Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Monday, April 23, 2007

Air or water quality--how to choose?

Here's a story from today's New York Times, about the hydroelectric dams in Oregon. They've damaged rivers badly, but now are being defended as "green" energy.

Climate Change Adds Twist to Debate Over Dams

Published: April 23, 2007

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore., April 19 — The power company that owns four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River says the dams provide a crucial source of so-called clean energy at a time when carbon emissions have become one of the world’s foremost environmental concerns.

But the American Indians, fishermen and environmentalists who want the dams removed point to what has happened since the first one was built nearly 90 years ago: endangered salmon have been blocked from migrating, Indian livelihoods have been threatened, and, more recently, the commercial fishing industry off the Oregon and California coasts has been devastated. They say the dams are anything but clean. They say the river is a mess.

“Should we have to sacrifice water quality for air quality?” said Craig Tucker, who is coordinating efforts by the Karuk tribe of Northern California to take down the dams. “Should Indians and family fisherman be the ones who have to sacrifice to address this problem?”

Whether the power company, PacifiCorp, wants to keep the dams because they improve air quality or simply because they are inexpensive to operate is not clear. But emphasizing an environmental argument that touches on climate change has added a new wrinkle to the longstanding debate over dam removal in the Pacific Northwest. In a region where plenty of residents measured their “carbon footprints” long before green became the new black, PacifiCorp is suggesting that righting one environmental wrong could lead to another, one that could affect people more than fish.

Read the whole article.

In 101 Ways to Help Birds, I tried to make some sense of our energy dilemma by discussing the impact on birds of every way we produce energy and how we distribute energy. The ONE way we produce electricity that doesn't harm birds at all as far as I can tell is solar--which is of course the one way that individuals could become fully or at least much more independent of energy companies, so is the one technology that I'm seeing the least discussion of. No matter where or how our energy is produced, it's CRITICAL--for climate, for birds, and for ourselves and our children's futures--that we conserve energy.

Speaking of which, on the drive home from Wisconsin Friday, I took my time and had nice tailwinds, and between Rhinelander and Ashland got some pretty nice gas mileage in my Prius.

Yep--that's 61.3 mpg going 126 miles! Of course, that wasn't just the tail winds and my speed (I was going 52 mph except when cars were approaching--then I'd speed up to 55 till they passed). There was also a nice gentle downhill stretch as I approached the lake. But the mileage for the entire 236-mile journey was 58.8, which was still pretty darned good. When we drive at the slowest speed that is safe, courteous, and convenient, we save energy, money, and even wildlife, which is much easier to avoid at slower speeds. If a great many people got into the habit of driving at the slowest speed that was safe, courteous, and convenient, we'd save vast resources of energy which would be an important step in limiting climate change and lowering our dependence on foreign oil without adding to the habitat loss and pesticide and fertilizer contamination associated with massive corn production for ethanol. And we'd also lower our subsidies for crows and other scavengers by reducing the free calories on roadsides. Which, by the way, would also be good for our own health, since those dead deer rotting away on roadsides don't just disappear, and many of the bacteria involved in putrescence are dangerous for us. Avian and mammalian scavengers carry loads of bacteria from carcasses to parts unknown. And houseflies and other insects carry them right into our kitchens, too.

Reducing our driving speed really and truly has a huge array of advantages for us and for the natural world. Many people don't want "Big Brother" to regulate us. That's fine with me, but then it's high time we started regulating ourselves.