Climate Action Benefits our Health

We can see climate change’s impacts on the health of our world all around us, right here in Massachusetts. Our friends, families, and neighbors have to adapt (just like wildlife and plants) to new and heightened threats – and one of those is a threat to public health.

Climate change’s warming temperatures influence the spread of disease bearing insects, like the Deer Tick, Ixodes scapularis. Photo © Scott Bauer, USDA/Flickr

Warm, Warmer, Too Hot

Warming temperatures bring with them a rise in extreme heat events, which are linked to an increase in hospital admissions for cardiovascular, kidney, and respiratory disorders.

Cities are hit especially hard by extreme heat. Urban areas experience a phenomenon known as “urban heat islands”: when specific parts of cities face significantly higher temperatures than their suburban or rural counterparts.

This heat difference arises because of how well each environment absorbs and holds heat. Suburban or rural areas have abundant plants, grass, trees, and other flora – tools that NASA calls “nature’s air conditioner.” Cities, on the other hand, don’t contain as much flora. Dark asphalt, sidewalks, and buildings that comprise our cities aggravate this problem by actually generating more heat.

An Uptick in Disease-Bearing Ticks (and Others)

Warming temperatures also influence the spread of disease bearing insects. Lyme disease, West Nile virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and Zika virus are all occurring more frequently in the US and are all carried by insects like ticks and mosquitoes. As Massachusetts, warms, these diseases are surviving in and spreading to areas they weren’t able to before.

It’s the Sneezon

Climate change makes springs and summers longer, increasing Massachusetts’ growing season and consequently how long plants produce pollen. Both these byproducts intensify allergy symptoms.

Allergies are only one part of the problem. Burning fossil fuels creates excess greenhouse gasses and pollution, like particle matter (PM), that lowers air quality. Such pollution is directly linked to the development of asthma in young children and worsening asthma symptoms in those already dealing with the illness.

Social Equity in Public Health

Climate change’s disparate impacts are nothing new, and are deeply rooted in history. The very sources that have pumped greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere for years have been overwhelmingly sited near communities of color, especially Black communities. Additionally, urban heat islands tend to map onto almost the exact same locations Black communities were forced into in the 1930s through the formal practice of “redlining.”

It’s no coincidence, then, that marginalized populations bear the brunt of climate change’s public health effects. According to a 2018 study, communities in poverty faced 1.35 times the burden of PM pollution from sources like power plants and cars (also rampant greenhouse gas sources) compared to the overall population, people of color faced 1.28 times the burden, and Black Americans suffered 1.54 times the burden.

Even worse, marginalized communities like people of color tend to have less coverage, access, and use of quality health care. That means already vulnerable communities struggle in obtaining treatment for climate change induced heat-related illnesses, insect-borne diseases, allergies, and asthma.

We Can Fight Climate Change Together

Here’s how we can keep our friends, families, and our most vulnerable populations healthy and safe.

Find and Support a Local, Climate Justice Organization

By supporting a climate justice organization, you support people on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

Take a Climate Pledge

Commit to reducing your greenhouse gas emissions by yourself or with your friends, family, or community.

Learn About Environmental Justice

Public health impacts demonstrate that the health of our environment is directly tied to the health of our communities, and some groups are disproportionately affected. Our climate fight must be guided by equity and justice – and we can start acting by learning.

Sign Up for our E-Newsletter, Climate Connection

Each month, we’ll send you climate information, community action, and solutions. Sign up for our newsletter to join our climate action community and help us tackle climate change.

Common Loons © Peter Christoph

Take 5: Loon-back Rides

Known far and wide for their haunting, eerie calls, Common Loons are true water birds, venturing ashore only to mate and incubate eggs. In monogamous pairs, they raise broods of just 1–2 chicks per year, with a long fledging period of about 12 weeks.

Although loon chicks are capable of diving and swimming within a couple of days of birth, they are easy prey for predators like mink, eagles, snapping turtles, or even other loons. To increase their chances of survival, they often take shelter on their parents’ backs, going for rides around the lake until they are big and strong enough to survive on their own.

Here are five adorable photos from our annual photo contest of loon chicks hitching a “loon-back ride” with one of their parents. The 2020 contest is now open, so submit your beautiful nature photography today!

