Why Bill Gates’ Position on Divesting From Fossil Fuels Is Wrong
Beginning in March 2015, The Guardian, one of the world’s most respected and influential news organizations, launched an unprecedented media advocacy campaign—it was asking the richest and largest foundation on Earth, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to remove their investments in the fossil fuel industry. With the help of divestment activists, the Guardian collected the voices of a quarter of a million people across the globe who called on the Gates Foundation to join hundreds of other foundations, institutions, pensions, churches and communities representing trillions of dollars of investments who had taken their investments out of the fossil fuel industry since the fossil fuel divestment movement began just over 3 years ago.
Gates responded by giving a rather dismissive response to divestment, so former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, 350 Seattle, Divest University of Washington and numerous other partners, including leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement, launched a local Seattle-based divestment campaign in the hometown of the Gates Foundation. After volunteers delivered a 40-page rebuttal of Gates’ rejection of divestment and then persistently campaigned outside the Gates Foundation every day for over a month, Gates addressed divestment again in an interview with the Atlantic.
Gates’ response was once again disappointing—creating straw men out of the divestment movement in order to knock them down, and downplaying the remarkable prospects for a clean energy revolution. As a result, instead of aligning his investments with a clean energy future, Gates is continuing to support the very industries who are lobbying against progress on clean energy and whose business models are deeply out of line with averting the climate crisis. Perhaps not surprisingly, Exxon endorsed the billionaire's view as part of their attempt to cover up their role in spreading misinformation and holding back climate progress for which they may be held legally liable under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. It seems Gates is in good company …
Divest-Invest: Two Sides of the Same Coin
To Gates’ credit he got the equation partly right, when he said that “the solution is investment”—a statement he backed up by committing to double his investments in clean energy to $2 billion. However, clean energy investments are only part of the equation: we also need to wind down investments in the fossil fuel industry while breaking the fossil fuel industry’s corrupting stranglehold on politics so that we can unlock the sorts of policies, societal changes and investments needed to tackle the climate crisis. Divestment is a powerful tool in unlocking the latter half of that equation.
Of course, Gates rightfully points out that divestment alone will not solve climate change, but he creates a straw man by suggesting that anyone is advocating for divestment alone as a solution. Such all-or-nothing dichotomization is rhetorically misleading as divestment campaigners are well aware that divestment is just one tool among many needed to help push the envelope on climate action. (For instance, here in Seattle, myself and other divestment advocates are building on the social and political will created by the divestment movement to bring a carbon tax to Washington—one of Gates’ favored climate solutions, perhaps he’d care to join us?)
Former Seattle mayor and @350Seattle call on Bill Gates to #divest from #fossilfuels http://t.co/Ef3bA4hnSx http://t.co/qFcQd6tqBp— ClimateStore (@ClimateStore)1442001713.0
It is one thing to say that divestment is not the solution to climate change, but it’s another to make Gates’ claim that divestment is a “false solution” that “won’t emit less carbon” and that there is no “direct path between divesting and solving climate change.” Contrary to Gates, there is a chorus of influential and credible voices who have illustrated how divestment is an important part of aligning the financial sector with a clean energy future, and who have illustrated that the societal power it builds is an important and powerful tool in unlocking the clean energy revolution and legislation needed to help solve climate change.
We can start by asking the fossil fuel industry itself, who, despite their feeble attempts to discredit the fossil fuel divestment movement, fund bogus divestment reports and claim divestment is an ineffective strategy, have reluctantly admitted to the power of divestment. For instance, in contradiction to their PR poker face, Peabody, the largest private-sector coal company in the world, submitted a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, where they admitted that by shifting perceptions around fossil fuels, spurring on restrictive legislation and driving unfavorable lending policies, divestment efforts “could significantly affect demand for [their] products and securities.”
