Should the Precautionary Principle Shut Down Wind Turbines?

By Keith Kloor | November 18, 2013 11:14 am

wind-turbinesIn 2012 Scientific American asked:

Are Wind Turbines Getting More Bird and Bat-Friendly?

In case you weren’t aware, wind energy has an ecological downside that’s hasn’t yet been smoothed out. As AP reporter Dina Cappiello wrote earlier this year, “the green industry is allowed to do not so green things”:

It kills protected species with impunity and conceals the environmental consequences of sprawling wind farms.

More than 573,000 birds are killed by the country’s wind farms each year, including 83,000 hunting birds such as hawks, falcons and eagles, according to an estimate published in March in the peer-reviewed Wildlife Society Bulletin.

Now, before I go any further, it’s important to note that cats are way bigger bird killers than wind turbines (taking out an estimated 2.4 billion birds per year in the U.S.). That said, the question of whether the wind industry is being kinder to wildlife is a pertinent one. And one answer, according to research published in the December issue of Bioscience is no. A new study concludes that in 2012 “over 600,000 bats may have died as a result of interactions with wind turbines.” Why is this important and how are the bats dying? From the Bioscience press release:

 

Bats, although not widely loved, play an important role in the ecosystem as insect-eaters, and also pollinate some plants. They are killed at wind turbines not only by collisions with moving turbine blades, but also by the trauma resulting from sudden changes in air pressure that occur near a fast-moving blade.

The study was reported on in several mainstream media outlets, such as CBS News and the Los Angeles Times, but overall, coverage has been pretty sparse. Even more curious: Green (and renewable-energy) friendly outlets have ignored the eye-opening finding altogether. As of this writing, I don’t see any stories at the Guardian, Mother Jones, Grist el al. (Maybe Grist thinks it’s an old story, since they wrote about the issue in 2005.) The Bioscience study was officially released on November 8.

Anyway, none of this is to argue against wind energy. There is no such thing as a zero-impact energy source.

However, if a study had found that nuclear power or oil & gas was responsible for more than 600,000 bat deaths a year, do you think green-friendly journalists would have picked up on it?

One last point. We hear a lot from environmentalists about the importance of the precautionary principle, which, according to a consortium of green organizations, states that

when an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.

If you follow environmental debates, you know that the precautionary principle is often invoked as a rationale to halt or restrict new technologies. Well, by now it’s pretty clear that wind turbines pose a major threat to vital ecological species. It’s not even hypothetical. Scientific evidence shows that wind energy is harmful to wildlife. So do we shut down all the spinning blades until they are proven safe for birds and bats?

Just wondering.

 

Image credit: pedrosala/Shutterstock

  • mem_somerville

    I was seeing yesterday that they post a threat to World Heritage Sites too:

    French plans for more wind farms fans controversy

    “We can speak of biodiversity, but there is also the diversity of landscapes to consider,” he said.

    UNESCO even sent, for the first time, an expert group to study the potential damage to the landscape that a wind farm would have had at Mont Saint Michel, which attracts about 2.5 million tourists a year.

    If we are going to bundle in a bunch of other stuff that’s not science (as the folks who accuse scientists of “scientism” are always shouting), they also have to consider this, right?

    Just wondering too.

    • Ketan Joshi

      Wind farms are popular tourist attractions around the world (and, none of the people visiting them seem susceptible to ‘wind turbine syndrome’) -> looked at ratings from TripAdvisor, here: http://etwasluft.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/wind-farm-tourists-inexplicably-immune.html

      • Tom

        I doubt that anyone would go to see a wind project more than once.In Britain tourist centers were built at many wind farms a few years back – I don’t think one of them lasted more than a year –
        not enough people visited to justify keeping them open.
        Also the vast majority of people will not
        experience “wind turbine syndrome”
        during a half hour visit – it is the unfortunate individuals who live close to or in the wind projects. Some get sick almost immediately and for some it takes months. Just be thankfull you are not one of thes people – I know I am.