Common Loons © Peter Christoph
Common Loons © Peter Christoph
Common Loons © Brad Dinerman
Common Loons © Brad Dinerman
Common Loons © Michael Phillips
Common Loons © Michael Phillips
Common Loons © Michael Goodman
Common Loons © Michael Goodman
Common Loons © Michael Goodman
Common Loons © Michael Goodman

Finding Sanctuary at Mass Audubon

In 2015, internationally-recognized nature artist Barry Van Dusen started a statewide residency at the Museum of American Bird Art (MABA), in which he would visit, paint, and draw at all of Mass Audubon’s wildlife sanctuaries.

Painted Turtle at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Norfolk by Barry Van Dusen

Four and a half years later, the fruits of his labor (and very great enjoyment) can be discovered in his first book, Finding Sanctuary: An Artist Explores the Nature of Mass Audubon.

This beautiful 192-page book–which features over 250 watercolors, sketchbook studies, and commentary–celebrates the richness, beauty, and ecological diversity of Massachusetts and the Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary system and provides fascinating insights into his artistic process.

American Kestrel at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton and Northampton by Barry Van Dusen.

To celebrate the launch of the book, you can join Van Dusen, along with renowned artist/author Julie Zickefoose, on a virtual book launch party on Wednesday, June 24, from 7:00-8:00 pm. There will be a lively discussion, a preview of some of the watercolors, and an opportunity to ask questions.

Register for the event and purchase a copy of the book.

Eastern Bluebird on Winterberry © Cheryl Rose

A Crushing Blow to Birds

Eastern Bluebird on Winterberry © Cheryl Rose
Eastern Bluebird © Cheryl Rose

The United States government has released a draft environmental impact statement that will crush the bird conservation successes of the last 100 years.

Their report recommends ending federal protections for harassing, trapping, or killing birds, or taking nests and eggs, unless it can be proven that the intent of the action was only to kill birds, or the species is an endangered species. This kind of loss, called incidental take (detailed here), kills millions of birds every year, even with federal protections in place enabling responses to reduce impacts. Removing these protections will unleash unbridled assaults on our native birds, which is why this change must be stopped.

Join us and act now to protect birds, and stop this regulatory change.

An Age of Enlightenment

Since 1918 the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) has protected our native birds from purposeful or incidental losses.  Mass Audubon’s founding mothers, Minna Hall and Harriet Hemenway, built public support to end the feather trade and protect all birds. Some species were split off to be managed as game – and they flourished with special protection.

The vast majority of species like bluebirds, hummingbirds, terns, and owls all entered a new era of protection and conservation. They were given a reprieve from hunting and harassment, egg and nest collecting, and any other behaviors that killed birds without a permit. This helped drive innovative conservation initiatives that allow industry to thrive, and native bird populations to coexist with a booming economy. It worked well – maybe better than in any other country in the world.

The Return of the Dark Ages

Despite these conservation successes, decades of economic expansion, and public comments representing hundreds of thousands of citizens, the Trump administration has chosen to recommend advancing regulatory changes that will make it legal for anyone to kill unlimited numbers of birds, as long as their action is “otherwise lawful.”

The federal government did this while admitting their chosen path would serve the single benefit of “improving legal certainty,” but have negative effects on all other environmental conditions – including bird populations.

So, if you want to build a shopping center, and construction starts in June, and there is colony of herons or a nest of owls on the land, you can legally cut down the trees, destroying the nests, eggs, and chicks.

And, importantly, if your industry is a repeat offender and kills thousands of birds each year in uncovered oil waste pits (because you won’t follow best practices and cover the pits), there is no penalty.

There will be no repercussions, and no incentive, for making even minor changes to construction or industry practices to protect non-game birds like wrens, egrets, and loons, unless your state has legislation that covers these species. At this time Massachusetts does not have legislation that protects these species – we have always relied on the federal MBTA to do that.

What You Can Do

Join Mass Audubon and others who care about birds:

  • Donate to Mass Audubon so we can keep fighting to save the birds we all love and care for.
  • Submit comments opposing the proposed elimination of incidental take protections for birds. Let federal officials know you support Alternative B to restore the Incidental Take provision.
  • Let your Congressional representatives know that you support legislation to restore MBTA protections, and that you support bird conservation.

Birds fill our lives with curiosity, hope, and wonder. We marvel at their audacious colors, ability to withstand freezing nights, and migrations across the hemisphere. We benefit as they help ecosystems thrive by pollinating plants and eating pesky bugs that damage crops.

But they need us more than they have in the last hundred years. It is our turn to step up and make our voices heard.

How We’re Spending Juneteenth

Today is Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. This year, we will honor the day by learning, reflecting, and actively listening.

One of our goals at Mass Audubon is to make our wildlife sanctuaries more welcoming and safer spaces for everyone. In order to accomplish this, we need to better understand the challenges that Black and Brown people face when trying to experience, celebrate, and enjoy the outdoors.