For more divestment advice, we could also ask the researchers at Oxford University’s Stranded Assets Program, whose influential report on divestment points out that “in almost every divestment campaign [they] reviewed from adult services to Darfur, from tobacco to South Africa, divestment campaigns were successful in lobbying for restrictive legislation.” Their report illustrated that the political and social power that divestment builds through stigmatizing the fossil fuel industry could also “indirectly influence all investors … to go underweight on fossil fuel stocks and debt in their portfolios.”
Alternatively, we could ask those "radical" environmentalists over at HSBC bank who recently issued a research report warning investors that the fossil fuel industry is at serious and growing risk of stranded assets from climate policies and unfavorable economics, including reduced demand for fossil fuels and the rapid development of renewable energy and efficiency measures. Contrary to Gates’ claim that divestment “won’t emit less carbon,” HSBC encouraged their investors to divest from fossil fuels and argued that divestment could lead to less fossil fuel production and less emissions. According to HSBC, divestment could help “extend the carbon budget” and would create “less demand for shares and bonds [which] ultimately increases the cost of capital to companies and limits the ability to finance expensive projects, which is particularly damaging in a sector where projects are inherently long term.”
Perhaps another good place to ask for divestment advice is the financial analysts over at the 2° Investing Initiative, who pointed out that “divesting from fossil fuels is an integral piece to aligning the financial sector with a 2 degree C climate scenario.” This claim is substantiated by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which estimates that reductions in fossil fuel investments of $4.9 trillion and additional divestment away from fossil-fueled power-transmission and distribution of $1.2 trillion will be needed by 2035 if we are to achieve the internationally agreed upon 2 degree C target—beyond which (and even before which) climate change becomes truly devastating.
If, after all of this evidence, we still wanted even further affirmation that divestment was important, we could also ask the Head of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, the Head of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, or the Head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, or the former Head of Shell, Mark Moody-Stuart, or Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Prince Charles, Cornel West, Noam Chomsky, the Rockefeller Brothers, Stanford University, the University of Washington, the World Council of Churches, the British Medical Association, the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, the Guardian Media Group, and the plethora of other influential and credible institutions and individuals who support divestment.
Finally, we can ask the philosophically-minded climate blogger David Roberts, who has adeptly highlighted that by bringing the deeply moral nature of the climate crisis to the fore, divestment activists are dramatically shifting the climate narrative. Not only are they showing that a better, cleaner, more high-tech, prosperous and just future is possible. More than that, they are making it a moral imperative to achieve that future, and illustrating quite clearly that the fossil fuel industry is on the wrong side of that moral imperative.
Whose Side Are You On?
By drawing on the sophisticated work of organizations like the Carbon Tracker Initiative and Kepler Chevereux, divestment activists having been exposing the carbon bubble to the light of day—and typically bubbles don’t do well when exposed to the sun. As the Carbon Tracker Initiative calculated, 60 - 80 percent of coal, oil and gas reserves of listed fossil fuel firms are already unburnable if we are to stand a reasonable chance of staying below the internationally agreed upon 2 degree C target—a realization which has led the British Energy Secretary Ed Davey and many others to call fossil fuels “the sub-prime assets of the future.” Looking forward, if we are to stand a reasonable chance of hitting the 2 degree C target, Kepler-Chevereux has showed that the fossil fuel industry stands to lose up to $28 trillion in revenues over just the next 20 years, and Citibank has estimated more than $100 trillion dollars by 2050.
The fossil fuel industry thus seems to be deep down a hole of potentially stranded assets, and as Bill McKibben is fond of pointing out, the number one rule of holes is that when you’re in one, stop digging. The fossil fuel industry, however, seems to have misplaced their rulebook, because despite having more reserves than we can afford to burn, they are trying to dig us deeper into the hole of climate chaos, spending approximately 1 percent of global GDP just on developing even more new unburnable reserves. In a tragic turn of irony, that’s about the same amount of money that the IEA concluded is required to invest in the clean economy in order to stay below the 2°C target. That’s right, if we just shifted the money that’s currently being wasted on exploring and developing unnecessary new fossil fuel reserves and instead spent it on clean energy, we could avert the worst of the climate crisis.
