Thank you for this thoughtful response.  This is a very important conversation.
I wanted to share something I saved from The NY Times,  Oct . 17, 2021 by Carin Einhorn.  I think it’s about the conference on Biodiversity (part of COP 27?):
The debate underscores a central tension coursing through the biodiversity negotiations.  
“If this becomes purely a conservation plan for nature, this is going to fail,” said Basil van Havre, a leader, with Mr. Ogwal, of one of the convention’s working groups. “What we need is a plan for nature and for people.”
  With the global human population still increasing, scientists say that transformational change is required for the planet to be able to sustain us.
**  “We actually need to see every human endeavor, if you will, through the lens of biodiversity and nature,” Dr. Lariguaderie said.  Since everyone depends on nature, she noted, “everyone is part of the solution.”

(** my emphasis)

    Frankly, my opinion, if anyone is interested, is that we should be very thankful to live on this marvelous planet with its thin film of biodiversity.   We should grow up and realize that we are one species among so many, and a latecomer at that.  Our myths must change now so that we can cooperate and self-restrain rather than foolishly thinking we can dominate nature.  Every other species has as much “right” to live here as we do.  For those who are happy to live with humans on a dead planet, I urge them to plan to go to Mars.  That might be possible before too long.  Meanwhile, let’s love and cherish our Mother Earth now.  Here I quote a Turkish proverb:  “No matter how far you have gone down the wrong road, turn back.”

‘Nuff said.

Creativity is the heart of adaptive evolution.
Terry Tempest Williams

On Jun 7, 2023, at 5:43 PM, Dave Nutter <nutter.d...@me.com> wrote:

Carl makes a valid point about the destructiveness to flora and fauna of large scale solar arrays. Solar panels which cover huge fields should be called mines, not farms. The arrays’ extraction of energy is industrial, not biological, and it is done while trying to overcome natural systems, so the solar arrays disrupt biology. By contrast, a farm harnesses biology using our soil and rain, and it diverts some of the biological products to human purposes in a repeatable annual process. When agriculture is practiced on the scale of a family farm, it can do so in concert with plants and wildlife in hedgerows, along streams, and around ponds, and agriculture’s incidental waste products can be more easily absorbed and used by nature along all those edges. Factory farms differ from traditional farms because with “efficiency” of scale, they eliminate nature and nature’s ability to handle agriculture’s side effects. At large scale, the waste is no longer incidental and absorbed, it is toxic. 

If farm land is abandoned, it can be reclaimed by plants and animals. When the solar panels wear out in a couple decades, will the regulations make it worth the effort and expense to recycle the old ones and install new ones? Or will it be cheaper to abandon those arrays? On my daily walks I see metal playground equipment in the woods because the City of Ithaca took it from where the Children’s Garden was being built, and chucked it alongside the old railroad grade, which became the Black Diamond Trail. I imagine hundreds of acres of metal of a big solar array, but overgrown among trees, vines and shrubs. 

For a solar array to work in our climate, vegetation must suppressed. This can be done by pasturing sheep among them, which makes cute advertising video, but how often is this practice used? How often is plant suppression done instead by covering and/or poisoning the soil? This has effects of heating the ground and speeding rain runoff. How often is plant suppression among solar arrays done with fossil-fuel powered machinery which also wastes the plant material? Maybe folks think that’s no big deal because so much land area is already mown, wasting both plants and fossil fuel, but I think mowing should be drastically scaled back. A reasonable sized personal lawn is the area a person can keep mowed with a reel mower pushed by hand without using fossil fuel. It’s not worth adding to the destruction of the natural climate, flora, and fauna in order to have a bigger lawn than one actually uses. 

So, yes, I agree, big solar arrays are poor for plants & animals. I also see at least 3 other parts to the equation as we evaluate the harm and benefit of solar arrays. What did the solar arrays replace on the landscape? What were the solar arrays built instead of for energy? How much energy do we need? 

In our moist temperate region, the land was mostly forested until being cleared for agriculture, which was a big investment. Abandoned agricultural land can, through succession, become meadows, shrub fields, and secondary forest, all of which harbor a wide variety of birds, but that’s a value we take for granted, not one with a price tag on it. People generally like and are uplifted by wild birds, and some of us are passionate about them. But abandoned farmland is considered “unproductive” by those who tax the land, and therefore also by those who own the land, so this habitat is apt to be shredded and converted to a large scale solar array. I’ve certainly seen that happen. If we as a society can literally value land which supports a diversity of birds, then less will be turned into long-term non-bird-habitat. 

