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?
I could write an entire book on the subject...I agree...we must shout it out!! First off corporate greed is the biggest problem, until we get them to pay attention what use is it?? The whole world is infested with Burger King, and McDonalds, and all the rest of it. WE each have to do our part...Just don't buy into it...we have to scream louder. The US is 40 UK's and that's not counting Mexico and Canada...we are running out of time. I have changed my life to try to do my part and I feel hopeless...I gave up meat, dairy, I recycle, my van sits in the yard more than it goes anywhere I don't just make a trip but my neighbor, he goes out 3, 4, 5 times a day...there is NO public transport...I would have to cycle 9 miles to get to the nearest food store and that's one way and I'd probably be killed by a logging truck on my way. I told my son I was thinking of getting a scooter he said I would be run down day one....and he is probably correct. We each have to do our own part and expect no reward for that, other than knowing we are doing our damnest to not be such a huge consumer...if the dam is leaking we don't just give up we each plug what we can. This year Im not going to buy anything in plastic as long as I can find an alternative or do without because so much of it is not recyclable Another thing is buying food and items that travels great distances this is on my radar to pay attention to. No more fruit from Costa Rica...or Peru....I haven't flown since 2008. I want an electric car but cant afford one, hopefully we are laying the ground work for a future that is better say in 2080! I will keep my twitching to 4 hrs round trip...I don't even have Chipping Sparrow or Junco in my yard normally they are here...and my Peach tree is blooming NOW, JAN 2. We have to make our own plans and be real about it. I want to do one road trip this year so I must offset that and this is part of my plan on how to make that happen...checks and balances.ReplyDelete
Thank you very much for this lengthy reply, lots of good points in here, and I certainly echo your feeling of hopelessness. Every night, until the early hours, I hear people racing cars in east London. Forget about how dangerous and reckless it is, just quite how much fuel are they guzzling? It honestly sounds like the Indy 500 on some nights, and the Police turn a blind eye as far as I can tell. And given that I deliberately leave our car on the drive for sometimes weeks at a time it is infuriating. There have been a number of birds I would have liked to have seen that I did not. Partly this was apathy, partly I was fed up of driving after my US road trip, partly it was cost (petrol here is 3-4x as expensive as in the US), but it was also partly that I didn't need to see the bird and burn that fuel doing so. I do take your point about everyone needing to do their bit but it would be a lot easier if there was evidence of that happening. As it is I feel like I could deprive myself of everything for no result at the cost other than my own happiness whilst many other people, though not everyone, happily continued as is, and that really bugs me. My next car will be electric, but the infrastructure needs to catch up, and the batteries need to be better. At the moment I drive so few miles that I think it is a better outcome to run my car into the ground than to buy an electric one, the carbon needed to build one (and the rather nasty stuff that goes into batteries) is surely many times the miles I drive, so for now I am holding off. Totally agree about plastic - infuriating that so much food comes wrapped like this, and comes from so far away too. We're going to nail that this year, I have had enough. Thanks again for your comment (and all the other ones in response to the Midwest adventure - that's coming to a close now).Delete
I haven't commented on a blog until now, but you have made some interesting points and asked a question, so I thought I'd give the world the benefit of my wisdom. It is, as you say, easier to write a diatribe than present any kind of nuanced view (and, dare I say it, more fun), which is probably why the latter are so rare. On the environment, as on so many issues, people fall into two camps: well-meaning hypocrites and uncaring sons of bachelors. Most if not all people on here probaly sit in the former group - we do what we can but are far from perfect. With regard to birding, like you I live in an urban area (Bristol) and my hyper-local birding is feeble - it's a forty minute trudge along pavements for me before I even get to see a mallard. If I were a better person maybe I'd be happy watching the fifty or so species I can expect to see around here over the course of a year, but I'm not so I travel to go birding, usually not very far but typically about 35 miles (by car). Maybe this makes me a bad person, but then again, cities are probably the most environmentally friendly places to live - I do all my shopping on foot for example. Is driving to go birding worse than driving to buy food ? As for twitiching I've pretty much given up - the only thing I twitched last year was walrus ( which some books don't even class as a bird) - largely on environmental grounds. But I don't criticise people who do more than me, and maybe as work and family commitments ease I'll return to slightly more active twitching, assuming that I survive to retirement age. Foreign travel is a tricky one. Flying is wrong but I love being abroad and let's face it, the UK isn't great for any wildlife enthusiast. The best form of travel is probably to prioritise the many parts of the world where habitat conservation is dependent on tourism, do what you can to encoruage conservation whilst you're there and afterwards write to the country's governement telling them how much their commitment to environment enhanced your trip and improves their country's reputation around the world (unless it's one of those governments who obviously don't give a damn). It's certainly not birding tourism that's destroying the world.ReplyDelete
Do my puny and confused attempts to restrict my activities make a difference ? Not really, obviously. But the human world is composed of individuals and ultimately each one can only do what they can. At the same time, we are lucky enough to live in an open society and even the idiots in charge at the moment will listen to public opinion, so pestering your MP does make a difference - even if they're in oppostion they have some influence. Again, all but the most evil of corporations cares about their public profile; badgering, encouragement, boycotts, share holder pressure, all have potential to affect far more change than does depriving yourself of a day out in nature.
