As the Golden State accelerates its transition to green energy at full throttle some, including a former official of the California Fish and Wildlife Department, are expressing apprehension about potential consequences such may entail for the state.
California has set an ambitious goal of reaching 100 percent carbon-neutrality by 2045 following the passage of Senate Bill 100 in 2018. According to the California Energy Commission, nearly 35 percent of the in-state energy generation was renewable as of 2021.
But John Baker, a now-retired assistant chief after an over 30-year career with the department says that while the push for green energy is aimed at saving the planet from climate change, it comes at the expense of endangering groups of wild animals, especially birds.
“In the name of green energy, we’re sacrificing wildlife species. Because of the power mandates, we’re unable to enforce [protecting those species,]” Mr. Baker said in a recent episode of EpochTV’s California Insider. “I don’t think they have thought what that cost is to us as Californians and to the environment as a whole.”
According to Mr. Baker, the intense focus on green energy, often seen as the “greater concern,” tends to blind people, especially politicians, to the consequences it brings for animals.
He said one group of wildlife greatly affected by such green policy are predatory birds—like eagles, hawks, and falcons—with many being killed by wind turbines.
He added that though fatalities of predatory birds seemed few among all birds killed by turbines, the numbers are significant due to their slow reproductive nature.
“There are millions of finches out there, but there are not millions of golden eagles out there,” he said.
According to a 2021 article by Joel Merriman, a former wind energy campaign director for the American Bird Conservancy, approximately 681,000 birds are being killed in the United States each year by wind turbines.
And the number could be more.
According to Mr. Merriman, who used data from 2012 through 2014 in his analysis, an underestimate is possible due to limited monitoring, challenges in locating dead birds in inaccessible areas, and many other factors.
Another major green energy generator—solar farms—has also been reportedly causing deaths among birds and other species.
In recent years, California’s deserts have undergone a transformation into a sea of solar panels, causing many birds to mistakenly perceive the shining panels as pools of water, crashing to their death as they attempt to dive into them.
Additionally, extreme heat from the panels’ reflective material can instantly incinerate birds that fly too close.
Solar farms have also caused other land species, like desert tortoises and bighorn sheep, to lose their habitat and migration corridor, according to Basin and Range Watch, a nonprofit desert conservation organization.
While killing or harming birds like bald eagles can result in serious consequences and even criminal charges, wind energy operators are oftentimes not held accountable for the loss of wildlife they cause, Mr. Baker said.
“It really runs counter to the whole environmental argument and what I signed up to do when I originally started working for [the] fish and wildlife [department],” he said.
On top of that, he said, birds are also being compelled to alter their migration routes due to the proliferation of turbines.
Additionally, preferential treatment for clean energy also is evident, he said, during the lawmaking process.
“In the political world, if you’re not telling them what they want to hear, when they want to hear it, or how they want to hear it, they’ll cut the siphon or they’ll cut the money off, the spigot gets turned off,” Mr. Baker said.
As a result, he said, scientists are shifting their focus more and more toward the wild animals’ relation with climate change to fit a narrative and, at times, neglect the well-being of individual species.
“There’s a subtle difference here,” he said. “Because there’s a challenge for a scientist to continue to get funding and to tell the truth, if the truth that you’re telling is not what the people giving you the funding want to hear. I’ve seen projects and ideas be shut down at the managerial level because they know that they’re not going to be able to sell that to the people that do the funding.”
But, he said, some local agencies had found ways to work around such situations.
In 2012, the Fish and Wildlife Department, where Mr. Baker worked, and several other agencies conducted an operation targeting illegal marijuana grows in Tulare and Fresno counties, he said.
What got their attention was growers were discharging wastewater mixed with harmful pesticides polluting the surrounding environment and seriously affecting animals.
“Somebody would harvest a deer, and they would open it up and [it would] be as blue as your suit inside. And that’s because it was eating rodenticide,” he said.
However, had they addressed their concern over saving the deer, they couldn’t get the attention of the lawmakers, he said. But because they connected the issue with the environmental crime that the illegal marijuana growers were practicing—which was the state legislature’s focus at the time—they were able to get more funding from the state government to carry out their operations.
“I mourn the loss of really focusing on protecting the watersheds and things of that nature,” he said.