The ‘Miracle’ of Clean Energy
As part of Gates’ rejection of divestment, he provided a misleading (Exxon endorsed) assessment of the economics of the clean energy transition (seemingly out of the pages of a fossil fuel industry misinformation handbook or his favored climate contrarian adviser Bjorn Lomborg). Gates claimed that the only way current technology could reduce global emissions is at “beyond astronomical cost,” such that a “miracle” on the level of the invention of the automobile was necessary to avoid a climate catastrophe.
While innovation and invention is certainly part of the future ahead, numerous studies from the likes of Stanford University, the Chinese National Energy Research Institute, the IPCC and many others, show that we have many of the technologies needed to transition to a clean energy future. Indeed, as the IEA points out, what we need is not a miracle, but to speed up the energy revolution that is already underway—already the market outlook for wind and solar has been “transformed,” such that “they are now the lowest-cost source of power in a number of regions.” Looking forward, solar is set to be one of the cheapest energy sources across 80 percent of the world by 2017, according to Deutsche Bank. With clean energy making such great headway, the IEA has estimated that transitioning to clean energy in line with the 2 degree C target is not only possible, but that it would result in net savings on fuel and energy costs of $71 trillion by 2050.
Not only would transitioning in line with the 2°C target save us from high fuel costs, it would also create millions of jobs, grow the economy, prevent major negative impacts on global health and development, protect clean air and water, and avert the truly astronomical costs of climate change—estimated to be as high as $3,290 trillion by 2200. While those numbers point overwhelmingly in favor of climate action, they still cannot do real justice to the devastating nature of climate change. As the UN Human Development Report estimates, climate change and other environmental disasters could push more than 3 billion people into extreme poverty by 2050 if we do not act to stem the climate crisis. That hardly seems like an outcome consistent with the Gates Foundation’s goal of helping “every person get the chance to live a healthy, productive life.”
Despite citing sources from the likes of the IEA, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Stanford University, Gates makes it seem as if the case for divestment is based on the “self-defeating claims of some clean energy enthusiasts.” However, even if contrary to all these sources, Gates is right and we need a “miracle” in innovation to get to the 2 degree target, that’s somewhat irrelevant to the point of divestment. After all Gates also claims to believe we can get to the 2 degree target—he just believes we need a lot more innovation to get there. The question that the divestment movement is asking is this: If you believe we can hit the two degree target, why would you be investing in companies like Shell, Peabody or (their seeming allies) Exxon, whose business models entail four or five degrees of warming and who are preventing us from getting to the 2 degree target?
The Gates Foundation still has the opportunity to align their investments with the noble goals that they were founded upon: “to help every person get the chance to live a healthy, productive life.” However, as things stand they are currently investing and supporting companies whose business models could erase the prospects of a healthy, productive life for billions of people across the globe, especially for future generations, the poor and vulnerable the world over.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
By Jessica Corbett
A new study is shedding light on just how much ice could be lost around Antarctica if the international community fails to urgently rein in planet-heating emissions, bolstering arguments for bolder climate policies.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that over a third of the area of all Antarctic ice shelves — including 67% of area on the Antarctic Peninsula — could be at risk of collapsing if global temperatures soar to 4°C above pre-industrial levels.
- Antarctica's 'Doomsday Glacier' Is Starting to Crack - EcoWatch ›
- Scientists Make Unexpected Find Beneath Antarctic Ice - EcoWatch ›
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>
- Netflix's 'Seaspiracy': Viewers React to Fishing Documentary ... ›
- Mysterious Circling Behavior Observed in Large Marine Animals ... ›
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>
- Study: Birds Are Linked to Happiness Levels - EcoWatch ›
- Snowy Owl Flocks to Southern States in Search of Food - EcoWatch ›