Save the Birds: A Rumpus Roundup


Jonathan Franzen is an avid bird lover, as anyone who read Freedom might have guessed.

Two weeks ago, Franzen wrote a piece for the New Yorker that, among other things, condemned the Audubon Society for focusing too much on climate change and not enough on conservation, the society’s original mission. Focusing on climate change is sexier, but not necessarily more of a threat to bird species, he argues.

Some people had a problem with this position, like The New Republic and the Guardian, who argue Franzen plays right into the hands of climate change deniers.

National Geographic offered a more scientific rebuttal of Franzen, and then went ahead and compared him to the late author Michael Crichton, an infamous climate change denier.

Salon points out that divorcing conservation from climate change may not be the worst idea even if Franzen makes the argument the wrong way.

The Audubon Society also eventually responded:

It’s not clear what the Audubon Society did to piss off Jonathan Franzen. But the Audubon that emerges from Franzen’s essay is a band of once-scrappy conservationists who have grown content to peddle squeaky plush toys and holiday cards; we’ve seized on climate change, apparently, in a last grab at relevance.

Franzen’s tirade was set off because the Vikings built a new stadium in Minneapolis. The new stadium includes massive glass walls that are expected to kill thousands of birds a year. Bird-safe glass could prevent the deaths, but the team insists the cost of the glass is too high.

The city council passed a resolution calling for the glass be installed, but because the glass costs more, the team is not required to use it. Taxpayers, meanwhile, are picking up the tab for more than half the $1 billion stadium.

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →