Do you believe the Endangered Species Act (ESA) protects endangered species? If you do, you are wrong.

Do you believe wind energy is “clean”? If you do, again, you would be wrong, unless you think “clean” means it’s okay to kill endangered species and destroy their habitat.

As Will Falk and Sean Butler so eloquently described in their article, Fighting for the Rights of Southern Resident Orcas:

You might expect that the Act completely prohibits any activity that “takes” an endangered species. But it doesn’t. Under the Act, federal agencies may harm members of an endangered species as long as the activity is “not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species.”

While that may sound more promising, it isn’t. When a proposed action is likely to jeopardize an endangered species, the agency can then issue an Incidental Take Statement (ITS), which merely sets a limit on the number of individuals of an endangered species that can be taken.

In other words, a species that has already endured so much destruction can legally be further harmed if that harm is in compliance with certain terms and the correct forms are filled out.

So an ITS allows a federal agency to harm endangered species. But there are also Incidental Take Permits (ITPs). These allow private entities to harm endangered species. All a private entity needs to do to get an ITP is create a plan that purportedly minimizes and mitigates harm to an endangered species.

In other words, the ESA is in place to make sure government entities and corporations have the proper permits to harm endangered species. “Permit” here means permission to harm. So this law only regulates the amount of harm that takes place; the law cannot stop it.

Today, May 31, 2019 the US Fish and Wildlife Service, an organization of the U.S. Department of the Interior, published a document which provides a perfect example of exactly what Will and Sean are talking about in their article.

This document announced that Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project LLC is requesting an incidental “take” permit (ITP) for marbled murrelets, and bald and golden eagles. As stated in the document:

The applicant determined that adverse effects to each of the covered species are unavoidable, and developed the HCP to cover take of those species caused by project operations over a period of 30 years.

“Take,” of course, is just a nice word for “kill” when we’re talking about destroying habitat or bird collisions with wind turbines. Let’s not forget that.

The document describes how the wind project will harm the environment, as well as the birds specifically:

The project site encompasses approximately 9,700 acres of forestlands in Thurston and Lewis Counties, Washington. The applicant intends to initiate turbine operations in 2019, or as soon as possible thereafter. A detailed description of the project is presented in chapter 2 of the HCP. The majority of the project is located in Lewis County, Washington, including all 38 wind turbines. Some supporting infrastructure is located in Thurston County, Washington. The wind energy generation facility is located on a prominent ridgeline on the Weyerhaeuser Company’s Vail Tree Farm, located approximately 18 miles east of Centralia, Washington.

The project is expected to produce an output of approximately 137 megawatts (MW) of electricity from 38 wind turbines, each of which is 492 feet tall (from ground to vertical blade tip) with rotor diameters of 446 feet.

Their primary concern is with bird collision with turbine blades. As you can see from the description, these are massive turbines. Birds do indeed collide with wind turbines all the time, and not just murrelets and eagles.

The 9,700 acres of forestlands in Thurston and Lewis Counties that will be impacted by this wind project may be home to murrelets and eagles, so not only will these birds now risk colliding with the turbines, they may also be losing a large amount of habitat, all in the name of “clean” energy.

The document does not, of course, describe the inevitable harms to the countless other species, who, while they may not be officially listed as endangered under the ESA or the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, will indeed be harmed by both the turbine blades, as well as the loss of forest cover, the roads, the large concrete pads, the electrical lines, and more.

In addition, it does not describe the countless impacts to people, wildlife, and habitat that will be caused in the manufacturing of the wind turbines.

Wind turbine poles and blades are made out of steel. Steel is made out of iron ore, which must be dug up from the ground. If you want to know what mining iron ore does to the environment, simply google “Brazil vale mine disaster” and look at the results: a river killed, hundreds of people killed, utter devastation.

To make steel from iron ore is an energy intensive process that requires smelting iron ore in blast furnaces at very high temperatures. Typically the energy used to make steel is coke, a purified form of coal, which also requires a great deal of energy to make. Of course, this process emits CO2.

What was that about wind turbines being “clean” again?

