Conservation Really Doesn’t Have a Party

One of my favorite college professors at Texas A&M used to say, “You can’t drive forward while looking in the rearview mirror,” and that’s true. Knowing where you’ve been is helpful, however, when plotting your course for the future. One hundred years ago this month, “Martha” – the world’s last Passenger Pigeon – died quietly at the Cincinnati Zoo from old age. Hunting to excess and diminishing habitat had brought this species, which once boasted billions of individuals, to a screeching halt. We seemed to have learned from this and have come a long way since 1914. 

Our world is a fluid and dynamic place, always changing. While one could say we are its most successful species, we can never escape the reality that we are tied to our planet like kites on a string. If we don’t embrace what the overwhelming evidence and support of the scientific community is telling us, then our grandchildren may grow up in a very different place than we did. We are not just seeing transient changes in weather and mistaking it for climate change. We are seeing long-term and accelerating warming trends, cyclical patterns of extreme weather lasting decades and growing in severity, and even changes in current wildlife populations and ranges that are powerful indicators of a climate transformation. The revelation of climate change is not a new discovery, but our growing ability to impact it is. Kudos to us! We’ve reached a level of sophistication and sheer numbers that we have the power to change the planet!  It’s too bad the sweetness of that revelation comes with such big responsibilities. 

Earlier this month, the National Audubon Society unveiled a cutting-edge study based on three decades of bird count data collected from all over the United States, including right here in Texas, where Audubon has run the Christmas Bird Count for more than 100 years.  Tens of thousands of records were analyzed to fully determine all the climate characteristics of the home ranges of 588 species of birds in North America. And here’s what we found: If climate change continues on its current trajectory, nearly half of our birds will be forced to abandon half of the territories they occupy today. They are going to be faced with some pretty dire choices – adapt rapidly in place, move, or die. What a terrible ultimatum. So much work has been put into saving iconic species here in the Lone Star State that will be lost. One hundred percent (100%) of the current breeding range of the Golden-cheeked Warbler and 58% of the breeding range of the Brown Pelican will be gone by the year 2080. In all, 107 species of birds in Texas are facing substantial or complete loss of their current ranges within the next 40 to 60 years.

Dallas industrial tycoon, proud Republican, and notable conservationist Trammell Crow, Jr., told me recently that great conservation doesn’t have a political party. He also reminded me that the base of the word “conservative” is “conserve,” the same base as in the word “conservation.”  Texas is a remarkable place and a home to pioneers.  We are courageous enough to admit that climate change is not about inflamed politics, or vilifying industry, or being an environmental zealot. Climate change is about us. Didn’t our parents teach us we shouldn’t play too rough because of the possibility that someone would get hurt? If there’s even a remote chance that our actions may accelerate or increase the severity of climate change, isn’t that enough to do something about it?

We live in an important time when the personal decisions we make and actions we take can have a dramatic impact on the world we call home. Be someone who knows that the world is not given by their parents, but borrowed from their children.” Don’t let this happen on our watch. Support the protection of important habitats and green spaces where you live, support responsible policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and advances clean energy, and be a voice of reason in your community. Admitting climate change is happening does not turn anyone into a tree-hugger; it just means you paid attention in school and you’re paying attention right now.

About Brian Trusty and Audubon

Brian Trusty is Executive Director of Audubon Texas and a respected conservation leader in the Lone Star State. With chapters and partners, he and his team protect and manage colonial water bird populations in every major bay system on the Texas Gulf Coast, identify and conserve the most important sites for birds statewide, and reach 75,000 visitors and students annually through conservation education at the Audubon centers in Dallas, Cedar Hill, and San Antonio.

The National Audubon Society conserves birds and their habitats throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon Texas is the state program of the National Audubon Society, dedicated for 100 years to protecting birds, other wildlife, and their habitats.  

How you can help, right now