February 22nd – Heads In The Sand(?)

Picnicing on Family Day – 50 years from now I wonder if we’ll have to dress so warmly. -DOL

I read with great interest an article by Natasha Comeau in the Hamilton Spectator (from the Toronto Star) about “eco-anxiety”. The “condition” was first defined in 2017 by the American Psychological Association as “a chronic fear for environmental doom.” The condition leads to “intense feelings of stress, fear and grief in reaction to climate change.” It is especially prevalent in young people who are bombarded with climate change news through social media. But older folks are susceptible as well.

I must admit that I was flummoxed by the way the article ended: warning people to beware of “dramatic or inaccurate news”. Hmmm….who can you trust? Around us the world heats up, storms become larger and more frequent, massive fires burn, huge coral reefs die off, sea levels rise, glaciers melt….and yet world leaders equivocate or even deny what’s happening, writing it off as “fake news” and so people don’t know what to pay attention to or even believe.

So I looked around for some sources that one could say were pretty reliable. Here’s what I was finding:
1/ Bird Life International just came out with its latest State of the World’s Birds study. It’s an excellent and very thorough report that I recommend that you all dig up and give a read. This paragraph struck me:
Humanity has reached a point where its collective size and individual expectations have grown such that we have started to deplete the Earth’s resources faster than they can be renewed. Earth’s natural capital must now sustain 7.6 billion people, including a rapidly expanding global middle class that enjoys an unprecedented level of individual material consumption. Humanity has reached a point where it is living beyond the biological capacity of the planet. Demand for the planet’s resources is now equivalent to more than 1.7 Earths. The natural systems that underpin all life and every aspect of human existence are beginning to buckle. The race is now on to develop sustainable methods of living before these vital ecological systems and cycles are irreversibly compromised.” Sensationalism? Fake news?

2/ The World Health Organization (WHO) in co-operation with several other organizations (UNICEF and the Lancet) just published an extensive report in the journal The Lancet. It is available on-line – https//doi.org/10.1016/50140-6736(19)32540-1
One of its main claims is that “every country on Earth [is] failing to provide a world fit for children…..to protect children’s health, their environment and their futures…” Sensationalism? Fake news?

3/ This paper, just published in Science – Cristian Román-Palacios, John J. Wiens. Recent responses to climate change reveal the drivers of species extinction and survival. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2020; 201913007 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1913007117 – predicts that, at the current rate of global temperature rise, one third of plants and animals will go extinct within 50 years. Sensationalism? Fake news?

Ornithologists of the future? I wonder what their census counts will look like in 50 years. (Front) Noah, Eila, Maggie; (middle) Liam, Aliya; (apex) Nola. -DOL

Fifty years….hmmm…..I was thinking about this in terms of the lives of the young ornithologists that we see at Ruthven (and Fern Hill). They will see the impact of our misguided lifestyles and political decisions. Some people are actually arguing now that these reports are bogus in some way but…in my lifetime I have seen the reduction of bird numbers in North America by 2.9 billion. This should have been the canary in the coal mine. But it hasn’t been.

Today I saw the first real migrants of the Spring – Common Grackles and Song Sparrows. Migrants have been cropping up all over southern Ontario for the past week or so. What a marvellous, awe-inspiring thing migration is. Fifty years from now today’s young ornithologists will still experience this migration but it will simply be much smaller and with many fewer species.

An anecdote I like to use is this: when I was in grade 8 I came home from school one Spring day in May and found 13 species of warblers in the big tree out the back at the same time. I was overjoyed but not overly surprised – this was what Spring migration was like. Now, at Ruthven, I am overjoyed when I encounter 13 species of warblers in the course of one day. (And I’m very concerned when, on doing a census, I don’t see any at times when they should be plentiful.) So in 50 years….it might be nice just to see a warbler.

One wants to do something to impact climate change. At times I get pretty pessimistic that we as individuals can make a difference at all but….I’m encouraged by the enthusiasm by some of the young people I come into contact with and by adults who are working hard to make a difference. I do believe that the cumulative impact of small efforts can have significant results. But….here’s the crux of it all for me. There’s lots of talk about strategies to reduce the drivers of climate change, mostly (but not solely) concentrating on reducing CO2 emissions. But what is sadly lacking in almost all these discussions is what I consider to be the single most important factor: curbing population growth. I don’t care what is done to reduce carbon emissions, if the global population continues to grow it will all be for naught. I guess it’s not politically correct or comfortable to discuss this issue but it’s the prime driver behind what ails us. We’ve got to take our heads out of the sand and start addressing issues like birth control and the reduction of population growth.

The Spectator article was interesting from a slightly different perspective: there was a picture at the top of the piece showing members of Toronto’s Malvern Collegiate “eco-club”. The members meet weekly to discuss issues and plan events like picking up trash, etc. The concerning thing for me was that the club appeared to be made up of 12 young women. Where are the young men!? I’m seeing this more and more at the banding program – many more females get involved than males. That doesn’t auger well…..in so many countries it’s the men that have the political clout and make decisions around climate issues.

Environmental education will become even more important moving forward. -KAP

In the meantime….banding goes on. At Fern Hill Oakville on Friday:
Banded 17:
2 Mourning Doves
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
1 Black-capped Chickadee
1 Northern Cardinal
5 Dark-eyed Juncos
2 House Finches
5 House Sparrows

ET’s: 15 spp.

3 thoughts on “February 22nd – Heads In The Sand(?)

  1. Hi Rick. Good article. Curbing the population begins with self control as birth control. If people understand that we are good. In the meantime every little bit counts.
    Take care and thanks for doing what you do.

  2. While you’re right about self control my experience is that it doesn’t go very far in curbing the problem. In many countries where women are regarded merely as chattel sexual abuse is rampant and the women don’t have any recourse but to have the baby…..

  3. I just finished an editorial that stated that that in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia, catastrophic weather events related to climate change (massive storms, flooding, droughts, etc.) are resulting in a dramatic increase in the incidence of child marriages. The country highlighted was Malawi where I’ve spent a couple of months over the past year and a half. A typhoon that blew in from the Indian Ocean, crossed Mozambique and dropped huge amounts of rain in southern Malawi caused the Shire River to flood tremendously, killing many and chasing thousands to refugee camps. In these sorts of instances families are marrying off female children well under age, the thinking being that the family may not be able to support the young woman so her main hope for survival will be to get married. Although the country has a law that stipulates that a woman must be 18 to marry it isn’t really enforced and it was thought that at least 50% of recent marriages involved women under that age – even some as young as 11. So self control isn’t going to do much for them….

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