Over the past couple years, I’ve taken some excellent environmental studies classes at Boise State University. I am captivated by learning about things like desert ecology, the history of the Earth, and the elephant in our living room: climate change. These days, I think climate change is on everyone’s minds, but we’re often afraid to speak about it and unsure of how to address such a daunting concern.
The models being used to predict climate change are quite interesting. For one thing, their accuracy is determined by running them backwards; if they accurately predict what is known to have happened in the past, that reinforces scientists’ certainty that that model’s predictions about the future are accurate. About twenty climate models used world-wide are predicting global warming trends.
It’s not that they predict the end of the world or an imminent global melt down; they predict a planet that’s increasingly difficult for many plants, animals, and insects to live on. Eventually that will become the case for us humans as well. Here’s what the models predict:
Hotter, drier summers
More rain and less snow
More and longer droughts
More weather extremes
Wetter winters and springs
These changes will cause:
Melting glaciers and decreasing Arctic sea ice which in turn cause rising sea levels
Greater winds and more severe weather
Beach erosion from increased sea levels
Loss of plant, animal, and insect diversity because of lack of habitat
Increasing wild fires
Emergence and spreading of diseases and pathogens; Mosquitoes, ticks, flies, and other pathogen carriers are moving northward as things warm up, putting animals, trees, crops, and humans at risk.
Increased crop and agricultural issues
Lack of drinking water
To me, the bottom line is this: we can’t expect government or someone else to address or solve the issues for us. We each need to do what we can right now. The one key point I am learning in my studies is that we have about a 10-year window before the Earth reaches a point of no return.
We horse owners can implement important changes which can offset what is happening. Beneficial land management practices are not only good for our horse’s health; they can also be eco-friendly and helpful for reducing climate change risks. Here are a few of my top horse-keeping tips for combating climate change:
Use compost. Fine, organic material is very good at holding moisture. Applying compost to pastures and lawns will retain moisture and help get us through droughty summers. It will also help make our pastures more productive, which allows photosynthesizing plants to sequester more carbon from the atmosphere.
Pasture management and rotational grazing. Practice good pasture management and avoid over grazing or bare spots. Dark ground absorbs more sunlight than lighter areas, thereby making the ground hotter and drier. A good pasture cover keeps the ground cool, which also helps retain moisture—and keeps pasture plants photosynthesizing.
Conserve water. Fresh water is finite, and all water is precious. Consider installing automatic waterers or cisterns to capture rainwater. Use captured water for livestock, gardens, or as a backup emergency water supply.
Reduce, reuse and recycle. Recycling was a virtue before we knew we had a climate problem, but now it turns out that transporting and processing materials for recycling is carbon intensive. Plus, many plastics can’t be recycled due to the lack of a market. Recycling still uses less energy than making new products from scratch but reducing and reusing are even cleaner. You can make it a bit of a game on your horse property to seek out and discover new ways to reduce and reuse items around the farm.
I’m sure I speak for every one of us when I say our collective hearts go out to all the horse and pet owners in California who suffered and are still suffering such devastating losses in the recent fires there. In their honor, please recognize that emergency preparedness and firewise for horse owners begins NOW. With climate change and more erratic weather patterns in store—particularly for western North America—that means hotter, drier summers. Increasingly serious wild fires that extend well into the fall months are going to become the norm.
Do what you can now to reduce your wildfire risk. Much can be done even in the winter, such as implementing a defensible space around home, barns, and other areas you designate as important. Review your wildfire evacuation plans before they are needed. Horses for Clean Water has some free tools available on our website that we encourage everyone to use and share. We are also currently developing online Firewise for Horse Owners course materials which will be ready early this spring.
We must never give up or say we’re powerless to effect a change. I love the powerful quote by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” Let’s be that small group!
Be well, be happy, appreciate your horses and loved ones and I look forward to seeing you in 2019!