Watching Hallam

The Troublemaker movie

It’s been a roiling day. A currawong roused me out of bed, a good start, but I was restless. I reviewed a book about birding, another positive step. An Edinburgh International Book Festival event featuring Frans Timmerman, an architect of the EU Green Deal, wasn’t boring, like I thought it would be, but perky. Then I began watching a documentary, just released, called The Troublemaker. Made by Sasha Snow, it’s a looke at Roger Hallam, cofounder of Extinction Rebellion. I’ve watched a number of “performances” of various sorts by Hallam and found him to be my sort of person: relentlessly analytical and courageous. I had no idea whether The Troublemaker would make an impression (a number of recent well-meaning climate change books/movies have been fine but not exceptional) or even a difference (I too seek the truth, don’t I?), but a stunning opening scene of global imagery segues into Hallam’s first words:

Like all middle-class kids, you’re brought up in a world that you think is good and fair and sensible. And, you know, it’s going to be a breeze. And then one day, you realize that it’s not like that. You think you’re great, you think everything is going fine, you think you rule the world. And suddenly, bang. … So it’s the greatest morality tale of all time.

Just like that, tears sprang forth and I gave a sob. Hallam encapsulates what I’ve known for three decades. I brace for the rest of the movie. Right now, I don’t need my life to be shifted even more than the last three years have done, but I’m braced for The Troublemaker

Some fine news for White-naped Cranes

White-naped Cranes in Mongolia

Just under half of the world’s struggling, lurching population of some 6,000 White-naped Cranes winter at the fabled Poyang Lakes in China (I dream of visiting), and around 60 pairs migrate north to breed in a remote area of wetlands and grasslands in northeast Mongolia, in the Khurkh-Khuiten River Valleys (KKRV). (Excuse me if I get the precise facts wrong, it’s a complex situation.) They’re stately, impressive birds (the image is from the article below). I’ve written about how around the world, governments are sneaking in habitat/species destroying/disrupting actions under Covid-19 cover, all bad new, but now I’m cheered. The International Crane Foundation has just advised (“Mongolia protects core breeding area for declining White-naped Cranes“) that the Mongolian government (in May, I think) has declared a 200,000-hectare national nature reserve at the KKRV. Hope, hope, hope.

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.

Stunning posters of the 9 Cranes on the East Asian flyway

EAAFW poster of some East Asia Flyway cranes

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.

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.