Commentary: I-732 offers path to easing climate impacts on birds, ourselves

By Gail Gatton

Birds hold a special place in the hearts of many, providing connections to meaningful places or memories. In our urban parks, people are thrilled at the sight of an eagle diving for a fish or the sound of a barred owl calling who-cooks-for-you.

Every September, people from all over gather in Monroe for Swift Night Out to watch the spectacle of thousands of Vaux swifts as they funnel into the Wagner Elementary School chimney to roost along their journey to wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America.

But these birds — and the sights and sounds they bring to our lives — are at risk. Audubon science shows more than half of our North American bird species are at risk from climate change. Of the roughly 500 species that call Washington home for some part of their life cycle, 189 of them are at risk from climate change.

The swifts that descend upon Monroe each fall are projected to lose 99 percent of their summer range by 2080. Rufous hummingbirds could lose their entire winter range. Bald eagles could lose nearly 75 percent of their summer range, threatening their ability to breed and reproduce. From common birds such as Mallard ducks to the bright and beautiful neotropical migrants such as western tanagers, many of our birds face an uncertain future.

Here in Washington, we have a unique opportunity to take action to protect birds and people from this growing threat. Initiative 732 is a tax swap that would put a price on the things we want less of, like harmful carbon pollution that contributes to global warming, while reducing our taxes on the things we want more of — sales and manufacturing. The state-wide grass-roots effort that gathered more than 360,000 signatures to put this citizen’s initiative on the ballot demonstrates Washingtonians don’t want to wait to address climate change.

Putting a price on carbon is a proven method of reducing emissions. We can just look to our neighbor to the north for an example. British Columbia has shown this solution yields significant emissions reductions and is simple to administer.

Revenue collected through I-732 will be rebated back to Washingtonians through a 1 percent reduction in our state sales tax. There are also rebates for low-income working families and businesses. Some claim that this policy is not perfect. Yet in Audubon’s view, I-732 offers a tangible, immediate, proven step in the right direction. The opportunity to take climate action today outweighs any potential argument for waiting for the “perfect policy.” We can’t afford to sit this one out.

Throughout history, birds have been indicators of human and environmental health. The proverbial “canary in a coal mine” was used to detect fatal gases and make sure mines were safe for humans. Eagles and other birds of prey were among the first to let us know the detrimental effects of the pesticide, DDT. Now it’s time to pay attention to how birds are responding to a shifting climate.

Let’s say yes to a price on carbon and start combating climate change for birds and people today.

Gail Gatton is executive director of Audubon Washington.

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