What one small bird can tell those of us who run and ride

By Christopher Cudworth

OvenbirdThis time of year is peak migration season for songbirds. Millions of birds are moving south for the winter in search of food sources and warmer temperatures.

It’s a tough go, made even tougher by the fact that in the last 250 years there have been a lot of obstacles erected in the path of flying birds. Tall buildings in Chicago regularly knock thousands of birds from the sky. By necessity and out of compassion a volunteer crew of avid birders moves through the city streets from dawn until rush hour each morning collecting dead birds and shipping stunned but still living birds out to the Willowbrook Wildlife Haven in Glen Ellyn where they are rehabilitated if possible, and released.

The birds that aren’t collected are often eaten by crows or gulls, which also move through the city at dawn scarfing up free meals. Up to 5000 birds a season are rescued and released. Many of these are rare or precious species of birds whose populations have been impacted the last 200 years by human changes to the environment.

Fight or flight

IMG_1152Humans have a lot in common with birds you see. The adverse environmental impacts that affect birds include pesticides, pollutants, habitat and wetland loss. Climate change of any type, warming or cooling, is also known to have major impacts on bird and human populations. The somewhat ironic fact now is that anthropogenic (caused by humans) climate change is turning tables on everyone who lives on the planet. Birds and humans are now interlinked in new ways.

There is talk that climate change may reduce bird populations by millions. Entire species may vanish from the earth, creating a mass extinction on par with past decimations wrought by meteor collisions with earth, volcanic eruptions and long term climate heating and cooling brought on by natural shifts and systemic change.

This time climate change is happening so fast the effects are measurable by visible degrees. The rate of change is unprecedented. Ice core samples in the Antarctic show consistent, regular cycles of climate change over 800,000 years, but never has a spike like this one occurred. As a carbon-spitting race of beings we’ve spiked the climate punch.

Strange histories

IMG_8455Climate change deniers like to point to the long and ancient history of earth as a sign that human beings could never affect systems so big and large. Ironically these perspectives are partnered with religious view that contend the earth is not that old, perhaps 10 to 30,000 years old, tops. Collectively these views are held by something like 30% of the American population, the exact figure that matches up with diehard conservative voters.

What an odd, contrarian mix of beliefs it is that forms the alliance of climate change deniers! Meanwhile changes to our weather produced by global warming confuse the issue even more in the minds of those who choose to deny climate change on ideological grounds. Here in Illinois last winter we had the coldest, snowiest weather imaginable. Some seemed spitefully content to grumble “so much for climate change,” yet they should have listened to their own words. Climate change was exactly what set up a new Polar Vortex that sent cold air rushing down from the arctic.

Big patterns

We’ve known about systems like this for a couple centuries now. The Gulf Stream keeps northern Europe climatologically stable. Without that warm water from the south, Europe starts to freeze. Climate change could screw with that.

Already we’ve seen glaciers melt away from major mountain systems. There is concern that reduced snows in the mid-Rockies could result in river systems drying up across the central United States. Irrigation is fading in California due to drought, and messing with agriculture and the ecosystems of that state. Major economic, political and social changes have already been implemented to contend with such changes. Is it a symbol for what’s to come on a global scale?

Rolling changes

IMG_0330So you can see that we humans and birds are dependent on the same natural systems to sustain us all. And how does that affect those of us who run and ride?

A few love to jest that warmer weather would be a welcome adjustment in the northern climes. Some speculate that in 100 years the climate of Chicago could be just as warm as New Orleans. We know from the fossil record that entire continents once received much warmer temperatures. Massive tropical environments hosted dinosaurs that grew to huge proportions because there were food sources and the environment to sustain them.

But when the climate changed, things got serious and massive die-offs occurred. It can still happen. Denying the impact of human effects on the atmosphere and the climate does no good. When big picture climate change gets really rolling, there’s no stopping it. It’s like trying to stay away from the peloton as a solo rider. We could all get scooped up by the fast pace of hot weather brought on by global climate change.

Tiny signals

I studied that little ovenbird carefully this morning. I’ve seen birds that were stunned before. This one sooner or later got its wits back together and flew away. That bird was victim of an artificial circumstance. The reason birds hit windows is that they perceive the reflections they see as a reality. They fly right at the window as if it were a woods in which to escape.

The only way to change that perception in birds is to alter the false appearances by placing objects on the window that warn them off. It’s not just cosmetic. But its also not perfect. Sometimes birds still hit the windows even when there are stickers or other prevention measures set up.

Chipping SparrowIt’s almost a perfect parallel: the human race is about to strike a giant window of our own making. We’ve placed an obstruction to a healthy future in our own path.

The impact on the human race could be severe. There could be droughts that kill crops, loss of water sources leading to major international conflicts, and changes in the oceans that could lead to flooding and radical shift in population centers.

It’s not alarmist. It’s common sense. More than 90% of the world’s scientists agree about the facts of climate change. It’s not some political conspiracy or partisan plot to get funding for science. In fact it’s the opposite way around. The people who don’t want to fund climate change prevention seek only to keep money for themselves and protect a status quo that is costing the rest of us dearly. They are the selfish bastards, in other words.

Human nature

IMG_1165Let’s apply some theology and some logic here to consider the contentions of climate change deniers.

If on religious grounds one determines that humans cannot effect something so large as the order of creation, how does one explain the fact that the Bible chronicles the creation of a fallen world based on original sin, the acts of one man and one woman? If human beings can’t affect the order of creation, then the Bible is a lie.

If on economic grounds you contend that preventing climate change will adversely impact existing industries, then you refuse to consider the striking parallels between the dynamic environments required by both an economy and an ecosystem, both of which are dependent on healthy environments (conditions) to thrive.

If on political grounds one contends that dealing with climate change is a waste of money compared to other social issues, then you’ve divested your politics from common sense, because a nation is first and foremost composed of the health and availability of its most resources. Climate change puts those resources at peril and risk.

If on ideological grounds one maintains that climate change is the creation of a liberal faction that is always inventing social problems, then you likely refuse to acknowledge that effecting social change and responding to human needs and civil rights has always been the province of liberalism. That’s a proud and demonstrable fact, one that goes all the way back to the founding of the American Republic and the quite liberal document known as the Constitution. Civil justice and environmental justice are inextricably linked.

We all have a lot at stake in terms of overcoming such unsound objections to action on climate change.

In the same boat

All this matters to those who run and ride because our treasured activities truly do depend on a healthy climate and ecosystem. That’s what makes prosperity possible. Without that firm dynamic in place, life quickly turns to issues of survival. There is no time for leisure when food and water is scarce. There is no time for fun and running and riding when nations are at war over dwindling resources and land.

The bird on my front porch this morning was a patent little warning that human beings really can screw things up without really trying. We’ve wrenched the climate loose from its slow moving moors and are adrift in history. It’s not too late to throw ropes and pull ourselves back in. But the boat is moving even if some people refuse to see it.


About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @genesisfix07 and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and genesisfix.wordpress.com Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
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