        • Ketan Joshi

          I see wind farm opponents have found this thread, and are going on a petty, small-minded down-voting crusade on my posts. Presuming you have more than two digits in your age, it’s pretty infantile.

          21,663 residents live full time within five kilometres of wind farms in Australia. What percentage of this group do you think of have complained of health impacts?

          • myview1872

            Wind turbines are ineffective at producing electricity when we need it. That should be more than enough reason to stop building them. Bird kills are another.

          • Ketan Joshi

            You didn’t answer the question. Of the 21,663 residents living within five kilometres of wind farms in Australia, what percentage do you expect to complain of health impacts?

          • Ketan Joshi

            You down vote as an expression of anonymous attack on a person whose ideas you loathe. It gives you a little spurt of joy and power, but you do it at the expense of the discussion as a whole, which would benefit from abusive, idiotic or repetitive arguments being downvoted, rather than ones you ‘disagree with’.

          • myview1872

            I down vote because I disagree. Isn’t that what the down vote is for?

          • Ketan Joshi

            It’s for whatever you want it to be. You choose to make it something counter-productive.

          • myview1872

            If the question shows obvious bias, then yes, it deserves a down vote.

            In answer to your question, I’m going to ask you one: What do you consider to be an acceptable percentage if some people are experiencing health issues? In my opinion, no percentage is acceptable.

          • Ketan Joshi

            I’m biased, I admit that regularly. I don’t think that disqualifies me from participating in discussion, and in and of itself, I don’t feel that automatically qualifies me for down-votes.

            And again, you’re distracting from the question. The question I posed is one of actual impact, not ‘acceptable impact’. Of the 21,663 people who live within five kilometres of wind farms, what percentage do you expect to complain of ‘wind turbine syndrome’?

          • myview1872

            Yes, you are biased. So am I. I don’t have a breakdown of the percentage of those who may be affected by wind turbine syndrome. Not everyone is affected but some are.

            Now answer my question: What percentage do you deem to be acceptable?

          • Ketan Joshi

            Zero percent. You’re attempting to skip over the issue of causality, and leap straight to moral culpability.

            As you well know, the percentage of people who complain of health impacts adjacent to wind turbines is precisely the same as the incidence of those ailments in a standard population. This is why you refuse to subscribe to predictions of the ‘impact’ of wind turbine syndrome -> dealing with maths is sub-optimal, for you. Pulling heart strings is much more effective.

            The real issue of moral culpability lies with those who find those people, single them out, assume medical authority, and tell them that their sickness is caused by wind turbines.

          • myview1872

            A recent study conducted by the University of Waterloo in Ontario indicate that symptoms like sleep disruption and tinnitus increases with proximity to wind turbines. It also notes that the symptoms are relieved if the affected individual leaves the turbine affected area for a few days.

            There are other studies with similar results. Dr. Nina Pierpont and Dr Sarah Laurie have also conducted research. Dr Hazel Lynn, the Chief Medical Officer of Gery-Bruce County in Ontario has done an extensive literature review and found strong evidence of causation.

            One more time …. What percentage do you deem to be acceptable?

          • Larry_Lorusso

            Actually there are many reasons why people who are impacted by IWT’s don’t complain. Being fired from their jobs, fearful of other types of retribution, and being thought of as GW denier or not green. In the end if only a few people are suffering from IWT’s that’s enough that something should be done to help them. It’s one thing to take exception to moving where is a nuisance, quite another to live some place for some time only to have a industrial power plant installed in a rural place.

          • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Fraser Macdonald

            Look at this poor clown. He’s STILL whining about down-votes. This is how he measures his life worth everyone. Ease up on this fragile little man.

          • Ketan Joshi

            Fraser,

            I’ve attached a picture of a kitten for your perusal. Please let me know what you think.

            Many thanks,
            Ketan

          • Fraser Macdonald

            Attack? Sounds like somebody has a fragile ego and a major case of victimitis. How sad.

          • Ketan Joshi

            Hi Fraser,

            Attached is a photo of a baby seal. I hope this message finds you well.

