How the Koch Network's ‘Social Change' Strategy Is Built to Kill the Electric Car
By Ben Jervey
If it feels like the oil industry's attacks on the burgeoning electric car market are well coordinated, that's because they are. The industry is following a blueprint laid out decades ago, and refined ever since, by Koch network insiders.
In a revelatory article, published in Philanthropy Magazine in 1996, an executive vice president of Koch Industries named Richard Fink laid out a three-tiered integrated strategy for promoting libertarian ideals and free-market principles, and, in doing so, protecting the Kochs' sprawling petrochemical refining and shipping businesses.
Fink, who also led the Charles Koch Foundation, described the strategy for investing the Kochs' fortunes through grants and financial support to organizations and individuals at different stages of policy development and implementation, from universities to think tanks to advocacy groups, all of which, in Fink's words, "present competing claims for being the best place to invest resources." Rather than prioritize grantmaking to one of these levels, the Koch network has invested heavily in all three.
Charles Koch, April 2019. Credit: Gavin Peters, CC BY-SA 3.0
Describing this "Structure of Social Change," Fink writes:
"At the higher stages we have the investment in the intellectual raw materials, that is, the exploration and production of abstract concepts and theories. These still come primarily (though not exclusively) from the research done by scholars at our universities …
In the middle stages, ideas are applied to a relevant context and molded into needed solutions for real-world problems. This is the work of the think tanks and policy institutions …
But while the think tanks excel at developing new policy and articulating its benefits, they are less able to implement change. Citizen activist or implementation groups are needed in the final stage to take the policy ideas from the think tanks and translate them into proposals that citizens can understand and act upon."
Today, as the federal and state governments consider their roles in accelerating adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), particularly in light of the climate crisis, we can see the effectiveness of these investments play out in the public policy debates.
Whether through highly-coordinated attacks on the federal EV tax credit or interventions in arcane proceedings in state public utility commissions (PUC) — and through public and covert efforts to spread disinformation — the beneficiaries of the Kochs' strategic funding are working to slow the transition to zero-emission, plug-in vehicles, effectively preserving the market demand for the refined petroleum products the Koch empire is selling.
Academia: The 'Intellectual Raw Materials' for the EV Fight
The Koch network has spent decades investing in colleges and universities, oftentimes funding faculty positions or free market centers and programs and staffing them with ideologically aligned academics. In recent years, this funding has come under considerable scrutiny, and much has been reported on the strings attached to funding of programs like the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University and the Department of Economics at Florida State University.
By design, this is an "investment in the intellectual raw materials," as Fink wrote, "that is, the exploration and production of abstract concepts and theories."
The abstract nature of such academic exploration makes it a little harder to see the impact of the Koch network's investments in universities on a single policy issue as discreet as transportation electrification. But not impossible.
Tossback Tuesday to NY Times coverage of our work at GMU. https://t.co/z360fHt0HV— UnKoch My Campus (@UnKochCampus) June 25, 2019
Indeed, some of the Kochs' chosen academics and Koch-funded centers have spoken publicly to the issue.
One of the most visible academic figures arguing against the federal EV tax credit is Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center. Last fall, as Congress considered a couple of opposing bills — a bipartisan proposal to extend the tax credit and another to cancel it — de Rugy railed against the tax credit in an op-ed.
It's worth noting that the bill to eliminate the credit was introduced by Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the third largest recipient of Koch Industries donations in the Senate, and that Koch Industries formally lobbied for Barrasso's bill. De Rugy wrote that "Barrasso's proposal makes the tax code simpler and less distortionary, making it the most economically sound."
Earlier this year, de Rugy wrote another op-ed bashing the bipartisan support for the federal EV tax credit, and describing the consumer tax incentive as a "corporate handout."
Another Mercatus Center economist, Matthew Mitchell, publishes frequently on the subjects of government favoritism and privilege, making the popular free-market argument that the government shouldn't support private industries through fiscal policies like tax preferences, loan guarantees and direct subsidization.
Curiously, Mitchell never writes of the massive subsidies enjoyed by the mature oil and gas industries, which the U.S. treasury has calculated out to $4.7 billion per year. Nor does he take issue with the more than $500 million that Koch Industries itself — the second largest private company in the U.S. — has benefited from over the past two decades, according to the Subsidy Tracker built by Good Jobs First. Mitchell does, however, use Tesla as a "beautiful illustration of the problem of favoritism and crony capitalism" in a video he narrates for the Federalist Society, and in a number of related articles.
It's more common for Koch-funded academics to influence the EV policy discussion indirectly, through the "abstract concepts and theories" that Fink described or through other related issues.
