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|November 18, 2003||Posted by Staff under The Progress Report|
Wind Power — A Superior Alternative
If You Love Birds, Support Wind Power
Terrorists, oil corporations and politicians are trying to keep Americans enslaved to foreign oil and the most polluting energy sources. There are superior alternatives.
Here is a guest article from an environmental leader, addressing the concerns that some have about possible drawbacks of wind power.
Confessions of a bird lover
Without wind farms, world’s bird populations are headed for a huge crash, probable mass extinctions
by Mike Tidwell
Recently in Maryland there have been some wildly exaggerated concerns and wholly unsupported claims about projected wind farm impacts on birds in West Virginia, Maryland and across the globe. As an avid lifelong birder who has written two books devoted in large part to habitat loss and other threats to birds in this hemisphere (Amazon Stranger, 1996/Bayou Farewell, 2003); and as a 2003 recipient of an Audubon Naturalist Society “Conservation” award for my work promoting clean energy, I want to address some of these concerns.
The point I want to stress is that the current and projected cumulative impacts of wind turbines in America on bird populations is amazingly low, while the ecological crisis wind power addresses — rapid global warming — is the ultimate threat to all birds everywhere. Indeed, according to a rapidly growing group of preeminent climate scientists and other observers, global warming could bring the extinction of a wide range of bird species worldwide within our lifetimes.
“The choice is not between wind power and unspoiled nature. The choice is between wind power and the destruction of the world’s biology.” — Bill McKibben
The truth about birds and wind power
First, a few facts. There are about 15,000 wind turbines in America today and they cause roughly 33,000 documented bird fatalities per year, according to the National Wind Coordinating Committee (a consensus group of environmentalists, utilities, wind companies, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and others). That’s just 2.2 fatalities per year per turbine. For some perspective, cats kill one billion birds annually just in the U.S. (Worldwatch Institute) and pesticides kill 67 million U.S. birds per year (American Bird Conservancy). Given the extremely low fatality rate from wind turbines, even if America got half of its entire electricity from wind power, the annual cumulative bird fatalities would be around one half of one percent of what U.S. cats kill each year!
It is this extremely low fatality rate that has allowed so many environmental organizations to enthusiastically support properly sited wind farms in our region (Montgomery County Sierra Club, MaryPIRG, Maryland Interfaith Climate Alliance, Chesapeake Climate Action Network) and nationally (Natural Resources Defense Council, World Wildlife Fund, National Sierra Club, League of Women Voters). Also, Bill McKibben, whose integrity and sensitivity to ecological concerns is second to none among U.S. environmentalists, has just given wind power an extraordinarily passionate endorsement in Orion magazine. (See the Progress Report’s reprint here.)
Europeans, who are generally much more environmentally minded than Americans, are moving forward rapidly with wind farms both offshore and on land. Denmark will soon get 50 percent of its electricity from wind and Ireland is building an offshore wind park that will generate 10 percent of the nation’s electricity.
But what about birds in our Appalachian Mountains?
Despite the proliferation of bird-safe wind power worldwide, there is still a small group of critics who make amazingly unsubstantiated claims that wind farms in the Appalachian mountain region of Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania will kill “tens of thousands of migratory birds.”
Well, let’s look at the evidence from the only Appalachian ridge top wind farm so far constructed in our region: The “Mountaineer” project on Backbone Mountain West Virginia. The 44 turbines of this farm have been in constant operation since December 2002. The number of documented bird kills so far? Thirty! That’s all. And 27 of those came on one of the foggiest nights every recorded in the region, May 23rd, when 100 cars piled up in western Maryland killing two people and injuring dozens more. So even under the worst possible conditions, and at the height of the spring bird migration, only 27 birds were confirmed killed and virtually all the birds struck just two windmills close to which a bird-attracting light had been improperly left on near a substation. Without the light, there’s a good chance no fatalities would have occurred or the fatalities would have been much, much lower.
But, the wind critics say, there could soon be wind projects all over our Maryland mountain ridges, “industrial wind facilities” run wild, with no adequate standards for placement and insufficient study of potential bird impacts.
Sadly, this too is a gross exaggeration. Last fall, with the firm support of avid bird defenders like myself, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources developed a binding set of 21 conditions strictly governing the siting of wind farms in the state so as to carefully mitigate impacts on birds and other wildlife while providing various additional safeguards. As a result, Maryland now has the distinction of having some of the toughest environmental standards for wind farms in the country. This is something we can all be proud of.
Nonetheless, the small group of Maryland wind critics have found it necessary to join critics in other states in appealing to an unlikely ally, the Bush administration, in applying even more regulations on wind farms. Of course, wind power competes with the oil and coal interests championed by Bush, and the wind industry does infinitely less harm to the environment (including birds) than Bush’s favored friends in the fossil fuel business. Obviously, the opportunities for political manipulation of wind farm laws by Bush ideologues, who care nothing about global warming and who instead favor wars in Iraq for oil and decapitating mountains in West Virginia for coal, stands as a real threat. The conflict of interest couldn’t be greater.
The real bird killer: Global warming
As a vocal minority fights wind farms nationwide based on NIMBY-istic “visual impacts” fears and exaggerated bird concerns, the planet continues to bake. Anyone who asserts that climate change isn’t happening or is happening slowly enough that we can take our time switching to renewable energy, simply isn’t following the science.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the largest body of scientists ever brought together to study a single issue, projects that the planet will warm between three and ten degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 unless we switch to clean energy very, very soon. Even the oil-dominated Bush administration has produced two major reports (sadly ignored) confirming the IPCC’s assessment.
Even under mid-range warming, the impacts on birds due to habitat loss will be staggering. Projected sea-level rise of 1-3 feet will drown millions of acres of Louisiana wetlands that serve as critical habitat for millions of the same migratory birds that so concern wind critics in Maryland. Similar devastation will come to the Chesapeake Bay marshes where the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge has already lost 30 percent of its bird habitat to sea-level rise in the 20th century. Then there’s the projected drying up of prairie “pothole” wetlands so critical to migratory ducks all across the Great Plains. And this is to say nothing of impacts from more frequent and severe droughts, floods, hurricanes and forest fires – all projected by the IPCC. (To read the IPCC’s historic “Third Assessment Report,” go to www.ipcc.ch)
The challenge is clear
Clearly, as Bill McKibben recently wrote: “The choice is not between wind power and unspoiled nature. The choice is between wind power and the destruction of the world’s biology.”
The challenge is clear. We must end our deep denial about the deepening reality of global warming and its impacts. We must instead embrace the full promise of clean, renewable wind power as both the savior of the birds we love and the savior of ourselves.
Mike Tidwell is director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network based in Takoma Park, Maryland.
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