We hope you will join us today by taking time to watch, listen, and read some of the following stories.

Watch

Birding While Black Livestreams Session 1 and Session 2: As part of Black Birders Week, National Audubon hosted two livestream candid conversations.

Listen

Being ‘Outdoorsy’ When You’re Black Or Brown: NPR’s Code Switch podcast explores what it means to be a person of color outdoors and the organizations and individuals pushing the boundaries of what “being outdoorsy” looks like.

Read

Birding While Black: J. Drew Lanham’s 2016 essay on race, belonging, and a love of nature.

It’s Time to Build a Truly Inclusive Outdoors: Corina Newsome speaks to National Audubon on the difficult conversations the birding community must face.

I’m a Black Climate Expert. Racism Derails Our Efforts to Save the Planet: Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s op-ed in the Washington Post on why stopping climate change is hard enough, but racism only makes it harder.

Being Black While in Nature: You’re an Endangered Species: The Guardian’s Poppy Noor shares the defense mechanisms Black nature-lovers have to employ.

Read Up on the Links Between Racism and the Environment: The New York Times provides a list of essential reading.

Black Women Who Bird Take the Spotlight to Make the Presence Known: As part of Black Birders Week, women are sharing their love of the outdoors and the challenges they face in them via National Audubon.

The Triumphant Return of Bald Eagles

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) recently confirmed that there are now more than 70 active Bald Eagle nests in the Bay State, including the first nesting effort on Cape Cod since 1905. 

The Bald Eagle spotted nesting on the Cape © Heather Fone

This nest, located in a white pine tree, was discovered many months ago by a homeowner’s association and reported to MassWildlife. Subsequently, Josh Maloney, a burgeoning nature enthusiast and volunteer at Mass Audubon’s Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary discovered what appeared to be a chick in this nest in late May. 

Josh carefully mapped the location of the nest, documented the chick with photographs, and reported the sighting to MassWildlife state ornithologist Andrew Vitz. Within days, Mass Wildlife ascended the tree and banded the eaglet in order to gather valuable life history information throughout its life and contribute to eagle research across the country. We are hopeful this chick will fledge in the coming weeks, and that this breeding pair will return to this nest annually for many years to come.

Bringing Eagles Back to Massachusetts

© David Ennis

This historic benchmark is a living testament to the conservation efforts initiated in Massachusetts by Mass Wildlife and Mass Audubon in response to the significant regional decrease in the population of Bald Eagles that took place throughout the Northeast as a result of DDT use during the 1950s and 1960s. 

In 1982, two healthy young eagle nestlings from Michigan were foster reared in a specially constructed tower in a remote section of the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts. Using a captive rearing protocol called hacking, the two fledglings were eventually released with hopes that upon reaching maturity in four to five years, they would return to the Quabbin area to breed. Between 1982 and 1988, 41 similarly raised eagle chicks were released at Quabbin Reservoir. By 1989 two pairs successfully reared young of their own.

Since the late 1980s, the Commonwealth’s eagle population has steadily grown and spread. Today pairs of this magnificent raptor are nesting from Berkshire to Barnstable County, and recently they have attempted to colonize Martha’s Vineyard.  

Impact of Conservation

Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of Massachusetts citizen scientists who contributed the valuable breeding bird distribution data, Mass Audubon ornithologists now have two invaluable roadmaps to help highlight nesting species in need of state conservation assistance. This includes not only include Bald Eagles, but also declining grassland species such as American Kestrel, Bobolink, and Eastern Meadowlark.

In spite of last year’s chilling national report on 3 billion missing birds in “Decline of the North American Avifauna,” species recoveries like those shown by the Bald Eagle, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Piping Plover, and Eastern Bluebird offer clear evidence that it is never too late to implement sustained conservation efforts, and that many species will often dramatically respond. 

These species offer clear evidence why Mass Audubon’s bird conservation efforts continue to make a difference, and why financial support for avian conservation programs is more important than ever.

You can support Mass Audubon’s Bird Conservation efforts and help us accomplish even more. Make an impact >

A Splash of Good News

As one of the world’s largest, natural carbon sinks (a sponge that sucks up rampant carbon dioxide emissions) the ocean is working incredibly hard to balance the impacts of climate change.

Unfortunately, that means a lot is changing inside our waters: from warming temperatures to acidification, climate change’s effects on our ocean are impacting us, our communities, and our marine ecosystems. You might have already seen this in tides creeping closer to our shores or some of our beloved marine organisms, like lobsters or cod, shifting away from where we normally find them.

