I have been receiving many emails from you and David Yarnold. Most have been fundraising emails that are attached to some bird conservation issue. I almost always take action on the conservation issues and sometimes donate money. Of course the big news and conservation issue lately has been Audubon’s report on, Birds and Climate Change. Let me say that I’m impressed with the report and have signed up as an activist. Let me also say that it’s about time! The previous Audubon Climate Change Campaign was seriously deficient even though the science has been clear for a long time. I would like to take a few moments to explain why I don’t think Audubon is asking enough of birders on this issue and where I think Audubon can do a better job at reducing carbon emissions.
There are actually two reasons for reducing our use of fossil fuels. One is the climate change caused by burning them and the other is the death and destruction that comes from the exploration and production. My earliest memories of oiled birds go back to the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. Throw in the Exxon Valdez, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Houston Ship Channel spill, the Lac-Mégantic train derailment, the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill and look at pictures of Alberta tar sands production. Exploding trains and burst pipelines are getting to be an everyday thing. Thousands of birds die in oil-industry pits and wastewater disposal facilities. People living close to refineries, generally low income, suffer from the effects of pollution. Very few people think about these things. It’s the price we pay for the good life we have become accustomed to. Audubon members should have these disasters in the back of their minds every time they drive off to chase a bird or take a birding trip to some far off place.
As I read it, the Audubon Climate Campaign asks members to do six things. Take the pledge, create a bird-friendly yard, get involved with a local important bird area, put birds on your community’s agenda, meet with local decision makers and support policies that lower emissions. Most of these are things that Audubon members are already doing. I don’t find anything in the plan that would be hard. Why not ask birders to think about how they bird?
It was marvelous irony that the special issue on Birds and Climate Change was preceded by the July/August, Audubon that featured Neil Hayward as King Bird. Let’s review his carbon output. 28 states and 7 provinces visited. 197,758 miles flown, 51,758 miles driven, and 147 hours at sea. Further irony was the article on greening our pets in the same issue. Birders are competitive. There’s probably someone out there now trying to take that crown away from Neil.
The “old” Audubon Climate Campaign had this to say, “Use public transportation, ride your bicycle, walk, carpool, and drive a more energy-efficient vehicle.” That’s no longer in your plan. It seems it’s OK for birders to continue their carbon producing ways and let science and politicians solve the problem. Birders chase birds. They do “big” years and days. They travel far and wide to add to their lists. Check out Birding Magazine’s Milestones section. All that carbon and other climate change gases are still up there in the atmosphere and will be there for many years.
Audubon also wants us to continue our participation in citizen science projects. I can see no effort on Audubon’s part to green-up these projects. For at least three years I have done shorebird surveys for a group called Save Our Shorebirds (SOS) here in Mendocino County. I had to travel a good distance to get to my survey area. Realizing that rising sea levels were not good for shorebirds I changed the way I got there. I now use a combination of personal vehicle, bus and bike. That worked so well that I used that combination to do a “green county” year in 2013. I saved almost 3,000 carbon producing vehicle miles, had a good time doing it, saw plenty of birds and continue to bird that way.
The 112th Christmas Bird Count (CBC) used 583,164 car miles to just count birds inside the circle. That doesn’t count car miles to get to the circle. The Audubon website still features the exploits of the “Mad Counter”. He boasted of doing 23 counts (the max you can do) during the 104th CBC. He drove just over 7100 miles and was obviously a danger to himself and others while on the road. You can read about him here It is my experience many birders do several if not many CBCs during the count year. They travel many miles to do that. I bike my section of the Fort Bragg CBC. They were the only bike miles in any of the Mendocino County counts. Audubon makes no effort to reduce that car mileage. They should get their birding house in order.
From my research on climate change I have found that we are rapidly using up our carbon budget. It will be hard if not impossible to keep temperatures from rising to dangerous levels. A gridlocked congress is not going to help us. We all need to look at how we work and play. We need to look at where we work, what we eat, and how we travel. We are all carbon polluters. There are many personal ways to reduce our carbon pollution. Audubon needs to point that out.
Thank you for your time. A Long-billed Curlew also gives me a thrill when I see one.
Little River, CA
Brigid McCormack is the Executive Director of Audubon California and a Vice President of National Audubon Society.