Get ready for the great environmental civil wars. So far the environmental community has been fighting industry, developers, utilities and other villainous purveyors of human stuff. But going forward its big battles might be with itself.
Consider the recent massacre of six golden eagles at California’s Tehachapi Mountains wind farm. Federal authorities are investigating the incident, but some enviros are upset that not all their brethren are more outraged over the dead birds—along with the 440,000 others that are shredded annually by all the “cuisinarts of the sky” around the country. Shawn Smallwood, an expert studying the impact of wind farms on migratory birds, for example, told Fox News that he can’t understand why it took so long for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, which enforces the Endangered Species Act, to come in and investigate the situation. Likewise, Sue Hammer of Tehachapi Wildlife Rehab in Kern County, complained about the hypocrisy of the Golden State’s environmental enforcement establishment. “If I shoot an eagle, it's a $10,000 fine and/or a vacation of one to five years in a federal pen of my choice,” she said. But wind farms don’t suffer the same consequences.
But if the broader enviro community isn’t more upset over the avian genocide, it’s because it has no one but itself to blame. Wind power is the fastest growing component of the Golden State’s energy sector because, thanks to the community’s opposition to greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels, California has embraced a law requiring it to generate 35 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2035. But expanding hydroelectric power—a renewable, emission-free source—was not an option because the large dams necessary to generate it are injurious to the state’s salmon population. California actually is in the process of dismantling some of them, as I wrote some years ago. Nor were the enviros super hot on solar because they involve placing acres of mirrors in pristine desert habitat. (The Sierra Club and Wilderness Society once testified before Congress to keep California's Mojave Desert —one of the prime solar sites in the country—off limits to all development.)
Simply by the process of elimination, then, California was forced to make wind a bigger part of its energy portfolio than most other states, although it costs much more than even clean coal. So, having backed itself into a corner by its own actions, the community is hardly in any position to protest now. But that doesn’t sit well with the bird lovers in its midst.
The problem for the environmental movement is that, in contrast to its original conservationist roots reflected in the thinking of Aldo Leopold, it has decided to protect nature from humans rather than for humans. However, unless humans make a collective pact to simultaneously commit suicide, they will need energy, and if they need energy, some creature of god is going to get hurt. But having jettisoned human welfare as their core concern, enviros have no rational standard left to determine which creatures to save and which to sacrifice. Hence, it is inevitable that those who care about the salmon are going to find themselves at loggerheads with those who want to save the golden eagles. If the salmon lovers can shout the loudest, they’ll win in our cacophonous democracy. But their very victory will mobilize the eagle lovers to shout even louder in the next round.
Hence, as the enviro agenda gets implemented, the enviro wars are going to become more—not less—intense, except that instead of fighting the rest of us, they’ll be fighting each other.
Bonus material: Ron Bailey’s excellent “The Myth of Pristine Nature.”