Our Mission: To preserve and protect the animals, plants, and natural communities
in Indian River County through advocacy, education, and public awareness.
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It is not just Polar Bears in Trouble! What Birds Tell Us about Climate Change

The President's Hoot by
Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
February 2015

Since 1500, over 190 species of birds have become extinct. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_recently_extinct_birds). That rate is increasing. Approximately 1,200 are considered to be under threat of extinction of the world’s 10,000 bird species. The National Audubon science team’s seven-year study found that more than half of U.S. bird species (314 of 588) will be seriously threatened by 2080, and any of those could disappear forever (Audubon, September-October 2014 issue on line at Audubon.org/climate).

Granted, it is difficult for many of us to detect the gradual rise in global temperatures, the subtle shifts in weather patterns, and our favorite birding habitats dwindling, but the birds have done so. Birds migrate to traditional locales that may have disappeared from habitat destruction, resulting in dwindling habitats where they may die from crowding, disease or hunting. Last year, our Earth had the hottest year since records began being kept in1880; 10 of the hottest years on record have occurred since 1997. Our largest increase in atmospheric CO2 occurred from 2012 to 2013. Clearly, humans are responsible for this global warming and species extinctions because of our nonrenewable energy consumption, habitat destruction with loss of food including insects, invasives, and killing and overharvesting of species.

Using citizen-scientist-collected data from 100 years plus of Audubon Christmas Bird Counts and the North American Breeding Bird Survey, Audubon’s scientists charted a “climate envelope” for each North American species that included temperature range, rainfall, and other climate characteristics, then compared these envelopes with computer-mapped projections of the global climate at the end of this century (All 314 interpretive maps and species listed can be seen at Audubon.org/climate).

Of the 314 species, 126 were classified as “Climate-endangered” and are projected to lose more than 50% of their current ranges by 2050 and may face extinction (Bald Eagle, Osprey, and Brown Pelican, to name a few). The other 188 species are “Climate Threatened” and are expected to lose more than 50% of their current ranges by 2080 (Roseate Spoonbill, Florida Scrub Jay, and many others).

Acting immediately is imperative. Scientists say we only have 50 years to figure it out! It will require huge capital and rethinking. A wait-and-see strategy has not, and will not, work! Unfortunately, many Americans and their political leaders are in denial of climate change when over 99% of published journal articles agree that human–caused climate change is happening (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveys_of_scientists%27_views_on_climate_change). Is climate-change a vast conspiracy on the part of scientists or is denial a tactic used by special-interest groups to sow doubt and inspire inaction? Follow the money trail and decide for yourselves!

We have a choice. Do nothing and have future generations suffer the consequences, or take action. Here are a few suggestion of what we can do individually and as a member of Pelican Island Audubon. There are many more:

  • Create a bird-friendly yard by planting native plants, including grasses and trees, to replace nonnative sod.
  • Improve the Indian River Lagoon water quality by working with others to eliminate septic tanks and following the new fertilizer ordinances.
  • Write a letter to the Press Journal advocating taking steps to reduce climate changes and prepare for sea level rise.
  • Meet with our local leaders to get them to purchase conservation lands and promote public transportation and safe bike lanes.
  • Urge politicians and public utilities to promote use of renewable energy sources through rebates and tax incentives.
  • Prevent our home energy loss through insulation, white roofs, and by planting shade trees.
  • Eat locally produced food, reducing food transportation costs.
  • Use less water and energy.

There are some new ideas for a warming world:

  • Hexagonal photovoltaic bricks join together to cover parking lots, roads, train tracks.
  • Solar panels on roofs including parking lots.
  • Feeding more people with less land and energy input by promoting healthier diets that include more vegetables, less meat and using non-traditional, high-protein foods that can be added to our diet. For example, in Ohio, a farm sells crickets from which powder can be added to flour to make healthier, tasty products.
  • Making carbonate cement from captured carbon from power plant flue gas.
  • Modernize our outdated power grid with cutting-edge technology.
  • Copy the Sun. In France a 34-nation coalition aims to produce energy by fusing heavy hydrogen isotopes. In cloudy Germany, almost 40% of electricity is now produced from solar grids.
  • Follow federal mandate to increase 18-wheelers fuel efficiency by 50% this year from 2009 levels.
  • Recycle more, compost food, cow manure and plant waste to fertilize ranch grasslands.
  • Ween ourselves off a carbon based economy, go solar and wind, invent a whole new electric grid.

Will it require another Hurricane Sandy to wake us up? I hope not.

A version of this letter appeared as an opinion piece in the Press Journal on March 20. 2015.
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