Sorry to have gone on. In the unlikely event of anyone having read this: enjoy your birding, however you go about it !
On the strength of this comment Rupert, you should be writing a blog. Agree with everything you have said, and am particularly intrigued by the making a fuss in writing part. Something many us are reluctant to do, lazy and life is short, but which likely has a huge impact (especially if those receiving such a communiqué take the view that one person writing is equivalent to 500 thinking the same thing and voting the same way, with feet or ballot pencil). That's something I will definitely try to do this year, and if in the unlikely event I manage any travel to these types of places, writing to those in charge will form a part of it too. Thanks again!Delete
It's an interesting conundrum for the inland birder! Living in north-east Worcs I am lucky enough to live within 5 minutes drive of an excellent reserve - reserve list of 244, me 211. Yes, I could walk there in 45-50 minutes, but my ageing hips & knees aren't keen on that idea - neither is the asthma. However, it does get a bit 'samey' for much of the time and the general decline in total numbers of birds, rather than species, has become very noticeable over the last few years. What to do? My annual Scilly or Shetland trips are no more, last on Shetland in 2014. My occasional urges to twitch are not very highly tuned at present - partly concern over climate change, partly covid-induced apathy. Hoping a few days-out to the coast this year with a birding mate will help - me if not the climate - and exploring a bit more of my local area to see if I can find an unknown 'good' area instead of flogging the same patch week in, week out. Whether the occasional twitch (two last year) or a day out once a month is 'allowed' by the climate police, smug in their coastal patches I can't say. Perhaps all birders should move to the coast?ReplyDelete
This is something I have wondered actually - green lists based on cycling and hiking and the rest of it - all very well when you are my age (just about!) but it is not something my father could do, for example, or many of his generation. For them if they want to see beyond the confines of their own houses then it is going to involve transport, and public transport being so woeful in many places, it is going to mean a car.Delete
I think we need to be careful labelling people as climate police. I try not to, even though I agree it frequently feels like that. For instance there are a number of very vocal people online who feel the need to jump on any form of birding enjoyment other than on the local patch and mercilessly crush it, and whilst I don't think that approach pays any dividends there is clearly a huge depth of feeling and also the science is on their side. In other words I don't disagree with message, but the delivery is if anything counterproductive. Raising this will probably result in a "I am just saying it like it is, softly softly has got us nowhere" which is also entirely accurate, but equally does not advance the dialogue.
Moving to the coast, now there is an idea. I am not yet at the stage where I can do that, but the time is not too far off and once I am free of the current shackles there is NO WAY I am living in London. I just need to look at sea level predictions for a number of the good birding spots...
