Consequences, Unintended or Not
By Patrick F. Cannon
Although not as widely recognized as the Bald Eagle, which managed to become one of our national symbols, the Golden Eagle is slightly larger and has more powerful talons. It’s range extends from Mexico to Alaska; it is rarely seen in the Midwest or East.
The noble bird, which can have a wing span of nearly eight feet, was recently in the news as a victim of the clean-energy movement. It seems that wind farms in Wyoming are killing more than a few of the raptors, who blunder into them as their vast blades slowly rotate in the Western winds. While I won’t go into all the details here, there’s a law in Wyoming that penalizes anyone who kills a Golden Eagle, so the company that runs the wind farm has been heavily fined.
There is a wonderful irony here. Wind, along with solar, hydro, and nuclear, is one of the non-polluting sources of the energy which modern folks gobble up so rapaciously. So, a company in the business of generating “clean” energy is fined because birds fly into their slowly rotating (and giant) blades. Of course birds of all kinds bump into all kinds of things – buildings, cell and radio towers, and power lines, among other obstacles. Some are just stunned, shake it off and resume their journeys. Others, alas, make the ultimate sacrifice to progress.
The Golden Eagle, which has no enemy save us, keeps the population of bunnies, squirrels and other rodents in check. It’s a beautiful creature, and certainly worth preserving. It may be that scientists will find a way to save them from the danger of the wind turbines – perhaps by painting the blades in colors or patterns that alert them to the danger; or generating some kind of sound waves to scare them off. But if not, what’s more important, our clean energy (and some say, survival as a species) or the loss of a few hundred birds a year?
Don’t ask me who figured this out, but it’s said that 99.9 percent of the earth’s total of four billion former and current species are now extinct. Since about the year 1500, we have been responsible for directly causing the extinction of about 1,000. Most of the time, it was because we enjoyed eating and/or shooting them; or we built cities, towns and public works that eliminated their habitat. In some cases, we may have killed them off while trying to get rid of some other pest.
Let’s face it. We’re at the top of the species chain, and usually make decisions meant to maintain that primacy. At the moment, many of us feel threatened by, or at least grudgingly admit, the existence and perils of global warning. After all, most of that 99.9 percent became extinct because of climate change or natural disasters.
We have been making choices like this throughout our history, sometimes for convenience, or greed, or survival. Is every species sacrosanct, even if it means forgoing sources of clean energy? Will a vast solar array despoil a pristine wilderness? Will the view of rich residents be ruined by an off-shore wind farm? Will a hydro project cause the extinction of an inedible crawfish?
History is full of unintended consequences. Now, we will increasingly be asked to weigh intended consequences. While I’m sure we’ll try to find ways to minimize the peril to the Golden Eagle, I’m just as certain that we’ll still put ourselves first.
Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon