Has climate change made it harder for people to care about bird conservation – Franzen (and rebuttals)


Carbon Capture

Has climate change made it harder for people to care about conservation?

By Jonathan Franzen New Yorker April 6 2015

Last September, as someone who cares more about birds than the next man, I was following the story of the new stadium that the Twin Cities are building for their football Vikings. The stadium’s glass walls were expected to kill thousands of birds every year, and local bird-lovers had asked its sponsors to use a specially patterned glass to reduce collisions; the glass would have raised the stadium’s cost by one tenth of one per cent, and the sponsors had balked. Around the same time, the National Audubon Society issued a press release declaring climate change “the greatest threat” to American birds and warning that “nearly half ” of North America’s bird species were at risk of losing their habitats by 2080. Audubon’s announcement was credulously retransmitted by national and local media, including the Minneapolis Star Tribune, whose blogger on bird-related subjects, Jim Williams, drew the inevitable inference: Why argue about stadium glass when the real threat to birds was climate change? In comparison, Williams said, a few thousand bird deaths would be “nothing.”….



CREDIT: National Audubon Society

The Corrections: Jonathan Franzen’s Deeply Irresponsible Climate Change Article

by Joe Romm Posted on April 1, 2015 at 11:57 am Updated: April 1, 2015 at 3:45 pm

The New Yorker has published one of the most bird-brained and hypocritical climate articles ever, “Carbon Capture: Has climate change made it harder for people to care about conservation?” Quick answer: No!
Awareness of and action on climate change are entirely about conservation — conserving a livable climate for humans and all other species. Aggressive climate action now would be an immediate boon to the overwhelming majority of living things, although I do think some tropical diseases, jelly fish, pests and other invasive species might lose out
. But the New Yorker and the blinkered author of this piece, one Jonathan Franzen, actually would like to “preserve nature at potential human expense.” Franzen frames our choice this way: “The Earth as we now know it resembles a patient whose terminal cancer we can choose to treat either with disfiguring aggression or with palliation and sympathy.” In the distorted “through the looking glass” view of this piece, sharply reducing most air pollution ASAP would be “disfiguring” while the most sympathetic approach is allowing us to destroy a livable climate capable of sustaining a multi-billion human population and most existing species! And yes, Franzen actually argues that destroying a livable climate irreversibly will allow us to focus on preserving nature temporarily. There is zero chance the New Yorker would publish such easily-debunked nonsense if its author were anyone other than Jonathan Franzen, a fiction writer of some acclaim, with several popular books rated 3 stars on Amazon. But as I came to learn — and as the New Yorker should have known — his entire essay is a stunning exercise in hypocrisy. Franzen is a bird lover, of sorts. A 2012 Slate headline explained, “Jonathan Franzen Is the World’s Most Annoying Bird-Watcher.” How annoying? The New Yorker piece begins with an extended attack on the Audubon Society and its recent report on Climate Change. Franzen argues that somehow this is a distraction from Audubon’s main mission of bird conservation. Yet Franzen’s palliative “give up” approach to climate change would doom a large fraction of bird species to extinction. And, as we will see, Franzen is on the board of a different bird conservation group that argues climate action is essential to bird conservation. David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, called Franzen’s entire analysis “Woody Allen-esque” and “out of touch with reality.”…. The press release did warn that nearly half of species were at risk of losing much of their habitat. As an aside, I’m reasonably confident that the impact of climate change on birds would be far worse than that over the next hundred years if we adopted Franzen’s “it’s hopeless” posture. If coastal wetlands are inundated, and much of the best land in this country turns into a near-permanent dustbowl, and forest fires increase multi-fold, and temperatures rise some 9°F, I don’t see most birds doing very well. Humans won’t do well either, but that simply isn’t Franzen’s concern. I digress. How did Audubon’s peer-reviewed report help make Franzen miserable? “What upset me was how a dire prophecy like Audubon’s could lead to indifference toward birds in the present,” he wrote. Seriously! This is NOT an April Fool’s piece. In his next piece, Franzen will argue the Surgeon General’s dire science-based prophecy that cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health could lead smokers to indifference toward obeying traffic lights because, like, why bother? Yarnold explained to me that Audubon — and its 1 million members and the 4 million people it reaches through its publications — were fully capable of helping birds in the short term and long term: “Audubon’s members can chew gum and walk at the same time.” Indeed, Yarnold explains that the message of the report — and Audubon’s overall message — is “we have to protect the places birds need now and reduce the emissions causing climate change” that will destroy the places birds need in the future. Yarnold explained that “our members say this report has energized them,” to work on both bird conservation and climate change. “Members say this has localized and personalized the issue” of climate change….