The gasoline tax provides a good example. The Koch network opposes any increase to federal or state gas taxes, for obvious reasons — the taxes would make Koch Industries' refined petroleum products more expensive (and make alternatives like mass transit and electric cars more attractive). However, gas taxes typically fund roads, and gas tax revenues are dwindling as they haven't kept pace with inflation and cars have gotten far more fuel efficient.
Koch Student Commons, on the ground floor of the University of Kansas' business school. Credit: Frank Morris / KCUR, public domain
The Koch network is actively pushing the argument that electric vehicles, which don't pay a gas tax, are to blame for highway funding shortfalls, despite vast evidence to the contrary. Some states have enacted special EV fees to bolster highway funds, and Senator Barrasso is spearheading an effort to create a new fee at the federal level. This despite a recent report by Consumer Reports which found that the majority of these fees are punitive in that they charge plug-in drivers more than the equivalent that gas-powered cars would generate in gas taxes annually.
Even so, some Koch-funded academics have argued recently against raising gas taxes, while taking shots at electric cars. Writing in the Orange County Register last year, a professor and research fellow from Utah State University's Koch-funded program claim that "The decline in gas-tax revenue caused by the shift away from internal-combustion engines is stressing the highway trust funds in many states," adding that some states now "charge special fees for electric-car owners to compensate for the lost revenue."
Similarly, in a recent op-ed in Forbes, Adam Milsap, the associate director of the Koch-funded L. Charles Hilton Jr. Center for the Study of Economic Prosperity and Individual Opportunity at Florida State University, writes that "the gas tax is not the long-term funding answer" for road funds. While Milsap doesn't promote a fee for EVs, he does portray them as a growing part of the problem. Milsap is, to borrow Mitchell's phrase, "a perfect illustration" of the Koch-funded higher ed ecosystem.
In a 2014 panel on "Leveraging Science and the Universities" at the Koch Freedom Partners donor summit session, Milsap described how Koch-funded programs — like George Mason University's Mercatus Center and the Institute for Humane Studies — trained him to cultivate a "new talent pipeline" for all levels of the Koch network. He also described how academics should use all "viable mediums," including "major Republican blogs, op-eds and policy briefs" to spread ideas to a broader, more popular audience, as he regularly does on Forbes and in other outlets.
Think Tanks: Translating Free Market Ideas to EV Antagonism
Fink described the role of think tanks as translating ideas into actual solutions and policy proposals. Here, at this stage, "ideas are applied to a relevant context and molded into needed solutions for real-world problems."
The role that think tanks and policy institutions play in fighting against EV-friendly policies cannot be overstated, as they develop and push deceptive talking points about electric cars into the public policy debates, and even produce reports and "studies" that cherry-pick data to promote a burn-more-gas agenda.
Support for free market principles was strong at CPAC 2018. Credit: Zach D. Roberts for DeSmog
As Elliot Negin of the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote, "these think tanks and advocacy groups essentially function as public relations arms for their benefactors, representing their interests under the guise of being neutral, albeit conservative, policy shops."
Negin references a September 2018 letter, which DeSmog also reported extensively on, that reveals the breadth of the Koch think tank influence in the debate over the federal EV tax credit. The letter, signed by 30 self-described "conservative free-market organizations" — the majority of which have clear ties to Charles Koch and Koch Industries through their funding or leadership — called for Congress to halt the expansion of the EV tax credit, or to eliminate it entirely.
If there is a central hub of the Koch network's think tank efforts, it appears to be the American Energy Alliance (AEA), which organized the letter to Congress.
The AEA is the advocacy wing of the Institute for Energy Research, both of which receive Koch funding. Both groups are lead by Tom Pyle, who has a long history of working with and for the Koch brothers and Koch Industries. He was the top lobbyist at Koch Industries, and then later as a private lobbyist, he lobbied on behalf of Koch Industries and the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (now the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers), of which Koch Industries is a core and influential member.
The AEA has been consistently vocal in its opposition to the electric vehicle tax credit, and in June released a now-annual deceptive push poll that relied on demonstrably false data and leading questions to allege that Americans don't support the tax credit.
Col. William Knight holds a battery-charging device for a plug-in electric vehicle at Joint Base Andrews, which is replacing its entire passenger vehicle fleet with electric models. Credit: U.S. Air Force photo / Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen, public domain
Joining Pyle in signing the letter were representatives of another 29 organizations, at least 17 of which have clear, demonstrable ties to the Koch network.
There's the "Action" arm of the Koch-funded corporate bill mill the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a conservative advocacy group dedicated to "economic freedom" that has received funding from ExxonMobil, Texaco and the family foundations of both Koch brothers.
