Bird advocates, Audubon state policy leads, Audubon volunteers, and congressional staffers gathered at the United States Capitol building Wednesday afternoon to discuss what to do about climate change, and how Audubon's latest science, Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink, fits into that picture.
David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, moderated a conversation with Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA). In addition to being members of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, Rooney and Lowenthal have led efforts to address climate change and are longtime supporters of conservation work across the country.
During the discussion, Rooney and Lowenthal focused on their own personal stakes in being conservation leaders in Congress, as well as what Audubon members can do to personalize and localize climate change issues so that meaningful action can be taken to address the problem. Rooney and Lowenthal also shared pragmatic approaches to addressing climate issues and their priorities for this legislative session. Rep. Rooney, current co-chair for the Climate Solutions Caucus, said he would continue to heighten awareness of sea-level rise among fellow Congress members, work with fellow representatives on a carbon-pricing bill, and introduce legislation that would ban offshore drilling in the western Gulf of Mexico. He said he hopes that his fellow Republicans will follow suit.
“We all have a stake in the environment,” Rooney said. “One of the biggest problems we (Republicans) have is special interests. I know several of my colleagues would be more outspoken about climate change, but every time they raise their head, local talk show hosts in their district beat the tar out of them. The National Audubon Society is a national political group that can write op-eds, speak up, and meet with representatives on climate issues back home.”
Lowenthal, in addition to working with Rooney on prohibiting new offshore drilling projects, said he will introduce a Migratory Bird Protection Act that would re-establish incidental take as it pertains to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. He added that he would also work to support the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, legislation that protects seabirds from harm.
“Where does it say there is only one environmental party?" Lowenthal asked. “If we as a society want to see change, it is going to take leadership from both sides of the aisle.”
As the standing-room-only crowd roused with applause at the conclusion of their discussion, Chad Wilsey, interim chief scientist and vice president of conservation science at the National Audubon Society, and Brooke Bateman, a senior scientist at Audubon, took the stage. Wilsey demonstrated the functionalities of Audubon’s newest online climate visualizers while Bateman discussed what climate change will mean for birds.
"Every single bird species, all 604 we looked at will be affected by climate change," Bateman said. "We are already at a 1 to 1.1 degree Celsius global warming temperature. We need to take aggressive actions now at the local, state, and federal levels in order to prevent cascading effects across the environment for birds."
Wilsey and Bateman’s science briefing illuminated the fact that birds can personalize and localize the issue of climate change. And in order to mitigate “this paralyzing issue,” as Yarnold put it, we will need action from conservation leaders in Congress and every last one of the 46 million people that say they love birds.
“Through birds, we can connect with people and their backyards, parks, and schools,” Yarnold said. “That is the power of these tools, that is the power of this report, that is the message I am sharing today.”