But there’s Good News

Humpback Whale © Jennifer Childs

A 2020 study examines the current trends in marine conservation initiatives such as habitat restoration and fisheries management. The authors estimate that marine ecosystems can substantially rebuild by 2050 if we amplify and commit to this conservation work together.

For example, the study cites that globally, we’ve gone from protecting .09% of the ocean (3.2 million km2) in 2000 to 7.4% of the ocean (26.9 million km2) now through Marine Protected Areas. Here in Massachusetts, we’re already restoring marine habitats and ensuring the protection or management of important marine species.

Climate Mitigation is Integral

We’re on the right path. However, the study authors urge that our initiatives must include climate change mitigation. This means reducing and eliminating our greenhouse gas emissions that introduce new threats (such as sea level rise and warmer temperatures) and aggravate existing threats (like overfishing and habitat loss).

Mass Audubon recognizes that climate change requires bold and urgent action. Our Climate Action Plan engages everyone in ways that we can fight climate change at its root and reduce greenhouse gas emissions for a carbon neutral future by 2050.

We Can Help the Ocean Rebuild When we Work Together

The study’s results give us hope about our collective climate fight, demonstrating the potential of just how much we can achieve when we act. Even better, anyone can work to mitigate climate change – here are some ways how:

  1. Join our collective climate fight by signing up for our newsletter, Climate Connection, for climate information, solutions, and community action.
  2. Take a climate pledge to commit to reducing your greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. Eat local and sustainable seafood to fight climate change and combat other threats our ocean faces, such as overfishing.
  4. A good step in addressing your personal carbon footprint is reducing the amount of energy you use at home. Sign up for a No-Cost Virtual Home Energy Assessment through our nonprofit partner, All In Energy, to audit your energy usage.
  5. Make a gift to Mass Audubon to support our climate action initiatives.

The ocean needs our help. With hard work and community action, it’s possible for marine ecosystems to recover. It’s up to us to come together and tackle our collective climate fight.

Otter Brown leading a maple sugaring program at Oak Knoll

In Your Words: Robert “Otter” Brown

Otter Brown on one of many nature walks_1
Otter Brown on one of many nature walks_1

I met my wife at the bottom of a pool at Wildwood Overnight Camp in 1976, back when the camp was located at Cook’s Canyon Wildlife Sanctuary in Barre. It was not an auspicious introduction. As the new director, I decided to drain the pool before camp started and paint food chains on the floor instead of lane lines. My wife, Suzy, had been hired as the water safety instructor and arrived from Ohio around midnight. I looked up and saw my new pool director with a cast on her arm from a cheerleading accident. Suzy looked down and saw a long-haired, 30-year-old camp director painting a turtle at the water line while dancing to folk music.

Suzy and I were married at Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in 1977 and lived there for three years while starting our public school teaching careers.  My experiences teaching with Mass Audubon  served me well, from summers at Wildwood to providing biweekly science programs to thousands of fifth-graders.

In 1980 we moved to Rhode Island and I started a new ninth-grade environmental science program at the Wheeler School in Providence. Recognizing the power of student research teams, I developed several curriculums, the most successful of which focused on river science in our local watershed. This led me to adopt my nickname, Otter, an animal I fell in love with while whitewater kayaking and doing field research along rivers.

Otter Brown leading a maple sugaring program at Oak Knoll
Otter Brown leading a maple sugaring program at Oak Knoll

I retired in 2015 and headed to the nearest Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary, Oak Knoll in Attleboro, to volunteer. After getting my early start with Mass Audubon, it was a natural place to finish…and what a special place Oak Knoll is! Although I miss my former students, I can see the same fire in the eyes of kids that attend programs at the sanctuary.

These days, when I’m not spending time with Suzy and our family, you can often find me working in the gardens, tapping maple trees for vacation-week programs, maintaining the trails, leading programs, or even appearing as the famous Rock Man in our Halloween Spooktacular. One place you won’t find me: at the bottom of a swimming pool!

Otter Brown with his granddaughter Phoebe at Blue Hills
Otter Brown with his granddaughter Phoebe at Blue Hills
Tiger Swallowtail © Jonathan McElvery

Take 5: Tiger Swallowtails

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) is one of the most common and easily recognizable butterflies in Massachusetts. Both males and females will have broad, yellow wings edged with black as well as four of their namesake black “tiger stripes” along each of their forewings. Females have an extra swash of shimmery blue along their tales that the males lack. Interestingly, females may also come in an uncommon “black morph” where black or dark gray replaces yellow on the wings—a genetic phenomenon called “dimorphic coloration.”

