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Eagles and the harsh realities of sustainable energy

ESI Energy, a subsidiary of NextEra energy in Wyoming, pleaded guilty to killing 150 bald and golden eagles with wind turbines, according to the New York Times. The company owes $8 million in fines and restitution. While bald eagles are known for facing extinction and gradually growing back up in numbers, growing concerns of lead poisoning are causing bald eagle numbers to fall again, and these wind turbines certainly do not help conservation efforts.

Although 150 dead eagles are no cause for national uproar, this lawsuit does bring up questions about sustainable energy and how humans might still be harming the nature around us — even if we think we are saving it. If wind turbines are killing birds, are they really sustainable?

When we think about sustainable energy, wind, water, and solar power come to mind. Some of us think fondly of Denmark’s cute wind turbines or even Big Ole itself. However, these saviors might not be as innocent as we think.

Wind turbines threaten flying wildlife, but they can also fragment natural habitats like prairies. Water power like reservoirs and dams drastically changes the environment of the rivers it is built on, and this can result in changes to river flow, water temperature, and sediment build-up. This can easily kill fish and other wildlife. And don’t even get me started on solar power! Have you seen how ugly and destructive a field of solar panels is? Solar panels are the definition of reverse sustainable energy.

But if these common methods of sustainable energy aren’t actually sustainable, then we should come up with something new, right? I don’t think that’s possible. We humans keep coming up with solutions to problems we create, but we are still thinking through our problematic lens, so all of our solutions are polluted by our perspectives. Think about it— instead of causing oil spills in the Gulf, we destroy entire river ecosystems with water power. These are both equally bad for underwater wildlife — there is no difference in perspective, only in how good we feel about ourselves.

The perspective that is muddying our waters is capitalism. This isn’t a hot take, but I want to use capitalism in a broader cultural sense than just through economics. Yes, money is the root of all evil, but we created money because of our desire to own and take things.

For what it’s worth, I do think that sustainable energy is better than oil spills, but we will never be able to escape climate change with this capitalistic perspective. This is the perspective that drives us to make war, pay unlivable wages, and deport immigrants from land that isn’t ours to begin with.

Our first step is accepting defeat and turning towards experts. And no, I don’t necessarily mean scientific experts. Before European colonizers came to the U.S., Indigenous people lived in a symbiotic relationship with the land. Indigenous people know true sustainability on this soil, and we need to listen to their efforts in the environmentalism movement, especially in Minnesota, where Line 3 and other environmental atrocities are happening.

Western methods of sustainability are not actually sustainable. We need to give up this false belief that we can overcome the damage we’ve done using the same methods over and over again. It’s time to give up our perspective and listen to somebody else for a change.

Karen Larionova is from Eden Prairie, Minn.

Her majors are English, Education, and Russian.