Climate and Habitat: What they have to do with each other

Photo © theaucitron

You’ve probably already noticed that many of the wildlife-friendly practices we pitch for you to try out in your yards err on the sustainable side of things as far as gardening practices go. Most are about reducing consumption, chemical input, and most importantly, finding balance in your backyard. Green landscaping is growing in popularity with more people investigating alternative energy sources, low-impact gardening, and landscaping to reduce utility costs.

What’s this got to do with the birds?

Birds, like many animals, have a relationship with habitat that is often delicately intertwined with climate. As the climate slowly shifts so does the make-up of their habitats, sometimes removing expected food sources, favorite nesting locations, or sources of water. As warmer winter temperatures become more common, one way for some animals to adjust is to shift their ranges northward. But a new study of 59 North American bird species indicates that doing so is not easy or quick—it took about 35 years for many birds to move far enough north for winter temperatures to match where they historically lived 1. Birds are among the world’s most mobile species, and that they take decades to adjust to changing temperatures is an eye-opener. Most likely, birds are not shifting their range faster because the vegetation they rely on as a part of their habitat shifts very slowly.

Climate change is driven largely by fossil fuel use and land-use change 2. Small household practices create over 12% of annual emissions in the US 3. In many ways, you cannot be a truly bird-friendly gardener if you aren’t joining the millions choosing to live an energy-aware lifestyle. Lucky for you the work you’ve already done to garden for birds puts you in a great position to claim an energy-aware lifestyle.

Solar Panels are on the map

Photo © Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Lots of people are investing in alternative energy for their homes. Most commonly, this means adding solar panels to rooftops or open areas with sunlight between 11am and sunset. In 2013 it was estimated that a new solar system is installed in the United States every four minutes. If you want to do this too, you can. One place to start is with the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency. There you can learn about any solar rebates available to you and connect to local contractors and DIY resources. Beyond solar, you might be interested in geothermal or wind energy systems. You can add icons to represent your alternative energy use in the Habitat Network using the Objects panel accessible from the Tool Shed.

Commit to a few small changes, and let others know about it

In the end, there is no list of energy-saving steps we can hand you and you can simply apply to your life. Instead, this is a series of choices you, as the person in charge of your site, need to consider and commit to. It might mean starting by just looking at your gardening habits making some changes there, or it could mean committing to something truly for the birds, like taking the plunge and putting solar panels on your home. Whatever is right for you, a habitat network can let you showcase your contributions and earn the recognition you deserve for standing-up for birds.

IN THE YARD

  • Stop Using Chemicals in Your Yard

Commercially produced fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are not only bad for birds but are bad for the climate. It takes a lot of energy to make and transport these chemicals to your backyard. Go do it, and tell us on your map!

Push Mower

Photo © SarahFranco

  • Stop Mowing Your Lawn

Lawn mowers are big carbon emitters. Eight hundred million gallons of gas go to lawn mowing each year. Did you know that one hour of cutting grass is equal to a 100-mile automobile ride? Really 4.

  • Reduce Yard Waste

12% of material headed to landfills is yard waste (tree branches, lawn clippings, etc) 5. It takes a lot of gasoline to haul all that material from point A to point L, and it means you can’t use it to mulch, create micro-habitat, or naturally fertilize your lawn.

Green Roof

Photo © Rob Harrison

  • Green Roof

On average, each green roof system has the capacity to sequester 375 g of carbon per square meter of roof. In addition to absorbing carbon from the environment, green roofs offer other benefits such as improving stormwater management, conserving energy, air and noise pollution mitigation, and increasing urban biodiversity 6.

  • White Roof

If you live someplace where you use an air conditioner, painting your roof white could have a substantial impact on your carbon emissions by decreasing the amount of energy needed to cool your house 7.

  • Compost

Keep your kitchen waste and yard trimmings out of the garbage by keeping them in your yard to decompose naturally. Estimated carbon emissions reduced if all U.S. households engaged in this practice: 48.8 metric tons, or 1.56% of total U.S. emissions 8.

  • Grow Your Own Veggies

Grow 40 square feet of garden, roughly a 10-foot by 4-foot plot. Grow organically, harvest, and eat veggies from your garden. Estimated carbon emissions reduced if all U.S. households engaged in this practice: 5.4 metric tons 0.17% of total U.S. emissions.

