Bad actors act while we’re diverted

ICF Bugle graphic

The graphic above is from the July issue of The Bugle, ICF’s regular magazine, in fact the graphic is from the “notes from the President,” Rich Beilfuss. The Bugle is a monthly highlight for me, and never more so than during this period of pandemic lockdown. Much of the issue is about how ICF has adjusted to crisis conditions, very interesting stuff, but I was intrigued and distressed by Beilfuss’s acknowledgment of how those seeking to plunge crane species closer to the edge are behaving:

The global pandemic has not slowed the threats to cranes and the vital places they (and we) need. Plans for ill-conceived dams and other negative land-use changes have proliferated worldwide during the crisis while attention is diverted.

I shouldn’t have been shocked. Exactly the same dynamic is occurring in the more general global arena of climate action/inaction: bad actors are moving fast while we’re preoccupied. Stay alert, I whisper to myself.

I cheer a hero

Hans-Otto Pörtner

Generating internal cheer during lockdown isn’t always possible. Looking outward, seeing a hero, and cheering, that’s something that can help. I noticed that on Tuesday, the IPCC announced the 39-strong “core writing team” charged with penning the existentially vital Synthesis Report of AR6 (the Sixth Assessment Report) due in 2022. I glowed with appreciation. And a couple of days later, IPCC pushed out a 59-second interview with a softly spoken biologist and physiologist who co-chairs Working Group II. Take a look, take a listen, and be impressed with the man’s unassuming dedication. Hans Pörtner: ” … humans are changing the planet so much that … we have to bring the planet onto a more sustainable path, and how to do this is a very exciting task ahead of us.”

Dare we hope for good news about coal, gas, and oil?

Dirty coal

Angus Hervey at Future Crunch has a brilliantly written, comprehensive article out called “2020 Is The Worst Year Ever For Fossil Fuels.” I read it on a tough day of writing and my heart soared, for Hervey paints a picture in which Covid-19, by pummeling energy demand, may well have accelerated the transition to renewable energy. The coal, gas, and oil sectors are reeling, according to him, producing a perfect storm whereby post-pandemic recovery will see cheaper wind and solar will surge. All three industries could see huge write-offs and the kind of economic justice we’ve only dared dream about. Hervey often stresses all three industries might prove more resilient than the decline-into-basket-case picture he portrays, but his detailed analysis puts him on the side of the optimists. Fingers crossed, world, fingers crossed.

Kevin Steven Floyd’s poem

Floyd's poem

Here in Lockdown #2, I watch a two-minute poem, read over beautiful photos, by an ICF-er in South Africa. In February, he saw 198 Wattled Cranes on the Kafue Flats, something I yearn to do. Find Kevin Steven Floyd’s poem here, partway down the page: “A Valentine’s Poem for Cranes.”

My search for you knows no bounds, season in, season out.

Ah, right now, I wish I could echo that thought with resolve. Right now, who knows when I’ll be able to travel to the Kafue Flats. Right now, my search, my quest, is indeed fully bounded. But I shall surely get there. I know I will.

Nearly 7,000 Cranes on Armageddon border

Cranes in Cheorwon by Kisup Lee

EAAFP’s Story #3, “What do farmers do in winter in Korea? They help to count cranes!” is another welcome missive here in wet, miserable, locked-down Melbourne. Just south of the Civilian Control Zone in South Korea, itself abutting the slim Demilitarized Zone that has stood in war standing between the country and nuclear-armed North Korea, is Cheorwon. It’s one of the few places in the world you can see seven of the fifteen species of Cranes. Cheorwon farmers protect and feed cranes, a vital role since this is a rare safe migration stopover between Siberia and China/Japan. In winter this year, some thirty of them conducted monthly surveys, and the peak count was just under 7,000. It’s a heartwarming account and my post image is extracted from it, a lovely photo by Kisup Lee dramatizing White-naped and Red-crowned Cranes. Thank you, Cheorwon!

Watching from afar

EAAFP Cranes story

The Covid-19 lockdown has beached my efforts to “see” the fifteen Crane species (and here I highlight that exactly what the point of “seeing” a particular species might be, and “how” one might see such a species, are fodder for this writing project). Research and writing work has focused on other subjects.

But Cranes now lodge deep inside my subconscious. I’m not tapped into any strong network of Crane researchers/writers/activists, but I keep an eye out for inspiring stories. Here’s one. The EAAFP, more fully the East Asian – Australasian Flyway Partnership, which I’ve written about before, is a dynamic body focusing on exactly what it says, one of the world’s major migratory bird flyways. Well, I’d missed the start of EAAFP’s sequence of stories, within the context of 2020 being declared the Year of the Cranes. Nine of the fifteen global Crane species use the East Asia Flyway, hence the stories.

