Climate Change: Not Just Bad for Polar Bears.


Farm kids, like me, learn early that a healthy anxiety about the weather is the subtext of every task–from lambing season, to planting corn, to rushing to get the bales out of the hay-field, as thunder booms close by. It’s consulting the dog-eared copy of the Farmer’s Almanac. It’s the habit of listening to the weather report more closely than the news, while pulling on boots first thing in the morning.

Townies chat about the weather as the tiniest of small talk; weather can be an inconvenience. Farmers stake their crops, and the family’s security, gambling on the weather, year after year.

Not much has changed. Now I’m older than my folks were when they gave up their farm. I still depend on working outside but we have smartphones with a few weather apps. I usually check a couple of different sources and then average the results; weather is still a guess.

Last week in Illinois there were rain storms, ice, and fifty degree days. It’s the kind of weather that’s average for November but not now; not in the middle of January.

Here on my small Colorado farm, we’ve had the same temperature swings; the pond ice is unsteady and the pasture is bone dry. There have been some sub-zero wind-chill nights followed by fifty degree days. It’s the transitional weather we watch for in spring and fall. Horse people don’t want to say it out-loud, but it’s colic weather.

Sure, every farm could destroy more pasture and hay fields to build a huge indoor arenas and pretend to ignore the weather. Is this how we want to use our precious land? Besides, this whining about weather is all anecdotal, and scientists don’t pay farmers much mind. Except now.

“A NASA press release pointed out “Earth’s 2016 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern record keeping began in 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).” Sixteen of the seventeen warmest years on record have been observed since 2001.”

Through December, the mares in my barn were cycling still. They used to take the winter off from snake fights and screaming at geldings but it’s dragged on long enough that we had the vet check for ovarian cysts. My final questioning act for them was to ask my Facebook friends across the country about their mares. The response was overwhelming and the consensus surprised me: Mares were still cycling everywhere, and raw with the long-term hormonal emotions. Anecdotal for sure, and a cynic might call it coincidental. When will we trust what we see? When will we speak up?

This week I read more on climate change. Arctic melting is changing coastlines around the world. Weather scientists are behaving more like mares in estrus. The undeniable change is still being denied… not by farmers but by politicians.

Do these guys ever come out of their offices long enough to look up? I’d invite the idiots along with me for a week of outdoor work if any of them were strong enough to keep up.

We’ve all seen heart-wrenching video of polar bears starving on ice floats, but let’s get personal. Is there a horse owner who isn’t wildly aware of how fragile horses are? Does anyone think that horses won’t be one of the first domestic animals to suffer, and die, for our selfish, arrogant ways? I mean even more than happens now… Will we be this greedy and self-serving until we kill everything dear to us?

And then, when I think post-apocalyptic, I think how few pets exist in science fiction. Okay, Star Trek had tribbles. And there was Mel Gibson sharing a can of Dinky-Do dog food with that genius cattle dog in the movie, Road Warrior.  Remember? It was a quiet moment between rapes and car wrecks in the end-of-the-world fight for gasoline. It would be like humans to eat dog food and wear kinky outfits instead of grow crops or raise animals. It’s a fact that there is no romance in farming.

Like I said, I researched climate change and horses. I wanted to share just one article; a brief scientific paper from Australia, a bit removed from our soil. Please take a moment to read The Impact of Climate Change on Horses, and Horse Industries. The bibliography makes the piece look longer than it is. There are certainly some details that I hadn’t thought out before, even though they make perfect sense. Mostly I’m struck by the very fine line between science and science fiction. Like usual, the fiction part is more true than we want to think. There are words all too familiar to horse owners in the article. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the path ahead–like a trashy B-movie.

 This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.  –T S Eliot

I’m not sure how politicians decided that climate change could even be voted on in the first place. And it’s too late to blame others. This global issue is so much bigger than our horses; other losses will be larger and more pivotal to the planet’s destruction. There is no more time to debate and whine. It’s time to make our voices heard. Time for each of us who make our lives, and our living, out in the environment, to speak up. There are more farmers than politicians and business people. And between rants, we can do every small thing we can do to turn this planet around. It’s up to us; we’re the ones who know first-hand what we stand to lose.

Here on the prairie, I’m pulled to look to the west at dusk. The outrageous beauty stills my rat-on-a-wheel mind. Awe is the only word; the preciousness of each sunset burns my heart. Maybe I’m selfishly aware of the number of sunsets left in my puny little life. Or maybe it’s knowing that my silence contributes to the death of the infinite number of lives that we will surely take down with us.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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This blog is free, and it always will be. Free to read, but also free of ads because I turn away sponsorships and pay to keep ads off my site. I like to read a clean page and think you do too. If you appreciate the work I do, or if your horse does, consider making a donation.

