From: Luke Dale-Harris, Ecologist, More from this Affiliate
Published March 27, 2013 01:55 PM

The Hidden Conservation Costs of Renewable Energy

Ecologist writer Luke Dale-Harris questions the ability of Natura 2000 to work as an effective environmental regulator.

The birds that migrate freely across Europe are unaware of the invisible borders that lie below them. They follow the same routes that have carried them to warmth every year for an eternity, marked out by the indomitable features of the landscape - the coast of the Atlantic on one side and the curve of the Carpathian Mountains on the other. But it is what they miss that matters most; their future, along with that of the rest of us, is dictated by the political and economic tides that shift shape across the continent.

In this day, with growth and progress honoured above all else, the natural world is at the mercy of human endeavour. Allowed to run its course, the open market will drain the land of all life over and above what is fundamental for its own survival. The more fragile and economically superfluous species of the world - the lynxes and lesser spotted eagles, right down to the field cricket or river jelly lichen - remain only for as long as we consider their existence a moral imperative, and their extinction as a cause for shame. It is this that drives conservation.

 

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But shame and morality are, of course, culturally relative, and fickle even then. Nature however, is not. Successful conservation programs, for airborne and water bound species in particular, require policies that stretch beyond national borders and legislation that draws from the same rule book across the board.

It is argued that only an overarching governing body, funded from across the European continent and traceable back to a supreme court, can implement the far reaching conservation programs needed to have a genuine impact.

This is the same logic that has, in theory, steered Europe’s environmental policies from the beginning. From the creation of the Birds Directive in 1979, through to the Habitats Directive and finally the combined network of over 26,000 protected sites held together as Natura 2000, the idea that our wildlife is a shared heritage and thus its protection requires international cooperation has been a central premise.

But nature conservation was a long way from the thoughts of the original Six at the treaty of Paris in 1951 as they drew out the terms of the European Coal and Steel community, the alliance that would go on to form the backbone of the European Union. Emerging out of a continent torn apart by war and hampered by decades of recession, peace was the Union’s founding principle, and economic growth and prosperity its scaffolding.

Today, over 60 years on, that scaffolding bows under its own weight as, in a beautiful irony, the reckless pursuit of growth threatens to bring the very structure it was intended to support to its knees. Now inexorably tied to its path, the environmental policies of the EU are, in general, designed to mitigate the side effects of a feral economy, while putting as little obstruction as possible in its way. Environmental protection, from renewable energy through to biodiversity, has to walk the uneasy line between being profitable, and being effective.

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