  • Plant a Tree

While the average person would need to plant 26 trees each year that would each live for at least 25 years to offset their carbon footprint 9, planting a single tree certainly doesn’t hurt anything, and it’s got other benefits to wildlife and aesthetics. Especially if its a native!

INSIDE

  • Weatherizing

Improving attic insulation or isolating the attic from the heated/ cooled portion of the house, sealing drafts in windows and doors with caulk, plastic, or weather striping. Estimated carbon emissions reduced if all U.S. households engaged in this practice: 25-109.5 metric tons, or between 0.8% and 3.5% of total U.S. emissions 10.

  • Thermostat Setbacks

Heat: Turn down thermostat from 72° F to 68° F during the day and to 65° F at night. A/C: Turn up thermostat from 73° F to 78° F Estimated carbon emissions reduced if all U.S. households engaged in this practice: 10.1-21.3 metric tons or between 0.3% and 0.7% of total U.S. emissions 11.

  • Clean Fridge Coils

Twice a year pull out your refrigerator and vacuum the built-up dust off the coils at the back. Estimated Carbon Emissions Reduced if all U.S. households engaged in this practice: 15.6 metric tons, or 0.5% of total U.S. emissions 12.

  • Embrace Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

Replace 85% of all incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. Estimated carbon emissions reduced if all U.S. households engaged in this practice: 25 metric tons, or 0.8% of total U.S. emissions 13.

  • Engage in Meatless Mondays

Cut meat out of your diet one day a week. Estimated carbon emissions reduced if all U.S. households engaged in this practice: 93.1 metric tons, or 2.97% of total U.S. emissions 14.

  • Install a Programmable Thermostat

These devices replace the manual thermostat found in most houses with one that you can program to heat or cool the house when you’ll be home. They start at $25. Estimated Carbon Emissions Reduced if all U.S. households engaged in this practice: 125.2 metric tons, or 4% of total U.S. emissions 15.

OUT AND ABOUT

  • Alter Driving Habits

Avoid sudden acceleration and stops. Estimated carbon emissions reduced if all U.S. households engaged in this practice: 20-24.1 metric tons, or between 0.64% and 0.77% of total U.S. emissions 16.

  • Routine Auto Maintenance

Take cars in for yearly tune-ups, including air filter changes. Estimated Carbon Emissions Reduced if all US households engaged in this practice: 8.6-24.4 metric tons or between 0.3% and 0.8% of total U.S. emissions 17.

  • Keep Tires Inflated

Check the level of air in your tires once a month and return it to the ideal air pressure. Estimated carbon emissions reduced if all U.S. households engaged in this practice: 7.5-34.5 metric tons, or between 0.25% and 1.1% of total U.S. emissions 18.

  • Use Only Reusable Grocery Sacks

Cut plastic and paper (paper has an even larger carbon footprint than plastic!) sacks out of your grocery routine. Estimated carbon emissions reduced if all U.S. households engaged in this practice: 9.8 metric tons, or 0.3% of total U.S. emissions.

  • Carpool or Bike

Choose to carpool with at least one other person or bike/ bus/ walk to work one day a week 19.

Notes:

  1. Tracking of climatic niche boundaries under recent climate change
  2. Climate Change 2007: . The physical science basis
  3. Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions
  4. Measurement of Regulated and Unregulated Exhaust Emissions from a Lawn Mower with and without an Oxidizing Catalyst: A Comparison of Two Different Fuels
  5. Environmental Engineering
  6. Analysis of the green roof thermal properties and investigation of its energy performance
  7. Effects of Urban Surfaces and White Roofs on Global and Regional Climate
  8. Composting to Reduce the Waste Stream: A Guide to Small Scale Food and Yard Waste Composting
  9. Carbon storage and sequestration by urban trees in the USA
  10. Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions
  11. Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions
  12. Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions
  13. Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions
  14. Carbon footprinting of lamb and beef production systems: insights from an empirical analysis of farms in Wales, UK
  15. Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions
  16. Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions
  17. Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions
  18. Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions
  19. Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions

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