Nature Rambles | Survival by degrees



Last month, I discussed a recent study published in Science Magazine concerning the real threat to migratory birds being posed by the increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Unfortunately, birders throughout Illinois are still experiencing a lack of birds. I just returned from a trip to the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois and the forest is eerily silent and still. This silence speaks volumes.

As with most environmental issues, there are several factors that are now falling into place that are impacting the nature of our planet. Beyond the record use of pesticides on a global scale, the planet is heating up. September 2019 went in the record books, and tied with 2015, as the hottest global average for September. This is 1.71 degrees Fahrenheit increase over an already warm 20-year average. In North America, September 2019 set the record as the hottest September ever documented (modern record-keeping started 140 years ago).

On Oct. 10, National Audubon released a new study finding that two-thirds of bird species in North America are at risk of extinction from climate change if we do not act now. This study, “Survival by Degrees: 389 Species on the Brink,” demonstrates that as global temperatures rise, weather patterns shift, and vital habitats dwindle and disappear, more than 64% of bird species are vulnerable to extinction if we continue on our current trajectory.

Audubon scientists studied 604 North American bird species in this report, in part using the data from bird lovers around the country. This seven-year, comprehensive study painted a disturbing picture and sounds the alarm for birds. In “Survival by Degrees,” they saw that 389 of these bird species –even common sights such as the robin and goldfinch—are vulnerable from climate change. Audubon has long been a respected leader in the conservation community, with a history of citizen science backed on conservation and solutions, not ideology. This report, based in sound, non-partisan science, shows us the risks if we do not take action.

The study has a state-by-state breakdown of how birds will fare if we cannot hold the global temperature rise to below a 3-degree C. increase. It is not a pretty picture. There is good news, though. If we act now, we can avoid the worst impacts of a changing climate. If we are able to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees C, 76% of at-risk species will see improved chances at avoiding extinction. Instead of our politicians casting aspersions at young climate activists, like Greta Thunberg, we need to embrace them for their foresight, listen, and act.

I encourage everyone to visit National Audubon’s study on the internet ( Here you can find all of the interactive data along with practical ways you can become a force for change and reduce the warming of our planet. We are at a point in history where the “canary in the coal mine” is telling us that something is going drastically wrong. Are we going to listen, or will we be the next species to suffer?

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