Then there's American Commitment, run by Phil Kerpen, a former vice president of Americans for Prosperity (founded and funded by the Kochs). And don't forget Less Government, an "organization dedicated to reducing the power of government and protecting the First Amendment from governmental assault," founded and run by Seton Motley, staunch Koch defender, who is also a policy adviser to the climate science-denying Heartland Institute, which has received millions in grants from Koch family network foundations.
And there's Frontiers of Freedom, run by George Landrith, a group which has received significant funding from Koch network foundations and dark money organizations like DonorsTrust, and which launched an offshoot called the Energy Equality Coalition to battle against the federal electric vehicle tax credit.
Besides collaborating on the occasional letter to Congress, representatives from these groups regularly reach out into the public sphere to influence public opinion and bend political will.
Gas cars facing off against electric cars. Credit: Electrek
When the Energy Equality Coalition launched, one of the group's board members, George Landrith, told The Weekly Standard, "Working-class people are paying taxes to subsidize luxury goods for the richest among us … We believe there should be energy equality, not special treatment for the wealthy." Landrith's comment anticipated a talking point that would become a favorite of the Koch network, one that has been repeated dozens, if not hundreds, of times in op-eds and commentaries penned by Koch reps.
Over a two-month span after Senator Barrasso introduced his bill to eliminate the EV tax credit last fall, a flurry of such pieces hit the presses. In December 2018, Jonathan Lesser of the Manhattan Institute (which has received more than $2.6 million from Koch foundations) tried to paint the EV tax credit as "inequitable" in Investors Business Daily.
A couple days later, Landrith argued the same in The Daily Caller. Then came Ross Marchand of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (at least $1.1 million from Koch groups), bashing the "EV tax credit gravy train," and Drew Johnson of the National Center for Public Policy Research (at least $1 million from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund) asking readers of the Austin American Statesmen to "Imagine taxing middle-class families to help rich folks buy luxury cars."
This echo chamber has proven effective. In February 2019, Senator Barrasso himself wrote in a FoxNews op-ed that "Every time one of these cars sells, the U.S. taxpayer must help pay for it," and also stated inaccurately that "Eight out of 10 electric-car tax credits go to households earning at least $100,000 — buyers who don't need a subsidy." Speaking in the Senate, Barrasso repeated that the EV program "disproportionately subsidizes wealthy buyers" and that "hard-working Wyoming taxpayers shouldn't have to subsidize wealthy California luxury-car buyers."
It's worth noting that this particular talking point is intentionally misleading — leaving out the huge contribution of electric car leases — and is easily debunked. (See our explanation on Koch vs. Clean here, and check out the rest of our EV Facts while you're there.)
Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, DC. Credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0
So, where does it come from? That brings us to the other main purpose of the Kochs' investments in think tanks: producing the raw materials for the disinformation that gets pumped through the conservative echo chamber.
The "eight of out 10" statistic that has been repeated ad nauseum is typically attributed to a report by Wayne Winegarden of the Pacific Research Institute (which has received $1.7 million from Koch foundations). It has been roundly debunked for cherrypicking outdated statistics and ignoring leased vehicles, which play a significant role in the EV market.
Yet the study has been cited in countless articles and op-eds, including those described above and others published in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Examiner, the National Review and more, as well as in letters to Congressional leaders, including the one described above. Clearly, the Koch network's investments in the Pacific Research Institute are paying off.
The institute's product is one of a handful of reports and studies that Koch network commentators will regularly cite in their attacks on electric cars. Another comes from the Manhattan Institute, supporting the obviously misleading claims that widespread adoption of electric cars would increase air pollution and have a negligible impact on the global climate. Another, by NERA Economic Consulting, was commissioned by a subsidiary of Koch Industries and is often referenced to support macroeconomic arguments against lifting the EV tax credit's cap.
To review: The Koch network's massive investment in think tanks and policy institutions not only funds the production of deceptive talking points, but also the voices from seemingly reputable organizations who pump the disinformation through the echo chamber and influence public opinion and shape political will.
The Ground Game: Citizen Activist Organizations and Front Groups
In his magazine article, "Structure of Social Change," Fink wrote that "Citizen activist or implementation groups are needed in the final stage to take the policy ideas from the think tanks and translate them into proposals that citizens can understand and act upon."
To this end, the Kochs' sprawling 501(c)4 advocacy group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is a massively influential player, with more than 2.3 million members and operations in 35 states. The national AFP team operates publicly much like the think tanks described above — see, for instance, this op-ed on why "Tesla drivers don't need taxpayer handouts" by an AFP policy analyst, or the chief government affairs officer's signature on the EV tax credit letter.
