Our erratic climate can be disastrous for migrating birds. Although scientists observe many birds adapting to climate change, “false springs” sometimes lure birds to migrate too early—followed by sudden, fatal “cold snaps” in the weather along their routes. Birds can also die or fail to breed from mismatches between previously synchronized—but now off-kilter—migration dates and the hatching or flowering of needed foods.
But birds aren’t the only ones who fly. Although given current airplane technologies it’s good to avoid planes (they release significant greenhouse gases), sometimes I do have a strong reason to fly. So how can I compensate birds for the damage my flights cause?
Many organizations encourage people to plant trees, since trees absorb carbon that planes release. Planting trees isn’t a bad idea, but there’s an even better way to offset my carbon pollution. Instead of putting a new baby tree into the world, which will absorb only modest amounts of carbon until it has grown up, I can save an existing old tree. An old tree absorbs lots more carbon than a baby one.
Or I can help save an existing old forest, bog, marsh, swamp, or prairie. Existing old-growth landscapes ALREADY store an enormous amount of carbon. When they get chopped down, drained, or burned for agriculture, much of that carbon is released. I’ve focused on my own favorite old-growth landscape to help protect, a beloved bog (peat stores huge amounts of carbon and provides habitat for interesting and threatened birds). It’s rewarding to me to have that consistent bond to a particular place. I encourage all bird lovers to choose a cherished old-growth location that could use your support, and then tie your love for that place to offsetting your airplane emissions.
Whenever I fly, I use a carbon-offset calculator online to figure out how much to donate. I write “carbon-offset” on my check to remind myself that this is my basic duty: to clean up the mess I’ve produced. When my budget is tight, instead I volunteer to protect an old-growth landscape—for example, by removing litter. Saving old landscapes allows Nature to do some of the carbon cleaning and storing I need done.
If you ever pay someone to clean your car or your child’s bottom in day care, if you ever buy cleaning products or pay for electricity to vacuum your house, if you ever do your dishes or laundry, then you know that money and effort must be spent to keep things clean. After you take an airplane, think similarly: it’s time to donate or put in volunteer hours to help Nature’s own cleaners and carbon-storage systems keep up their good work. Thanks for all you do!
By Christine M. Du Bois
Photo Flock of Geese, by Enoch Leung, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0