Securing a future for birds in a changing climate
Allen's Hummingbird. Photo: David Levinson
Global warming is a serious threat to California birds. A seven-year study from the National Audubon Society released in September 2014 finds that global warming threatens the survival of 170 California species in the coming decades. This includes iconic California birds such as the Brown Pelican, Allen’s Hummingbird, Yellow-billed Magpie, and many others. These are birds that all of us know well from our backyards and from our own experiences in California’s beautiful outdoors.
Audubon California is addressing this challenge by protecting the habitats that we know birds will need now and into the future, and doing what we can to lessen the severity of global warming. We’ll do this work with a variety of partners on the ground and in the halls of the State Capitol and Washington, D.C.
But we won’t be able to rise to this challenge without the involvement of California residents who care about birds. We need people not only to join us in this important work, but to also raise their voices to call for meaningful policy and legislative action on global warming.
More about the Audubon study.
Audubon analyzed more than 40 years of historical North American climate data and millions of historical bird records from the U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Breeding Bird Survey and the Audubon Christmas Bird Count to understand the links between where birds live and the climatic conditions that support them. Of 588 bird species examined in the study, 314 species are considered at-risk. Hundreds of species not previously considered at risk will be challenged to survive in a climate-changed future. Understanding those links then allows scientists to project where birds are likely to be able to survive – and not survive – in the future. Learn more about the study.
Of the 314 North American birds identified by Audubon as either climate threatened or climate endangered, more than 170 commonly occur in California.
Despite significant improvements as a result of emissions regulations, air pollution continues to be a significant problem for Californians, according to data recently released by the American Lung Association. The organization’s 2016 State of the Air report concludes that seven of the ten worst cities in the United States for air pollution are located in California. Los Angeles leads the nation for ozone pollution, while Bakersfield is the worst in the nation for particulate pollution. The report adds that eight out of ten Californians live in an area with unhealthful air.
While the ramifications of this are clear for public health, air pollution of this type has clear ramifications for climate change. It’s no wonder that a number of the climate-related bills working their way through the State Legislature this year address the connection between climate change, pollution, and public health. The best example is Senate Bill 1383, authored by State Senator Ricardo Lara, which seeks to reduce 50 percent of black carbon emissions and 40 percent of both methane and fluorinated gas (F-gas) emissions in California by 2030.
The National Audubon Society recently found that 170 species of birds in California will be at risk in coming decades due to climate change. These birds are also threatened by air pollution.
Audubon Magazine has a great profile of Rosalie Howarth, a member of Mount Diablo Audubon, who has been active advocating for legislation addressing the impact of climate change on birds. Howarth is also a popular radio DJ in the Bay Area for KFOG-FM. It's a great piece about the power of persistence -- and Howarth also shares her tips for making the types of connections with lawmakers that make a difference.
After debuting his legislation at the Paris Climate Talks last year, California State Sen. Ricardo Lara last week introduced a new bill that would greatly reduce short-term air pollutants such as black carbon, fluorinated gases, and methane by 2030. Senate Bill 1383 would require the State Air Resourced Board to to "approve and implement a comprehensive strategy to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants to achieve a reduction in methane by 40%, hydrofluorocarbon gases by 40%, and anthropogenic black carbon by 50% below 2013 levels by 2030."
Audubon California is watching this bill closely because we understand that these pollutants are driving climate change while also creating immediate public health challenges for communities. Audubon research shows that 170 California bird species are threatened by climate change. Moreover, this same air pollution that creates public health problems in people also creates immediate health issues for birds and habitat.
Legal troubles are mounting for the utility in charge of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field that has been leaking for the last three-and-a-half months. News agencies are also calling the event the Porter Ranch gas leak, in reference to the nearby housing community. As the Los Angeles Times reports, Los Angeles County officials have charged Southern California Gas Company with misdemeanor charges stemming from the leak, which could result in massive fines for the agency. The California attorney general has also signed on to class a action lawsuit from nearby residents seeking damages. The news comes as representatives of the utility claim that the leak may be stopped in the next few days, which will come as a huge relief to the thousands of nearby residents who have been dislocated because of the spill.
As we reported earlier, the California Air Resources Board estimated in late January that the Aliso Canyon leak had emitted the equivalent of 2.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. This is more greenhouse gas than 440,000 cars emit in a year. The immediate impact that this will have on birds is unclear. While we know that greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to have significant long-term effects on birds, it is less clear what the pollutants are doing to birds in the here and now.
Man-made climate change will likely increase the risk of extreme fire seasons in California over the coming decades, according to a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The report also indicated that 2014 offered up the highest risk for extreme fires of any year on record, According to the study, high risk means "more days with intense heat and little or no recent rain, creating the perfect conditions for a big blaze."
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