Here, 30-50 hours after it stopped being topical, are some maps of the USA’s fast-spreading feral hog infestation

Awwwww. Image: Getty.

If I used the phrase “30-50 feral hogs” to you in a social situation, you would almost certainly have one of two reactions. Either it will bring back warm memories of laughing quietly to yourself some time on Tuesday night, and we will be able to share a joke, before maybe admitting that it’s worn a bit thin now and, frankly, it’s too late to be writing about it; or you won’t have the faintest clue what I’m talking about. From your reaction, I will be able to tell whether the social media platform Twitter is a big part of your life – whether you are, to use the jargon all the cool kids are using, “very online”.

I am very online – unusually so, for a man of my years – and feral hog Twitter is one of the best things to have happened on that benighted hellsite in what feels like a generation. In the middle of another depressing, repetitive argument about gun control laws in the US, this happened:

The incongruity of that tweet – the vast number of hogs in play, the difficulty of pinning them down to an exact figure, the specificity of the time period it takes them to get to the yard – all make for something that is, accidentally one assumes, incredibly funny. (I say “one assumes”: William McNabb, who sent it, now has a hog as his avatar, so who knows.) At any rate, on Monday night on Twitter you couldn’t move for parodies of it:

 

All this happened three days ago, which is about four hundred years in meme time. But CityMetric likes to stay at least 36 hours behind the news cycle at all times, just to ensure we have a properly discerning audience, and my colleague George just found a map, so let’s do this.

William McNabb, his profile says, lives in El Dorado, Arkansas, a city near the state’s southern border with Louisiana. Here’s a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) map of the country’ feral swine population. I’ve marked El Dorado with a red dot.

So – there really are feral swine rioting in much of the southern US, very possibly in close proximity to small children.

That map, you will notice, is from 1982. A lot of species are dying out because humanity is terrific, so perhaps in the intervening lifetime the problem will have got better, yes? No. Here’s the same map for 2004:

And again, for 2018:

The hogs, it seems, are taking over. Oh, yeah, and the reason they don’t seem bothered by the growth of industrial human civilisation is because it was humans that bought them to North America in the first place. From the USDA’s Animal & Planet Health Inspection Service:

Feral swine are not native to the Americas. They were first brought to the United States in the 1500s by early explorers and settlers as a source of food. Free-range livestock management practices and escapes from enclosures led to the first establishment of feral swine populations within the United States.

In the 1900s, the Eurasian or Russian wild boar was introduced into parts of the United States for the purpose of sport hunting. Today, feral swine are a combination of escaped domestic pigs, Eurasian wild boars, and hybrids of the two.

Or to put it another way, it’s all our fault.

Feral swine have been reported in at least 35 states. Their population is estimated at over 6 million and is rapidly expanding. Range expansion over the last few decades is due to a variety of factors including their adaptability to a variety of climates and conditions, translocation by humans, and a lack of natural predators.

At any rate: 30-50 feral hogs in your yard in Arkansas? Less unlikely than it sounds.


Stay tuned for CityMetric’s take on this hot new trend for really big cows that everyone was talking about some time last year.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.


Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.