As we emerge from the latest election cycle, it may seem as though every issue in American politics has become polarized. But as our newly elected leaders take office, we have a critical opportunity to find consensus on one of the most urgent issues we face today: protecting our planet from increasing climate threats.
The truth is that an overwhelming majority of Americans recognize climate change as a real threat. Over 70 percent of Americans across party lines believe that global warming is happening and will harm future generations. Seventy-two percent of
Americans support the regulation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and 77 percent support funding research into renewable energy. Among Republicans specifically, 89 percent support nature-based solutions like planting trees to absorb carbon emissions, and 70 percent support providing a tax credit to businesses for developing carbon capture and storage.
Another unifying factor is a love of nature. We are all deeply dependent on clean water, clean air, healthy natural spaces, and a healthy climate. Among our membership, it is this shared dependence that unites people across the political spectrum in common cause to protect our natural spaces and ensure that our communities remain hospitable to the wildlife — and for us as well.
The link between people and nature is not just important to the places we call home. Our local actions resonate globally. Most birds are migratory, maintaining intricate and critical connections with natural and urban spaces across thousands of miles each year. If migratory birds are to thrive in our neighborhood parks during one season, we must also conserve the places they depend on during another season. By studying how the climate affects their habitat ranges, birds tell us a lot about how climate affects us all.
And what they are telling us is a warning call to everyone, no matter your political affiliation. Bird populations are in steep decline. We have lost 3 billion birds in the last 50 years. And when birds are in trouble, that means people are in trouble too. In 2021, the National Audubon Society found that the places most important for birds often overlap with natural areas that make the planet habitable for us all. These priority areas — including forests, grasslands, wetlands, and even green city spaces — have the potential to store twice as much carbon and add incalculable value to both bird and human lives when managed strategically.
These landscapes are excellent sources of nature-based solutions — sustainable methods of addressing both environmental and socio-economic challenges. These can include managing landscapes like marshes and barrier islands to act as natural infrastructure against flooding and sea level rise, and restoring lands and waters to minimize the negative impacts of human activities. These natural solutions protect communities and wildlife habitat from storms. President Biden made a point of prioritizing them at the global climate conference COP27 that recently met in Egypt, and they must be a centerpiece of bipartisan climate action going forward in the US
Similarly, transitioning to renewable energy should be widely embraced as a bipartisan, vital step in combating climate change. Renewable energy — like solar, wind, and geothermal power — not only reduces emissions but also strengthens national and energy security by reducing local pollution and decreasing dependence on foreign resources. It is one of the most significant ways to reduce emissions that imperil millions of birds. That is precisely why we work closely with government agencies, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations and other key stakeholders to promote clean energy development that is properly located and operated to minimize and mitigate impacts on birds, other wildlife, and communities, especially those disproportionally impacted by climate change.
Birds are not bound by geopolitical borders — or regional and political divides — which is why meaningful action to protect them should be on a hemispheric scale. It is critical that conservation work include international groups and community organizations to support nature-based solutions across the Western Hemisphere, and protect the places birds need along their migration routes.
The urgency for meaningful climate mobilization grows greater every day. Regardless of our personal politics, we all bear the burden of a changing climate. When we listen to what birds tell us, they lead us to solutions. We seek consensus in tangible, nature-based action because we know that we must. In our climate action, we take inspiration from Cerulean Warblers breeding in the Appalachian Mountains, and Northern Cardinals foraging in the forests of New England. They are blue birds and red birds living in red and blue states, who can only thrive if their habitats stay green.
Elizabeth Gray is CEO of the National Audubon Society.