Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"Hope" is the thing with feathers -

This story in The New York Times cheered me up a bit. It's about researchers who are trying to figure out the best ways to alter glass panes to make birds less likely to fly into them. I had no idea that so many birds (hundreds of millions!) die annually in the U.S. from smashing into windows.

After all of the stories lately about our blind, stupid, seemingly inexorable march toward catastrophic climate change and extreme economic inequality, this story about a concrete action that is doing concrete good lifted my spirits.
William Haffey, an ecology graduate student at Fordham University, cradled the nervous clump of gray and yellow feathers in his hands and carefully released it into a long, dark tunnel. At the far end were the adjacent glass panels, illuminated by a daylight simulator.
One panel was familiar transparent glass, which contributes to the demise of hundreds of millions of birds who fly into it each year in the United States. The other was bird-friendly glass, featuring white vertical stripes that are supposed to serve as a kind of avian stop sign.
“I’m hoping it flies,” Mr. Haffey said. (The previous test subject, a white-throated sparrow, had simply hopped around inside the tunnel, looking confused.)
But the yellow-rumped warbler, affectionately called a “butter butt” by birders, flew straight through the tunnel and decisively avoided the bird-safe glass, the desired result. Mr. Haffey raised his hand in a high-five.
The article goes on to detail collaborations between researchers, architects, glass manufacturers, lawmakers, and nonprofit groups that can have a real impact on migratory bird populations. It's a hopeful model where all of these groups work together to move forward on an environmental problem.

Sometimes the larger, structural problems that plague us seem so overwhelming, it is easy to feel despair. Sometimes I need to remind myself that individuals can make a difference at the small-bore level. Maybe that's the best we can all hope to do. Not to sound too Pollyanna-ish, but maybe that's the best way forward - if we all figure out what concrete actions we can do to make our own little corner of the universe a better place, does that all add up to big change? I don't mean that we have to cede the political field to the likes of the Koch brothers, but given the hold their kind has over the political order, pushing back in small ways along many fronts seems at least possible.

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