Senator Marco Rubio at an Americans for Prosperity "Road to Reform" event in Manchester, New Hampshire in 2015. Credit: Michael Vadon, CC BY-SA 2.0
But at the state level and local level, AFP chapters work more directly to rally voters and pressure elected and appointed policymakers.
As a number of states consider policies and regulations concerning electric vehicles, AFP's influence is growing. They are even intervening in arcane electric utility regulatory proceedings. As POLITICO recently reported, AFP's state chapters have mobilized against utility investments in EV charging infrastructure in Arizona, Illinois and Iowa.
Various AFP state chapters have also pushed legislators to pass annual EV registration fees, many inspired by a model resolution discussed for years at the Koch-funded and -controlled ALEC meetings. The model resolution that passed at last fall's ALEC meeting was written and promoted by none other than Tom Pyle of the American Energy Alliance, as revealed in emails obtained by the corporate watchdog Documented, providing yet another example of how the policy influence flows through this multi-tiered Koch network.
In Colorado in 2017, AFP's state chapter lobbied aggresively for a bill that would end the state's tax incentive for the purchase of a new electric car. The effort paid off, as the state legislature canceled the tax credit. (Though the victory was short-lived, as the Democrats swept the statewide offices in the 2018 elections and quickly introduced a new tax incentive.)
Colorado, a recent hotbed of EV policy action, hosts more Koch-tied ground game groups than just AFP.
Earlier this year, a group called the Freedom to Drive Coalition launched, using the Koch's disinformation playbook to oppose efforts by the governor's office to introduce cleaner air standards and adopt low- and zero-emission vehicle mandates.
As DeSmog reported this summer, the coalition portrays itself as the voice of the Colorado driver, but is run by a handful of Colorado-based public affairs professionals. One of them is Sean Paige, a former director of Americans for Prosperity's Colorado chapter. The coalition itself includes car dealers and auto groups, some agricultural associations and the Colorado Petroleum Association.
Notably, the only national member is the American Fuel & Petrochemicals Manufacturers (AFPM), a national trade association representing 98 percent of oil refining capacity in the United States, in which Koch Industries is an influential member. (James Mahoney served as AFPM chairman while he was an executive vice president at Koch Industries, and there has been a perpetual revolving door between the leadership and staff at AFPM, Koch Industries, ALEC and the Institute for Energy Research.)
Similar efforts are evident on the ground in states across the country, wherever policymakers are considering proposals to help accelerate the transition to electric cars. Other efforts are less evident, but almost certainly underway.
The Pine Bend oil refinery in Rosemount, Minnesota, run by Flint Hills Resources, a subsidiary of Koch Industries. Credit: Tony Webster, CC BY 2.0
The Koch ground game often runs campaigns through front groups that mask the Big Oil money and present a facade of public and consumer support. (Recall that Americans for Prosperity was once itself a little known political advocacy group masquerading as a decentralized grassroots libertarian movement that helped juice the early Tea Party upwelling.)
The Koch network and Marathon Petroleum were already revealed in a New York Times investigation to be behind a covert effort to bundle public comments in support of a rollback of President Obama's clean car standards, which the Trump administration is on the verge of formalizing. If that rollback survives certain legal challenges — which most legal experts doubt — it would force American drivers to burn an extra 500,000 barrels of gasoline every day, and would disincentivize automakers from producing and selling all-electric models that are currently in development.
While the Koch network's fingerprints on that effort were exposed, there are almost certainly more front groups that haven't yet been tied to Koch funding or coordination.
All told, the Koch network's investments throughout their "structure of social change" give politicians plenty of cover, through disinformation and the veneer of public support, to promote policies that put the brakes on the market for electric vehicles.
Then factor in the considerable cash invested directly in political campaigns by Koch Industries and its subsidiaries, and the dark money that flows from Koch-affiliated PACs, and the campaign-caliber ground game provided before elections by Americans for Prosperity, and the startling volume of voter data they've compiled in their i360 voter files.
That's how you get policymakers to spurn electric cars, instead supporting policies that only benefit the oil industry, at the expense of public health, the climate and the personal finances of American drivers.
This story originally appeared in DeSmogBlog. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
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By Sharon Buccino
This week, Secretary Haaland chose a visit to Bears Ears National Monument as her first trip as Interior Secretary. She is spending three days in Bluff, Utah, a small town just outside the monument, listening to representatives of the five tribes who first proposed its designation to President Obama in 2015. This is the same town where former Secretary Sally Jewell spent several hours at a public hearing in July 2016 before recommending the monument's designation to President Obama.
