Our student paper printed this article on how arguments against wind are overblown. For interested students, I will be going into the gory details in Eco 238, so will not rehash all of the economics of wind here. I’ll sporadically return to this piece in between my puppy drownings and coal burning rituals, but here is one particularly interesting assessment:
On the issue of bird mortality, the statistics reported last week were absolutely incorrect. FWS reports that wind turbines account for 33,000 bird deaths per year, significantly lower than the 500,000 claimed last week. To put this in perspective, turbine collisions account for 0.003 percent of bird deaths caused by humans. Pets, power lines, pesticides, automobiles and communication towers, on the other hand, each contribute several million deaths per year — power lines alone are estimated to contribute 130 million deaths per year; pesticides come second at 70 million
I like to put the arguments like this in their best possible light. The article this one is responding to made the claim that windmills are like cuisinarts, chopping up birds and bats. That is true to some extent, but the author here is correct that the common claims seem to be overblown. However, the irony of having an “E’nvironmentalist play “comparison games” about all the things that kill wildlife is pretty disturbing. It used to be the case that all life was sacred, that no tradeoffs when it comes to the environment are OK (evidence for that view is actually at the bottom of this very piece) but now when it comes to the darling of green subsidies, wind, then well, tradeoffs are OK. Windmills kill fewer birds than other things, so they’re OK? Pardon me for getting a headache.
But that’s not really the irony here. The irony is that when some birds were shown to have been killed over the oil sands of North Dakota, the “E”nvironmentalists had a conniption, although those magnitudes are far smaller than the small wind ones. But that’s not really the irony that I care about. That would be, like, so 6th grade, and like, so, uh, yeah, anti-science.
The irony is in the very data that the author uses to “defend” his point. What is that? I’ll repeat it clearly:
— power lines alone are estimated to contribute 130 million deaths per year; pesticides come second at 70 million
Ding dong. Game over. One of the major drawbacks of wind is that the places where the wind blows occurs far from the places where the electricity is needed. In other words, rolling out even a modest proportion of the electricity grid as wind would require a massive expansion of high voltage transmission lines all across the country, including in places birds and bats like to migrate and live. If power lines are the major killers of birds, and if producing “safe” windmills requires massive expansions in the power grid, then we should be utterly aghast at the development of wind power on the very claims that this author is trying to make. To say that windmills, therefore, don’t kill birds is like saying that alcohol doesn’t kill people in drunk driving accidents. Sure, the alcohol itself does not do it …
Of course, the author ends the piece with the usual green-washed flourish, that he, the so-enlightened one is just speaking truth to power, just working with the actual science, while the rest of us are tossing virgins into volcanoes:
Ultimately, wind energy on a large scale should be judged based on scientific studies, common sense and a healthy concern for future generations — not on outdated concerns and misreported statistics. To continue to present unfounded arguments from decades past — promoted in large part by big oil interests — and to dismiss the opportunity to secure a future powered by sustainable energy practices is a travesty. I, for one, believe in progress, and I will not be content with harmful, archaic fossil fuel practices.
And that’s not even the half of it. But this post is already too long, and I’ve got a class to go indoctrinate teach.