Wind turbines are a good thing for birds

Numerous apologists for President Trump have responded negatively to my last article, on the administration’s decision not to enforce the law when it comes to incidental deaths of migratory birds. One writer criticized me for not mentioning that wind turbines also kill birds. I fully support wind turbines; they kill far fewer birds than the alternative, which leads to more oil spills and more climate change.

What birds get from our investment in turbines is eventual freedom from foreign oil and associated tanker spills. They also get a reduction in our need to drill offshore and ruin their breeding beaches with the next Deepwater Horizon blowout, and reduced carbon dioxide production leading to slower climate warming. Let’s not forget the reduced mercury in our air and oceans from burning coal. While turbines kill some birds, they improve the prospects of far more.

The rotating blades of the nation’s wind turbines kill at least 200,000 birds a year. That sounds bad, and it will be great when developers cease locating wind farms in areas that are bird migration corridors. But this number of birds is insignificant compared to the numbers of birds killed by other causes each year. In fact, nearly as many birds are killed during the annual mowing of hay in this country. About 200 million birds are killed by cars. More than 100 million collide with windows. Cellphone and other towers kill an additional 6 million. And all of this mortality is dwarfed by the carnage wrought by cats, which kill approximately 1 billion North American birds a year.

It doesn’t help the 200,000 killed by wind turbines, but in terms of effects on populations of birds, wind energy is overall beneficial. And the number of birds killed is relatively small when one considers all human-caused mortality.

Those who benefit from the fossil fuel status quo love to accuse environmentalists of being hypocrites for supporting both birds and wind energy. It does take a few moments of thought to comprehend how something that kills 200,000 birds a year can actually be beneficial to them. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Of course, turbines can be improved, and wind farms should be budgeted and planned with birds in mind. But the alternatives to wind energy kill far more birds.

The bird mortality from the energy sector is only a tiny fraction of the human-caused bird deaths each year. But many of these are preventable deaths and so we should apply the laws that punish those who carelessly kill birds. This is why I believe the administration should follow the law and enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

I stand by my claim that President Trump and the Republican party’s environmental policies are bad for birds. If you disagree, you could consider supporting your position with facts and logic, rather than calling me a coward or ignorant for stating facts about our unpopular president.

Cristol teaches in the Biology Department at the College of William and Mary and can be contacted at dacris@wm.edu. To discover local birding opportunities visit williamsburgbirdclub.org.

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