I do like a man who leads by example, don’t you? Mark Avery, former RSPB conservation director and tireless campaigner for the environment, is just back from an extended trip to the USA where he has been researching a forthcoming book on the passenger pigeon.
1 September 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the day the passenger pigeon became extinct. History records that Martha, said to be the last passenger pigeon in the world, died at precisely 1pm on that day in 1914 in Cincinnati Zoo.
The story of the passenger pigeon is a fascinating one. When Europeans first arrived in North America there were billions of them. Huge flocks would darken the sky for hours at a time as they passed over.
The bird made several basic errors, however – mostly that it was both stupid and tasty. Darwin could have told it that was never going to be a good combination. With the rise of the great cities on the east coast of America came a huge demand for cheap meat, and that demand fuelled the killing of passenger pigeons on an industrial scale.
The numbers are hard to get your head around. In 1869, for instance, Van Buren County in Michigan sent 7,500,000 birds to market. That’s just one county, in one state. No-one knows the totals from across the US, but they were in the hundreds of millions year after year.
With each female producing just one egg a year, the passenger pigeon couldn’t keep up. The numbers fell, and fell – and people kept killing them. We could spend all day debating the arrogance, ignorance and greed (for the uninitiated, yes that is a reference to Show of Hands) of North Americans in those times, whether it would have happened here, or whether it could happen again.
Those were different times, of course. The settlers had pretty much obliterated the indigenous people of the region, and weren’t restrained by a traditional hunting culture; they arrived to exploit the land and its resources, and that’s exactly what they did, with ruthless efficiency. The passenger pigeon became collateral damage.
All of which makes the passenger pigeon a gift to the greens. It’s all very well wailing about what might happen to the polar bear or the greater crested nitwit, but the passenger pigeon is an actual, undeniable example of how man can be so greedy and stupid that he will wipe out an entire species and then look round for where the next plate of meat is coming from.
Never mind that the extinction of the passenger pigeon had nothing to do with sportsmen or hunters, it is whipped out like a trump card in arguments over fieldsports and hunting. The greens have ‘owned’ it, and have even added their own tagline to the bird’s name: ‘Hunted to extinction’, although ‘Eaten to extinction’ would be more like it.
Which brings me to Mr Avery and his emissions. Not a pretty thought, I’ll admit, but in the pursuit of environmental excellence one must be strong and face unpalatable facts.
Remember this is a man who is so far up his own moral high ground he’s a hazard to air traffic. He lectures farmers on how to farm, shooters on how to shoot, and government on how to govern. He lambasted the excellent Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust because they hadn’t done enough anti-lead-shot research for his liking, writing on his blog: “Shame on you!”
It’s an odd phrase, once used largely by maiden aunts who had caught little Johnny with his hand in the sweetie jar or in his underpants. Now it has been taken up as a mantra by sanctimonious campaigners everywhere, especially on Twitter where it fits easily into the 140-character limit. Watering your lawn with a hosepipe? Shame on you! Driving to the shops instead of cycling? Shame on you!
In a little under six weeks, Avery took a transatlantic flight to Houston, drove 8,270 miles through 20 states, and took another transatlantic flight back. Along the way he ticked off 301 bird species including 80 ‘lifers’ of which the first on his list was the Pacific loon, which some readers might agree has an appropriate ring to it.
Clearly then Mr Avery burned enough fossil fuel on his little trip to make a sizeable contribution to Global Warming or Climate Change or We’re All Doomed or whatever we’re supposed to call it now the scientific evidence is evaporating faster than fox piss on a sunbaked stubble.
That’s before we consider the ecological damage left behind as Avery munched and swigged his way through a veritable mountain of Great American breakfasts, lunches, dinners, fizzy drinks, coffee and bottled water, all documented with enthusiasm on his blog under the heading: “Eating. I’m in favour of it!”
I’ve no doubt that it was a fabulous adventure, but it’s hardly the sort of example you’d expect to see from a man who presumes to lecture us on environmental responsibility. In a recent post, for instance, he heaps fake praise on the shooting organisations’ campaign to improve compliance with the illogical and ill-conceived law on lead shot.
“The [Lead Shot Campaign] website is to be welcomed – and I welcome it,” he writes disingenuously, going on to accuse the organisations of having “tried to keep this issue in the long grass for as long as possible.” Which is a typically negative way of saying that shooting has resisted the enviro-mentalists’ demands to throw away a perfectly good material without proper evidence.
Give ‘em an inch and they’d be demanding we stop using pencils because the stuff inside shares the same name as a toxic substance – just as a precaution, you understand.
In true Avery fashion he picks a number out of thin air and proclaims it a target: “I’d say that if the incidence of illegally shot wildfowl does not decline to below 10 per cent this winter then Government should move to ban the sale of lead shot as quickly as possible because it would be clear evidence that the shooting organisations can’t influence their members.”
See how he’s moved the argument completely away from whether there actually is a problem? There are so many falsehoods and misleading assumptions in his demand that it’s hard to know where to start. And yet, when the time comes, he wants us to be judged on whether some random survey of dead ducks indicates 9.8 or 11 per cent non-compliance.
This from a man who happily burns fossil fuel by the tankful so he can lecture mankind on the already well-documented demise of the passenger pigeon. Shame on you Mr Avery, shame on you!