            Cheers,
            Ketan

          • Larry_Lorusso

            I live a mile from Hoosac Wind and we wake up from the noise often enough that I’d consider it more than a nuisance. Sleep deprivation does take a toll.

          • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Fraser Macdonald

            Infantile = Grown man whining about down-votes

      • Larry_Lorusso

        I visit the local wind project, but it’s to see what’s going on. Hoosac Wind is an environmental disaster, including killing bats, some of which may be endangered. terrible what has been done to the top of the mountain and the watershed has been altered dramtically.

  • mike

    yes huge wind turbines are a dumb idea. decentralizing the grid and using vertical turbines makes more sense and is much, much more eco-friendly.

  • JonFrum

    The precautionary principle is irrelevant – we already know the harm being done by wind turbines Oil companies have been given the third degree for killing a literal handful of birds in spills The Obama administration is actively conspiring to cover up bird deaths at wind farms

    The precautionary principle has nothing to do with it

  • Elias Chan-Sui

    Yes, precautionary measure should be taken. Is that the answer you were looking for? The same holds true for oil, gas and coal harvesting. The biggest problem is that the fossil fuel industry covers up the immense damage to the natural world. I would advise that you do more research in that area.

    • myview1872

      It’s hard to cover up a strip mine. That being said, the massive coverup of the damage caused by this ill-conceived notion that wind energy is ‘green’ is just as bad.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      We wouldn’t be using any energy source if the precautionary principle was followed to its logical end.

      • Elias Chan-Sui

        I think you are misrepresenting the precautionary principle in respect to what it means in this particular case. The deaths of a relatively small number of flying animals doesn’t mean that wind turbines should be banned since that effect is no more dangerous than airplanes or skyscrapers or lights. With regard to wind turbines the hazards are known and are not potentially critical. As an example in Florida the gopher turtle is protected as a keystone species. That does not mean that no one can build if they find a gopher turtle or it’s den on their property. It simply means that they need to be handled appropriately.

        Obviously if their could be valid arguments against building wind farms on a breeding site of an endangered species as can be said for other industrial advancements, but not all.

        Don’t lump one argument in with all arguments.

        • myview1872

          There are many arguments against building wind turbines. Damage to bats and birds is just one.

          Here are some others …. Wind turbines are inefficient and unreliable making it nothing more than a nuisance to the grid. There is strong evidence of human health issues related to wind turbines. Construction of wind turbines damages farm land and ecosystems. There a toxic lake in China created by mining of rare earth minerals. Every country that has pursued large-scale wind energy is now facing fast rising electricity rates and economic issue. Not one coal plant worldwide has been closed because of wind energy.

          Shall I go on?

        • Larry_Lorusso

          What if that small number of birds were the last California Condors on Earth? IWT’s projects don’t get sited properly as the amount of money involved is huge. If the only consideration is mortality rates, motor vehicles would be banned as they kill more things them guns. It’s impacts in relation to benefit. IWT’s main benefit is not reducing fossil fuel use or CO2, but realize profits through tax subsidies which so far are very lucrative. The problem being is if predictions are correct about GW, billions are being spent on IWT’s and we are still left with the same problems. We need real solutions, and the last consideration should be if it fits corporation business models or not. Residential renewable systems would reduce demand, which would lower prices and people would be more more independent. All things the large power companies fear.

    • Larry_Lorusso

      My experience has been the developers of industrial wind projects not only cover up the damages to the environment, they lie about it too!

    • bwana

      And I assume you use no modern forms of energy!?

  • jh

    Cats and bird kills:

    I suspect:

    a) Cat kills have an extremely high proportion of fast-reproducing, short-lived small birds like chickadees, robins, juncos, nuthatches, sparrows and wrens. I’m sure its rare for a cat to kill a golden eagle or a red-tail. I doubt kills of birds that reproduce rapidly and live less than a few years has a major impact on species survival.

    b) Cats are, overall, less numerous and effective at killing birds than the multitude of bird-killing species they’ve effectively replaced in the ecosystem (weasels, ‘coons, coyotes, fox, opossum).

