Taking Action On Climate Change Helps Birds Now

We would know, because we’re doing it every day.

We were hardly a hundred words into Jonathan Franzen’s essay in the New Yorker about climate change and conservation when we suddenly found Audubon taking all kinds of flak about our concern about the impacts of climate change on birds, of all things. As though doing research on the topic and taking steps to do something about it might somehow be bad for birds.

By the time we got to the end, our confusion had turned to incredulity. Just what exactly was this man trying to say?

Franzen’s flawed logic leads him to believe that people can’t work to reduce the sources of climate pollution while protecting the birds and places they love at the same time. That’s not our experience here at Audubon—far from it. Our members can walk and chew gum at the same time.

To make his point, Franzen incorrectly interprets the words of a Minnesota newspaper blogger Jim Williams. Franzen misquotes Williams as saying that if global warming is such a threat to birds, why should anyone care about a few thousand killed by the glass walls of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium? Franzen launches from this to say, “What upset me was how a dire prophecy like Audubon’s could lead to indifference toward birds in the present.” 

His reaction is baffling, and it simply doesn’t square with our experience: Our climate science has created a wave of energy—not indifference!—that is moving thousands of our members from coast to coast to take personal and collective action. They understand what Franzen apparently does not: That we need to save birds today and take action to secure their future, as well as our own.

As far as conservation in the now, Franzen epically fails to mention that the Vikings story was in response to a hailstorm of national activism brought forth by—you guessed it—the National Audubon Society. He also overlooks all the bird-saving going on in his part-time home state of California. Just year before last, we successfully took on the National Rifle Association to remove lead from hunting ammunition that was killing Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, California Condors and a host of other birds.

Our work is just as strong elsewhere: Along the East Coast, local communities are working to make room for endangered Piping Plovers returning to nest. On the Gulf Coast, Audubon has worked tirelessly to restore critical habitat and help birds recover from BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill. In eastern Washington, we are engaging citizen scientists to track target bird species, gathering data that will help us understand what land is critical to maintain as habitat. And speaking of habitat, we’re working nationwide to identify and preserve Important Bird Areas. And while we’re at it, let’s add Tricolored BlackbirdsWestern Snowy PloversOwens LakeWorking Lands conservationthe Kern River Valley, the Brown PelicandroughtSan Francisco Baythe California Gnatcatcher, and our extensive body of work fighting to make sure that renewable energy is sited properly to avoid unnecessary impacts on our birds.

And really that’s just the beginning. Seriously, we can go on all day.

We managed to do all this while also doing something about climate change. Any decent conservation organization has to. Because there isn’t a difference between old-fashioned bird conservation and this new-fangled climate change bird conservation—it’s all the same thing.

David Yarnold is President and CEO of the National Audubon Society. Garrison Frost is Audubon California's director of marketing and communications. 


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