HAMNET Report 29th January 2023

According to GDACS, the death toll from Tropical Cyclone CHENESO over Madagascar has risen to at least 8, and 10 others are missing. Approximately 60,603 individuals have been temporarily displaced to 55 accommodation sites, while up to 47,000 people have been affected.

Widespread damage has been reported to 13,000 houses, and about 100 classrooms, disrupting access to education for a number of students. Several communities in northern and central Madagascar have been isolated, as roads have been damaged by floods or landslides. 

Between the 26th and 28th January, CHENESO is expected to intensify, while moving south over the Mozambique Channel, not far from the Malagasy coast. We must hope that it doesn’t cross the Mozambican coast, or threaten the Northern parts of KZN.

Businesstech.co.za says that the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs has declared a provincial state of disaster in Gauteng.

[Of course this is old news to the inhabitants of Gauteng.]

In a gazetted notice on Wednesday (25 January), the department said the state of disaster in the province is in effect from 23 January and will continue until such time as authorities deem the disaster over – or the regulated period lapses.

The declaration of a provincial state of disaster follows severe flooding that took place in the City of Joburg and the greater Johannesburg region in the latter parts of December 2022.

Torrential rain, hail storms and flooding resulted in the loss of life, damage to property, infrastructure and the environment, and left municipalities like the City of Joburg struggling to deal with the fallout.

Damage from the floods has been exacerbated in recent weeks by ongoing load shedding – though this has not been folded into the official declaration. Eskom granted the City of Joburg a three-day reprieve from load shedding following the floods, but the city has since continued to struggle along with the rest of the country in dealing with the blackouts.

The power crisis has left the city to deal with other disasters.

Through the classification of this occurrence as a provincial disaster, the primary responsibility to coordinate and manage the disaster, in terms of existing legislation and contingency arrangements, is designated to the provincial executive.

Other organs of state have been called to strengthen further support to existing structures to implement contingency arrangements and ensure that measures are put in place to enable the Gauteng Province to deal effectively with the effects of the disaster.

Through the declaration of a Local State of Disaster, the provincial government will be able where necessary, to access resources from the provincial and national spheres of government, and accelerate supply chain management processes.

Writing for Nautil.us, Paul Sutter says basically that we should give up the idea of searching only for extra-terrestrial intelligence, which may in fact be quite rare, and search rather for extra-terrestrial life. He suggests that astronomical signatures of life on exoplanets may be easier to spot.

Perhaps it’s been quiet because intelligence is not bound to follow the same technological track as us—cultural development, just like evolution, has no prescribed course after all. Or perhaps other civilizations only briefly broadcast in radio signals before switching to other, more targeted and efficient methods of communication. Perhaps the gulfs of time and space separating intelligences have simply been too vast to cross yet.

Or perhaps we truly are alone.

But the likely answer is that most other life forms out there don’t meet the capital “I” of SETI’s target: “intelligence.” This approach of listening for alien peers, which dates back to the 19th century, was founded on the idea that intelligent life is loud and messy, broadcasting its existence—even unintentionally—for any careful listener to discover. And those noises, those disruptions in the expected patterns of the universe, could theoretically be easy for us to spot—even with relatively rudimentary 20th-century radio telescopes.

But all life, even humble, simple single-celled organisms, can be loud in its own way. And with new and near-term technology, we are now better poised than ever to detect even the simplest biology far, far afield. Not radio blasts, but subtle signatures. In other words, the traces not of equals, but of anylife.

So the time has come to SETL: Search for Extra-terrestrial Life.

The programme to search for extra-terrestrial life has, in the past decade, become among the fastest growing areas in astronomy, combining the latest insights from astrophysics, chemistry, and biology to try to find any signs of life whatsoever in an alien world. Without the loudness of alien technological signals, it seems like a hopeless pursuit to search for biological whispers among the approximately one trillion exoplanets in the Milky Way. These would be the ultimate needles in the cosmic haystack.

But the SETL approach has two related advantages over one searching for technologically advanced civilizations. One, the likelihood of success is much higher. It stands to reason that intelligent life would be much rarer than simpler life. Life has existed on our own planet for about as long as we’ve had a planet, and we only developed stone hand axes, let alone radio technology, basically yesterday. So there are probably many more worlds out there teeming with some form of life, making those planets an easier catch.

Two, one of the great hallmarks of life in any form is its ability to completely mess up a planet. Without life, worlds reach a certain equilibrium state governed by the simple physics of distance from a parent star, starting composition, and rational chemical and geologic processes.

But life as we know it just loves to throw everything out of balance. The classic example on Earth is the presence of abundant oxygen in our atmosphere. Sure, oxygen is ridiculously common in the universe, and there’s plenty of it on Earth, bound to silicon to make rocks or carbon, for example. But loose oxygen is very unstable, and without life, there would be little to no oxygen in our planet’s atmosphere. There’s simply no physical or chemical or geological process that generates oxygen in abundance and keeps replenishing it. But there is a biological process underway here: photosynthesis, which creates an atmosphere that is remarkably different than it would be without life.

Methane is also a common by-product of life on Earth, created by decomposing organic matter.

So the search for life abroad in the cosmos likely won’t hinge on a single, eureka-like moment of discovery, but rather the slow and deliberate accumulation of evidence.

Thank you to Professor Paul Sutter for this truncated version of his article.

Let’s go on searching, shall we?

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.