By Anthony Richardson, Chhaya Chaudhary, David Schoeman, and Mark John Costello
The tropical water at the equator is renowned for having the richest diversity of marine life on Earth, with vibrant coral reefs and large aggregations of tunas, sea turtles, manta rays and whale sharks. The number of marine species naturally tapers off as you head towards the poles.
The Bell Curve is Warping Dangerously<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNjAzODUwNi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NzE1OTU4N30.qQL3P1IvA7Cwj_UbsrAL6MVZvafXGZc7hlAFieLPvso/img.png?width=980" id="9bbfd" width="1580" height="872" data-rm-shortcode-id="16ca57badee20ad55037706875f813f4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
If you look at each line in this chart, you can see a slight dip in total species richness between 1955 and 1974. This deepens substantially in the following decades. Anthony Richardson, Author provided<p>This global pattern — where the number of species starts lower at the poles and peaks at the equator — results in a bell-shaped gradient of species richness. We looked at distribution records for nearly 50,000 marine species collected since 1955 and found a growing dip over time in this bell shape.</p>
This Has Happened Before<p>We shouldn't be surprised global biodiversity has responded so rapidly to global warming. This has happened before, and with dramatic consequences.</p><p><strong>252 million years ago…</strong></p><p>At the end of the Permian geological period about 252 million years ago, global temperatures warmed by 10℃ over 30,000-60,000 years as a result of greenhouse gas emissions from volcano eruptions in Siberia.</p><p><a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/117/30/17578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2020 study</a> of the fossils from that time shows the pronounced peak in biodiversity at the equator flattened and spread. During this mammoth rearranging of global biodiversity, 90% of all marine species were killed.</p><p><strong>125,000 years ago…</strong></p><p><a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/109/52/21378" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2012 study showed</a> that more recently, during the rapid warming around 125,000 years ago, there was a similar swift movement of reef corals away from the tropics, as documented in the fossil record. The result was a pattern similar to the one we describe, although there was no associated mass extinction.</p><p>Authors of the study suggested their results might foreshadow the effects of our current global warming, ominously warning there could be mass extinctions in the near future as species move into the subtropics, where they might struggle to compete and adapt.</p><p><strong>Today…</strong></p><p><a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/117/23/12891" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">During the last ice age</a>, which ended around 15,000 years ago, the richness of forams (a type of hard-shelled, single-celled plankton) peaked at the equator and has been dropping there ever since. This is significant as plankton is a keystone species in the foodweb.</p><p>Our study shows that decline has accelerated in recent decades due to human-driven climate change.</p>
The Profound Implications<p>Losing species in tropical ecosystems means ecological resilience to environmental changes is reduced, potentially compromising ecosystem persistence.</p><p>In subtropical ecosystems, species richness is increasing. This means there'll be species invaders, novel predator-prey interactions, and new competitive relationships. For example, <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-13/sydney-growing-own-coral-reef-with-help-from-tropical-fish/11466192" target="_blank">tropical fish</a> moving into Sydney Harbour compete with temperate species for food and habitat.</p><p>This could result in ecosystem collapse — as was seen at the boundary between the Permian and Triassic periods — in which species go extinct and ecosystem services (such as food supplies) are permanently altered.</p><p>The changes we describe will also have profound implications for human livelihoods. For example, many tropical island nations depend on the revenue from tuna fishing fleets through the selling of licenses in their territorial waters. Highly mobile tuna species are likely to move rapidly toward the subtropics, potentially beyond sovereign waters of island nations.</p><p><span></span>Similarly, many reef species important for artisanal fishers — and highly mobile megafauna such as whale sharks, manta rays and sea turtles that support tourism — are also likely to move toward the subtropics.</p><p>The movement of commercial and artisanal fish and marine megafauna could compromise the ability of tropical nations to meet the <a href="https://sdgs.un.org/goals" target="_blank">Sustainable Development Goals</a> concerning zero hunger and marine life.</p>
Is There Anything We Can Do?<p>One pathway is laid out in the Paris Climate Accords and involves aggressively reducing our emissions. Other opportunities are also emerging that could help safeguard biodiversity and hopefully minimise the worst impacts of it shifting away from the equator.</p><p>Currently 2.7% of the ocean is conserved in <a href="https://mpatlas.org/" target="_blank">fully or highly protected reserves</a>. This is well short of the 10% target by 2020 under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.</p><p>But <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/global-ocean-alliance-30by30-initiative/about#global-ocean-alliance-members" target="_blank">a group of 41 nations</a> is pushing to set a new target of protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030.</p><p>This "30 by 30" target could ban seafloor mining and remove fishing in reserves that can destroy habitats and release as much carbon dioxide as <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03371-z" target="_blank">global aviation</a>. These measures would remove pressures on biodiversity and promote ecological resilience.