Tiger swallowtails are large, with wingspans stretching from 3–5.5″. They are typically solitary, but if you’re lucky, you may encounter a vibrant swarm of young males fluttering around a mud puddle or birdbath, drinking the water and absorbing minerals needed for reproduction, a behavior known as “puddling.”

June 22–28 is National Pollinators Week! Habitat loss, pesticide use, and other factors threaten many of the butterfly species we cherish, along with many of our other native pollinators, including bees, bats, birds, and beetles. Learn about creating a pollinator garden and other ways you can help pollinators, including butterflies, on our website.

To honor some of nature’s most colorful and celebrated pollinators, here is a collection of Tiger Swallowtail photographs from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2020 photo contest is now open, so submit your nature photos today!

Tiger Swallowtail © David Peller
Tiger Swallowtail © David Peller
Tiger Swallowtail © Stephanie Gill
Tiger Swallowtail © Stephanie Gill
Tiger Swallowtail © Virginia Harris
Tiger Swallowtail © Virginia Harris
Tiger Swallowtail © Jonathan McElvery
Tiger Swallowtail © Jonathan McElvery
Tiger Swallowtail © Paula Orlando
Tiger Swallowtail © Paula Orlando

An Oath to Our Ocean

Nothing says Massachusetts like the ocean. Beautiful coastlines, sparkling beaches, and local seafood are part of what makes our commonwealth special. The ocean provides humans and wildlife with so much that allows us to thrive.

Now, the ocean needs our help.

Mass Audubon’s Allens Pond wildlife sanctuary

A giant, blue sponge

The ocean is one of the world’s largest, natural carbon and heat sponges. It soaks up rampant carbon dioxide and a majority of the heat within the atmosphere created by our excess greenhouse gas emissions. Natural carbon sponges are normally excellent allies in our collective climate fight – however, we’ve exceeded our ocean’s capacity.

Two sides to the blue coin: warmer and more acidic waters

The more heat our ocean sucks up, the warmer its waters become. Globally, the ocean’s surface has warmed about 1.5°F since the beginning of the 20th century. This means that while the world’s temperatures slowly warm, so do our ocean’s waters. At the same time, the more carbon dioxide the ocean soaks up, the more acidic its waters become. All that excess carbon dioxide interacts with seawater’s pH, which increases ocean acidity.

We’re seeing the impacts of warmer and more acidic waters both on people and wildlife alike right now. Here’s how:

Sea level rise

Increasing ocean and air temperatures melt glaciers and land ice, adding more water to the ocean. Additionally, warmer temperatures cause water to expand, and push our tides farther up along our shores. Sea level rise also puts coastal communities at elevated risk for severe flooding and intense storm events.

A suffocating ocean

Increased temperatures decrease the amount of oxygen our ocean can hold. Warmer waters generally contain less oxygen, amplify how much oxygen marine organisms need, and promote harmful algal blooms that further worsen oxygen loss. Ocean oxygen loss, otherwise known as hypoxia, therefore creates uninhabitable zones for marine wildlife.

Marine organisms

We can also see climate change’s impacts on our marine organisms, who have been scrambling to new habitats with suitable water temperatures to survive and find food. The marine organisms we depend on for our local economies and love to see recreationally are either moving deeper into the ocean or moving northward.

Ocean acidification further impacts marine organisms by degrading the shells and exoskeletons that protect them. Important shellfish to Massachusetts’ local seafood economy and marine ecosystems, like mussels, are weakening because of ocean acidification’s impact.

How we can help

Our ocean deserves our love and support. We must come together and take an oath to our ocean to fight climate change by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions – protecting the people and wildlife that depend on our big, blue world.

Sign up for our newsletter

Our newsletter, Climate Connection, keeps you up to date on climate news, Mass Audubon’s climate action initiatives, and ways that we can tackle our collective climate fight.

Take Mass Audubon’s Climate Pledge

You can pledge to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions both individually and as a community.

Purchase and eat local, sustainable seafood

Purchasing locally caught and sustainable seafood can help fight climate change by reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions needed to get your food to your plate – all while combating other threats amplified by climate change, like overfishing. Take some time to learn more about where your seafood comes from, how it was caught, and whether it’s in season.

Shipping demands for non-local seafood, certain types of fish farming, and even the way your seafood was caught all affect how big its carbon footprint is. Buying locally and sustainably, helps reduce that carbon footprint.