Good point re selecting the 'right spot' on the coast. I'll bear that one in mind.Delete
If COP26 changes nothing and I wait long enough, Wanstead might be on the coast and I won't need to move.Delete
A brilliant post Jonathan, that if I had been as intelligent and articulate as yourself could and would have written! I have just blogged about my middle ground status. I am not a twitcher. Mainly because I am too lazy rather than being a saint. I do like a twitch and do like a local patch and I do like my county listing. I keep very quiet on twitter about my real feelings about climate change and will remain so here. On a green note I can say my contribution is - No kids, deliberately, so I am not exponentially increasing my own resource use, I have not eaten meat for 35+ years. My partner is vegan and as she does most of the cooking I am almost vegan too but I still like milk in my tea and fish occasionally. I have only flown a few times, my partner has never flown. My last foreign trip was in 2016. I garden in an organic way without any type of chemicals or over tidyness. Any thats about me really.ReplyDelete
Even the few comments on your post show how thought provoking is your writing. They are massive! Not just a sentence saying bravo, but essays in response.
Oh I forgot, I am a smug east coast, coastal person and would not, maybe could not live in an urban environment ( never have).
Anyway, be free to do what makes you and yours happy Jonathan, I for one will not criticize. Happy New Year...
Cheers Stewart, Happy New Year! Some interesting points you make, it seems lots of birders live a pretty green lifestyle, but that where is breaks down for many of them is transport, be that driving or flying.Delete
I was also wondering about pets the last few days. I loathe dogs (well dogs are OK, I loathe their shitty selfish owners) and in terms of low-carbon living that seems to rarely get a mention. But dogs, especially big ones, must consume loads of meat, far more than I do and clearly WAY more than your family does. Can you actually give a dog a vegetarian or vegan diet? I think fewer pets would be amazing for life on earth, but that is probably a controversial view. Look at the stats for cat bird kills. And living by the coast you will surely have encountered the flushing or ground-nesting problem. Imagine a world with no dogs, it would be brilliant I tell you!
And yes the comments to this post have been awesome, better than the post itself by some margin I felt!
Well as a dog owner I am biased. I tend to favour them a lot more than the people who own them and yes, the majority of people shouldnt have a dog, because it is just a dog, a pet, to them. Our terrier, Peggy, is a full on family member here. She is the only household member that eats meat. I wouldnt consider a vegetable diet for dogs. They can eat vegetables but are essentially carnivores. She is not allowed off her flexi lead(she would do one, as is the way of terriers) so she doesn't flush or even disturb anything. Yes there are a lot of dog problems here. You have been to Boulmer for the Pacific Plover. The small beach there is great for waders but they never get a minutes peace. People flinging balls for springer spaniels that quarter every single inch of the shore are worst. Even in the dark I have seen people release dogs onto the shore here.Delete
I wouldn't like to live without a dog, one is enough, after all humans have sort of evolved with them for millennia and to be fair, my dog is far less disturbing than a boat load of kids running amok when parents cant be arsed to watch them.
I wanted to comment on this post when I first read it Jono, but wasn't sure what to say. It's a post that deserves a comment. So I've read it a few times now...ReplyDelete
Are 'middle-ground' birders the silent majority? Maybe. I don't know. But, rightly or wrongly, I think of myself that way. The high-carbon stuff I don't do isn't missing from my itinerary because my conscience won't allow it, but because it holds little or no appeal. If I was attracted to trips abroad or the latest mega, that's when my conscience might come in to play. And I'm sure it would, like yours clearly does. The nature of my birding now is essentially the same as it was before I even thought about the impact I might be having on climate change: short drives and a lot of walking. I've made hardly any sacrifices, and often feel hypocritical when talking up a low-carbon approach. Still, I get great pleasure from my local birding, and try to convey its attractions through my blog. But low-carbon zealot I am not.
If I lived in a city I'm pretty sure I would do something like Rich Bonser does (and Jamie Partridge when he was London based) and travel periodically to an underwatched coastal spot for its potential migrant thrills. I could not survive on Wanstead alone. Most of my birding is a couple of hours at a time, so wherever I lived I would be limited to what was on hand. I have packed in cycling on the road. At 62 I simply feel too vulnerable now. Driving short distances does not bother my conscience.
As for other aspects of this thought-provoking post, I sympathise. The world is a mess, and the future for our kids, and their kids, looks dismal. But that's another topic altogether...
I shall try to address some of the birdy stuff on NQS at some point, but hopefully this comment helps.
