The transition to a zero-carbon world is a learning process with many open questions and few definitive asnwers. But there are things we can start doing at different levels.
A good starting point is acknowledging that individual versus collective change is a false dichotomy. NASA climate scientist Peter Kalmus summarises the argument:
“Collective action enables individual action (by shifting systems) and individual action enables collective action (by shifting cultural norms). Visible, conspicuous individual action is also collective action. We won’t get a carbon fee and dividend, for example, until the grassroots care enough about climate change.”
With this in mind, consider the following actions:
Talk about climate change with other birdwatchers and at birdwatching clubs. Many people accept that climate change is happening but just don’t talk about it. Researchers call this “socially organised denial”. If we want to break through that we need to speak out. It may feel uncomfortable at times, but it is important that we find the courage to do it.
If you have found joy in staying local and travelling slow, talk about it – you will inspire others.
Let elected representatives at any level know that you are worried about climate change. Engage in a conversation with them. Ask them what they think about it. Let them know you would like to be able to travel low carbon.
Support the climate movement. Ask school strike activists how you can help.
Support campaigns for the introduction of a Frequent Flyer Levy to reduce aviation demand equitably.
Support campaigns to reduce poverty and inequality. Inequality is at the root of wasteful consumption of resources and poverty can exacerbate some threats to biodiversity. Without a more equal world there are few chances of a liveable future.
Support campaigns for better public transport, safe cycling and walking. Ask campaigners how birdwatchers can help.
Check available options for visiting birding places by public transport. There may be more than you realise.
Spend some time exploring your surroundings. Good places may have passed unnoticed. And remember that good birding spots are not necessarily places where you see many species, but places with possibilities to deepen your knowledge about them.
Let conservation organisations know that you are interested in low-carbon birding and encourage them to promote it.
Encourage your birdwatching club to promote local birding and low-carbon birding trips rather than exotic holidays.
Encourage conservation and development organisations to think about the limits of conservation models dependent on long-haul flights and consider viable alternatives that provide greater resilience.
Encourage birdwatching magazines to give greater visibility to and actively promote low-carbon birding. The patch birding section in some of them is a good start.
Encourage birdwatching magazines to take their example from Scandinavian newspapers which recently decided to refocus their travel sections to cover domestic and European destinations easily accessible by public transport.
Encourage wildlife artists and writers to help craft positive narratives about staying local and travelling low-carbon. This would facilitate the shift towards a climate-friendly birding culture.
In academia there is an ongoing discussion about the need for a low-carbon research culture. Ibis, the journal of the British Ornithologists’ Union (BOU), and its editor, Steve Dudley, are doing great work here. Support these efforts. See also the guidelines by Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
Some people live in places with good birding opportunities on their doorstep. Others can access good low-carbon transport networks. But some have neither. Low-carbon birding is about making a reasonable effort considering personal circumstances.
Even within current institutional and infrastructural constraints there is still scope for doing things differently. If we make an effort to act as if there is a crisis, others will notice. We are hardly going to convey the message of a climate emergency if we continue burning oil as usual.
A different birding culture is possible.