Fireworks are big business in the City of Vancouver, and are the centre piece of a summer “celebration of light” where we celebrate which country can make the most impressive display and percussion. Years ago it was a tobacco company that had its name on this festival-now it is a car manufacturer.
City Council has just announced that they will be approving $50,000 for a New Year’s Eve celebration downtown with live bands and two fireworks displays-one at 9:00 p.m. for families with kids, and one again at midnight.
Fireworks do produce light, noise and air pollution, although in the moment the light and noise are pleasurable to viewers. They also release chemicals and particle-laden haze. But what is the impact of fireworks on birds and animal life? Does it make a difference to make that kind of noise in the summer or the winter? And why is there so little written about the ecological impact of fireworks?
The Audubon Society cites the case of New Year’s Eve 2010 when 5,000 red-winged blackbirds were startled from their nests in Beebe Arkansas when professional grade fireworks were set off by amateurs. They died by colliding into buildings, cars and trees. It appears that fireworks are also more problematic in the winter months when large groups of birds cluster together at night.
There are other studies that show that shorebirds leave nests and become disoriented, including a 2011 study from a New Year’s Eve in the Netherlands that recorded thousands of birds taking flight for 45 minutes “clearly disturbed and stressed by the fireworks, with wetland areas and nature reserves being especially sensitive areas due to the large number of birds that gather there.”
The impact on whales in captivity of large percussion fireworks has also been studied and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association has set up standards for coastal areas where marine mammals and birds could be disturbed by fireworks. It can also be argued that fireworks are similar to natural occurring thunderstorms and lightning to wildlife.
There is no doubt that fireworks and celebrations have gone hand in hand in the 20th century. Are fireworks still ecologically appropriate in the 21st century? Or are fireworks so culturally tied to our ideas of celebration that any ecological impact is not important?