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Global Climate Change and Herd Management

This article was the 28th in a series of columns under the heading Observations from the Pasture in the GALA Newsletter. It was originally published in October 2004.

Much has transpired in the arena of global climate change since this article was written. Unfortunately, while the pace of global climate change has been accelerating, the proportion of the United States population accepting that global climate change is real has been declining. Some of this decline is due to unqualified individuals being given recognition by the media. Note that accountants and metereologists, while experts in their fields, are not credentialed and peer-reviewed climatologists. Yet they have been treated as experts in climatology by the media. I will be re-writing and updating this article after I complete my website update.

The objective of this column is to address herd management issues which may arise because of global climate change. I have deliberately avoided the catch-phrase Global Warming because:

Also, to maintain the focus on herd management issues, I am deliberately not addressing in this column the genesis of these climate changes, i.e., whether they are being induced by human activities, are the result of cyclical climate variations or a combination of both.

Global Climate Change is Here and Now

The Earth has gone through many periods of climate change, some gradual, some abrupt. We are currently in a period of change and it appears to be accelerating. Examples of the impact of the changing climate abound. Among them are:

Awareness of the existence of global climate change is very high in the property and casualty insurance industry, particularly amongst international reinsurers. Their concern is increasing losses due to more frequent and more violent storms. The largest insurer in Australia is funding a climate change model to ascertain the impact of global climate change on weather severity. Their findings mirror other studies which conclude that small increases in global temperatures are associated with substantial increases in weather severity.

Impact of Global Climate Change

The impact of global climate change in any particular region is uncertain. Changes in the salinity and temperature of the oceans may impact the ocean currents that have a major impact on our climate. A particularly dire scenario may be found in the paper An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security prepared for the Pentagon in October 2003 by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall. The scenario presented is categorized as plausible but not the most likely. In the scenario the collapse of the ocean’s thermohaline conveyor (e.g., Gulf Stream) due to salinity and temperature changes results in an extreme and abrupt cooling of the areas where the climate is moderated by these ocean currents.

On a global perspective we are experiencing and can anticipate:

The first known genetic adaptation in North America to the global climate change is in the mosquito Wyeomyia smithii. It now waits an additional nine days before going into winter dormancy as compared to 30 years ago. Some scientists believe that the rapid advance of West Nile disease across the United States is due in part to global climate change.

We can also anticipate greater political instability as climate change affects the habitability of impacted areas. An interesting example of this is recent military exercises by Canada to assert its sovereignty in areas of the Artic that were previously difficult to access. These areas contain natural resources, e.g., diamonds and natural gas, which are now becoming accessible. Denmark and the United States are amongst the countries that are disputing Canada’s claim to sovereignty over these lands.

Impact on Herd Management

Padme running toward downed treeClearly, we cannot address all of the impacts of climate change on our region until they manifest themselves. However, we can begin to take steps that may prove important later. Examples of such steps are:

Summary and Other Observations

What the future holds for us is largely unknown, but that does not mean we should not take steps now to assure that we are prepared, as we best can be, to take care of our four-footed friends.

When writing a column such as this it is easy to feel a little like Chicken Little and be concerned that others will think you are running around crying that the “sky is falling”. In the United States we have been somewhat insulated from the topic of global climate change and from some of its impacts. Neither of our major political parties has actively addressed the issue and the US media, with some angst (see September 2004 National Geographic), is only beginning to cover the issue. Our allies are losing patience with us, in part because they are beginning to experience the negative aspects of climate change (for example, the catastrophic collapse of nesting attempts by hundreds of thousands of Scottish seabirds, has been laid at the feet of global climate change by some). We are about to experience considerable political and economic pressure from the European Union to take cognizance of global climate change.

Finally, no matter what your personal beliefs are about the impact of human activity on global climate change, there are many who are convinced that human activity is at least partially responsible and that steps should be taken to ameliorate the impact of this activity. These steps take many forms, some of which you and I might find extreme. There is at least one group that is advocating the elimination our dependency on cattle and other meat-producing herbivores because of the immense quantity of methane gas, a “greenhouse” gas attributed to climate change, they produce. As a closing thought – guess what gas our lamas produce?