The Impacts of Climate Change on Animal Welfare - A Recap
On September 15th, I had the privilege of attending a "Mini Event" one-day conference hosted by Humane Canada, on the subject of "The Impacts of Climate Change on Animal Welfare." The subject panels of the conference included, "Canaries in the Coal Mine: Animals, the Climate Crisis, and the Future of Animal Protection Advocacy", "Climate Change and Indigenous Ways of Knowing: Protecting Mother Earth through Animal Activism", "Reimagining the Food System to Account for Climate Change", "Companion Animals and Climate Change: Identifying Links and Opportunities for our Field", and breakout sessions on subjects of animal shelter involvement. The conference raised alarm bells about the potential impact of climate change upon companion animals, while offering constructive suggestions for preventing the coming would-be animal suffering.
In the first panel on The Future of Animal Protection Advocacy, Jonathan Lovvorn of Yale Law School explained that climate change disasters exist within pre-existing structures of social problems such as income and racial inequality. The impacts of climate disasters are not equal-opportunity in affecting the human population but are instead focused on more vulnerable citizens. That includes citizens who are too poor or lacking in resources to evacuate their companion animals in advance of impending climate disasters. Professor Lovvorn argued that therefore what happens to animals is often representative of what happens to the most vulnerable citizens of society. Furthermore, he suggested that collective action is needed to address the sheer waste of the animal agriculture industry, given that livestock production is responsible for 40-60% of the entirety of food chain losses.
In the second panel on Protecting Mother Earth through Animal Activism, clinical social worker Shawna Gray and 2 Spirit Mikmaw activist Mandi Howard advocated for a wholesome Indigenous approach to understanding the earth and human connection to animals. They suggested that Canada has imported ideas of understanding the earth as a resource to be depleted, whereas traditional Indigenous understanding of the earth is that humans are to be stewards of its sustainable cultivation. Old Indigenous languages better articulate the sacred value of the earth and need to be preserved accordingly. Furthermore, they say that "giving back" Indigenous land is not just about the restoration of traditional territories but also about sovereignty and listening to the needs of the land itself.
In the third panel on Reimagining the Food System, Anthony Garoufalis-Auger from the Rapid Decarbonization Group explained the unsustainable additions that Canada's animal welfare industry adds to greenhouse-gas emissions. He argued that 75% of prairie grasslands have been destroyed, and that animal farming accounts for 14% of emissions and a disproportionate share of emissions from the total food industry. He further noted that Canada is committed to the Paris Climate Accord of limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, and that none of the political parties' climate plans would quite reduce Canada's emissions sufficiently for that goal. Finally, the methane emissions of animal agriculture need be considered as methane has a shorter-term yet steeper warming impact than carbon dioxide. He suggests policy solutions like a meat and dairy levy or a modernized form of supply management.
In the final panel on Companion Animals and Climate Change, Dr. Alexandra Protopopova from the University of British Columbia explained both the impact of pet ownership upon climate change and the impact of climate change upon pets. She identified the issue of Ecological Paw Print, the relationship between pet weight and the land consumed to feed pets, and identified how a pet can cause as much greenhouse-gas emissions as one quarter to one-third of human lifestyle. She identified Refinement of animal lifestyles, Replacement of pet sizes, and Reduction of total bred animals for mitigating animal effects on climate change. Finally, she argued that disaster mitigation plans that are developed for climate change adaptation will in the future increasingly need to plan for the movement and migration of companion animals.
In summary, the over-arching theme of Humane Canada's The Impacts of Climate Change on Animal Welfare conference is that the welfare of humans and animals are deeply interconnected and that the interests of neither can be ignored in the prevention and mitigation of climate change. This argument makes particular sense when one considers that humans are themselves animals, and should not forget it. They may be particularly innovative, self-aware, and organized animals, but no less infallible than the rest in the coming danger that our changing atmosphere presents.