One bird killed is one too many, founder says
Avian Extinction Rebellion is a new wing of the environmental protest group that has been set up to oppose wind farms because of the danger they pose to birds. This is a sudden and unexpected sea change in XR’s attitude to wind power: what happened?
AXR’s founder, who goes by the nom de guerre Lavender Tuesday, tells me she saw the light on a day trip to Bempton Cliffs last July.
“This white-cis male of a certain age had one of those devices you look through to make faraway things look closer, and he let me have a go with it,” Lavender says. “He pointed out some of the birds that were there, razorbills and puffins, you know, but I only had eyes for the kittiwakes. How beautiful they were!”
The white-cis male of a certain age who was the owner of an Optolith spotting scope told the XR member to enjoy them while she could.
“They’re dying out because of Climate change,” Lavender remembers replying.
The birdwatcher smiled a sad smile and said, “In a manner of speaking.” When she asked him to explain himself, he first said, “The wind farms,” and when pressed further, he explained: “Between the ones we already have and those that are planned so far, offshore wind farms will cover 12,000 square kilometres of the sea around the UK. You won’t be able to see the big ones from here. They’ll be out there. Out of sight from most of us. But we know they will kill kittiwakes.”
In a dour commuter town on a misty day in late March where I am interviewing the spokesperson for Avian Extinction Rebellion over an oatmilk latte, the fear of kittiwakes flying into the blades of offshore wind turbines seems a very abstract one. But the fear was very real for Lavender Tuesday on that July day last year.
“I was stunned,” she tells me. “I wandered a little further along the cliff, then I just stopped walking and let the sun warm my face for a while. I could hear the cries of the seabirds all around me – they seemed to be accusing me of bearing witness to their peril but doing nothing to help them. Especially the kittiwakes. They have such a beautiful call, not like one of those gulls that steal your chips… I stood there so long I managed to pick a hole in my woolly jumper. This one kittiwake just kept staring at me with her beady eye, and from nowhere I began to cry. I was overcome by my connection with Nature, and I fell onto my knees in the dry grass and cried out to Mrs Kittiwake that I was so so sorry for being a human, so so sorry for being a part of what was destroying them.”
That was when the idea of Avian Extinction Rebellion was hatched. At the next regional XR strategy meeting, Tuesday raised the idea of opposing the expansion of offshore wind farms. She recalls playing the group a sound clip of a kittiwake’s call.
“They all just stared at me for ages. I could tell how deeply moved they were.”
The group was immediately receptive to her worries. One member came up with their new campaign slogan with his very next words: “One bird killed is one too many.”
Someone else came up with a logo on the inside of a packet of sugar-free mints a few seconds later. Asked if the result looks like a bird flying into a wind turbine and being sliced in half, Tuesday wrinkles her nose. “No. It looks like a free bird flying high in the sky, at one with Gaia.”
But AXR had another problem. Without offshore wind, how would Net Zero be achievable? Where would the people of the UK get their electricity? Coal and gas were forbidden. Onshore wind was no better than offshore wind. Solar – even with progress in the new science of neutrino-opaque materials – was all but useless. Biomass had fallen out of favour for the wholesale destruction of forests someone had finally noticed it caused. There was only one thing left.
“It was a choice between the lights going out – and one or two did argue for that – or embracing nukes,” Tuesday tells me.
Nukes! I was surprised by that, but Lavender Tuesday was deadly serious. I pointed out that environmental groups had opposed nuclear power for decades.
“That’s because they link it with nuclear weapons,” she explained. “We need to get rid of the impression that there is such a link. Civilian nuclear is perfectly safe, and the amount of energy obtainable from a tiny amount of matter is just incredible. It’s a limitless carbon-free source of power!”
AXR are planning a campaign of direct action to run alongside their parent group’s summer of disobedience. “We’re going to block lorries from taking blades and towers to these death mills. Obviously it’s a bit harder for us to block the barges from taking blades and towers to the offshore farms, but we’ve been in touch with Sea Shepherd to see if they will help with that.”
“One bird killed is one too many,” Lavender repeats her mantra again. Then she brightens. “But we won’t be miserable! We want it to be a party! There will be singing and vegan barbecues, poetry, juggling and puppet shows. We’re going to have a mass die-in of dolphins too. Did you know that the vibration of offshore turbines can confuse the navigation systems of cetaceans, leading them to beach themselves in despair? Without the support of the water, their bodies just collapse.”
I ask whether the usual XR Red Widows will be at the protests.
“Yes,” she says with a smile, “but they’ll be dressed as kittiwakes from now on.”