There’s a nightmarish, and completely avoidable, scenario coming into focus for climate and wildlife advocates, one where America’s wildlife could become roadkill on the path to ambitious reductions in climate change. If you connect the dots, the formula for this tragedy is already unfolding: The gutting of our major environmental protections leaves birds and other wildlife vulnerable while climate activists are at work building plans for urgent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Ironically, that outcome would suit both longtime climate-action opponents and those companies that would benefit from massive investments in renewable energy. We plan to hold everyone accountable, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the American Wind Energy Association.
And as we look to build a bipartisan coalition of legislators that will take the bold steps needed to update our creaky energy grid and facilitate the wide-scale rollout of renewable energy, the erosion of protections over the past three years has set the stage for the sacrifice of nature in the name of climate action. What worries us most is that it’s not hard to imagine even staunch environmental advocates—some of nature’s best, longtime friends—going beyond reasonable compromise in the pursuit of needed carbon reductions. This is going to be a particularly painful trap for Democrats who are staunch environmentalists, as well as Republicans who value their party’s reputation as America’s truest conservationists.
How did we fall through this looking glass? For the past 50 years, a suite of laws has been in place to safeguard birds and other wildlife. Laws like the National Environmental Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act created basic protections for nature and for wildlife.
In just three years, those bedrock conservation laws have been gutted. Without them, there is no code to ensure we understand how individual projects and actions matter, no process to make certain we keep an eye on long-term impacts.
While Audubon’s own science about the future of birds in a climate-changed world makes us full-throated supporters of renewable energy, we’re going to lead the fight to hold renewable energy companies to strong and reasonable environmental protections.
So here’s how America avoids doing the right thing in the wrong way: Reinstate commonsense environmental protections and change course on carbon pollution. Doing the latter at the expense of nature is just trading one tragedy for another. Urge your representative to help protect birds by voicing your concern here.
This piece originally ran in the Spring 2020 issue as "Good Intentions and False Choices." To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.