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.
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.
EAAFP’s Story #5, “Do you know all the crane species in East Asian – Australasian Flyway?” sends the imagination soaring. Quirky, pithy notes on the 9 species (besides these 9, 4 reside in Africa, one is solely in USA, and one lives in Australia) are a pleasure to read. I bask, doing my best to picture how I might see each of the nine on location. The glorious Siberian Crane (you only see its black wingtips in flight) – I think Poyang Lake is where I’d go, and I’ve seen photos of that sumptuous wetland reserve in China. I’m unsure where the Red-crowned Crane, “tall and elegant” with a black neck and tail feathers, and I will intersect. Bhutan is my best place to view the shorter Black-necked Crane with a white eye ring that gives it a glaring visage. The Hooded Crane with its mini frontal grey-and-red hood, and its brown-grey bustle – who knows where? The blue-and-grey White-naped Crane is drawn with splashes of shades of grey – again, where? The tallest flying bird on Earth, the Sarus Crane, with its red head and neck, has a subspecies way up north in Australia, where I’ll travel when Covid-19 is beaten or finally peters out. The voluminous Eurasian Crane (“has no beautiful features or cultural background but has the best adaptive capacity”) is, for me, best viewed in Estonia, my now-deceased parents’ homeland. I have a dream to see the Demoiselle Crane, the tiny one of the fifteen, soaring over the Himalayas. And Nebraska is the spot to witness tens of thousands of grey-brown Sandhill Cranes. Lockdown … sigh.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
Brilliant news. The best step forward on climate change in 2020 is a change of U.S. president