Thursday, August 20, 2009

Birding at Superfund Sites, Landfills, and Sewage Ponds

The August issue of Journal of Sport & Social Issues includes an article with a title and an abstract that intrigue me: "Environmental Sporting: Birding at Superfund Sites, Landfills, and Sewage Ponds." Have you encountered that phrase -- environmental sporting -- before?

Spencer Schaffner -- professor at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign -- wrote the article. The abstract says:
This article describes birding as an example of what I call environmental sporting, an ostensibly green category of sport that relies on both environmental protection and degradation. Three competitive forms of birding are explored in relation to three toxic sites: the birding event called the World Series of Birding and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund sites, big-year birding and landfills, and the competitive practice of listing and sewage ponds.

At each site and in each competitive instantiation of birding, birders seek birds in close proximity with potent environmental toxins. The presence of active birds and birders at such sites works to make toxicity seem both hospitable and harmless. By discussing how birding relies on and ultimately masks the perils of toxic sites, the article suggests contradictions that arise from the relationship between sport and environmentalism.
Does that last sentence intrigue you, like it does me? I can't read the article itself without subscribing to the journal, so in lieu of that, we can read this article on, which cites portions of the professor's essay.

Schaffner cites seeming contradictions between birding's "green"/conservation aspects and birders' behaviors to find and see birds: the willingness to drive many hours in a car or to fly somewhere to see a single species and/or the blind eye toward the toxicity of landfills and sewage ponds. He also cites the World Series of Birding (in which WildBird has long sponsored a team):

In addition, he said, activities such as the World Series of Birding come across as environmentally friendly events because participants raise money for ecologically minded organizations. However, the event receives generous sponsorships from corporations ranging from binocular manufacturers to power companies. Ironically, many of these corporate sponsors are also major polluters, he said.
What do you think of the contradictions that Schaffner discusses? Do you think they're truly contradictions? If so, how do you reconcile them? Please share your thoughts below.



Blogger Alan Tilmouth said...

I can't comment on the US but I would offer this view on my own birding. I go birding at one particular local site that is regualrly used by illegal fly tippers (dumping rubbish to avoid commercial landfill charges). Does me birding there condone illegal fly tipping? Not in my view, if it doea anything it reinforces my abhorrence of the practice and drives me to watch for and record such illegal activity if I can.
Regarding corporate sponsors being 'major polluters' does he cite any evidence? I also believe that even if true the best way of changing that behaviour is through engagement and sponsorship does create contact and engagement that can be used to exert influence.

August 20, 2009 1:08 PM  
Blogger tai haku said...

This made the british press;

What I've seen of it is particularly poorly argued. The fact that toxic sites become wildlife preserves does not prevent them being toxic true but what use would, school playgrounds? farms? I think not. it seems like a poorly constructed mishmash of ideas designed or bent to fit a central (publicity grabbing) thesis.

August 22, 2009 6:43 AM  
Blogger metaspencer said...

here's a link to the article:

September 14, 2009 6:57 AM  

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