</p><p>Designing climate-smart reserves could further protect biodiversity from future changes. For example, reserves for marine life could be placed in refugia where the climate will be stable over the foreseeable future.</p><p>We now have evidence that climate change is impacting the best-known and strongest global pattern in ecology. We should not delay actions to try to mitigate this.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/anthony-richardson-100303" target="_blank">Anthony Richardson</a>: Professor, The University of Queensland. <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/chhaya-chaudhary-1223419" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Chhaya Chaudhary</a>: University of Auckland, <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/david-schoeman-111544" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">David Schoeman</a>: Professor of Global-Change Ecology, University of the Sunshine Coast, <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/mark-john-costello-1223418" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mark John Costello</a>: Professor, University of Auckland</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Anthony Richardson receives funding from the Australian Research Council.</em></p><p><em>Chhaya Chaudhary works for Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. During her PhD studies (2014- 2019), she received part- funding from the European Marine Observation Data Network (EMODnet) Biology project funded by the European Commission's Directorate—General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE), and received U21 Doctoral Mobility Scholarship from the University of Auckland in 2016.</em></p><p><em>David Schoeman receives funding from the Australian Research Council.</em></p><p><em>Mark John Costello does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-life-is-fleeing-the-equator-to-cooler-waters-history-tells-us-this-could-trigger-a-mass-extinction-event-158424" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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In celebration of Earth Day, a star-studded cast is giving fans a rare glimpse into the secret lives of some of the planet's most majestic animals: whales. In "Secrets of the Whales," a four-part documentary series by renowned National Geographic Photographer and Explorer Brian Skerry and Executive Producer James Cameron, viewers plunge deep into the lives and worlds of five different whale species.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b102b19b2719f50272ab718c44703dd0"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/xOySOlB78dM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Herring are a primary food source for Norway's orcas. Luis Lamar / National Geographic for Disney+
Belugas are extremely social creatures with a varied vocal range. Peter Kragh / National Geographic for Disney+
A Southern Right whales is pictured in the accompanying book, "Secrets of the Whales." Brian Skerry / National Geographic
The coronavirus has isolated many of us in our homes this year. We've been forced to slow down a little, maybe looking out our windows, becoming more in tune with the rhythms of our yards. Perhaps we've begun to notice more, like the birds hopping around in the bushes out back, wondering (maybe for the first time) what they are.
A Coeligena helianthea hummingbird is photographed during a birdwatching trail at the Monserrate hill in Bogota on November 11, 2020. Colombia is the country with the largest bird diversity in the world, home to about 1,934 different bird species, a fifth of the total known. JUAN BARRETO / AFP / Getty Images
1. Choosing the Right Binoculars<p>Binoculars are a relatively indispensable tool for most birders – but, for those just starting out, it might not yet be worth the several-hundred-dollar investment. If you aren't able to scour the attics of friends or borrow a pair from a fellow bird watcher, some local birding and naturalist groups have <a href="https://vashonaudubon.org/all-about-vashon-birds/binoculars-check-out/" target="_blank">binocular loaning programs</a> for members, allowing you to plan ahead for a day (or week) of birding.</p><p>When you're ready to take the plunge, choosing a pair or binoculars should take some careful deliberation based on your needs and preferences; some <a href="https://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/explore/optics/top-10-tips-buying-binoculars-bird-watching.php" target="_blank">major considerations</a> might include size, ease of use, <a href="https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/binoculars.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">magnification</a>, and price. While professional binoculars can easily run north of $1,000, there are plenty of perfectly suitable entry-level binoculars under $200. You might not get the perfect precision and clarity of more elite models, but a less expensive pair will allow you to strengthen your birding skills while deciding if you're interested in investing in a premium pair.</p><p>For a budget-friendly option, check out resale options on eBay, Facebook marketplace, or neighborhood yard sales: you might find a nicer pair whose retail price isn't within your budget.</p>
2. Know What Birds Are in Your Area<p>When I began to pay more attention to the birds just outside my apartment building, I started to learn what species have always been around me: European starlings, house sparrows, blue jays, black capped chickadees, and the occasional red-bellied woodpecker. They had always been there, but I hadn't ever taken the time to identify them. Once you learn to <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/get-know-these-20-common-birds_" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recognize common birds</a> in your area, you'll be able to identify the typical species right outside your window and in your community. Of course, permanent residential birds in your neighborhood will <a href="https://nestwatch.org/learn/focal-species/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vary by region</a>, as will those migrating through it.</p>
