American Goldfinch vs. Climate Change

For my most recent course with National Geographic, I was learned all about Teaching Climate Change and Scientific Modeling – which was absolutely fascinating! Despite having a degree in Wildlife Conservation and therefore taking so many classes that talked about the implications of human-caused climate change, there was still plenty to learn!

The goal of the course was to help educators effectively teach about climate change in a way that students would not only understand, but discover more about the different causes/effects of climate change and then determine the best way to mitigate or adapt to climate change. The goal is to leave the student not feeling discouraged and fearful of the future, but, by providing them with tools like scientific models to visualize dry data, empowered and inspired to use their voice to make a change for the better.

In order to teach a student about scientific modelling, I first had to learn how to create my own model! It was amazing to start out with a rough question – “Why are populations of American Goldfinches decreasing in the state of Pennsylvania?” – and watch the model morph over time as I continued to learn about the birds, model creation, and the depth of climate change. Models should be editable over time as new data is collected, and each time I submitted my model, there were lots of changes!

This was my first scientific model submission. It shows the basics of what the American Goldfinch eats, describes how the flowers and ideal habitat don’t overlap with the birds during their migration, and how their range is changing.

While climate change is inevitable and has happened many times throughout the course of this planet’s history, Human-caused Climate Change is increasing the rate of change too quickly for plants and animals to adapt. When any piece of the puzzle is out of balance, the whole planet suffers. For example, as trees continue to be clear-cut or burned (as in the case of the Amazon fires currently), there are fewer trees to sequester carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide created by the burning of fossil fuels and decomposing organic matter is released into the atmosphere and causes an increase in Greenhouse Gases. The Greenhouse gases can’t escape out of the atmosphere (think of the Greenhouse Effect), which then causes the temperature of the earth to rise. The rise in temperatures causes glaciers to melt. When glaciers on land start melting, the extra water flows into the ocean, causing a rise in sea level, which in turn, this all impacts marine ecosystems and wildlife such as corals suffer.

This rise in temperatures impacts more than just sea and land ice, though – it impacts all of life! In the case of my local observed phenomenon, climate change is creating a disconnect between bloom time of food resources and migration time (through Pennsylvania) for the American Goldfinch. The American Goldfinch relies on plants like the Black-Eyed Susan, Coneflower, and Thistle as food resources and trees overlooking meadow areas as nesting habitat. As temperature increases, the flowers that they use as food no longer overlaps with their migration time in Pennsylvania. This, combined with human impacts (such as over-development from clear cutting for agricultural or residential purposes) has caused the American Goldfinch to move their range farther north (as far as Vermont/Maine) in order to have the right amount of food and nesting sites.

This was my final submission (there was one other edit between the first and this one). Do you notice how the “simple” matter of a decrease in goldfinch populations is much more involved than just – “there’s no more food”?

So far, everything that I’ve explained sounds super sad. The earth is burning, wildlife populations are declining, and trees are dying. However, the course helped to teach me how to inspire the next generation to act and let their voices be heard. By learning about scientific modelling and encouraging students to learn about the different facets of climate change, I can empower them to create a plan of action, even simple ones!

No matter how young or how old you are – your voice can be heard and your actions make a huge difference in the health of the planet we love. Let your voice be heard too! Tell your legislator how important the environment is to their constituents today and vote for a healthier tomorrow. Click here for some other easy ways to make a difference.

I was able to present about National Audubon’s Climate Report and the implications of a changing climate on birds, all while hopefully sparking a bit of hope in a discouraging scenario.

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