Jonathan Franzen ‘miserably conflicted about climate change’

Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen writes about his issues with environmentalists’ emphasis on climate change in the new New Yorker.

(Shelby Graham / Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Is the environmental movement’s emphasis on climate change bad for birds? Novelist and avian enthusiast Jonathan Franzen thinks that might be the case.

In an essay in this week’s issue of The New Yorker, Franzen writes that he’s come “to feel miserably conflicted about climate change,” because the emphasis on global warming “could lead to indifference toward birds in the present.”

Franzen cites the construction of a football stadium in Minneapolis, which bird lovers wanted built with patterned glass to reduce the possibility of bird collisions. “Around the same time, the National Audubon Society issued a press release declaring climate change ‘the greatest threat’ to American birds,” the novelist writes. “Audubon’s announcement was credulously retransmitted by ... the Minneapolis Star Tribune, whose blogger on bird-related subjects, Jim Williams, drew the inevitable inference: Why argue about stadium glass when the real threat to birds was climate change? In comparison, Williams said, a few thousand bird deaths would be ‘nothing.’”

Franzen has written about climate change in the past; in a 2010 interview with Grist, he noted that he touched on the subject in his early novels. He also noted: “One of the big problems for people who want to do something about climate change is that the welfare-of-your-grandkids argument is totally abstract.”


He makes a similar point in his New Yorker piece: “Besides being a ready-made meme, [climate change is] usefully imponderable ... Climate change is everyone’s fault — in other words, no one’s. We can all feel good about deploring it.”

Franzen’s love of birds has been well-documented. In 2013, he told National Geographic that he was “making up for lost time and spending the second half of my life as a bird-watcher.” Not everyone, though, is thrilled with the way the author approaches his hobby -- a 2012 Slate article proclaimed, in its headline, “Jonathan Franzen Is the World’s Most Annoying Bird-Watcher.”

That’s harsh, but perhaps the author is a cat fancier -- Franzen once wrote that cats are “the sociopaths of the pet world,” though he later clarified to the Daily Beast: “I would stress that I personally am not anti-cat, and that we shouldn’t blame the cats themselves when they kill birds; it’s in their nature. But with songbird populations falling all across North America, I do think it’s time for a movement to keep cats indoors.”

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