Audubon: Bird lovers flocking to the cause on climate change


Climate change may cause the common loon to disappear from Minnesota. (Photo: Audubon Society)

Audubon: Bird lovers flocking to the cause on climate change

By Flannery Winchester

Each month, Citizens’ Climate Lobby hosts an international call featuring a guest speaker to educate listeners on topics related to climate change and our Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal

The guest speaker for July 2016 was Matt Anderson, director of the National Audubon Society’s Climate Initiative. He joined us to discuss Audubon’s history of effecting change, their recent “Birds and Climate Change” report, and what you can do to help.

Delightful, familiar, endangered


Audubon’s Matt Anderson with his 2-year-old daughter.

Anderson’s family has a cabin on a lake in Minnesota. On the lake, there’s a nesting pair of loons. Anderson’s family — including his 2-year-old girl — went up to the cabin for the Fourth of July. As they celebrated the holiday, they were excited to see one little loon chick, only a few weeks old, out on the water.

You probably have memories like this of your own. Whether it’s a rare bird you spotted on an outdoor excursion or a familiar flash of color that always darts around the backyard, birds are a special and constant feature of our lives. “They’re in our art, our music, our religion — there’s a deep personal connection between us,” Anderson said.

Plus, they’re just fun to look at! By the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s count, there are something like 47 million bird watchers in our country who enjoy these beautiful creatures. The Audubon society itself has about 1 million members, 462 chapters across the country, and 41 nature centers: that’s a lot a bird enthusiasm.

Thankfully, that enthusiasm often translates to protection. Nearly 100 years ago, Audubon Society members and bird lovers across the country helped pass the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to protect birds from being killed for clothing and decoration. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, they worked together to get DDT and other pesticides banned because they were affecting birds and their eggs. And now, the Audubon Society is mobilizing in the face of climate change: the greatest threat birds have ever faced.

An unprecedented rate of extinction

Over the last 60 years, Audubon Society members have not only been dedicated bird watchers, but also citizen scientists, collecting data on bird sightings and activity. Audubon’s scientists have used that wealth of data and top climate models to put together a sort of “field guide of the future,” based on the birds’ ideal climatic ranges and how those would shift due to expected greenhouse gas emissions.

In September 2014, they released their findings. “It was pretty staggering,” Anderson admitted. “Of the nearly 700 North American bird species, 314 of those bird species face a greater likelihood of extinction by 2080 — within that, well over 100 face that same threat of extinction due to climate change by 2050.”

“This was a wakeup call,” Anderson said, because the rate of extinction is potentially faster than we’ve ever seen it. “To the best of our understanding, we’ve lost 9 bird species in North America since the Industrial Revolution,” Anderson said, so a span of about 200 years. But now? “We’re talking 314 in the span of 65.”

Flying into action

With that data, the Audubon Society wasted no time taking the necessary steps to protect birds, other wildlife, and ourselves from climate change. First, they committed themselves to on-the-ground conservation and adaptation work within habitats to give birds and other species the best chance to adapt, biologically and behaviorally, to climate change.

Then, they also jumped into public engagement work trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The science is clear that the more we can reduce emissions — and the more quickly we can do that — the better off people and birds will be. So now, field organizers all across the country are working at the municipal, state and federal level to create solutions, from planting native plants and putting solar on more homes to advocating for bird-friendly windmill installation and Washington state’s carbon tax. (Opportunity alert: Anderson said they’ll be hiring more field organizers this fall!)

They’ve also set up a powerful tool on their website, which you can find here, for exploring the effects on specific bird species and areas. Love the Eastern Whip-poor-will? Search it with this tool, and you’ll find that 78% of its breeding range will be lost by 2080 if climate change continues without mitigation. With this specific data, you can open up the conversation with other bird lovers and find common ground for fighting climate change.

Flocking together

With a politically diverse membership — 40% Republican and Independent — Audubon is a wonderful place to connect bird lovers from different sides of the aisle and work toward a common goal. Rather than being partisan and polarized, the Audubon Society’s mission is simple. “We’re a bird organization whose science has told us that the biggest threat to birds and people moving forward is climate,” Anderson said simply, “and we’re responding accordingly, just like we have throughout our history.”

Anderson encouraged CCL members to reach out to local Audubon chapters. All of them, he said, are “filled with wonderful folks who love their birds and are committed to their communities.” Connecting with them is a key step in the fight against climate change, because as Anderson rightly pointed out, “What will make us all stronger is more communication. None of us is going to be able to do this alone.”

You are what hope looks like

Remember that common loon at Anderson’s lake house? It’s a pretty picture — and one that hangs in the balance. “The common loon here in Minnesota is projected to be gone by 2050. By the time my 2-year-old is right around the age I am today, that bird won’t be here,” Anderson said. It’s possible it could adapt, but we don’t know for sure.

What we do know is that we can help. “The numbers are stark, but we often tell ourselves at Audubon, ‘You are what hope looks like to a bird.’” They need us to step up and be advocates for their habitats, for clean air and for a stable climate.

So remember: you are what hope looks like to a bird. Get out there and make them hopeful.

Hear Anderson’s full remarks and Q&A on our July 2016 podcast, and follow the Audubon Society on Twitter at @audubonsociety.

Flannery Winchester
Flannery Winchester has put her words to work for magazines, for marketing agencies, and now for our earth as CCL's Communications Director. She is grateful to spend every day working to preserve this beautiful planet.