Birds have long been the "canaries in the coal mine" for our destructive ways. Extinction of the passenger pigeon sparked the first large environmental movement in the U.S., and led to restrictions on hunting, as well as federal and international regulations to protect migratory birds. Now, birds face a range of new problems, most caused by humans and many serving as further warnings about our bad habits.
With the growing urgency of climate change, we can't have it both ways. We can't shout about the dangers of global warming and then turn around and shout even louder about the "dangers" of windmills. We must accept that all forms of energy have associated costs. A blanket "not in my backyard" approach is hypocritical and counterproductive. I think smokestacks, smog, acid rain, coal-fired power plants and climate change are ugly. I think windmills are beautiful. And if one day I look out from my cabin porch and see a row of windmills spinning in the distance, I won't curse them. I will praise them. It will mean we're finally getting somewhere.
When 7,500 birds died a few weeks ago at a natural gas flare in New Brunswick, there was shock and dismay among most people who heard the news. How did it happen? Could it happen again? How might it have been prevented? As tragic as these incidents are, though, they are a blip in the big picture of threats to migratory bird populations.
We can't live without birds. Beyond being fascinating and beautiful, they play a crucial role in keeping the world habitable for all life, including people. They disperse seeds, pollinate plants, control insects, provide food and are indicators of the overall health of ecosystems. One in eight -- or 1,313 -- species of Earth's birds is in danger of disappearing.