Anna Blake

33 thoughts on “Climate Change: Not Just Bad for Polar Bears.”

  1. Yes, yes yes to ALL of the above! I live in NY (country) and LOVE being outside & seeing the blue(not today) sky & watching wildlife on my little 4 acres? I completely resent the idea that some jerk in DC can have a say on whether we have another pipeline or a noise ordinance (because of the compressor station or stations not far away) that has NO consequence when this station “discharges” every once in a while. And then there are the picks for cabinet members – ie the EPA, DOI, on & on!
    Seems like it was bad enough but now its downright scary! Saw news that scientists are downloading and HIDING climate change material – hiding it from the government!! Does that sound really far out?
    Sorry for going on & on – and I’m sure you would prefer this not to be about politics etc which I understand.
    The gist is: I get what youre saying & I agree! And I’m counting on the fact that there are many, many of us out there!

    • The connection in the article that killed me was Warming = Insects = Disease that we are canceling horse events for right now. It’s happening, we do hear about it, but not all of us (me) are making the connection… along with a whole load of other things we are complacent about. And sure, not happy about environmental politics, either. Thanks, Maggie. I hear you!

  2. Early morning coffee, spilled! Thanks Anna ! A mixture of anger and angst mixed with sadness…..for the animals our beloved planet and the tiny humans who are powerful as one and yet powerless when divided.

      • And we ALL sure do need to roar – have found that over the years with the issues with wild horses & burros AND any animal rescue! Everyone really needs to wake up & realize exactly what the new heads of government agencies have vocalized BEFORE they came before the Congressional committees! I used to feel that even if this president was elected – his cabinet would be made up of EXPERIENCED intelligent people! There actually are maybe 2 or 3 – but that leaves others – period! One more thing (then I’ll stop) we HAVE to come together and not let ourselves be divided – as Kalee said.

  3. Anyone who does not believe in climate change is a person who has no idea how fossil fuels are formed. Anywhere in the world where coal and oil exist was once a tropical area. Fifty-five to 60 million years ago, N. America was sitting much closer to the equator; and there was shallow sea water throughout the center of the continent from N. Canada almost to the Gulf of Mexico. Horse ancestors were about the size of a fox terrier, and they. browsed those broad leafed tropical plants that existed in the swamp.As the climate changed, so did the horse ancestors. The teeth of the horse changed in order to allow the horse to survive on the forage that was available. It was not until the time the climate was preparing to change to the more temperate climate we have today, that the modern horse genus of Equus appeared. Each species (the horse, ass, and zebra) have different surfaces on the chewing side of their molars, and their teeth are much longer in comparison to their immediate ancestors. The truth about climate change won’t be found or understood by looking at the sky, but by looking at what is already in the ground.

    The first and only study NASA and the Goddard Space Institute (Earth Observatory) relied on measuring the chemistry of semi-frozen ice cores from 65th parallel in Greenland, and a similar place in the off cores that was taken from layers in the ocean’s sedimentary core. This study confirmed the theory of Milankovitch cycles which are based on the elliptical orbit of the Earth around the sun—closer to the sun, the warmer it is. On the opposite side, when the Earth’s orbit is furtherest from the sun, it when we experience the ice age. There is historic evidence that a phenomenon of the Earth begins in increase its degree and timing of its wobbling during the orbit around the sun, there are periods where there are very rapid climate changes with as much as 16 degrees C of variation. Scientists believe there is evidence that this may have occurred when the Younger Dryas occurred only a few thousand years after the last glacial maximum ended with a sudden, abrupt period of warming that began to melt large chunks of ice from Greenland or the Arctic. Yet no sooner did than the LGM end abruptly and the land began to heal, a second and smaller glaciation.occurred and lasted only a few thousand years. This second ice age coming so rapidly upon the end of the first, as well as the settling of the first humans in areas where large mammals including horse used as habitat led to the disappearance of horses from N. America. Fortunately, some horses had already found refugia in northern Europe where people had not yet arrived while others hid out on what is now Spain. They arrived while the peninsula was still connected to the Europe. Then geological changes caused the Spanish peninsula to exist as an island somewhat isolated from the rest of Europe.

    Horses survived millions of years of climate change, and co-evolved with every plant and animals found in N. America today. I had hears about the insects now attacking trees in the West. Part of the big unknown now is how the efforts to eradicates flora and fauna that have occurred here naturally may have altered the ecosystems where our horses survived—in fact, they not only survived, they were at times the dominate mammal in N. America. I refer to genetic evidence identifying horses here between 7,600 to 10,000 yrs ago were Equus asinus (burros) Equus bruchelli (zebra) and Equus caballus (horse). There are numerous studies that discuss the effects on large mammals that disappeared from N. America after the 10,000 to 13,000 yrs ago.

