Monday, November 14, 2011

Some of their best customers

Your favorite sanctimonious curmudgeon is back with more to ponder as you're driving your car in pursuit of the next rare bird. Have you ever dissected a gallon of gasoline to see who we're all paying to sustain our bird chasing hobby? For my calculations below, I assumed a vehicle that gets 30MPG and $3.25 for the price of a gallon of gasoline. According to stats from the US Energy Information Administration, here’s how and who we're financially supporting for every 10,000 of bird chasing miles put on our vehicles:

Service Stations: $32.50 (3%)

Naturally, they get the smallest slice.

Taxes: $119.17 (11%)

This money is used to keep our roads in good and safe driving condition.

Transportation & Marketing: $75.83 (7%)

As advertised.

Refineries: $140.83 (13%)

This is for the process of taking crude oil to fuel.

Crude Oil: $715.00 (66%)

Who gets the biggest slice? Oil producers like ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Marathon, etc., as well as oil companies controlled by countries like Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Venezuela. So, what have they done for the environment lately? To say I dislike the above companies is an understatement. I know it would weigh on my conscience if I had to handwrite personal checks to these places each month, but all I have to do is swipe my debit card at the gas pump and everyone gets paid. Isn’t it nice to know who we’re paying to support our birding hobby?

Oil chart © 2011 Mike McDowell


  1. Hey, some of my favorite people are known to be afflicted with sanctimonious curmudgeonry!....

  2. when did mike mcdowell become dave fallow?

  3. Brave anonymous commenter,

    I think sometime around here.


    Mike M.

  4. Here are some differences between me and Dave Fallow:

    1. Friendliness:

    Dave Fallow generally ignores birders he knows that chase.

    I’m friendly to all birders I meet on the trail.

    2. Cost to bird with:

    Dave Fallow charges for his field trips.

    You can bird with me for free!

    3. How you arrive:

    Dave Fallow won’t allow people on his field trips that arrive by car.

    I don’t care how you get to any field trip I lead.

    4. Driving to bird locally:

    Dave Fallow will NEVER drive a car to go birding.

    I drive my car to Pheasant Branch most of the time I go birding. I still make a few trips each spring to go to places like Baxter's Hollow, Spring Green Prairie, Black Earth Prairie, Cook Arboretum, and a few others.

    See? I'm not Dave Fallow!

    Mike M.

  5. I got a giggle out of the "brave anonymous commenter" comment. Now that's just funny. I think you should lead a digiscoping class. I would pay for that:)

  6. I probably should sign that Cynthia B. I'm brave:)

  7. Mike -

    Clever post. Every time I read your ideas about reducing "car birding" expenditures, I am more convinced that you are right! And I've barely had my driver's license for a month! Of the 214 bird species that I have seen this year in Wisconsin, 150 (70%) of those seen were seen while I was either biking or walking around my home (part of my BIGBY list). Almost all of the others were seen on either the MAS trips to Wyalusing and Lake Michigan (both of which I carpooled for) or pre-planned non-birding trips to visit relatives in Kenosha. All in all, I only chased one bird - the Rock County Vermilion Flycatcher (which I missed). Yay eco-birding! (Please forgive me for chasing the Vermilion Flycatcher, I hope I can still come on your Field Trips? Also, I may be somewhat biased, as I have never had to pay for gas in my life (have only driven by myself twice)). ;)

    Cheers! (If you drink bird-friendly coffee!)
    - Max

  8. Hey Max,

    That's great! Consciousness raising is my goal. Chasers will always chase and that's their right to do so; I won't judge people who chase. I just want birders to realize our actions may have negative consequences toward the environment and avian life. I haven’t even touched on the destruction that comes to the environment from getting gasoline to the market for our consumption, and as our demand increases, so will the damage. When you combine all the arguments I've made; money to unethical corporations, personal ecological footprint, millions of road kill, squandering a communal resource, etc., it's challenging to square chasing as an activity that has the best interests of birds and the environment in mind.

    Mike M.

  9. I was just interviewed in Birding magazine regarding the future of birding, including listing, and part of the interview seems a little pertinent here.

    Birding: What changes are coming up for birding?

    LE: The number of human beings in the U.S. has more than doubled during my lifetime. It will take vast efforts at education—both nationally and locally—to ensure that we have quality habitat and can reduce the number of hazards birds face.

    I think the number of birders engaging in “green birding” is going to increase. This is a wonderful development because extracting, refining, transporting, and burning fossil fuels have a huge impact on all kinds of critical issues that affect birds. Few issues are black and white, though. Traveling to exotic places to amass huge lists does indeed use up a lot of energy, but in many poor countries a healthy ecotourism industry can provide one of the only economic incentives to protect ever-diminishing habitat.

    I think when dealing with one another, we birders should follow the example of chickadees. They allow other species to join their flocks, not judging Blackburnian Warblers for their excessively high-frequency songs or Red-eyed Vireos for never shutting up or Ruby-crowned Kinglets for being so hyperactive. Diversity equals stability, and this seems to hold true whether we’re considering flocks of birds or of birders. Keeping our numbers strong and our focus on both the wellbeing of birds and our own enjoyment of them is how we, and birds, will thrive long into the future.

  10. Regarding the specifics of this discussion, it is absolutely and undeniably true that chasing birds throughout a county, state, or country uses energy--and everything about using fossil fuels contributes to harms that hurt birds. I like to be generous-spirited about other people chasing rarities, trusting that they find other ways of conserving to sort of make up for what they use in chasing. But I deeply appreciate Mike reminding people of the heavy costs that birds bear due to our squandering natural resources. Wherever you fall on the chasing/listing continuum, his blog helps make us all mindful of the high costs of our hobby. I'm developing a blog specifically about these costs that birds pay.

  11. Dear Mike
    Please keep blogging and sharing your beautiful pictures, your digiscoping knowledge, educated reading on nature and birding experiences with us. To me Birddigisoper has always been one of the most inspiring blogs on the web. Usually there is a lot that I recognize in your posts on local birding and nature experience. In fact it’s one of the reasons starting a blog for myself with postings on an old polder where I bird on a weekly basis, nearly always by bike. Which is not self-evident, not even in Holland. Thus I recently started promoting your motto; Drive less bird locally” enthusiastically.
    Best regards, Sjerp

  12. And bringing other people into an overall awareness of the value of the natural world (in the many ways we do that, including Mike, Laura, and Dave F. too) is part of a "bigger picture" - of environmental awareness generally. Some folks will never be either serious birders or "listers" - regardless of their choice of mode of transportation - but they will have something different to bring to the discussion. I'd like to see us be more inclusive, all around. More voices = a more complete discussion. Most of us talk to people we agree with, most of the time. I think that is not enough to find the right answers to the big questions.

  13. Lobby for better public transportation. There is a train track along the western edge of Goose Pond. Why can't you get there from Madison by train -- or at least to Arlington? I met a British birder a decade ago who was birding the Aleutians by ferry. (OK he burned jet fuel getting there...) He had taken the ferry as far out as it goes -- birded until the next ferry, went to the next stop, etc. I could duplicate that trip from Madison by train and ferry (once I got to Columbus...). Our dependence on cars is, in part, driven by the almost complete lack of alternatives.