Welcome to 2022. A year that so far looks depressingly like 2021. Admittedly we are only two days in, but let's face it there are a lot of letters of the greek alphabet left. A brief scan of the news is a familiar roll-call of virus, people trafficking, conflict and climate catastrophe. As a parent of two exam-year children, I am worried about what the next few months will bring, but my fear for my children in the face of where all of us seem to be headed goes way beyond the next set of exams. I don't just mean climate change, I mean everything. Right wing popularism and the rise of dictators, the cost of living, the perverse impact of social media and fake news, and across all of this a constant unrelenting and entrenched uncivility that frequently becomes outright hostility. It is an onslaught that could easily lead to the breakdown of society, am I being overly dramatic? The last twenty years of my life seem to have passed in an instant, the last ten even quicker - it will be the same for them. Somehow I have to do my best to equip them for what might come. They're smart, level-headed and grounded, but that does not stop me worrying that it is going to be so difficult, so much harder that I have had it. The baby-boomers are the last generation for whom everything seemed to just fall into place, but versus what the current generation will have to face throughout their lives my era will also seem like a golden age. I am not in a cheery mood about many things at the moment.
This particularly includes birding in the face of climate change. My Twitter timeline in the lead up to the end of the year was interesting. On the one hand loads of people were celebrating the incredible amount of national twitching they had undertaken, miles and miles, with not a single one making any kind of committment to do less of it - rather it was a badge of pride and they were looking forward to the next one. On the other hand there were lots of tweeters bigging up the merits of carbon-free local birding, by bike or foot, people for whom travelling to see rare birds holds absolutely no interest at all, or if it does they're eschewing it in favour of a clear conscience. What I found striking was the empty middle ground. It seemed to be all or nothing - unrepentant big listers and local-or-die patch workers.
The first couple of days of 2022 have been similarly bifurcated. My timeline has been full of Belted Kingfishers and green patch day lists with seemingly nothing in between. It being the start of January I am currently more interested in the latter, and I could not help but notice that many came home with species of counts in the 80s and 90s. Wow! I went out in Wanstead and struggled to find 35. I was not trying especially hard, but even had I been really going for it a total in the mid-50s would have been at the high end of what would have been possible. On a January day where the mercury hit 15 degrees my local area is not a thrilling place to go birding. And that's the rub really. Birding in cities has the occasional highlight of course, and good days can be really good, at least contextually, however it is for the most part poor and unfulfilling. Almost overwhelmingly so actually. Maybe I am suffering from something akin to seasonal affective disorder, but I'd like to see how long a coastal birder would last in Wanstead. I couldn't even find a Dunnock.
Where are the people who like me would like to do a bit of everything? People for whom a single form of birding is neither particularly appealing nor sufficient. People who need fun and thrills just as much as they require the grounding of a local patch? Do they not exist? Or is it that people who can see multiple points of view don't bother with Twitter, the echoes are not as loud as to make it a friendly place, it's too easy to fall foul of one group or the other. That must be it surely, only the loud people get heard and a silent majority are afraid to speak out, worried that anything they type will be seized upon by outspoken people itching to point out the merest whiff of hypocritical double-standards. I can understand that. Eight of my last of ten blog posts have been about a trip to America and it's not like I walked there, yet here I am typing this. I have a photo taken less than a month ago near Boulder Colorado where the houses in the foreground no longer exist, torched on New Year's Eve by a huge wildfire. Thousands of people are homeless, many acres of wildlife habitat and countless creatures have been decimated, but I had a great trip. I felt a sense of uplifting freedom that has been almost completely lacking in my life for the last two years. If that isn't conflicting then I don't know what is.
I would like to think there are lots of people who can see what is happening, who believe the science, but who also feel powerless and hopeless. Driving around America I definitely experienced a sense of helplessness and outright depression as I observed the way life was being led. But I also felt a sense of selfishness as I drove down the same highways, a sense of selfishness which quickly steeled to a different form of hopelessness, a conviction that my own contributions mean nothing, and that any change that I have made or will make in the future has been and will be wholly inadequate and completely futile. I could live the rest of my life as a hermit in a cave observing other people continuing to have fun and for what? But then of course you end up in this crazy loop of justifying your continued enjoyment of non-hermit life because nobody else seems willing to do anything, or at least not in any kind of numbers that matter in the face of the inexorable car-crash that is life on earth as we know it, and you get to thinking that you might as well just enjoy what little time you have left on a habitable planet as we are all totally screwed regardless. And then you remember you have children and that they might have children, and start from the beginning again. Surely I cannot be alone in this nameless circle of self-doubt and self-justification. Where are these people? They are my tribe. Why are they so silent?
As far as birding goes I don't just want to hear from vocal and opinionated low-carbon acolytes who will treat my reluctance to totally give up travelling and birding anywhere other than home with complete contempt. I also don't want to hear from their equally vocal twitching or world-birding counterparts for whom hooning off to the next big bird or on the next big adventure is a divine right and anyone who thinks differently is pathetically woke. I want to hear from people who would like to twitch a bird but often have second thoughts, why they went if they did and why they didn't if they decided not to. I would like to hear from people who feel that birding inland is frequently depressing and what they do to ensure fulfilment. I want to hear about how people made a great trip happen, and how they ensured it was as good as it could be, or people who cancelled a trip because they felt uncomfortable. I want to hear about how people started on a low-carbon journey, and how they were supported, and how they convinced other people to change their behaviour. And from people who decided that elements of it were not possible for them and took a slightly different path and why. Essentially I want to hear about what surely a great many people other than just me are wrestling with, how to live a fulfilling and non-toxic life without giving up everything you genuinely enjoy. How to make the best of a bad situation (and there is no doubt that it is bad - deniers need not apply). The "my way or the highway" from both ends of the spectrum will scoff, but where is that dialogue taking place? It's not on Twitter that I can see, it isn't particularly present on what few blogs exist, it sure as hell isn't in the media, so where is it? Is it in fact absent, a mass burying of heads in the sand, the proverbial kicking of the can? Is this the true definition of a deafening silence Some will insist that it is, others will say I am an idiot for even suggesting it.
What do you think?