Here is where things get very hypocritical — because there’s something much worse than the New Yorker not mentioning Franzen is on the board of ABC. Franzen never mentions that the conservation-focused bird group he is on the Board of … wait for it … also has a major effort to combat climate change! Indeed, ABC’s webpage devoted to “Threats to Birds – Global Warming” explains that “ABC has conducted research in conjunction with partners to ascertain what the ongoing and potential future threats are to birds from rising global temperatures, and has published reports detailing the concerns that have been revealed.”So while Franzen trashes Audubon for supposedly focusing on climate change at the expense of focusing on conservation, ABC argues on its website that the two are inextricable: “Because of the complex and global nature of this phenomenon, it falls under all three aspects of ABC’s conservation framework: Safeguarding the Rarest, Conserving Habitats, and Eliminating Threats.” Franzen attacks Audubon for offering a “Climate Action Pledge,” which he complains “was long and detailed and included things like replacing your incandescent light bulbs with lower-wattage alternatives.” That makes little sense to Franzen since according to him we’re doomed: The dangers of carbon pollution today are far greater than those of DDT, and climate change may indeed be, as the National Audubon Society says, the foremost long-term threat to birds. But I already know that we can’t prevent global warming by changing our light bulbs. I still want to do something. Let’s set aside the fact Franzen never says what he wants to do other than convince people there’s nothing anybody can do. The amazing thing is that the organization on whose board he sits, ABC, has a report on its website, “The Birdwatcher’s Guide to Global Warming,” which explains the solution to global warming is to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” It has a section explaining “10 Steps You Can Take To Combat Global Warming–Save Energy and Money While Protecting the Environment!” which helpfully points out: “When you need to replace the light bulbs in your home, buy compact fluorescent bulbs, which reduce energy use by up to 75%.” Go figure. While Franzen is a notable writer, he apparently isn’t much of a reader. As Yarnold notes, “Franzen clearly did not read our report.” I would add it’s even clearer that Franzen doesn’t read either the website or the reports of ABC, a group he in theory helps govern. Finally, it’s dismaying to see Franzen whine that climate action requires we “blight every landscape with biofuel agriculture, solar farms, and wind turbines.” It’s climate inaction that will blight every landscape. And yes, Franzen brings up the hoary complaint about wind turbines killing birds. What about the vastly larger number of birds that are killed by fossil fuels?

How many birds are killed each year by different fuel sources. CREDIT: U.S. News & World Report

In case you were wondering, Franzen does hate the greatest of all bird-killers. He has written that cats are “the sociopaths of the pet world, a species domesticated as an evil necessary for the control of rodents and subsequently fetishized the way unhappy countries fetishize their militaries.” No visits to “LOLCats.com” for him. Franzen has birds on his brain. In the opening sentence, he describes himself as “someone who cares more about birds than the next man.” That turns out to be literally true. He apparently cares more about birds than homo sapiens….


Jonathan Franzen questions ‘overriding priority’ of climate change

The Corrections author accepts its urgency but confesses to ‘caring more about birds in the present than people in the future’

Alison Flood The Guardian.UK Wednesday 1 April 2015 08.10 EDT Last modified on Wednesday 1 April 2015 08.12 EDT

Bird-lover and novelist Jonathan Franzen, a longstanding environmentalist, has said that he is “miserably conflicted” about climate change, and that its “supremacy as the environmental issue of our time” makes him “feel selfish for caring more about birds in the present than about people in the future”. Writing in the new issue of the New Yorker, where he describes himself as “someone who cares more about birds than the next man”, the award-winning author of The Corrections and Freedom recounts how, last autumn, the glass walls of a new football stadium were expected to kill thousands of birds every year, and how “local bird-lovers had asked its sponsors to use a specially-patterned glass to reduce collisions; the glass would have raised the stadium’s cost by one tenth of one per cent, and the sponsors had balked”. But a report from the National Audubon Society, wrote Franzen, declared climate change “the greatest threat” to American birds. “And so I came to feel miserably conflicted about climate change. I accepted its supremacy as the environmental issue of our time, but I felt bullied by its dominance,” he writes. “Not only did it make every grocery-store run a guilt trip; it made me feel selfish for caring more about birds in the present than about people in the future. What were the eagles and the condors killed by wind turbines compared with the impact of rising sea levels on poor nations?”

Franzen, who is involved with American Bird Conservancy, goes on to say that it is not that we should not care about climate change, but that “the question is whether everyone who cares about the environment is obliged to make climate the overriding priority”…Detailing his visits to Peru, to see the work of the Amazon Conservation Association, and to Costa Rica, to meet the people behind the Área Conservación de Guanacaste, Franzen claimed that “as long as mitigating climate change trumps all other environmental concerns, no landscape on earth is safe. Only an appreciation of nature as a collection of specific threatened habitats, rather than as an abstract thing that is ‘dying’, can avert the complete denaturing of the world,” he writes, describing the Earth today as resembling “a patient whose terminal cancer we can choose to treat either with disfiguring aggression or with palliation and sympathy.” “We can dam every river and blight every landscape with biofuel agriculture, solar farms, and wind turbines, to buy some extra years of moderated warming. Or we can settle for a shorter life of higher quality, protecting the areas where wild animals and plants are hanging on, at the cost of slightly hastening the human catastrophe. One advantage of the latter approach is that, if a miracle cure like fusion energy should come along, there might still be some intact ecosystems for it to save,” he says.

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