Europe and Central Asia
9 Feb 2015

Policy makers and birdwatchers: remember the Roman Augures?

Birdwatchers © LIPU (BirdLife in Italy)
By BirdLife Europe

Our society is far from sustainable and the EU’s objectives for 2030 are not ambitious enough. Once upon a time politicians would look at birds to take decisions regarding their future. A lesson from the past that has been forgotten.

by David Howell


At times every conservationist faces doubts about whether it is possible to create a society in which the human race finally learns to live in harmony with nature. The political and economic circumstances of the last few years, against a broader background of globalization, free-market capitalism and unthinking, wasteful production and consumption, have taken us further and further away from the sustainable path that we and the planet so desperately need.

An example are the EU’s objectives for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and emission reductions for 2020 and 2030. We know from the climate change science that these objectives, even if adopted at global level, are not enough to prevent disastrous climate change. There are some encouraging signs of movement in the right direction, but the scale and pace of change are still totally insufficient and we need to be much more direct in overcoming the inertias of ‘the fossil age’, with its geopolitics, power structures and business models which are preventing us from making true progress. 

Those of us in the BirdLife Partnership, dedicated as we are to the close observation and study of wild birds and their interaction with their surroundings, have already sounded warnings about the predicted impacts of low climate ambition. Important modelling studies in Europe and North America highlight the likelihood of dramatic changes in the richness and distribution of our bird fauna if we continue to emit CO2 at present rates. And the results of our bird monitoring programmes, based on the work of many thousands of expert and enthusiastic volunteers in a huge worldwide ‘citizen science’ effort, are already confirming some of these predictions, as we see changes in bird distribution and migratory behaviour across the planet.

So, as we launch BirdLife’s priorities for climate change mitigation in the EU, we would like to remind fossil fuel enthusiasts, politicians and public officials of the importance of listening to us, the birdwatchers. The ancient Romans would traditionally check the wisdom of important decisions by  consulting the birdwatchers of their time, the augures, who were experts in interpreting the movements and behaviour of wild birds through careful observation, or aves spicere. The Romans believed that the augures could interpret the will of the gods and hence  the possibility of success (of an event, a decision, a government…)  and for this reason, an ‘inauguration’ would only be successful if these ornithological oracles had confirmed that it was ‘auspicious’.     

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So, today with BirdLife’s energy and climate change priorities we send a direct message to you, President Juncker, Vice President Timmermans, Commissioner Arias Cañete, President Schulz, Heads of Government, Parliamentarians....and to everyone else with an influence over the future energy and climate change direction of the EU. The message is simple: listen to us, the birdwatchers, the augures of the 21st Century. Listen to us and to the countries, regions, muncipalities, citizens and businesses that stand with us for the wellbeing of nature and people,

The birds tell us what is happening to them, and remind us what is already happening to human society. If the birds were happier and healthier, we would be happier and healthier too. And the birds are telling you to be much more ambitious, generous and visionary in your climate and energy diplomacy and decisions this year. They are telling you to stand firm against those who defend existing, outdated and dangerous business models, and they are telling you that 2015 is an auspicious year to act bravely.

If you ignore their message, BirdLife will consult the birds again, to see what the future augurs for you. But the signs are already there: if you fail, we all fail, and history may never forgive you. But if you triumph, with clean energy and real climate ambition and advances, history will thank and praise you. The augures are watching: watching you, and watching the birds. The choice is yours.


Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.