EAAFP’s Story #1, “First recorded wintering Siberian Cranes in Guangdong, China,” moves me in a way that illustrates just how solidly this 15 Cranes project has snared my heart. The critically endangered Siberian Crane, a majestic beauty on the edge of extinction, breeds way, way up northwest in Russia, in the Yakutia region. Wintering sites are hard to find and nearly all of them journey to Poyang Lake, part of the Yangtze wetlands in central China. Isolated birds and pairs have in past years wound up in Hong Kong or Taiwan, but late last year, a flock of nine (one juvenile and eight adults, I can’t tell from the article or picture how many well-established breeding pairs are within this flock) was spotted on a small island off the coast of southern Guangdong Province, the first recorded siting in that province.

I know I shouldn’t anthropomorphize or view the Cranes’ worlds in human terms but nonetheless I picture them heading south from the remotes of Siberia and then over-shooting (consciously? due to weather?) the usual lakes by some 700 kilometers and ending up on a small rural island. The story is even more inspiring. Local farmers and authorities banded together to protect the flock from birders (a growing force in China). The flock was still there on February 18. Are they still there? I don’t know and wish I did. Is this a good story or a sad one? Again, I wish I knew.

Plant trees by all means but that won’t save us

Jeff Goodell article

Ever-dependable, sane Jeff Goodell turns his attention, in a Rolling Stone article “Why planting trees won’t save us,” to the simplistic, dangerous idea that we should just plant a trillion trees and all will be okay. If you’re not clear on the issues involved, by all means read the wonderfully written article, but a moment’s thought should kybosh the “trillion trees” myth.

Of course, in an environment at equilibrium, a forest or wood is much better than a pasture. Trees do take in and store carbon. Deforestation, such as the criminal razing of the Amazon, is a measurable contributor to our global warming and its existing and coming impacts. But mindlessly conducting random working bees to plant trees willy nilly is often pointless. If a tree falls down or gets diseased or, most likely, burns down a few years after planting, all that sequestered carbon is released. Net impact of the planting: zero. Plant a tree right now in a bushfire-prone area in Australia and you’re wasting your time. Sure, if we can convert a savannah into a permanent rainforest, we’re refreshing Mother Earth, but where is that kind of targeting referred to in the “trillion trees” spin?

Plant huge swathes of virgin forest and look after them for a long time … do that and our grandchildren will smile upon you. But such genuine stewardship is not being spruiked in the evasive “trillion trees” propoganda. For that propaganda seeks to divert us from what our grandchildren really need: close coal plants and mine it no more; close gas plants and drill it no more; switch cars to electric and drill oil no more.

Straddle the globe!

Flyways

A wondrous bonus of the pandemic lockdown has been a weekly educational webinar series from the International Crane Foundation. You can catch them afterwards via YouTube but I recommend you experience them live (even if, as with me, that means a 2 AM alarm), because they’re given by real-world conservationists and ornithologists and you rarely glean such wisdom. As a small example of the bounties in store, here’s a visual put up by a Chinese field researcher. No doubt thousands of bird experts appreciate just how the migratory birds straddle the world, spreading out to every corner. No doubt coffee table books glorify such barely believable images. But to this amateur, glimpsing such a vista, slapped up on a screen in order to clarify why such-and-such a conservation tactic is needed … wow, feasting upon this revelatory picture was life-changing. I’ve known for a while that, of course, Earth’s birds were here long before the human race. What I hadn’t quite appreciated is how comprehensive their global coverage. There is nowhere on our planet a bird has not flown to!

Memories of Red-Crowned Cranes on a trail

Paintings of Red-Crowned Cranes

Last November we hiked the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail near Osaka. On the day before leaving for Japan, I’d been reading about the species of Crane, amongst our planet’s fifteen such species, called the Red-Crowned Crane. Apparently this magnificent bird has been lauded, worshipped even, in Japan over the centuries. One afternoon on the trail, soaked in sweat, I walked around a new tourist information hall, an almost soporific stroll because I find such places boring. Lo and behold, three hanging traditional-style paintings, each featuring a family of Red-Crowned Cranes, drawn in that stylized traditional Japanese way. I don’t mind admitting that I took that occurrence as a sign … perhaps, after all, my Cranes writing project is imbued with some fateful magic!