    While you are correct that we who care for animals, especially farm animals have a more than passing interest in the weather. My point is that the Earth is constantly changing, and the natural systems of the Earth have repeated themselves again and again. Horses survived. Horses and humans share 70% of the same genetic make-up. I think it should find some comfort that when it comes to horses they are fragile in some ways, but resilient in others. The two things we must do to help them survive is to make sure we provide enough habitat where at least some horses are allowed to mate using self selection. This will allow the natural adaptive traits to emerge, not just the traits that man finds desirable.

    • But we must acknowledge that this climate change is more rapid and violent than those that affected the original disappearance of equines from north America. Also, our planet’s orbit is not a factor here. This warming will continue indefinitely. The landscape that we are slated to leave all species (almost 50% of which are already at risk for extinction) this time is potentially far bleaker than that left by previous warming periods – especially if we humans continue to share it. We must change, resist greed and complacency and be perfectly loud and clear on this issue.

      • Actually, new instruments as well as new data such as more information about the specific timing of events indicate that the climate has been volatile before. First, our planet does not rotate around the sun in a circle, but an ellipsis. As the ellipsis gets longer, we spend more time further from the sun. These become stadial (glacier periods) but there are short periods of warming. Also the earth does not just rotate on an angle. The angle of the rotation influences the climate because it influences the Earth’s distance from the sun and other planetary bodies. Then there is the addition of precision which means that the Earth moves like a spinning top. Largely climate change and weather are the result of atmospheric forces. Magnetic poles reverse themselves over time changing our North Star from Polaris (now) to Vega. This means that the climate change will occur primarily in one hemisphere or the other. While we cannot do much about climate change, the issue of our environment and keeping our water, air, and land as free of pollutants as is scientifically and economically feasible is important.

  4. It is clear that the climate is heating up. It is clear that there are potentially dire consequences to all life – human and otherwise – if the current climate trends continue.

    I fail to understand what purpose arguing about the percentage of climate change that can be attributed to human activity serves. What difference does it make?

    When one needs excuses to justify wasteful and polluting ways – habits which I believe stem from greed and selfishness – it then becomes convenient to deny reality.

    If decreasing fossil fuel based carbon emissions and increasing use of renewable energy sources can positively impact / alter climate change, it is our responsibility as the stewards of the earth to make it happen.

    • Just read a blog about unknowns about the power grid that was reviewed by scientists concerned about the unknowns about how the use of wind power and solar power will affect the power grid. One of the problems within our scientific community recognized by scientists themselves is that so much of what is done is done without the public’s ability to view how scientists work. While it would seem that perhaps transitioning renewables into the power grid would be seamless, the scientists in this group were aware of concerns that either wind or solar could cause difficulties maintaining power to certain areas.

  5. Well, right now I’m watching as Mother Nature prepares for another spectacular sunset over the divide… never ceases to amaze me how lucky I am to be a daily witness. My morning was less spectacular as I felt it my duty to witness the inauguration. I was not celebrating, but simply observing as a very different philosophy moved to fill the White House. I have been fearing for our planet for quite some time, but now I’m down right terrified. I sincerely hope that “we the people” will all make our planet a priority since politics, religion, and taxes don’t matter if we have nowhere to debate them.

  6. January 20, 2017, is truly a sad day. The country’s new commander-in-chief is a sexual predator whose grasp of reality and respect for scientific fact—or anything or anyone, for that matter—seem to be nonexistent. His sons shoot endangered species in Africa, and now all mention of climate change, civil rights, and LGBT rights have been removed from the White House website.

    Well, as Bette Davis said, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

    • Maybe that will be his gift; inspiring complacent people to rise up. These are uncertain times, that’s for sure. Thanks Susan.

    • I heard about the deletion of climate change, civil rights & LGBT rights from the White House website from my 16 year old granddaughter! Good to hear that at least one (and Im sure more) young people are becoming aware of this bumpy ride thats acoming!!!

