Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Squandering energy and boasting about it

"Bridled" Common Murre
Common Murre, photographed from Machias Seal Island off the coast of Maine in 2013. These seabirds are indeed suffering from a huge array of issues in the ocean, including climate change.

I just got a heartfelt if rather personal criticism from a KAXE listener in an email titled “Bragging about excessive, unnecessary travel harms birds.” Aaron wrote:
Hearing your show on 2/3/16 on KAXE in Grand Rapids MN, I was sickened to hear you boasting of all your jet traveling, just to add to your life list. You talk and write of doing one’s part to help, or at least not harm birds, on your website and radio shows, yet you choose to boast of very harmful behavioral choices.  
You have heard of climate change and how it's harmful to lots of bird species right? This winter in Alaska there are tens to hundreds of thousands of common murres washing up on shore dead; likely from a very warm region of the Pacific and the biological changes that came with the excessive heat. You must also realize that jets burn kerosene and massive volumes of it right? Your trip to Africa alone will emit more transportation based carbon pollution than most Americans will put on in a year of driving around living a normal, local life. 
I would have hoped that boasting of unnecessary pollution creation would have been something you'd put aside long ago. We need media icon birders like yourself to start questioning and criticizing the travel/ airline/ fossil fuel industry, not bragging of gluttonous usage.  
I was really saddened to hear this installment of your show, and hope that in the future if you can't find the rationale to not be a monstrous fossil fuel consumer/addict, that at least you'll have the common sense to not brag about it, thus encouraging others to do behave in the same harmful ways.  
The thing I asked myself 15 yrs ago when I was a travel/ airline industry sucker is "is this really necessary to support these industries that are very harmful to so many creatures worldwide, and increase my carbon footprint dramatically from where it is already as a wealthy (especially when considered globally) person, and is this the kind of behavior I want to boast of for ego kicks?" I've only been on a jet once since then and it was to be with my wife while she was working in Europe for two months. Life is as rich as ever, and we now see ourselves as cultural creatives, modeling an airline/ kerosene free lifestyle and encouraging others to stay grounded (literally). 
As Aaron points out, I can’t defend my energy usage. My speaking and writing about birds and photographing them are my only means of income, so like Aaron’s wife traveling to Europe for her work, I travel when my job calls for it, and  I provide free use of the many photographs I’ve taken on all my travels to all kinds of environmental and educational non-profits, which they use in publicizing disasters such as the deaths of those murres in Alaska.

The words "boasting" and “bragging” are loaded ones, but they make me feel defensive because Aaron is right: any time we step into a jet we are indeed contributing to climate change. Any time I type on my computer or switch on my digital recorder to record a radio program, I’m doing the same thing, and though not at the same order of magnitude, every bit hurts. Russ and I have spent the 35 years we’ve lived in Duluth trying very hard to shrink our carbon footprint in every way we can, but it’s always sobering to realize that no matter how hard we try, we can always do better.

I’m not going to apologize to Aaron—I don’t see his choice to travel to Europe to be with his wife, or her traveling there for work, as being somehow superior to my own reasons for travel. But he is right that I should be mindful of my energy use. I’m not sure how I can write and talk about the beautiful birds of this planet without sounding like I’m boasting when I get to see them. I guess all any of us can do is try our best.