    And it would be interesting to know:

    a)how many of those cat kills would not even exist without the abundance of food provided by humans via bird feeders.

    b)how many birds are killed or displaced by simple suburban development.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      Good questions and observations. More food for thought.

    • BlueScreenOfDeath

      Quite.

      It is also true that motor vehicles kill a great deal more people than serial killers. I wonder if the Greens who use the bird kill argument feel that by the same token it is therefore unnecessary to bother wasting resources apprehending serial killers.

  • jh

    Overall, I don’t see the bird-kill problem as a wind-killer.

    But:

    Wind, solar and other power MUST play by the same environmental rules as everyone else. That means it shouldn’t get free passes on ESA and/or EIS compliance (which it frequently does get). Nor should we overlook the other issues, like rare-earth mining (which are TOTALLY ignored by the environmental media) that are associated with both solar and wind.

    Also, it will be interesting to see how the bird issue plays out with offshore production. There are many bird species that live almost exclusively in the offshore environment and fish for a living. The impacts on these species could be devastating. Many of these species are already threatened or endangered because the tend to nest in large concentrations in just a few locations.

  • Ketan Joshi

    With regards to avian impacts, I’m not sure the precautionary principle is relevant, because as you point out, the cause and effect relationship actually *has* been established, and we know that, if placed poorly, wind developments can detrimentally impact bird life. In Australia, you can’t build a wind farm without a serious and scientific analysis of predicted avian impacts, including modelling of local species and migratory pathways, so, that way we minimise any impacts.

    The biggest misunderstanding about the precautionary principle is that if it’s invoked, you ought to ‘shut down’ the technology that might be causing harm – that’s not the case. The principle, as you quote, states that measures should be taken to mitigate any potential risk, not the shut down of the machines. Consequently, if you choose to invoke the PP, then it means there ought to be stringent and far-reaching measures to minimise the probability of avian impacts (which there are, in Australia at least)

    The other point worth considering is that the issue of avian impacts, re wind turbines, is rarely compared to the impact on bird life of other technologies, including the eventual consequences of global warming on bird species. There’s an avian ecologist here in Aus who wrote about this recently – it’s worth reading in full, but here’s a quote:

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/5046460

    “We support and endorse these monitoring and reporting requirements, but it has led to the incorrect perception that this is the only industry that has impacts. I think it’s our duty to determine the range of impacts on birds from all sources, determine which are the most significant and try to reduce them.”

    So, basically -> Yes, wind turbines can have impacts, but that doesn’t mean they ought to be shut down. And, there’s an excessive focus on wind energy, even though coal, gas and nuclear would also impact bird life.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      Points taken. However, I think you are being charitable about how precautionary principle is used by greens.

      Also, there remains, to my mind, a fair amount of uncertainty about the degree of bird and bat impacts. The recent study of 600,000 deaths is even termed conservative by the author. Maybe it’s much less, maybe much more. Until additional research is done, how do you reduce the risk, per the precautionary principle?

      • Ketan Joshi

        Nah, I agree with you, it bothers me to see the precautionary principle being clumsily deployed, whether it’s the Greens talking about GMO’s or anti-wind groups talking about wind turbines.

        There’s two important things re minimising risk of avian impact. One is making sure there are rigorous analyses performed before the site is built. The second is fairly rigourous monitoring once it’s operational.

        Those two together are standard ways of developing generation assets and minimising risk. I think you probably share my frustration in seeing the PP applied simply as a substitute for a lack of evidence.

        • Larry_Lorusso

          The problem is rigorous analysis is not being down at many sites before construction as the developers who hire the consultants and say what their employers want to hear. Recently went to a meeting and asked the bear biologist hired by Iberdrola what the possible affects to the bears. He said the only way to know is build the project and then study the bears. Hardly seems unbiased to me.

      • Larry_Lorusso

        I’ve read about how mortality rate studies have been done. Unless daily searches are conducted at project of the whole area, the numbers will be skewed downward. Animals do scavenge and reduce the number of bodies. Also the developers have been known to have workers look and dispose of bodies which are not counted.

    • jh

      Sorry, your link doesn’t load so I cant read it.

