Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Birding and Politics



A man (or woman) with binoculars is walking down a woodland path. At irregular intervals he stops, holds his binoculars to the treetops, smiles, and then perhaps either jots something down in a notebook or pulls out a field guide and thumbs through its pages. We observe him express a sense of satisfaction in finding the right one. He will probably spend a few hours repeating this activity throughout the trails of the woodland park he’s visiting. So, what is he doing? Most everyone will realize he’s watching birds. Or as those more closely aligned to the hobby would say, he’s birding.

What else might we assume about this person? Can we guess his religious affiliation? How about politics: is he liberal, moderate, or conservative? Does the fact that this person is fascinated by birds reveal anything about his personal wealth or level of education? Is he against hunting? Does he support the findings of science pertaining to evolution or global climate change? There are probably a myriad other things we might generalize or assume about this individual, but we should be cautious in doing so.

In 2009, Robert Mortensen of Birding is Fun blog wrote:
"It is generally assumed that if you are interested in birds, then you 'obviously' advocate conservation, and therefore must lean toward the Democratic party because 'we all know' that liberals care far more about the environment than the 'greedy earth-destroying capitalists' on the Republican side. This erroneous assumption might lead one to believe that all birders have the same position on issues like healthcare and abortion. Let us never assume and lump birders so generally into one camp or the other. A hobby involving 50 million Americans has more diverse opinions than that."
Today there are a lot of political shenanigans that ultimately result in a deliberate decrease of quality habitat for birds and other wildlife. If we support politicians who aim to pass legislation to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act, open up the ANWR for drilling, believe that anthropogenic climate change is an elaborate hoax played on us by scientists, want to destroy agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, or weaken wetland restrictions then, as birders, are we being true and faithful to the American Birding Association’s primary sentiment in its Principles of Birding Ethics? Is voting for or supporting such politicians compatible with "Promote the welfare of birds and their environment." and "Support the protection of important bird habitat."?

How does this square with the fact that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 168 times in 2011 to undercut clean air and water laws while blocking efforts to limit global warming, protect public lands, and guard against future oil spills? For some, birding may be a passionate personal interest, but perhaps narrower in its ethical magnitude and moral scope. Facts and figures that show one particular political party promotes legislation that adversely affects the welfare of birds may be conveniently dismissed, but the cognitive dissonance some must mentally forge is, in my opinion, an impressive feat of dispassionate hypocrisy.

© 2012 Mike McDowell

Disclaimer: The views, opinions, or positions by the blog author are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of Eagle Optics.