Up to 166 million of the birds we see in our back yards could disappear as a result of extraction and refining of oil from Canadian tar sands, according to a new report.
BP is expanding its Whiting refinery to be able to increase its use of tar sands.
Dark-eyed juncos, white-throated sparrows, horned grebes and short-billed dowitchers are just some of the birds on a long list of species that are in decline and whose summer habitat could be in danger, states the report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Boreal Songbird Initiative and the Pembina Institute.
As global warming and other trends show, the environmental impact of human activity on other species, and ultimately on human life, is immense. The idea that we can continue to act in our economic and social decisions as if those actions have no long term consequences is increasingly threatening our own ability to meet our human needs, and is immediately devestating to species that act as a forewarning to us of the ultimate impact on our own species should we not change our ways.
"At a time when bird populations are rapidly declining, this report puts into perspective the far-reaching effects of tar sands oil development on North America's birds," said the report's lead author, Jeff Wells, a scientist with the Boreal Songbird Initiative. "The public needs to understand the real and long-term ecological costs of this development and determine if this is acceptable."
Half of America's migratory birds nest in the Boreal forest in Canada, but tar sands mining and drilling cause habitat loss. Each year, 22 million to 170 million birds breed in a 35 million-acre area that could eventually be developed for tar sands oil. Anywhere between 6 million and 166 million birds could be lost over the next 30 to 50 years, the report states.
"Some people don't think much about where their oil and gas comes from," Wells said. "You always expect there to be a junco in your back yard in the winter, but you don't think about where they're coming from. What impact it could have as they're drawing gas in. They're also drawing down the birds from that region."
Between 8,000 to 100,000 birds die every year after they land or drown in the oily water in tailing ponds, and that number could double or triple as a result of mining expansions, the report states.
Environmental protection, like so much else in our modern society, must be viewed from a global perspective. The productive forces that humanity has developed over the years are such that it is invalid to assume a localized impact of that activity. In much the same way that global capital drifts around the world seeking the highest profit no matter what the devestation in lost jobs and broken lives for the people in areas away from which capital has drifted, so the environmental impact of activity in one region has a huge impact on many other regions.
Increasing tar sands refining and pipeline infrastructure also delivers pollution to the Great Lakes.
"The resulting decrease in air and water quality affects migratory birds, which will suffer elevated mortality numbers as a result of contaminants and toxins from refining," the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement.
Birds are an indicator of the health of the environment for humans, too, Wells said.
Refining Canadian crude causes up to three times more greenhouse gas emissions than regular refining, and birds are also impacted by global warming, the report states.
As President-elect Barack Obama said in Portsmouth, NH on October 8, 2007:
“We cannot afford more of the same timid politics when the future of our planet is at stake. Global warming is not a someday problem, it is now. We are already breaking records with the intensity of our storms, the number of forest fires, the periods of drought. By 2050 famine could force more than 250 million from their homes . . . . The polar ice caps are now melting faster than science had ever predicted. . . . This is not the future I want for my daughters. It's not the future any of us want for our children. And if we act now and we act boldly, it doesn't have to be.”