‘The Super Bowl of birding’
So, the quarantine continues. Like many of you, I’ve spent every waking minute of the last few weeks with my family. I’ve learned a lot — not just about the balance between squabbling and love, or the way structures and rules are made to be modified, but also about humanity’s capacity for resilience, innovation, and adaptation. As I reflect on the current awfulness and the ways people are coming together for the greater good, I’m beginning to think that what we’re going through now is also going to help us as we continue the hard work of building a more sustainable and equitable future. A few lessons I’ve learned:
- We’ll have to wear many hats. Parents everywhere are learning how to teach (or learning how damn hard it is to teach), teachers are learning how to be technologists, T-shirt factories are manufacturing masks, milkmen (and women) are delivering toilet paper in England. The list goes on, and it’s a good reminder that getting out of a global mess takes creativity, flexibility, and collaboration.
- The answers are closer than we think. A month or so ago, would it have occurred to you that your kid could just as easily take piano lessons via video? Or that bike lanes and more space for pedestrians were public-health solutions? Or that a soccer field could be converted to a hospital? We already have much of the infrastructure and wherewithal we need to combat major global crises, from coronavirus to climate change. We just have to be willing to use these tools. (And hey, if you’re stuck at an awkward virtual happy hour or family gathering, it’s so much easier to duck out now — just blame your unstable internet connection.)
- Nature is ridiculously forgiving. Sure, we’ve spent the last few centuries completely f*^&ing up the planet. But we all know which activities are OK in the age of coronavirus: walking, hiking, running … really anything you can do outside, as long as you’re six feet away from everyone else. (See our tips on learning the ways of winged beasts from an urban birder, below!) Nature is kinda like parents: at some point we think we’ve outgrown them and we’re doing just fine, thankyouverymuch, but deep down we still need ’em.
- Fellowship will carry us forward. Even as we are physically distancing ourselves, people are coming together in new ways. Call me sappy, but I find it heartening, and I do think togetherness is a useful way to muddle through a global crisis. Exhibit A: We convened a virtual happy hour last week attended by 43 members of this year’s Grist 50 cohort, a convivial gathering where people swapped ideas, experiences, and a few laughs. (Speaking of laughs, be sure to check out my debut on The Weather Channel, which graciously offered us the chance to unveil the 2020 Grist 50 on live TV.)
- Pasta is always in season. I’m just saying. It’s yummy, it’s non-perishable, and I’m willing to overlook its complete lack of nutritional value because my kids know how to cook it all by themselves. These days, it’s the little victories that count.
Stay safe out there, and be in touch,
— Chip, Grist and Fix Founder
1. Your new hero
We all have a part to play in facing down any global crisis, but the weight of the world doesn’t rest on any one person’s shoulders, political science professor Leah Stokes reminds us. “It’s not about individual change. The big lever is policy,” she says. “The goal is not self-purification. The goal is institutional and political change.”
Q.How have you adapted to the new reality?
A.Like everyone else, I’ve found this a challenging time. But I’ve adapted by moving online. I ran a big workshop on climate policy online, and am launching my book virtually with [New York Times reporter] Brad Plumer and [author, activist, and, btw, Grist board member] Bill McKibben. I’m trying to stay focused on climate change, because I know the fossil-fuel industry is focused on delaying climate action. It can be challenging to focus, but I just chip away at it every day.
Q.Do you see overlaps in how we should be responding to COVID-19 and the climate crisis?
A.There are a lot of parallels. We have seen how denying the seriousness of a problem is just making it even worse. I’m trying to help people make those connections. Because the fact is that the climate crisis is already killing people in the United States and around the world.
Q.Do you see any opportunities we’ll have coming out of this tragedy?
A.When we are talking about a stimulus bill, which will be necessary if we are facing very high unemployment, we have a big opportunity to rebuild our economy for the 21st century. I think that decarbonizing our electricity system is the number one thing we can do to reduce our carbon emissions. And it will also create a lot of new jobs.
Q.What’s giving you hope right now?
A.Gardening. Growing food. Watching plants grow. It’s become a bit of an obsession, and now I have a lot of time to do it. I have a greenhouse and am growing a lot of things from seed. I’ve never managed to get eggplants to germinate before and now I have 20 little seedlings! Next stop: peppers.
2. Your reading list
Over the past week, I’ve found myself returning to a favorite poem several times. It’s a meditation on solitude by Gwendolyn Brooks. It exists as a small stand-alone book, Aloneness, but I first encountered it when Brooks herself read it at convocation at the start of my first year of college. The poem is about self-care, finding peace in quiet moments, and centering oneself, which can be hard to do during this time of anxiety. She writes, in part, “Sometimes I think it’s not possible to be alone. / You are with you. / And pulse and nature keep you company / The little minutes are there, / Building into hours / The minutes that are bricks / Of days and years.”
