The results of this week’s election have been a shock for those of us who care about birds and the environment. Donald Trump made no secret during his campaign of his desire to do away with many of our current protections for air and water, and to facilitate unrestricted development of fossil fuels. He doesn’t believe that humans are causing climate change, and he might even try withdrawing America from the Paris Agreement, the largest global climate treaty in history.
This is going to be an extremely difficult four years.
The question is, what are we going to do about it? Just sit here and let terrible things happen to our beloved planet? Of course not. We’re going to roll up our sleeves and take a stand.
The good news is that there are lots of things each and every one of us can do to help, ranging from actions that take very little time, to others that can take your life in another direction. Either way, you’re needed more than ever. Birds can’t defend themselves from what’s about to happen.
Your scope can be local or national. There’ll be no shortage of things to do, and working hard to protect birds and their habitat in your town is just as important as working on a larger scale. In fact, since there are fewer voices in local issues, yours is all the more likely to be heard. The issue should come first. Find something you’re passionate about and work for it, no matter where you are.
Once you’ve figured out how to want to start advocating, here’s how to do it, beginning with the easier actions and building from there.
Join Up. If you’re not an official member of the Audubon Society or any other of the thousands of environmental non-profits out there, now’s the time. There is strength in numbers, and you need to be counted. These organizations will help you stay on top of the issues and provide you with opportunities to make your voice heard. Take the potential loss of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. That is an important issue that Florida Audubon has been key in raising awareness about and fighting against.
Writing letters to Congress or other leaders, as quaint as it sounds, is actually critically important. I live and work in the environmental advocacy community here in Washington, DC, and the thing I think most people forget about Congress is that these people really are here to work for their constituents. The trouble is that if no one tells them about an issue, or they’re unaware how many people in their district care about it, they won’t do anything. They might not do what you’re asking anyway, but at least they’ll know they’ll be making people mad.
And here’s a little insider secret: You know what’s better than filling out those online letters and emailing them to your Representative? Writing and mailing an actual letter. I’m totally serious. I interned on Capitol Hill after college and was in charge of constituent mail. The vast majority of letters that came in on all issues were form letters. We’d take note of all the senders and keep track of the numbers, but on the quite rare occasion that we received an actual handwritten letter, we’d make sure it was set aside. A handwritten letter was pretty much guaranteed to be personally read and responded to by the Representative. Try it.
Give money. I know, I know, everyone’s got their hand out. But trust me, giving money, even if it’s just an annual membership fee, is a great way to actually achieve the results you want.
The reason is because you’re letting the pros handle it. All of these organizations are staffed with people whose whole job it is to fight for the environment. They know the ropes. The only thing preventing further progress is a lack of funds. Non-profits spend a whole lot of their time figuring out how they can raise the money they need to accomplish their goals, time that should be spent actually accomplishing those goals. Giving money is the most efficient thing you can do to help the causes you care about.
Vote. My goodness, please vote. You can’t complain if you didn’t vote, and plenty of people in this most recent presidential election didn’t show up at all. You just need to vote. Vote in all the elections you are allowed to, from president to school board to whatever. There are enough of us out there who care about the environment to achieve the goals we want. We just need to elect representatives who care, too.
Get Involved. Want to get really serious? Start putting some time into the conservation movement. You might not know this, but I am a conservation professional (I don’t know if that’s a real term). By night I moonlight as your bird-advising columnist, but by day I work to protect national parks from the harmful impacts of energy development (join us, we’re great).
Working in the conservation community is incredibly rewarding. On certain days, like days last week when the National Park Service finalized new rules to protect parks from oil and gas drilling, you feel a sense of pride I’m not sure you can get anywhere else. On other days, like this week, it can seem like there’s no depth unreachable. But that’s why we fight. That’s what we do.
So how can you get involved? There are lots of ways. The first is volunteering, which is more than just helping pick up trash at the beach (which is also great) but also includes things like writing letters to the editor for local paper, making phone calls, hosting events, joining a protest march, doing research, visiting Congress, or a ton of other things. Get in touch with your favorite group to ask how you can help.
Want to go even bigger than that? Apply for a job! Give yourself over to the cause! There are lots of roles to play, from communications to administration to policy, all working toward the same goal.
We all love birds, but appreciating them also comes with a duty to protect them. We’re incredibly lucky to share our planet with these creatures, but they can’t help themselves. It’s up to us to take action.