Last September, Audubon released its climate report outlining the projected impacts of future climate change on North American birds. The news was grim: half of our birds are at serious conservation risk in this century. The public response was encouraging, and as the story was retold in newspapers and magazines across the globe, my optimism increased day by day. It gave me hope that we will take the challenging collective steps needed to avert the worst outcomes for birds and people.
A couple of months later, Popular Mechanics bestowed upon Audubon one of their 2014 Breakthrough Awards. At the awards luncheon, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Good Housekeeping’s editor, Jane Francisco. We got to chatting about the implications of Audubon’s report. I mentioned that, for example, the Baltimore Oriole may not be in Maryland by 2080, and that areas all over the continent are projected to lose iconic bird species of their own. Every time I present Audubon’s findings to the public, I am reminded anew of the power of those charismatic birds inspire action. And that luncheon last fall was no different. This month Good Housekeeping ran a four-page feature (only parts were reproduced online) that riffs on many of the topics that Francisco and I discussed. The piece is terrific: it explains how climate affects us all, takes down some climate myths, and frames the problem through a compelling variety of places and impacts.
I had to smile when I saw the printed reference to the oriole in Baltimore. The addition of that small detail cemented for me the idea that conversations matter. Each of us can talk about the problems of climate change with our friends and families—and with relative strangers at luncheons. At the same time, we can look to our own lives and examine the choices we make. We can make a difference through small individual actions that will make it easier to do the large, collective ones. Since the message is so urgent and the threat so pervasive, we also know that we must each take action where we can, and spread the word.
It’s easy to feel powerless against such a big threat. We know that climate change will impact all species and the systems we depend upon for our economic and emotional wellbeing. We know that we need to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, while we protect birds today and prepare for tomorrow. But climate change is the result of cumulative small actions, and so our small reactions really do make a difference. A mere 10 percent increase in energy efficiency in the U.S. would make a huge difference. And it need not come at a cost of economic drive. By some counts, last year was the first year the global economy grew while emissions remained flat. Small actions, taken by many, sparked by conversations like the one I had in November, really can change the world.
Gary Langham is Chief Scientist for the National Audubon Society.