely and deeply troubled about our mutual future. Fortunately, however, Nasibu’s fears are misplaced. Nasibu writes, “The mother of all troubles has already started rooting her tentacles all over the continent: Global warming.” More specifically, Nasibu writes, “Africa is slowly becoming a desert.” He also writes, “in the last decade, the continent has been drying up. This means that the food insecurity situation that we are currently experiencing now will not get any better.” If true, these assertions would certainly be cause for concern. However, far too often public policy leaders accept without investigating the self-serving assertions by environmental activist groups. Assertions that global warming is causing Africa to dry up, resulting in expanding deserts and shrinking crop production, are simply false. To the contrary, as the planet warms, the African climate is becoming more conducive to agricultural production and human welfare. In 2009 scientists at Boston University examined satellite data and discovered a long-term shift from dryer to wetter conditions throughout the Sahara Desert. As reported by BBC News, “satellite images from the last 15 years do seem to show a recovery of vegetation in the Southern Sahara.” The improvement in African precipitation and soil moisture extends far beyond the Sahara. Even in the Namib Desert in the southwestern corner of the continent, precipitation shows long-term improvement. “The broader picture is reinforced by studies carried out in the Namib Desert in Namibia,” BBC News reported. “This is a region with an average rainfall of just 12 millimetres per year – what scientists call ‘hyper-arid’. Scientists have been measuring rainfall here for the last 60 years. Last year the local research centre, called Gobabeb, measured 80mm of rain.” The improvement in African precipitation and soil moisture is hardly a surprise. Soil moisture has improved throughout most of the planet during the past century as the planet continues to recover from the Little Ice Age. As U.S. Geological Survey scientists report in the peer-reviewed Journal of Hydrology, “Evidence indicates that summer soil moisture content has increased during the last several decades at almost all sites having long-term records in the Global Soil Moisture Data Bank.” With global soil moisture improving “at almost all sites” with long-term records, it would be hard to argue that global warming is causing drought in Africa. If drought were actually becoming more common in Africa, the global increase in soil moisture would seem to exonerate global warming as the cause. However, as scientists report, African precipitation and soil moisture are increasing, not decreasing. It is not surprising, therefore, that African crop production is increasing rather than decreasing. African primary crop production and meat production have each tripled since 1960. Without a doubt, food security is vital to the people of Africa and the world as a whole. Michel Nasibu cannot be faulted for fearing a climate that jeopardizes food security. The good news is that a warmer planet is empirically a wetter planet with improved soil moisture, longer growing seasons, and dramatically rising crop production. Michel Nasibu, you can sleep well tonight, as least as far as African climate is concerned.