Eric Scigliano raises concern about the ethics of birding, when one's carbon footprint damages the same birds you cherish.
Are nature lovers who pursue experiences of the natural world becoming the new buffalo hunters?
By crisscrossing the state throughout 2012, Sherry and Arden Hagen recorded 370 bird species, 11 more than the previous record holder and about 40 more than actually reside here.
Here in Washington, transportation — mainly automotive — produces about half of carbon dioxide emissions, the prime driver of greenhouse warming. The delightfully obsessed Hagens logged 31,531 driving miles chasing those 370 species, not counting however many boat and air miles their quest also entailed and however much they drove in their nonbirding lives. Certainly there may be worse reasons to drive that much. But there’s no free carbon lunch.
The sad fact is that fuel-guzzling nature lovers — not just birders but divers rushing to see the great reefs before they bleach and mountaineers scrambling to beat the melting glaciers — are the new buffalo hunters and cod catchers. In the act of pursuing the natural treasures we cherish, we contribute to their destruction.
I feel the allure myself, of course. I’d love to be flying off to Hawaii or the Caribbean right now to dive among the fading reefs.
The same argument has been used to justify any number of destructive practices, from trophy hunting to keeping elephants in zoos: It will teach people about the natural world. When do the costs justify the benefits? What kind of calculus can tell us what sort of Big Years and grand tours the planet can afford?
I don’t know. I just know that we forget to ask the question when we reach for our wetsuits and binoculars. [emphasis mine]