3. Get Out and Explore<p>Venturing elsewhere might allow you to spot some different species beyond those frequenting your backyard. Anywhere with water or greenery offers a place for birding; as an urbanite myself, I've found that even small- and mid-sized parks in New York City allow me to find more elusive birds (although Central Park takes the crown for an afternoon of urban birding).</p><p>If you are able to travel a bit further from home, <a href="https://www.fws.gov/refuges/" target="_blank">national wildlife refuges</a> and <a href="https://www.americasstateparks.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">state/national parks</a> are excellent places to explore bird habitats and perhaps log some less-common sightings. The American Birding Association also lists <a href="https://www.aba.org/aba-area-birding-trails/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">birding trails by state</a>, and Audubon and BirdLife International identify <a href="https://www.audubon.org/important-bird-areas" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Important Bird Areas (IBAs)</a> across the country – important bird habitats and iconic places that activists are fighting to protect – where birders can spot birds of significance.</p>
4. Finding a Bird: Stop, Look, Listen, Repeat<p>The National Audubon Society recommends the "<a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/how-find-bird" target="_blank">stop, look, listen, repeat</a>" mantra when seeking and identifying birds.</p><p>First and foremost, spotting birds requires attention. Stopping – getting out of the car, pausing on the sidewalk, trail, or in the backyard to look up – is the most important step.</p><p>When looking for birds, try to avoid gazing wildly around; rather, scan your surroundings, focusing on any odd shapes or shadows, trying to think about where a bird might perch (power lines, fence posts, branches), or keep an eye on the sky for flying eagles and hawks. In open areas like fields and beaches, you might have a more panoramic view, and can take in different sections of the landscape at a time. Look around with the naked eye before reaching for the binoculars to hone in.</p><p>While it can be hard to sift through the noise, listening for birds is perhaps an even more important element of bird watching than looking. Once you spend more time in the field, you'll be able to parse apart the racket and identify specific species, especially aided by Audubon's Bird Guide app or by learning from their <a href="https://www.audubon.org/section/birding-ear" target="_blank">Birding by Ear series</a>.</p><p>Repeat this pattern as you continue on your way, stopping to look and listen for birds as you go, rather than waiting for them to come to you. </p>
5. Identification<p>When you head out for a day of bird watching – especially when you're hoping to spot some new species – you'll want to be armed with the tools to identify what you see. <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/how-identify-birds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Major considerations when identifying birds</a> are their group (such as owls, hawks, or sparrow-like birds), size and shape, behavior, voice, field marks, season, and habitat.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.sibleyguides.com/about/the-sibley-guide-to-birds/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sibley Guide to Birds</a> and the <a href="https://www.hmhbooks.com/shop/books/peterson-field-guide-to-birds-of-north-america-second-edition/9781328771445" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Peterson Field Guide</a> are widely considered the best books for identifying birds in North America, although many <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/what-bird-guide-best-you" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">specialized guides</a> focus on specific species or regions as well.</p><p>Plenty of <a href="https://blog.nature.org/science/2013/05/27/boucher-bird-blog-apps-smart-birder/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bird identification apps</a> have popped up in recent years – including National Geographic Birds, Sibley eGuide to Birds, iNaturalist, Merlin Bird ID, and Birdsnap – which are basically a <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/the-best-birding-apps-and-field-guides" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">field guide in your pocket</a>. I'm partial to the Audubon Bird Guide, which allows users to filter by common identifiers, including a bird's habitat, color, activity, tail shape, and general type, adding them all to a personal map to view your sightings.</p>
6. Recording Your Sightings<p><span>As you deepen your commitment to birding, you might join the community of birders that track and quantify their sightings, building their </span><a href="https://www.thespruce.com/what-birds-count-on-a-life-list-386704#:~:text=A%20life%20list%20is%20a,which%20birds%20you%20have%20seen." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">life list</a><span>.</span></p><p>While a standard notebook noting the date, species name, habitat, vocalizations, or any other data you wish to include will suffice, some birders opt for a more <a href="https://www.riteintherain.com/no-195-birders-journal" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">structured birder's journal</a> with pre-determined fields to record your encounters, take notes, draw sketches, etc.</p><p>Many birders also choose to record their sightings online and in shared databases (which include many of the field guide apps), often pinpointing them on a map for others to view. Launched by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, <a href="https://ebird.org/home" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eBird is one of the largest databases and citizen science projects around birding</a>, where hundreds of thousands of birders enter their sightings, and users can explore birds in regions and hotspots around the world. Users can also record their sightings on the <a href="https://apps.apple.com/us/app/ebird/id988799279" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eBird app</a>.</p>
