We in the United States have been debating causes of, and responses to, climate change for some time. Now, we are at last beginning to develop some valid responses.
When it comes to responding to issues such as sea-level rise, the U. S. has the resources to look toward expensive modifications. This is not so for much of the world.
West Africa is generally an area with low-lying coastal areas (much like Miami) which are subject to severe flooding during the annual rainy season. They are also very vulnerable to impacts driven by climate change.
The economic conditions make high-cost engineering adjustments problematic.
Also, the area is divided by a legacy of colonialism. This division separates the area into numerous small countries with neo-colonial links to former colonizers. These neo-colonial links are stronger than the ones they have to regional neighbors, complicating the development of responses to climate change.
But things are changing.
In June, I visited Benin, and traveled along the coast. I saw first-hand the issues of flooding in low-lying areas. At one point, I visited a small village. I had to wade across a flooded area to get to it. One proposed marine-protected area that I wanted to visit proved impossible to reach.
I also spent time with the Benin Department of Environment’s Focal Point for Climate Change, Ibila Djibril. There is a critical need to develop regional levels of climate change models so that responses can be planned.
The global models on the large computers in the industrialized world give general conclusions for regions, but do not get down to the local detail. It is beyond the resources of most countries to develop national modeling centers. ECOWAS, the Economic Organization of West African States, is developing regional solutions. It is in the process of establishing a regional climate modeling center to be located in Benin.
Benin is a logical choice, for it now has an Institute for Mathematics and Physics at the University Abomey-Calavi. The institute has been producing research and graduate students for a number of years, with students coming from throughout the region.
The institute was formed in partnership with the world-renowned Institute for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. But it has also developed relationships with a number of other European and North American universities, including the Institute for Modern Fluid Physics at Florida A & M University.
The first doctorates were awarded at the Institute for Mathematics and Physics in 1994, and a steady stream of graduates have followed them.
Recently, the government of Benin has increased its support for the institute. The new Center for Modeling Climate Change will be a breakthrough in the capability of West Africa to define its own problems and develop local responses to the consequences of climate change.
ECOWAS and the Ministers of Environment in West African countries have risen to the challenge, and are setting an example for others.
The next time you see a TV image of Africa, highlighting refugees, balance it with the image of young mathematicians building computer models of sea-level rise in West Africa.
The next time you hear someone talk about the lack of black students in South Florida mathematics classes, remember the institute in Benin, which is heir to a tradition in Africa of mathematical excellence, stretching back to the dawn of history.
Brad Brown is the first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He is also a contractor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he works on African coastal and marine projects.