Took a crash to get me to resurface? Sort of.

So. That plane crash from this morning. I don’t usually write about current events because I don’t honestly feel like I have anything unique or particularly insightful to contribute to the Internet cauldron of things millions of other people are already saying about them– but I was listening to NPR tonight and this female host was talking to some expert dude about how it looked like the plane malfunction was caused by a collision with a flock of geese, and as a matter of fact, Mr. Facts and Figures, isn’t it true that there have been approximately 200 (!) fatalities due to birds flying into plane engines?

Whereupon Mr. Facts and Figures was all, why yes! It’s true! But what’s more, birds cause over one-point-blah-blah-blah BILLION dollars EVERY YEAR in damage to the aircrafts!

And, okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating (or unintentionally fabricating) their levels of indignity and outrage, but the general feel of the conversation was along the lines of, how dare these birds be flying in our airspace! As if it’s their god-given right to be flapping their little wings and moving through the sky of their own accord and free will!

Birds have been responsible for 200 deaths. Human deaths. Two hundred deaths of individual members of the species that was responsible for the *extinction* [1] of the passenger pigeon and possibly four other bird species [2]. Or consider:

…On the morning of January 23, 1998… [Lapland longspurs] were easy to see in Syracuse, Kansas, because nearly 10,000 were lying frozen on the ground. During a storm the previous evening, a flock crashed into a cluster of radio-transmission towers. In the fog and blowing snow, the only things visible were red, blinking lights, and the longspurs apparently headed for them.

…By 2005, there were 175,000 of [the radio towers]. Their addition would raise the annual toll to half a billion dead birds– except that this number was still based on scant data and guesses, because scavengers get to most feathered victims before they’re found.

In separate studies, two U.S. federal agencies estimate that 60 to 80 million birds also annually end up in radiator grilles or as smears on windshields of vehicles racing down highways…

Klem’s 1990 estimate was 100 million annual bird necks broken from flying into glass [windows]. He now believes that 10 times that many– 1 billion in the United States alons– is probably too conservative. There are about 20 billion total birds in North America. With another 120 million taken each year by hunting… these numbers begin to add up.

("The World Without Us", Alan Weisman, pp. 246-250)

Which isn’t to say that a bird’s life is worth the same as a human’s life; that’s not the point I’m trying to make. It’s just that, before we get all up in arms over how much damage birds have done to us, consider the damage we’ve done to them. Consider, even, the fact that the birds who collide with these planes are only doing what birds do– that is, fly– whereas we-the-humans are doing what we were never born to do. We are bipeds, made for the earth. The only reason we find ourselves traveling through the sky or swimming through coral reefs is because of airplanes and scuba gear. And, again, I’m not knocking technology. I love technology and I whole-heartedly believe that the scientific achievements of man have made life more enjoyable and quite likely even more meaningful for us on a myriad of levels; however, much of our technology is an act of defiance against nature, so how can we be shocked to learn that our way of life is not congruous to the rest of the natural planet’s?

I just worry about what the reaction to today’s incident will be. Maybe there won’t be one at all, and it’ll just be a one-day headline– maybe today was an otherwise extremely slow day, and that’s why the news media were so obsessed with this particular story. But remember when the Crocodile dude died and people were suddenly all anti-stingrays? Kottke had a tongue-in-cheek update on Twitter about a "war on geese", but man. How surprised would I *not* be if today sparked an anti-avian revolution, with mass-genocide of birds in an attempt to keep our friendly skies free and clear of those feathery missles of death.

[1] Yes, I’m aware of the Darwinian something-something that states that all species eventually go extinct because it’s a natural progression/stage in evolution. But he was talking naturally. It is not a natural extinction when a species is overhunted by unnatural predators past the point of no return.

[2] I didn’t look into what caused the extinction of those other four species, though I could easily assume that human civilizations were responsible.

[edit: That NPR conversation was held between Melissa Block and Richard Harris. Also, according to this MetaFilter discussion, those 200 deaths were counted from 1988 and the figure for annual damage is $1.2 billion.]


4 thoughts on “Took a crash to get me to resurface? Sort of.

  1. I’m sooo with you on this. Human beings are all about ourselves as a general rule, and we neglect other living things in order to justify our own actions/lifestyles. It’s a damn shame.

  2. It’s a part of human evolution to develop stuff to kill and eat these natural beings. It’s our natural….
    What does “natural” actually mean?
    I had a thought today where I want all my foods to be in-organic and include tons of pesticide. At least I know there were no bugs in my food. Is that natural?

  3. Eeek, I was totally on the “I-hate-birds” train after hearing about this crash.
    Flying absolutely terrifies me. I do it so often. A trip overseas is a ridiculous ordeal for me — eleven or fourteen hours of sheer terror, with no sleep, and white knuckles.
    Maybe I wasn’t so much on the “I-hate-birds” train, but I was on the “OH-MY-GOD, BIRDS CAN BRING DOWN A PLANE?!” train. As if lightning storms, ice storms, malfunctioning landing gear, drunk pilots, etc. aren’t enough to worry about.

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