7. Attracting Birds to Your Own Yard<p>Feeding birds is a common phenomenon: more than 40% of Americans maintain a birdfeeder to attract birds and watch them feast.</p><p>Not all birdfeed is created equal, however. Many commercial varieties are mostly made with "fillers" (oats, red millet, etc.) that birds will largely leave untouched. After researching what birds to expect in your area – and which ones you want to attract – you can create your own birdfeed with <a href="https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/types-of-bird-seed-a-quick-guide/?pid=1142" target="_blank">seeds that will appeal to them</a>.</p><p>Beyond filling a birdfeeder, <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/eco-friendly-lawn-2651194858.html" target="_self">transforming your yard into an eco-friendly oasis</a> is by far the best way to attract birds. Choosing to forgo mowing your lawn, planting native flowers and grasses, and ditching the pesticides will bring back the bugs that birds feed on, and provide a safe haven in which birds can happily live and eat.</p><p>While it's widely considered acceptable – and even beneficial – to feed birds with appropriate seeds, communal birdfeeders often <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/to-feed-or-not-feed" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">foster unlikely interactions between different species</a>, who can then transmit harmful diseases and parasites to one another. Maintaining several bird feeders with different types of seeds might keep different species from coming into contact, and feeders can be <a href="https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/how-to-clean-your-bird-feeder/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cleaned to prevent the spread of infection</a>.</p>
8. Inclusivity and Anti-Racism in the Birding Community<p>Like all outdoor activities and areas of scientific study, birding communities are subject to racist and discriminatory ideologies. Black birders have long experienced discrimination and underrepresentation in outdoor spaces. The work of organizations like the <a href="https://www.instagram.com/birdersfund/" target="_blank">Black & Latinx Birders Fund</a>, <a href="https://www.instagram.com/birdability/" target="_blank">Birdability</a>, and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/feministbirdclub/" target="_blank">Feminist Bird Club</a> highlight the contributions and importance of birders of color, birders with disabilities, and women and LGBTQ+ birders to the birding community, as do activists and naturalists like <a href="https://www.instagram.com/hood__naturalist/" target="_blank">Corina Newsome</a> and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/tykeejames/" target="_blank">Tykee James</a>. The work of <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/its-bird-new-comic-written-central-park-birder-christian-cooper" target="_blank">Christian Cooper</a>, <a href="https://camilledungy.com/publications/" target="_blank">Camille Dungy</a> (read her poem <a href="https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/58363/frequently-asked-questions-10" target="_blank">Frequently Asked Questions: 10</a>), and <a href="https://orionmagazine.org/article/9-rules-for-the-black-birdwatcher/" target="_blank">J. Drew Lanham</a> – including his essay "<a href="https://lithub.com/birding-while-black/" target="_blank">Birding While Black</a>" – are a great place to start.</p><p>Getting involved in birding means educating ourselves on these issues and taking meaningful action; the work of <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/its-bird-new-comic-written-central-park-birder-christian-cooper" target="_blank">Christian Cooper</a> and <a href="https://orionmagazine.org/article/9-rules-for-the-black-birdwatcher/" target="_blank">J. Drew Lanham</a> – including his essay "<a href="https://lithub.com/birding-while-black/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Birding While Black</a>" – are a great place to start. Just as birders are activists for protecting habitats and natural areas, we must also be active and aware of inclusivity in these spaces.</p>
9. Get Involved<p>To learn from and enjoy the company of other birders, check out local birding groups in your area to join. Many Audubon chapters host trips, meetings, and bird walks for members. The American Birding Association even maintains a <a href="https://www.aba.org/festivals-events/" target="_blank">directory of birding festivals</a> across the country.</p><p>Volunteering for birds is also a great way to meet other birders and take action for birds in your community; local organizations might have opportunities for assisting with habitat restoration or helping at birding centers.</p><p>Like all wildlife, climate change and habitat destruction threaten the livelihood of birds, eliminating their breeding grounds and food sources. A <a href="https://www.audubon.org/climate/survivalbydegrees" target="_blank">2019 report released by the National Audubon Society</a> found that two-thirds of North American birds may face extinction if global temperatures rise 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Staying informed about and taking action for legislation designed to protect birds and our climate – such as the recent <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/5552/text" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Migratory Bird Protection Act</a> – is important for ensuring a livable future for wildlife and humans alike.</p><p><em>Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC. </em><em>Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.</em></p>
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