Finding Ways to Impact the Future

by Feb 10, 2020

(Chuq note: For every issue of my newsletter 6FPS I write an essay that is only readable by subscribing. As I was finishing up this latest issue (V2n1, published yesterday) I decided that the essay was important enough I wanted to share it here on the blog, too. I’d love to know what you think about it, and what you’re doing to make an impact for positive change for the future — I’m always looking for new things I can do in my life and the best teachers I know are all of you.)

I have been involved recently in a number of discussions about the challenges we’re facing with climate change and the unwillingness of the current administration to acknowledge the problem, much less what to do about it. I’m also sensing a growing frustration at not being able to impact positive change, and a lot of questions on exactly what they should do. 

It is tough and frustrating to watch our current President here in the US choose to do exactly the wrong things, like push coal and fossil fuels and opening up sensitive habitat to mining and drilling. As things stand, there’s not much we can do other than help organizations that are fighting these battles politically and in court, and sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.  We can’t, however, stop fighting. 

I’ve also had discussions this week with some photographers, and also with a couple of birders, about whether or not it’s appropriate to get in the car or on a plane to go somewhere to take pictures or bird. We feel guilty about doing so, and were asking for ideas of what to do or how to offset these activities. 

My general advice is this: you need to be sensitive to your usage, but it serves nobody well to turn yourself into a hermit and hate your life. First and foremost, you have to live a life you’re happy with. If that means grabbing a camera or your binoculars and going out somewhere and bird or take photos, do it. In the grand scheme or not, that one outing won’t make a difference either way. A thousand of us making a change to our habits here might make a tiny change, but not one that’ll stop the Antarctic and Greenland from melting. 

That shouldn’t imply you do nothing; if we can all do little things they can combine into a bigger thing. But I do think we have to balance what we do with what’s sustainable, and if you hate your life or aren’t happy, it’s not sustainable, either. But you can think of ways to make changes to reduce your impact. I’ve been talking to a lot of birders about the 5 mile radius challenge, where you focus your birding in the five miles around your house and explore the smaller and lesser known areas that are mostly overlooked. That significantly reduces the amount of driving and time spent in traffic, and still gets you out birding, and we learn more about the areas around us that tend to get lost because we often as a group focus on the most popular locations. Photographers can think about local locations and subjects instead of travelling out in search of the more famous trophy shots — and teach us about the area around you as you start to do more local shooting. 

I also have been encouraging people to find ways to get involved locally, where one person putting in time and energy can do things that amplify the work of others and through that make a difference. This is one of the reasons I do my work for the local Audubon chapter: I can help make the local environment better and safer for us. Part of what I do behind the scenes is support the chapter’s lobbying and policy efforts, which has helped drive local policy in a number of cities on protecting green spaces and creating regulations on things like bird safe buildings. We don’t win every battle, but we are making a local difference. 

The other thing I encourage people to do is find organizations that are fighting those fights at the national level, and support them with donations. Two key groups for me are the Audubon National Chapter and the Nature Conservancy. Both organizations are involved in a lot of different efforts including, but both are also involved in fighting these environmental rollbacks in court, and educating and lobbying governments at the state and federal level on what we need to protect our birds and lands around us. By sending them some money, you can support their efforts to push forward the things you feel are important. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money — give what you can. And it doesn’t have to be those organizations; spend some time finding the ones that resonate with you.

But if you want to make a difference, even a small one, I think you can. These are the strategies I’ve chosen to adopt: find ways to reduce my impact while still having a life I can enjoy and be happy in; find local groups fighting for the causes that matter to you and look for ways to support them with time and perhaps money — I feel safe saying there are very few organizations working at the local area who have too many volunteers. And help those working at the national level at education, advocacy and lobbying by donating some money to them as well. 

it’s a small thing, but it will help. I’m a firm believer that if we all commit to doing things at a local level, we can accomplish more than if we just donate to the national groups. But they’re doing useful and necessary work, too, at a scale we can’t at the local level, so they deserve support, also. 

And, honestly, if what’s going on with the current government upsets you, a big thing you can do is make sure you vote, because staying home and standing on the sideline doesn’t help your cause. It makes it easier for those idiots to continue. Even if you don’t think the candidate facing them is perfect, or great — not voting for them makes it easier for the worse people to win, so please. Make sure you get involved and cast your ballot.