Hope in the face of climate change

Warming temperatures, shifting seasons, changing precipitation, and rising sea levels are impacting birds and the ecosystems that support them.

According to the National Audubon Society, global warming is the greatest threat to birds and other wildlife in human history. The rate of global warming is already impacting birds, their prey, and their habitat. Those impacts will become more severe over the coming decades, leading to the loss of one-quarter to one-third of all species on earth, including many bird species.

Global warming impacts birds and wildlife in many ways. Birds and other wildlife will face habitat loss due to sea level rise, more frequent and severe wildfires, flooding and droughts, invasive species, changes in vegetation and precipitation, and loss of snow and ice, among others.

Like most species, birds are highly adapted to particular vegetation and habitat types. To compensate for the warmer temperatures, the ranges of these habitats may move closer to the poles or higher elevations. Habitat types that cannot colonize new areas may rapidly decline or cease to exist. New pests, invasive species, and diseases will create additional risks.

In keeping with her times, the American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was one of the early naturalists. She had an exceptional ability to perceive natural connections and to find extraordinary sense in ordinary meanings. Her poetry is considered by many to be among the finest in the English language.

She might have gone unrecognised. Little was published during her lifetime, but on her death in 1886 her family discovered 40 handbound volumes of nearly 1,800 poems. Dickinson had put the booklets together by folding and sewing five or six sheets of stationery paper and copying what seem to be final versions of her poems. They show a variety of dash-like marks of various sizes and directions (some are even vertical).

The current standard version of her poems replaces her marks with an en-dash, which is a closer typographical approximation to her intention. The original order of the poems was not restored until 1981, when Ralph W. Franklin used the physical evidence of the paper itself to restore her intended order, relying on smudge marks, needle punctures, and other clues to reassemble the packets.

One of Emily Dickinson’s poems about birds is based on a metaphor of hope that seems peculiarly apt in the face of the threats posed by climate change.

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.


Published by

Philip Lee

Writer and musician who tries to join up the dots.

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