the weight

Our best known environmental group, ‘Save The River,’ is out with a call for a three year moratorium on wind development along the upper St. Lawrence River.

Writing the story for our web site Thursday, I was struck by one phrase in Save The River’s press release:

A precautionary approach is the only way to ensure that the St. Lawrence River ecosystem remains vibrant and healthy.

Of course, the phrase ‘precautionary approach’ immediately reminded me of the larger environmental community, and the decision to put all the weight of decision making on the side of potential harm to the ecology, and very little to the questions of – how realistic is that potential? Am I giving up anything in order to be absolutely safe from the possibility of harm?

(I wrote about the issue of the ‘precautionary principle’ here.)

Save The River understands this is a tough issue for an environmental group to navigate, noting:

…Save The River is keenly aware of the need for effective solutions to climate change, and supports efforts to shift to renewable energy sources in general.


Without a full picture of the impacts of wind energy development along the upper St. Lawrence River, it is irresponsible to move forward with the wind projects currently in development at this time…

Save The River’s doubts arise from a wind power project on Wolfe Island, on the Canadian side of the river. The group cites reports of 1,270 bats being killed during a six month period, and “several experts have voiced concerns that the bird mortality is on target to be among the highest in North America.”

What is missing, to my eye at least, is context. Are 1,270 bats a lot? It would seem so, but I don’t know. And if bird mortality is “on target to be among the highest,” I’m interested in what “highest” means. Is it among wind power projects?  All power plants? How do the absolute numbers compare to, say, the bird kill around other organized human spaces like airports and downtowns?

And is there another side to the issue worth considering? Would we lose anything worth having with a three year moratorium? To put the worst face on it, how much more coal will we burn as a result of not having these wind projects?

Although wind power strikes me as a good idea in the abstract, I have no idea whether it is even remotely practical and so far, it seems like a lot of work, a lot of stuff for what we get out of it.  But I wonder why we are not more interested in balancing risk, or what we might find out if we did.


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