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Global Climate Change; Shades of Gray ...

This article was the 42nd in a series of columns under the heading Observations from the Pasture in the GALA Newsletter. It was originally published in February 2007.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely mine and do not necessarily represent the opinions of GALA, the GALA Board of Directors or the editors.

Global Climate Change

Man is endowed with creativity in order to multiply that which has been given him; he has not created but destroyed. There are fewer and fewer forests, rivers are drying up, wildlife has become extinct, the climate is ruined, and the earth is becoming ever poorer and uglier. Anton Chekhov in Uncle Vanya¸ Act 1, circa 1899.

On January 6, 2007, Jeanne and I walked on Wells (Maine) Beach with several of our dogs. The temperature was in the high 60’s and I soon wished that I had worn a T-shirt and shorts, my turtleneck shirt being too warm. Today, January 14, 2007, we are experiencing an ice storm and tomorrow we will have our first plowable snow.

These extremes reminded me of my October 2004 column Global Climate Change and Herd Management For reasons set forth in that column I prefer the phrase “global climate change” to “global warming”, the former being a more accurate description of the situation we are facing.

NOAA reported that 2006 was the warmest year on record for the US. What then of 2007? There have been reports in the popular press and elsewhere that 2007 may well be the warmest year in recorded history. What does this mean for those of us who care for camelids? For me, at least, it means it is time to buy those fans that I have been procrastinating about before they become scarce this summer. It also means that I will be replacing my kiddy pools earlier rather than later. Warmer weather may also mean more violent weather. My spring cleanup will include checking out the trees within the pastures as well as those along my fence lines. If we have an extraordinarily warm year, are you ready?

There are other climate related problems that concern me. Based on the winter we have had to date we can anticipate an explosive increase in the population of insects including mosquitoes and ticks (our vet clinic reports that in January they are still finding ticks on the animals coming into the clinic). This will translate into an increase in insect borne diseases (e.g., West Nile, EEE) later this year. Similarly, a mild winter will lead to an increased deer population which together with increased snail and slug populations will result in a higher risk of meningeal worm infection.

On the possibly positive side I understand that President Bush in his State of the Union address on January 23, 2007, will announce a reversal of the Administration’s position on global climate change and will set forth steps to address the problem. I am hoping that this will happen and that there will be real follow through.

Shades of Gray … or the Need for Communication and Understanding

Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere in which individual differences are appreciated, love is shown openly, mistakes are used for learning, communication is open, rules are flexible, responsibility (matching promise with delivery) is modeled and honesty is practiced … . Virginia Satir

While the above quote was made in the context of family therapy, I believe the thought is apt for all human relationships. Unfortunately our species frequently fails to appreciate differences and often demonizes those whose opinions and thoughts are different than ours. Most, if not all of us, at one time or another have found our personal belief systems demonized by one group or another. In recent times, we have seen demonization become an effective (and disturbing) political tool. As a liberal secular humanist who is a card-carrying member of the ACLU, my belief systems have frequently been demonized, particularly by those who have made little or no attempt to understand these belief systems. Do I believe the world would be a better place if everyone was a liberal secular humanist? Definitely not – for effective intellectual ferment we need differences of opinion and we need to appreciate and understand those differences. This can only be achieved by open communication.

These thoughts were triggered by the recent death of a llama from rabies. The owner, concerned about potential detrimental neurological effects of the off-label use of the rabies vaccine and knowing that there had not been a case of rabies affecting llamas in her state, had elected not to vaccinate the llama. In so doing the owner had weighed the risks of vaccinating vs. not vaccinating. We live in a world of grays with very few certainties and we are frequently called upon to make risk assessments. I understand the decision. I had come to a contrary decision, i.e., we vaccinate our llamas, but this does not mean that I am right and the other owner wrong.

As might be expected there were a number of comments about the situation expressed via e-mail. I was particularly struck by the comments of one individual who pointed out that farms which follow organic policies do not perform any vaccinations. I deeply appreciated that communication because it gave me sufficient pause to think more deeply about the issue and to come to a better understanding of the differences of thought within our Association.