This past weekend, I had the pleasure of representing RAN at the Animal Rights 2007 conference in Los Angeles. RAN was the only non-AR environmental organization represented at the conference, which is a real shame, because there’s so much overlap between our movements in terms of our goals, strategies, and the issues we deal with. As an example, issues of climate change were featured prominently (animal agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gases!), and I participated in a plenary session dedicated to the issue (I’ve included my remarks below.)
RAN’s table, staffed by stellar LA-area volunteers, received a steady-stream of folks ready to sign our petition telling Weyerhaeuser to stop logging Old Growth forests, eager to join RAN or become involved with their local RAN chapter, or wanting to make sure we knew how glad they were that RAN came to the conference. Between the workshops RAN participated in, our table, and the many many side conversations with people committed to both animals and the environment, this was a wonderful opportunity for inter-movement connection and sharing.
Check out the notes from my plenary talk below. The plenary also included a panel on the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which threatens to stifle free speech rights for both of our movements. Yet another reason we should all be working together!
Impacts of Climate Change on Animals
Presented by Debra Erenberg at the Plenary Session, AR 2007
July 21, 2007
One of the things that I like best about working for RAN is that our work has an impact on a broad range of issues simultaneously. The environmental issues we focus on have strong linkages to human rights, social justice and animals. And nowhere is that more clear than in the work we do fighting climate change.
Climate change touches on every aspect of our lives and will have a major impact on all of our movements in the future. But it’s important to note that we’re not just talking about something that might happen in the future, climate change is already having a profound impact on the lives of people and animals in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world. It’s a process that will continue to accelerate unless we act quickly and decisively. Unfortunately, the powers that be in our government are doing everything they can to make sure that doesn’t happen.
In looking at the impacts of climate change on other animals, it’s clear that other species will be hit sooner and harder than humans. In 2004, researchers found that, if temperatures rise to about the middle of the expected range, between 15 and 27 percent of the world’s species will become extinct by 2050. Another study puts the number of species lost at one million by 2050.
With just 1.4 degrees of warming, the coral reefs in the Indian Ocean will become extinct.
With 2 degrees of warming, all the sea ice in the Arctic could melt in the summer, killing polar bears, walruses and much of the rest of the ecosystem. In the southern range of polar bears, sea ice is already melting earlier in the spring and forming later in the autumn. The time bears have on the ice, storing up energy for the summer and autumn when there isn’t much food, is becoming shorter. As the periods without food become longer, their overall body condition declines. For every week earlier the ice breaks up in the Hudson Bay, bears come ashore 22 lbs lighter and in poorer condition. Reduced body condition can lead to lower reproduction rates, which in the long run could lead to local extinctions.
Also with 2 degrees warming, some 97 percent of the world’s reefs will bleach—which means coral animals will eject the algae that keep them alive and die. By 2050, the water could become too acidic for shells to form. This will be devastating to sea life, wiping out much of the plankton—the free-floating plants that serve as the foundation for the marine food chain. In addition to being the key to life for most marine species, plankton are as important to the long-term health of the atmosphere as forests. The photosynthesis of these tiny green plants accounts for about HALF of the carbon dioxide that plants remove from the atmosphere each year. Satellite surveys are already finding sharp declines in plankton in several oceans, especially the Pacific.
Some species will be particularly sensitive to the warming climate. For example, most of the world’s turtles have what’s known as Environmental Sex Determination, which means that the outside temperature during the first trimester of gestation determines the offspring’s gender. If mean global temperatures increase by 4 degrees Celsius, scientists say we could see the complete elimination of male turtles—and an increase of less than 2 degrees could dramatically skew sex ratios.
Climate-induced changes in habitats are predicted to be greatest in the Arctic where many migratory bird species spend their summers. Adverse climate change has already led to changes in the location, timing and length of migration routes. A lot of birds migrate earlier, change their routes or even abandon migration all together. For example, Cranes that normally fly south to Spain and Portugal for the winter now stay in Germany. But since they’re not used to low temperatures, there is a danger that most of them wouldn’t survive a harsh German winter.
In 2005, researchers reported that “the Amazonian forest is currently near its critical resiliency threshold.” With just a small degree of warming, “the interior of the Amazon Basin could become essentially void of vegetation.” The Amazon is the most biodiverse place on earth, so that kind of devastation would bring a species die-off that’s truly unimaginable.
In the Congo River Basin, many endemic species—found nowhere else in the world—with restricted ranges, are most at risk from minor climatic changes. One example is the endangered mountain gorilla, which is found on the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Within this small area, surrounded by a dense human population, the mountain gorilla lives between altitudes of 2,500 and 4,000 meters. That doesn’t leave much freedom of movement. As the climate changes, the mountain gorilla’s habitat may also change to such an extent that it will no longer be suitable, causing the species to die out.
Some proposed “solutions” to climate change will only make things worse:
For example, it’s been proposed that we grow our fuel to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But many of the “Biofuels” that are currently being touted would rely on the destruction of rainforests to make room for more agriculture lands, leading to further habitat loss. And of course the loss of more forests that perpetuates the spiral into accelerating climate change.
The impact of climate change on humans is also already starting to affect other animals. As more people are displaced by wars and genocides over increasingly scarce resources, not to mention climate catastrophes like hurricanes and tidal waves, mass migrations of humans will contribute to more loss of habitat and even more animals and species being put in jeopardy.
It’s a pretty gloomy future we’re looking at, but we still have a chance to re-write the ending of this story for the animals—and for ourselves.
Please do whatever you can to make a difference:
Start by looking at your personal lifestyle. Being vegan is a great start, but there’s more that we can do:
- When you shop, look for SOL Food (which is an acronym for Seasonal, Organic, Local)
- Take a look at the car you drive and how much
- Use energy efficient appliances and light bulbs in your home
- Look for other ways you can reduce your carbon footprint.
Help educate other people and get them involved.
Take action. Stop by RAN’s table tomorrow to find out more about our campaigns around cars, coal, biofuels and forest destruction.
Finally, I’d like to invite all of you to get involved with a coalition of peace and climate activists planning a major national intervention this October. The campaign is called No War No Warming, and it would be great to see some animal rights groups get involved now in the planning stages while messaging is still being developed. The focal point of this initiative will be a massive intervention to shut down business-as-usual in Washington, DC (supported by local events everywhere) and to send the message:
Stop Shift and GO
STOP the war in Iraq and future resource wars by ending our addiction to fossil fuels.
SHIFT government funding to rebuild New Orleans and all communities suffering from racism and corporate greed.
GO green to promote environmental justice with new jobs in a clean energy economy.
The only thing missing from the equation is GO VEGAN – and that’s where you all come in.