My impression is that most agricultural land around here is for corn, and I’ve also seen some cornfields replaced by solar arrays. What’s the impact on birds? What do we lose when a cornfield is replaced by a solar array? Cornfields are lousy habitat for breeding birds, but blackbirds feed there in spring and autumn, and waterfowl may feed there in winter. If old-fashioned manure is spread, then Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, and a few Lapland Longspurs may visit to feed. And if they are quick about it, Horned Larks might nest on the bare dirt before farmers get too active there. Pesticides used on corn affects insects, birds, and aquatic animals beyond the fields. What is the corn used for? Regulations require ethanol to be added to gasoline. Ethanol is easy to make from corn, so lots of corn goes there, which helps keep corn prices high and lots of land in corn, even though corn takes so much energy to produce, what with pesticides & fertilizers & machines, that adding ethanol from corn increases the carbon footprint of the gasoline. Maybe the sway of corn-producing states, especially Iowa with its early caucus, is some of the politics Carl mentioned. Another big use of corn is for high-fructose corn syrup, a cheap sweetener which is a big ingredient of many processed foods and beverages, and which has been implicated in our epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Again, politics may sway how health is studied and the public is informed. Another big use of corn is feed for livestock. While I enjoy eating meat, cheese, yogurt, butter, ice cream, and eggs, I also know that foods which are higher on the food chain, especially cattle, take an awful lot of energy and water to produce, and in many cases produce a lot of pollution. I don’t need lots of meat, not every day. And what I eat doesn’t need to be totally dependent on corn. I can eat local pork and eggs which are produced with less negative impact on wildlife, the environment, and the climate. And if you eat dairy, wouldn’t you prefer to support a farm where the family appreciates birds, practices farming in a way that allows them to accrue a yard list of over 200 species, and welcomes the birding public to appreciate the rarities such as the Say’s Phoebe, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and Yellow Rail that chose to visit? I’m talking about the Troyers’ Birdsong Meadow Farm in Candor. They have pastures and hayfields, where they reserve space for a thriving colony of Bobolinks, but they don’t feed their cows corn at all. The Troyer farm’s milk goes to Organic Valley, in case you want to support conscientious bird-friendly farming. 

But if a corn field, which uses lots of energy, and depletes topsoil, and often results in erosion, and produces plenty of pesticide pollution, and has dubious societal benefit, gets taken out of corn production, should it also be taken out of biology by installing a huge solar array? Seneca Meadows shows that, with effort, corn fields can return to exceptional wildlife habitat. Similarly, Montezuma Wetlands Complex is on land that was once the vast Montezuma Marshes which were a big barrier to building the Erie Canal, then were drained and used as farm land (potatoes, then corn in my memory) with dikes & channels to deliberately flood & drain the fields. Former corn fields still have potential for birds. 

What are the solar arrays erected instead of, in terms of energy sources? If it’s burning coal or petroleum, or gas from the ground, those energy sources add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere directly at large scale through burning. There is tremendous land destruction and water pollution and air pollution from mining and washing coal, and dealing with the leftover ash and the mining wastes. It turns out that newly exposed rock is not benign; it has elements exposed and chemicals produced which are toxic. Likewise, be happy you don’t live where petroleum is produced, or shipped, or refined, because those places are toxic. Much petroleum nowadays, like much gas mining, is extracted by fracking, which involves pumping chemicals into the ground at high pressure in order fracture the rock. Those liquids come back up even more toxic, saline, and radioactive but must be “disposed of” somewhere. Dumped? Spread on roads to melt ice? Sent to a wastewater treatment plant that was designed only for digesting human feces? Some of the fracking chemicals make the groundwater unsafe to drink. And some of the gases being mined leak into the groundwater or out of the ground or leak out of systems designed to collect and contain them. In some cases those gases are not what is being sought, so they are deliberately vented or burned. Problem is, those gases are themselves greenhouse gases, particularly methane, which is over 80 times stronger of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So, what advertisers quaintly named “natural” gas is anathema to nature. We know that the addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere has caused the rising atmospheric temperature, among other deleterious effects too numerous to list here (but Alicia made a good start!), and those effects are in the process of moving and removing bird habitats at an unprecedented pace. So, we’re trying to weigh big negative consequences of large-scale, popular fossil fuel use, consequences which are easy to overlook, because they are either in someone else’s backyard, or they are everywhere but gradual. 

Other energy sources include nuclear. I think the same PR people who coined the lie “clean coal” also were hired by the nuclear industry. Technically, a nuclear power plant isn’t spewing carbon dioxide as it’s main product, but it uses plenty of energy, much of which does spew CO2, and it has radioactive waste which, in the time scale of human civilization, never goes away. The trail of radioactive waste starts when & where uranium is mined. The Native Americans who were “given” the apparent wasteland where that mining later occurred now have pollution on their land, in their air, and in their desert water, and they have a high cancer rate. 

