When he isn’t sharing his thoughts about the Internet with the Internet, bestselling author Jonathan Franzen is a birder. He recently wrote a long essay speculating that the looming threat of global climate change is encouraging us to abandon more concrete (but smaller-scale) bird-related conservation efforts. He criticized the Audubon Society in particular.

To get to anything reasonable in Franzen’s piece, which appeared in the New Yorker, you’ve got to sort through paragraphs like this:

And so I came to feel miserably conflicted about climate change. I accepted its supremacy as the environmental issue of our time, but I felt bullied by its dominance. Not only did it make every grocery-store run a guilt trip; it made me feel selfish for caring more about birds in the present than about people in the future. What were the eagles and the condors killed by wind turbines compared with the impact of rising sea levels on poor nations? What were the endemic cloud-forest birds of the Andes compared with the atmospheric benefits of Andean hydroelectric projects?

Today, the Audubon Society hit back.

Now, I don’t know jack shit about the best approach to conserving bird populations. However, I do recognize a blistering retort when I see one. The Audubon Society tore into Franzen with the bloodthirsty determination of a hungry raptor tearing a small mammal into tiny meaty chunks. Even if you can’t tell a sparrow from a seagull, you will enjoy this note, which I highly recommend you read in full. A sampling of the set-downs in the Audobon Society’s response (which was illustrated with a puffed-up puffin who looks ready to brawl):

  • “That would upset me, too, if there were a shred of evidence that the suggestion was valid.”
  • “It’s not clear what the Audubon Society did to piss off Jonathan Franzen.”
  • “Franzen’s entire argument—that an ‘overriding’ focus on the longer-term peril to birds from global warming might undercut bird conservation today—rests on the wafer-thin foundation of Mr. Williams’s quote.”
  • “It’s a provocative statement—intentionally so. And yet, it turns out, it is based on a piece of intellectual sleight of hand (or, at best, clumsiness) that one might have expected the New Yorker’s vaunted fact-checking apparatus to have caught and spat back out.”
  • “In order to gin up that caricature, however, Franzen, who has no journalism experience that I know of, was forced to ignore or actively distort a great deal of inconvenient truth.”
  • “After all, though he chose not to divulge this to his readers, Franzen sits on the fund-raising board of directors for the American Bird Conservancy, an organization that fancies itself a competitor for funding and attention with Audubon.” INTRIGUE. SCANDAL.
  • “The temptation I’ve wrestled with is to simply dismiss this silly thing, New Yorker or no, as the sad ravings of a man trying to escape his guilt-ridden Protestant Puritan heritage and justify his consumerist lifestyle. But I can’t.”

“Sad ravings.” Damn. I can only conclude that the employees of the Audubon Society sit around amping themselves up with raptor-screech sound effects.

Photo via Dan Lee/Shutterstock.


Contact the author at kelly@jezebel.com.