For some reason (perhaps you are just less overt or punchy online than some?) I don't see you as one of the people who fervently preaches about things that they themselves never had to give up, and I suppose your brief but glorious twitching past was in a different era when carbon footprints were, even if understood in some way, certainly not part of the zeitgeist in the way they are now.Delete
The whole living in a city thing is really beginning to bug me, particularly given the content of my Twitter feed of people reveling on the coast and having a thoroughly marvelous time (while telling the rest of us how bad we are). And given that the main reasons for being in a city - work, socialising, cultural opportunities, being close to transport hubs etc - are much decreased and may never return to previous levels, I wonder what on earth I am doing. But we have lives here, schools and a lot more besides. And I don't know about other people but by the time the end of the week comes around I am so shattered that I find it far too easy to stay close to home doing nothing!
Great post, Jonathan and one that resonates with me. To many in the birding world, I suspect I am the devil incarnate. I work in the City (and used to fly for work to the States and China two or three times a year); I sometimes holiday abroad and either fly there or drive; I eat meat. The pandemic and the climate crisis writ large has mainly addressed (i.e. stopped) the long distance work travelling. Worries about climate change and the global assault on nature has seen me greatly reduce my meat intake. But I don't plan to cut out foreign travel entirely. I'm due (third time lucky, twice a casualty of the pandemic) to go to Ecuador and the Galapagos later this year, mainly for birding. I like the idea above of contacting the Ecuadorian government to tell them about this after I've been. I've just booked a long weekend skiing in the Alps next month - that's pretty bad, isn't it? Ski resorts aren't great for nature and I'll be going there by plane and train. Every other year I try and go on an African safari. I have chosen not to have kids. I've tried carbon offset schemes, but I'm not sure if they are just a gimmick.ReplyDelete
How do I deal with all this? Many decisions we make about our everyday lives impact the environment. Each time I face one I ask myself is the world better or worse if I do this? I'm not a saint and those trips abroad do my mental well-being the world of good. I realise that they do even more harm if I use airmiles to fly business class. So I ask myself that question each time, whether it's buying new stuff, choosing a household cleaning product, travelling, whatever. As a result, I don't twitch. I mainly bird in North London where I live, with one day or weekend trip to each of the Kent coast, the Essex coast, the Suffolk coast and north Norfolk. I've greatly reduced household plastic usage, shelled out to improve house insulation and more efficient heating system (although not yet a heat source pump) and my current car, although hybrid, will be the last one I have that uses petrol. I'll go electric next time, although that's still not exactly green, is it? Mining the ocean floor for the battery parts, and everything that goes into car production isn't exactly great for the environment. I use public transport for local travel and increasingly to visit family around the country.
We all need to find the right balance for ourselves, being mindful of the footprints we leave and the damage we do. Small steps by each of us as individuals will help the world, incrementally. Voting in governments not committed to taking the big steps to address climate change ASAP and not committed to helping/persuading autocratic rulers of big polluters elsewhere to shape up is something we should be trying to avoid doing.
Twitter always struck me as a rant-fest, so I avoid it. I suspect some (many?) people will read the above and think I am absolutely pathetic and a threat to the future of mankind. So be it.
Yes, I would definitely stay off Twitter, you would be cannon fodder for any number of people. Equally you would likely have a lot of fans and get loads of thumbs ups or whatever the currency is these days, depends what you want!Delete
I am more and more convinced that we have to get rid of big corporations to solve this, when you chase down a lot of what is going in the natural world, politics (any birder or nature-lover that bleats that they don't want to hear about politics is 100% kidding themselves) and many other things you ultimately end up at a profit and loss account, with the former very much the driving force. Insatiable corporate greed is killing us all. But at the same time this ultimately comes back to almost every one of us, at least in the developed world, as that what our pensions are invested in, that's what finances our mortgages, etc etc ad infinitum. You work in bank, you are definitely in the chain. Equally if you work in a supermarket you are too. Many elements of healthcare too, not many professions are very noble these days. Everything is inextricably linked and capitalism is thus a broken model. I'm saying that and like you I work for a bank, and would personally like to remain as comfortable as possible, but in a society dominated by a single driving ideal that success can only be measured by *constant* economic growth has no good eventual outcome that I can see. In 2024 America is going to implode, not because of the thrill of power but because of money.