Clearly we need to adjust to climate change, and help our animal friends adjust too

IFAW-supported relief reached animals in Pakistan's Sindh province after large-scale flooding following a long and deadly monsoon season. Working with a local humanitarian group, the RAVI Foundation, the team conducted assessments, producing a response plan and initiating feed operations for cattle, water buffalo, goats, sheep, horses and donkeys.On a balmy morning in Washington, DC, I got up just before sunrise as usual to walk the dog.  Winter hat and gloves, fleece jacket, and hiking shoes in tow, we left for our 3-block marathon, stopping to sniff every leaf, every tree, and every single bright-green blade of grass along the route. 

An hour later, my old dog having performed his complicated communications ritual with all the other dogs in the area, we returned home and I was sweating like a hog, having removed my jacket, gloves, hat, and even one underlayer along the way. 

Angry that my frantic public disrobing had resulted in the loss of one Polartec ™, Windstopper™ glove (looks like I’m going back to REI™ this weekend), I went upstairs to take a cool shower and get ready for work – light khakis and shirtsleeves were all I would need.

It was, by all accounts, a typical spring day in Washington, when the temperature rises unexpectedly and the air thickens with moisture that will fall later in the afternoon and bring life to the city’s foliage after a long, hard winter. 

Trouble is that this was just a couple of weeks ago, two days before Thanksgiving to be exact, and I should have been freezing.  My dog should have refused to go outside and I should have shoved him down the back steps to do his business conveniently at the bottom of the stairs, where I’m sure to forget and step in it. 

I should have been choosing from among high-tech, moisture-wicking baselayers and sweaters, and wondering if long underwear would be too much. My routine, which I cling to intensely, has been shattered, and I, like most Americans, want very badly to blame climate change.  

I’m a lawyer – something that often causes me problems in this particular case becomes helpful – so I know a lot about causality, and in this case, climate change is like O.J. Simpson.  We all think he might have done it (allegedly) – but we can’t prove anything.

Too many things happened in between to make that causal connection. Whether we’re outside on yet another unseasonably warm day or whether we’re running for cover from a seemingly endless barrage of tornados, we know something’s wrong, but none of us can say that global warming actually caused my lost glove, or actually resulted in the F5 tornado that destroyed the town of Joplin, MO, and shattered hundreds of lives, or, for that matter, actually caused the various typhoons, floods, and droughts that are killing or displacing hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

But can we blame global warming anyway, even if not the direct cause of our suffering?  Can I blame the guy down the street who just bought a brand new Hummer, of all things, that gets about 3 miles per gallon and thus spews out more greenhouse gases every day than some small island nations?  Factually, directly, well, no, probably not.  But the lawyer in me says yes, of course, absolutely, if I make the case the right way.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); climate change, while not the direct cause of individual extreme (or just weird) weather events increases the probability that more frequent and more intense extreme weather events will occur.

Basic meteorology: Warm air is generally wet air, and it rises and clashes with cooler air, and those clashes can result in just a bit of rain, a month straight of rain, or rain made up of flying cows and broken semi-trucks and coils of wind swirling in 400+ mph cyclones.  And when the rain falls in one place, it’s not falling in another, maybe for weeks, months, or even years at a time. 

So, while I can’t say “Climate change caused the tornado that destroyed that house,” I can say “Climate change made it more likely that a tornado would destroy that house,” and then, unfortunately and all too often these days, “See, it just did.” When climate change makes it more likely that a flood or drought or hurricane or tornado will occur, and then it does occur…well, you get the idea. 

Finger pointing aside, it’s clear that we’re all going to have to adjust to the coming impacts of changing climate on our lives and our planet and, as animal welfare advocates, help our animal friends adjust too. 

I can do it by checking the weather before I go out, and adjusting my dog’s daily walk schedule accordingly, and by digging out those old jacket clips that my Mom used to make me wear so I wouldn’t lose my mittens.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare can do it – in fact already does it – by responding on an ever-increasing number of natural disasters around the globe to help communities rescue their animals, and by advocating for government policies that include animals in preparing for and responding to the inevitable changes to our planet that will occur because of climate change. 

But then, at least in my mind, we can, and probably should, blame climate change, especially if it makes it easier to understand why we need to take action, both as individuals and as a world community.  And then yes, we can also blame the guy down the street with the Hummer.  He owes me a new pair of gloves.

-- PT

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
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Faye Cuevas, Esq.
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Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
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