Natural uranium is only 0.72% U-235, the rest being U-238, but it must be 2% to 5% U-235 to be used in a typical nuclear power plant (and much higher for weapons). This means that the great majority of the mined uranium, (the U-238 which has been “depleted” of some of it’s accompanying U-235) would be waste. As of 2020 about 2 million tons of it had accumulated. But the military found a use for the incredibly dense metallic form. Ask the folks in Iraq about living where depleted uranium shells and bullets were used. When they impact, they damage what they hit, then the shattered uranium spontaneously burns when the bits are exposed to air, and being a heavy metal, its oxide is toxic. And the process for “enriching” the uranium for use in power plants uses a quarter of the energy that the power plant would make (much more for weapons), and uses fluorine, whose compounds are highly toxic and very powerful greenhouse gases. Everything used during every step becomes radioactive waste. What’s left over after use in a power plant is a much more diverse mess that we haven’t figured out what to do with, so it accumulates in pools of water on site at power plants. 

Hydropower sounds cool unless you live in the valley that is being flooded or care about the fish who breed there or streamside habitats. 

I happen to think wind turbines are beautiful, and one can farm among them, but I don’t live next to one, and I’ve heard that many people don’t want to. Certainly the idea of a blade flying off is scary. Do wind turbines kill birds? Yes. How many? Hard to tell. I once tried to help Bill Evans look for dead birds below a tall radio tower after a foggy night during migration. If you think seeing a warbler in a leafy tree is hard, try looking for it when you have no clues from sound, movement, habitat, shape, color, or pattern. The dead birds had fallen randomly in the weeds below the guy wires. They looked like bits of fluff because their contour feathers were completely disheveled in odd positions that often obscured the wings & head. We arrived early in the morning, hoping to find them before the knowledgeable local scavengers, such as skunks, foxes, and crows. Some wind turbines are erected in the ocean. I doubt that the remains of long-lived, slow-reproducing birds such Puffins would be found below a wind turbine at sea. 

My point is that, while fossil fuel use is rapidly wrecking the climate in numerous ways for people and for birds and for lots more things which we care about, at the same time all energy sources when scaled up have scaled up downsides, and few of us would want to live where any one of those energy sources was about to be added. Furthermore, just adding solar arrays doesn’t actually help the fight against climate change. To fight climate change we need to stop using fossil fuels. And we haven’t been doing that. 

Look at the Keeling Curve. That’s the continuous record of atmospheric CO2 since 1958. It records the biosphere breathing. The CO2 level falls a few parts per million every year in spring and summer as the plants in the northern hemisphere photosynthesize, then the CO2 level rises in autumn and winter as decay takes over. But every single year the rise has been a little more than the drop. The yearly averages form a smooth upward curve. It was below 320ppm in 1958 and this year it’s poised to cross 420ppm. The amount of atmospheric CO2 has risen by over 50% since the start of the Industrial Revolution and mass coal use, but it’s risen by about a third just in my lifetime. We’ve had at least 35 years of public awareness of fossil fuels, greenhouse gases, climate change, and predictions of problems becoming reality, alongside a steady disinformation campaign by the fossil fuel industry, who still rake in record profits, despite renewable energy now being less expensive than fossil fuels. What’s our current situation? According to a report from NOAA last November, we have barely slowed the *increase* in the emissions of CO2.

According to that report, “Land use changes, especially deforestation, are a significant source of CO2 emissions - equivalent to about a tenth of the amount of CO2 coming from fossil fuel emissions.” In this annual carbon accounting, “Planting new forests counterbalances half the deforestation.” So, while planting trees is good, we are a very long way from addressing the CO2 emissions from fossil fuels by planting trees. We would need to increase that effort twenty-fold. 

The ocean will only absorb a fraction of atmospheric CO2, and the report says, “the ocean’s capacity to be a sink is finite”. Furthermore, it says that warming of the water is reducing its ability to absorb CO2. 

Because all types of large scale energy production are destructive, I think we should do all we can, both personally, by encouraging others, and by promoting policies, to increase energy efficiency, and to reduce energy use. And because fossil fuels are driving climate change, we need to stop using them. 

So, yes, solar arrays are ugly, and I’d rather there be land that housed a diversity of birds. But all the other non-fossil-fuel options seemed worse, so I get my electricity from a local solar array. At least my energy use is solar on a net basis. And I conserve, with a well-insulated house that doesn’t even connect to gas. My car uses fossil fuel, but it is very efficient, and I rarely use it. I bicycle and walk for local trips. My birding by car is limited. I drove to Troyer’s to see the spectacular Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, rationalizing that I may never go to its home in Texas, despite how attractive Texas birds are to me. Otherwise most of my limited car-birding is also car-pooling. It’s good to get to know the local neighborhood birds well. And to appreciate that traveling longer distances is a luxury with costs to the things we would travel for. Keep checking and eventually a rare or novel bird will come to you, like that Little Gull I found by the Red Lighthouse, or a new year-yard bird like the Eastern Kingbird that distracted me while I was writing this. 

- - Dave Nutter

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