Session 4

Animals Affected by Climate Change

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Date: Friday, November 20, 2020

Time: 12-noon to 2.30pm EST (Eastern Standard Time, USA)

In the fourth session, we want to gain a deeper understanding of which animals are most vulnerable to climate change. 

First, we want to consider the effects of climate change on animals: How are wild animals, sedentary animals, migratory animals, companion animals, and many others affected by forces of climate change, such as drought, the encroaching rise in sea levels, availability of food, accessibility of space, habitability, maintenance of borders, and securitization? Climate change also creates winners, so are there animals who will be better off? Will climate change do more good or harm to animals, and how can we tell? 

Second, we will examine how humanity’s actions in response to climate change are affecting animals: Are there examples of how either mitigation or adaptation strategies/policies have been explicitly designed to reduce harmful impacts on animals? Do these examples raise moral dilemmas – for example, do they involve sacrificing the interests of individual animals to benefit the species (as in captive breeding or forced relocation)? Are there examples of how mitigation/adaptation policies are in fact exacerbating the harmful impacts for particular animals (or where policies designed to benefit certain animals impose costs on other animals)? Stepping back from individual policies, are there examples of how animals’ interests are being institutionalized within decision-making processes around climate change (e.g., via animal representatives or advocates or audits)?

Moderator: Angie Pepper (University of Roehampton)

Speakers: Irus Braverman (University at Buffalo), Jonathan Lovvorn (Yale Law School), Shaina Sadai (University of Massachusetts)


Irus Braverman

While traditional conservationists aspire to restore ecosystems to their past histories and imaginaries, new environmentalists see nature as a garden that can and must be tinkered with and intensely managed. These differences translate into radically distinct modes of environmental management. Since coral scientists are at the forefront of climate-focused conservation, there is much to learn from their experiences about how scientists will handle these issues more broadly and what debates are soon to emerge with regard to many other species and ecosystems in the Anthropocene. 

There is also much to learn from the corals themselves. Corals indeed challenge our all-too-humanistic definitions of what it means to be human and our understandings of what is nature. They urge us to rethink how we may wisely govern life, be it terrestrial or oceanic, and how we may care better for our “coralated” communities and futures. Perhaps more importantly than thinking with corals, this project highlights the rarely examined emotional layers in the work of coral scientists. Giving these scientists a face and a voice and explaining their work to the wider public is critical at a time when the rift between experts and laypersons is growing, species and ecosystems are threatened at an accelerated pace, and scientific reasoning is being questioned by central political administrations.

Shaina Sadai

Climatic change and multispecies justice: Physical changes to the earth system resulting from anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are already having myriad impacts on all parts of our shared planet. The extent of climate impacts on nonhuman animals varies geographically, temporally, and by individual experience. Current and projected changes in sea ice extent, marine heatwaves, and ocean acidification present unique challenges to animals, and are occuring at a pace unprecedented in Earth history. Determining the impacts of climate change, adaptation, and mitigation on the wellbeing of individual nonhuman animals is an important avenue to develop as we seek to build a plan to confront the climate crisis that will meaningfully take into account issues of multispecies justice.

Drawing from my research on the climate impacts of instabilities in the Antarctic Ice Sheet (AIS) and resulting changes to ocean dynamics I will discuss how cryosphere and ocean changes are impacting species who dwell partially or completely within oceans including penguins, sea stars, and plankton. AIS instability will impact land as well due to sea level rise. Humans are implementing adaptation measures to address shoreline inundation. However, without a robust consideration for the needs of nonhuman individuals human responses to climatic change have the potential to cause harm to already burdened populations, and can prevent animals from attempting their own adaptations. Through these examples we will gain an understanding of how Earth system changes interface with human action to impact nonhuman animals, and consider ways of developing a more just and inclusive way forward in a changing climate.

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