Another key component of wind turbines is copper. Copper mines are one of the most destructive forms of mining in the world, in part because copper forms only 0.18%, at best, of the ore that must be dug from the ground to get copper. That means copper miners must dig up millions of tons of ore just to get at a few hundred tons of copper. To produce the 20 million tons of copper used annually in wind turbines, solar panels, batteries, electricity grids, and all our electronic devices, about 11 billion tons of mine waste is dumped into the ecosystem after the copper has been extracted.

And of course, extracting the copper is an extremely toxic process. The toxic slurry produced by processing billions of tons of ore to extract copper is stored in tailings ponds which inevitably leak and spill, contaminating ground water for miles around the mine, and destroying any rivers nearby.

What was that about wind turbines being “clean” again?

To install wind turbines requires making new roads into forests where the wind turbines will be situated. Roads create new access into habitat that inevitably leads to habitat destruction, even aside from the wind turbines. Roads means roadkill. Some animals are attracted to roads, and gain new access to prey, which can lead to a predator-prey imbalance. Other animals avoid roads, and so new roads disrupt their normal routes through the forest. Roads fragment habitat, cutting populations in half and for species that will not cross a road, this effectively isolates populations and harms biodiversity. And roads create pollution: from construction, from vehicles using the roads, and from erosion that roads cause. For an in-depth analysis of how roads harm ecosystems, read The Ecological Effects of Roads by Reed Noss.

The concrete bases that support the wind turbines are also incredibly destructive. First all life is scraped from the land. Then a big hole is dug. Then the base of the wind turbine is placed in the hole and many tons of concrete are poured around the base to support it. Remember, concrete is one of the most energy intensive substances to make. You can watch a wind turbine base installation here.

Then of course, the electrical pylons have to be installed, along with electrical wires, which takes more steel, more copper, more roads, more deforestation.

What was that about wind turbines being “clean” again?

While the Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project LLC’s incidental take permit application describes only the harms that will be done to marbled murrelets and eagles, we must assume that many other wild beings will be harmed in the construction of this wind energy project.

That environmentalists can look at wind turbines (and solar panels) and believe they are “clean” and “green” is the result of a massive and successful brainwashing campaign by politicians and the corporate elite. Renewable energy companies and those who invest in them have managed to pull a fast one over on us: they’ve convinced us that it is possible to generate electricity from the wind and sun without harming the environment. As a result, environmentalists are helping to promote these technologies–technologies that will make the owners and investors in these projects very rich, by the way, with the help of massive government subsidies of course–under the false belief that they are somehow okay because they don’t emit CO2 at the point of generation.

We’ve been brainwashed–by governments and corporations–into ignoring all the other direct environmental impacts these technologies have on the environment, and that’s not even including the long term indirect impacts these technologies have by virtue of sustaining our ecocidal culture just a little bit longer.

We’ve been brainwashed–by governments and corporations–into believing that the Endangered Species Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and our other environmental laws protect the environment.

We’ve been brainwashed–by governments and corporations–into believing that we can have our energy, and have intact ecosystems, too.

In other words, as Will Falk says:

They’ve achieved a brilliant deception by getting people to believe that the Endangered Species Act makes it illegal to kill endangered species. It doesn’t. It provides a legal justification for killing endangered species by providing permits for killing them. They give permission to kill endangered species.

The Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project LLC’s incidental take permit application illustrates exactly that deception.

And we would do well to remember that the ESA covers only a tiny fraction of species on this planet, most of whom are now at risk because of habitat loss caused by human impacts.

We lose 100-200 species every single day to extinction, which is 1,000 times the normal extinction rate for species. Because of us—despite the Endangered Species Act, which, by measure of total biodiversity loss and species loss, has been an utter failure, and despite how “clean” we might believe renewable energy to be.

Image: Marbled Murrelet, via Wikimedia. Marbled murrelets nest only in old growth forest, so as the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest have been decimated, so has the marbled murrelet population. They travel up to 80km inland from their feeding grounds offshore to nest in old trees, and so are at risk of colliding with wind turbines along the way. And of course, when there are no old trees left, there will be no more habitat for these beautiful birds.