EDITORIAL

What the decline in birds show us 

Flocks of passenger pigeons once soared gracefully over Walden Pond in Concord, where the transcendentalist New England author Henry David Thoreau penned what would become his 1854 book, “Walden; or Life in the Woods.” Two-hundred years ago, scientists estimate there might have been as many as five billion passenger pigeons in North America.

These days, the glacial pond reflects a clear sky. Passenger pigeons are gone.

As the industrial revolution churned out production, America’s skies began filling with pollution. Habitat declined. Entire species were lost. Driven to extinction by a number of human- related stressors including over-hunting, the last passenger pigeon, a female named Martha, died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914, according to the National Audubon Society. Not many people fully recognized the dire implications of those changing times. Thoreau — whose book, “Walden,” became a foundation for the modern-day environmentalist movement — did.

“We need the tonic of wildness,” he wrote. “At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us ... We can never have enough of nature.”

A lot has changed since “Walden” was published, and not much for the better. One thing, however, has remained the same. Today, there are still bold authors taking a stand against unrestrained and irresponsible industrial development.

One such author, Bill Danielson, writes a column for this newspaper.

On Monday, Danielson penned what might be his most important article to date (of the more than 900 he’s written): “I’ve put off writing this column because it is depressing,” Danielson began. “Even now, my fingers hesitate over the keyboard as if there might be some other pattern of letters that would be easier to fashion. I try to remain upbeat and positive about nature and the outdoors, but there is a certain reality looming above us all that I can no longer ignore.”

We can’t ignore it either.

passenger pigeon, among others that are now extinct.

What species will be next? The decline won’t stop without intervention.

“The warning bell has been ringing for decades and we’ve been ignoring it because it is uncomfortable to focus on,” Danielson wrote.

This is cause for alarm. We’re ringing it, too.

In response to Cornell University’s research, Danielson suggested a number of ways that local readers can help to counter the loss of birds. Namely, to donate to an environmental charity such as The Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, the World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation or 4ocean.

“Remember that membership numbers are just as important as membership dollars. If these organizations have more members, then they may have more power to do good,” Danielson wrote.

Sadly, and despite the efforts of many activists and authors like Danielson, there’s a precedent in our society for ignoring science-based warnings. Thoreau, as a writer and environmentalist, was ahead of his time. In his essay “Familiar Letters,” he foreshadowed what is now a daily reality — that is, the global and imminent threat of climate change, fueled by irresponsible policies and poor business practices. Yet, the problem is far worse today, more than a century later.

As a collective society, we must take action to mitigate the effects of climate change and unrestrained development, which destroys habitat among other problems. The alternative, a world devoid of birds, is terrifying and unacceptable. Earth is our most important resource. It must be protected.

After all, as Thoreau wrote, “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

Danielson’s column, titled “Decline,” was written in response to an article Cornell University researchers recently published in the journal “Science.” The scientists found that North America’s bird population has declined by nearly three billion since 1970.

It’s not the first such scientific article to be published and it won’t be the last, Danielson noted.

In 2016, the journal “Nature” published a similar story documenting the loss of wildlife around the globe. “The grim findings were familiar: the Earth’s vertebrate species had fallen by 56 percent over the past 40 years,” Danielson wrote.

Take a minute to imagine what life was like a century ago, when North America’s bird population included the Carolina parakeet, the great auk, the Eskimo curlew, the Labrador duck, Bachman’s warbler, the ivory-billed woodpecker and the passenger pigeon, among others that are now extinct.

 

What species will be next? The decline won’t stop without intervention. “The warning bell has been ringing for decades and we’ve been ignoring it because it is uncomfortable to focus on,” Danielson wrote.

This is cause for alarm. We’re ringing it, too.

 

In response to Cornell University’s research, Danielson suggested a number of ways that local readers can help to counter the loss of birds. Namely, to donate to an environmental charity such as The Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, the World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation or 4ocean.

 

“Remember that membership numbers are just as important as membership dollars. If these organizations have more members, then they may have more power to do good,” Danielson wrote.

 

Sadly, and despite the efforts of many activists and authors like Danielson, there’s a precedent in our society for ignoring science-based warnings. Thoreau, as a writer and environmentalist, was ahead of his time. In his essay “Familiar Letters,” he foreshadowed what is now a daily reality — that is, the global and imminent threat of climate change, fueled by irresponsible policies and poor business practices. Yet, the problem is far worse today, more than a century later.

As a collective society, we must take action to mitigate the effects of climate change and unrestrained development, which destroys habitat among other problems. The alternative, a world devoid of birds, is terrifying and unacceptable. Earth is our most important resource. It must be protected.

 

After all, as Thoreau wrote, “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

 

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