The poem encourages us to accept uncertainty, to embrace growth, and to be OK with just being ourselves. In these times, it’s exactly what I need. How about you — any favorite poems or other books helping you stay sane? Drop me a line. I’d love to know.
3. Your pick-me-up
- Chefs are serving up solutions. Delivering thousands of free or low-cost meals, finding creative ways to keep their staffs and suppliers working, sharing those giant rolls of restaurant toilet paper — many chefs and kitchens are rising to the challenge of the COVID-19 era. As José Andrés of World Central Kitchen told Vanity Fair: “We’re good in mayhem. Kitchens are organized places, but they can also become chaotic in the heat of the moment.”
- States and cities are budgeting for climate action. New York State passed a 2021 budget that includes a $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, with $700 million earmarked for climate change mitigation. Meanwhile, officials in Ann Arbor, Michigan, just floated a $1 billion climate action plan. They say the coronavirus has them thinking hard about how they’ll build the resilience to handle the next weather or public-health emergency.
- The Pope is a believer. Continuing his disarming habit of speaking truth to power, Pope Francis granted an interview in which he suggested that we have ignored nature’s climate warnings, such as the Australian wildfires and polar melting, and that the current pandemic offers an opportunity for us to “learn to understand and contemplate the natural world.”
- Oil companies are tanking, while wind and solar soldier on. Analysts say the foul, polluting, climate change-causing oil industry is taking some serious hits during this pandemic and could be permanently affected. Wind and solar, on the other hand, seem to be having a moment.
- Mountains are reminding us they’re there. In India, a snow-capped stretch of the Himalayas is visible for the first time in 30 years thanks to dramatic reductions in air pollution attributable to a nationwide lockdown. “We can see the mountains clearly from our roofs,” said one resident of Jalandhar district in Punjab. “And not just that, stars are visible at night. I have never seen anything like this in recent times.”
4. Your next move
- Stay put. If you were thinking you might be better off ditching your city apartment and hiding out from COVID-19 in a little cabin in the countryside … think again. Sometimes the best move is to not move at all! Like, at all.
- Mask in the glory. When you do need to venture out for essentials, don a no-hassle mask — you can make one out of a bandana and some hair ties. Or an old T-shirt, a reusable shopping bag, or even a bra. Don’t try clam shells, though. Trust me on this one.
- Green your routine. Even when you’re stuck at home, you can still show love for ye olde planet. From reducing food waste to becoming a citizen scientist, eco-options abound for the homebound. For more inspiration, Grist put together this 14-day to-do list just for you.
5. Your weekend plans
Make a feathered friend.
I don’t know about you, but I find some measure of comfort in the fact that spring, well, springs eternal. And where there be spring, there be birds. Jason Ward, avid urban birder and host of the hit podcast Birds of North America, shows you how anyone, anywhere can learn to gawk at hawks (and more) in this video, produced by our friends at The Weather Channel.
Ward, another member of the 2020 Grist 50 cohort, shared some of tips with us for beginning birders, whether you live in a fifth-floor walkup or a cabin in the woods:
- Install a birding app. To get a sense of the species you can expect to see in your region, check out one of the many available birding apps. Ward recommends beginning with the Audubon Bird Guide, which he downloaded seven years ago and still uses.
- Rely on your senses. You don’t need a fancy pair of binoculars to watch birds, just your eyes and ears. Go ahead and hit your local park, or just look out your window — during spring, birds are out in full force. As Ward puts it: “This season is like the Super Bowl of birding.”
- Be patient. “Birds just can’t seem to stay still when you need them to,” Ward says. You might hear a bird but not be able to see it, or see one but not be able to identify it. Just know that everyone has these frustrations, and don’t let that stop you from enjoying the sights and sounds you’re bound to encounter.
- Savor every discovery. Ward, who has seen 445 species of birds, admits that he’s a little envious of birders just beginning their journey: “I still get excited over every bird that I see, but there’s nothing like seeing a new bird for the first time.”
- Chronicle your finds. Once you start to spot birds, you might find you want to document them and share the love. The second (free) app Ward recommends for new birders is eBird, a global database of bird sightings. You can upload photos and audio recordings, and learn from other birders out there.
- Have fun! Ward reminds us that there’s no right or wrong way to bird (as long as you’re leaving no trace, and keeping a healthy distance from your peers). If you’ve got a smile on your face and no bird poop in your eye, then you’re doing it right.