  7. We have to remember that our actions as far as polllution etc. are a short term effect. We have only been keeping records of weather for less than 200 years, that data is not adequate for a solid, indesputable conclusion about climate. There are other records, tree ring data, ice cores, layers in archeological sites and other natural records of climate and weather, however they tend to be local and not consistant as to length of time. As hoofhugs states, the earth’s orbit has a very significant influence on the climate as well. There were peroids where the general climate across the planet was considerably warmer, for thousands of years, then the glacial periods where global temperatures were much colder. We also have to remember that we have introduced an unnatural situation for mares especially, left in nature, they would at this time of year be gestating. An unbred mare is a variation caused by human intervention. Granted, it would be unreasonable to have every mare bred every year, simply from the numbers involved let alone the desires of owners of those mares. Does anyone want the overpopulation that would result, we already have that going on with horses going to slaughter because homes can not be found for them along with other factors. We do not have a reasonable method of neutering a mare like we do for stallions. Abdominal surgery for the removal of ovaries from mares would be cost and safety prohibitive.
    I realize that the climate is different from how it was during the last fifty years of the last century, I have kept my own records of the weather for the same general area for over 45 years and when analyzing that data does not support the conclusions I have read about. We are on a dynamic planet, it spews tons of particulate matter into the atmosphere via volcanoes, far more than human kind has. We also forget that there is dust and other particulate matter that falls into the atmosphere from space. We do not know how the orbit of the sun around the galactic core affects the planet, we have yet to complete an orbit since modern man started paying attention to keeping weather records. How has the area of space we are in affect the weather on the planet? We don’t know, no one has done any research on that, in a way they can’t – yet.
    I’m not saying there is no climate change, it’s been changing all along. Is it something humans can affect to such a degree, honestly, we really don’t know if we can make that kind of impact on the whole planet, locally, yes, human activities do make a difference, gobally, we’re not really sure. Remember too that there has been a political agenda connected with the issue and there has been incentive to skew data to show the results that are desired – this has happened before in history where science was compromised for the larger political agenda.
    All we can do is try our best to mitigate the effects of pollution of the atmosphere, perhaps find a way to ease mares who are not going to be bred, pay closer attention to the data and demand that the politicians get out of the discussion for their own gain. And, I could be wrong, I’m a fallible, human being. I just know that there is more to the debate than the mass media, politicians and, sadly, scientists are saying.

  8. Amen, Aquila. I have a healthy suspicion of extremes and extremists of any persuasion. I’ve finally learned there are a whole lot more shades of gray than black & white. I have to agree with Anna though, this unsettled weather is nerve wracking. Here in east central Wi. we have had a bunch of snow, several bouts of arctic air and now sleet, freezing rain and rain. Most everybody’s yards and fields are either skating rinks or ponds. My horses and mini donk are on 24/7 turnout but lately they’ve been hanging out in their run in. This makes me nervous, they should be moving around but if they do there’s the ice risk and I don’t have the luxury of an indoor. Not much to be done but cross my fingers and hope for either more snow to pad the ice or more warm to melt it all!

    • I’m surprised to hear scientists from around the globe be called extremists, but your opinion is heard. Wishing your livestock well in the storms. Thanks, Sherry.

  9. My 21 yr old OTTB coliced for the first time in the 13 years I have owned him on Friday the 13th. Yeah I know, right? Luckily, I recognized that he was uncomfortable, and took action. And had friends with quick access to banamine. And that stayed with he and I for hours as we walked, dosed with mineral oil and electrolytes, and put him on the trailer in the pitch black. At which he finally passed some manure.
    The temp swings have been 20’s to mid 50’s. We have gotten rain, but not much snow.
    I would prefer snow for many reasons. Used to be we have up too 6-7 ft of the white stuff this time of the year. And the temps would be steady, winter temps.

    • Seems older horses are more affected by these changes in the weather – and these changes are coming more & more! Its been around 40 here (NY) for past couple weeks – ground still mostly frozen, but today the suns out & theres melting going on. With the many springs back up in & above my field – where I walk my dog – gets really sloppy. I prefer snow – especially before the ground thaws. If its January – would be really nice if it were winter-like, right? As I remember “back when” – we had winter all winter long AND actually a spring & a fall. It HAS changed!

    • Colic has always been the number one fatal horse issue… but I wonder if it’s getting more common? Glad your horse is better!

  10. As I have no children who will inherit what will befall this planet, I can only try to do my small part to “leave no trace.” If this planet ceases to exist because we have ignored the signs, my only solace is that it will also cease to exist for the descendants of the privileged few who had the power to set a path toward change but opted instead to pursue their own short-term gain.

    Anna, and commenters, enjoy your special sunrises and sunsets!!

  11. Bumper Sticker on the way home yesterday . . .
    “Well, it’s nice to see we’re winning the war on the environment.”

  12. I found it interesting to read through these comments from 4yrs ago for this blog. Not only are our horses (and my goats too) cycling more through the “off season,” but I’ve just lived through a year of firsts (either in over 100 yrs or ever in recorded history: Covid-19 pandemic (almost 500,000 in US gone from this in less than a year), worst wildfire season in history, worst ice storm/power outage in history (I just got back power/running water after 8days; many friends are still out over here. Texas has frozen over as well.). Silverton, OR


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