Bob Franken




Unless you’re a member of the Audubon Society, you’re about to learn more about woodpeckers than you ever thought you’d know. Or care to.
I hate those detective shows where they say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” But yeah, it’s like that. I’m REALLY sorry for your loss because, I don’t know how to break it to you, but Woody Woodpecker is dead. He’s been officially declared extinct by a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which keeps track of such things. Amy Trahan wrote the official report on the demise of the ivory-billed woodpecker — the species that was the model for Universal Studios’ character Woody, of “Heh-heh-heh-HEH-heh” fame. He (or she) is not to be confused with the pileated woodpecker, which makes more of a jackhammer sound as he scrounges for bugs (don’t we all) in a tree’s bark.
This is the genuine Woody, an ivory-billed.
He hasn’t been seen, that we know of, since back in 2005 in Arkansas. He (or she) was unmistakable. He was a big bird. In fact, (choose your pronoun) was nicknamed “The Lord God Bird,” because when people saw one they’d exclaim, “Lord God! What a bird!”
But 2005 was the last time and long enough. “He no longer exists,” said Ms. Trahan. And she checked the box for “delist based on extinction.”

Since 1973, when everyone here passed the Endangered Species Act, 54 plants and animals have been delisted, but millions more are expected in the coming decade. That’s because of various human abuses, including hunting, property development, mining and the biggie, the double-C, climate change.
Oh, thank heaven, you were worrying that I was writing an ornithology column, not a political one. But here I am on familiar turf, where everyone agrees that global warming is an urgent problem, a disaster, actually, except for the miners, energy conglomerates, all the other special interests and the mealy mouthed politicians who represent constituencies they rely on to get them re-elected instead of trying to save the entire planet.
Woody is just a canary in a coal mine — more like a woodpecker really — a warning of pending doom. How about record-setting heat waves, hurricanes, floods and massive droughts at the same time, and glaciers falling off and slush where frozen oceans used to be?
One problem is that climate is worldwide; it’s not a national issue. If one country decides to ignore it or doles out a weak response, particularly if motivated by economic concerns, another country cannot make up for it. If a demagogue leader can’t see the political or fundraising benefit of going against powerful special interests, the cheap shot artist can easily ridicule what’s necessary to reverse climate change.
Donald Trump spewed carbon over the entire concept. Joe Biden turned around most of what Trump did, but it wasn’t nearly enough to change the relentless heating up of Earth. That is going to take genuine sacrifice or ingenuity.
Otherwise, by midcentury — mid THIS century — our cities will be flooded with the melt from nonfrozen tundras far away, that are nowhere near as distant. And at the same time, the desert will be expanding.
Unless we take meaningful action — and by “meaningful” I mean universal solar and wind energy, along with hydrogen batteries, along with relocating where the coal is NOT and the whole gamut of traditional fuels — and all of us, not just a few of us, think outside the box, we will wallow in fire.
Not only will it be too late to save Woody Woodpecker, but Sammy Salmon or, for that matter, Harry or Harriet Human.

© 2021 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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