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Dr. Laurie Marker Headshot

Becoming a Global Citizen

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Thanks to the advent of social media technologies and faster, better transportation, the world is becoming a much smaller place. To keep pace, we need to adopt the mindset that what happens halfway across the world is as important as what happens in our own backyards. We need to come together as citizens of planet Earth to solve the big issues. One of the biggest is global climate warming, because it is linked to species survival.

Global warming is the continuous rise of the average temperature of Earth's climate system. Fueled by exceptionally warm ocean waters, the average temperature of 15.54 degrees Celsius reached in May 2014 was the hottest month ever recorded since recordkeeping began in 1880, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As temperatures climb, extreme weather events are more likely to occur. Periods of heavy rainfall alternate with droughts and heat waves. Glaciers melt; sea levels rise, and subtropical deserts expand. How does this impact the planet's inhabitants?

Humans are adversely affected as decreasing crop yields and diminishing numbers of livestock threaten our food supply. According to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization, global food production needs to increase 70 percent to be able to feed another two to three billion people -- not decrease -- as Earth's estimated population swells from 7.2 billion to 9 billion by 2050. Endangered animal, plant, and insect species are being lost at an alarming rate -- 1,000 times faster than then they did before humans arrived -- as natural habitats are destroyed and food chains are disrupted. To protect these endangered species and ourselves, we need to recognize this problem exists -- not deny it -- and act now to stem the global warming trend.

Today, unfortunately every inhabitant of our planet is feeling the negative impact of climate change, but it is the people and animals in poor and developing countries that are feeling it the most. People often think of global warming as polar ice melting, but it also adversely affects arid areas -- like the areas where the cheetahs live -- throughout the deserts of Africa. Here, global warming is altering air and sea temperatures, rainfall levels, and the amount of water available for agricultural purposes. The weather we're presently experiencing in Namibia -- more hot days, less cool days -- is drying up our grazing lands. This poses an increased threat to many endangered species in our region, especially the cheetah, for obvious and some not-so-obvious reasons.

Less grazing lands mean less food for grazing animals, livestock, and wildlife. Less wildlife means less food for predators, which can cause them to look at livestock as food. So the cheetah often comes in greater conflict with humans due to possible predation of livestock. One of the biggest challenges to long-term survival for the cheetah in southern Africa is a game rancher, who keeps wild game herds in fenced areas. This practice draws hungry cheetahs, which look at the fenced game like candy in a candy store. When a cheetah penetrates the fenced area, it will hunt game animals, which is a natural thing for a cheetah to do. But then the ranchers respond by hunting and shooting cheetahs, inflaming the human-wildlife conflict that has wiped out most of the cheetah population in this region over the past 40 years.

How to avoid this? The Cheetah Conservation Fund works with livestock and game ranchers to educate them about cheetahs and the environment and provide alternative solutions. In an arid landscape, animals need to move freely to survive. We advise game ranchers to take their fences down. Create a Conservancy. To livestock ranchers, we advocate the use of Livestock Guarding Dogs to protect herds, which works very well along with properly erected bomas or pens for small stock and vulnerable newborn calves. We've come a long way and we've still got a long way to go, but these methods are proving successful. We call our livestock and wildlife management programs Future Farmers of Africa. Good agricultural training provides economic benefits, as does flourishing wildlife through increased ecotourism.

We're All From The Same Neighborhood
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. Therefore, humans need to correct the problem.

In 2015, world leaders will gather in Paris for the United Nation's Climate Change Conference. The objective of the meeting is to achieve, for the first time in more than 20 years of U.N. negotiations, a binding and universal agreement that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above present levels. To get the job done on this, the 21st attempt, our leaders will need to focus on those things we all have in common rather than our differences. They will need to come together like a tightly knit community. They will need to think and act like global citizens.

If you asked me to state the overall goal for the Cheetah Conservation Fund, I would say to go out of business, meaning, there would no longer be a need for what we do. Everyone on Earth would take responsibility for managing our relationship with the planet. We would all be stewards of the environment. As human beings, we're all from the same neighborhood. We must work together now to protect it.

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