      Just the same, I’m not impressed with the immense volume of “research” suggesting large impacts on species (of any kind) from global warming.

      The largest human impacts on animal species, by orders of magnitude, come from habitat destruction from farming and urbanization (F/U). Even if the most dire predictions for AGW come true – which almost certainly won’t happen – farming and urbanization will still have far and away the largest impact on species, almost certainly an order of magnitude or greater than AGW.

      The biggest problem with AGW is that both farming and urbanization dramatically increase its impact by blocking migration routes or consuming habitat that many species would otherwise use to mitigate the impact of warming.

      So with that in mind, what’s really causing the extinctions? F/U or AGW? Um, that’s an easy one: F/U.

      Ultimately we’re deploying wind turbines to mitigate a lesser harm (AGW) and maintain a greater harm (F/U). That doesn’t make sense to me.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Fraser Macdonald

      F.R.A.T.

  • Johannes Delacroix

    wind turbines doesn’t pose as much harm to the environment/climate change/humans as compared to fossil fuels. i’d rather create a systematic way to prevent winged-creatures from being harmed by wind mills. use a mechanized scarecrow, colored paint to warn/scare birds/bats or use LED light at night to brighten each blade and sound wave that could warn the birds and help them alter their flight.

    • Buddy199

      300 ft. giant mechanical scarecrows, painted, with flashing lights. Actually, it would be kind of cool.

      • Larry_Lorusso

        Put them in your backyard. The lights are bad enough on IWT’s as it is flashing at night.

    • myview1872

      Birds have not learned to avoid crashing into lit highrise buildings. What makes you think flashing LED will do anything to mitigate the carnage?

      • jh

        That’s a great point: how many birds are killed by building impacts, and how many migrating birds die of exhaustion after becoming disoriented from light pollution?

    • Ketan Joshi

      “Trying to consider technical and engineering solutions to mitigate impact, rather than concluding that wind turbines are evil spinning death machines? Here, have some downvotes”

      • Larry_Lorusso

        Your in a fantasy world, the difference of what could or should and what is are not the same. The developers are concerned with making profits and cut corners to make as much as they can, with little to no consideration for the neighbors of these projects. I started out thinking Hoosac Wind was a good idea, but that was based on the misinformation and down right lies by the developer Iberdrola. We we told would not see or hear the turbines and there was no down side. Also told this project would provide 28.5 MW of electricity to the grid. The reality is less than 25% and considering the US taxpayers subsidized the project to the tune of $94,000,000 I’d say it’s a bad deal. We live in a rural quiet communities and industrial power plants have no place here. What we need is local systems scaled for our communities. If the same investment were made for residential PV systems the result would be 3x the rated capacity of Hoosac Wind. It would still be quiet here, the mountains intact and no additional infrastructure such as transmission lines would be needed. Also the wildlife wouldn’t be impacted and the neighbors wouldn’t be suffering from the noise and sound waves and property values would not be less. IWT’s are the neighbors from Hell…

    • Larry_Lorusso

      As someone who has seen IWT’s close up including before the work started, my perception is they do much harm to the environment in mountainous regions. First thousands of trees are cut, many being shredded on site with little commercial value and to cut costs. Then the blasting and dozers level the ridge including lots of fill material brought in. This process alters the watershed, as any wetlands or swamps are eliminated, so when it rains the streams flash with lots of sentiment moving. Some of the neighbors well were affected by the blasting and no longer produce as they had. Also consider at Hoosac Wind, a Spanish developer had 19 wind turbines made in China, each weighing almost 100 tons each and can hardly be considered of no consequence. Last but not least IWT’s require backup as wind is extremely variable and has nothing to do with demand, and around here gas turbines are what is used. The result is even with the many IWT’s installed over the World, no reduction of fossil fuel or CO2 has occurred. The developers embrace IWT’s because the subsidies are where the real profit is and don’t care about the rest of it. More often than not IWT’s that wear out are left to rust and blight the area.

      • jh

        Out here in the western US, at least, I’ve never seen a forest cut to build a wind farm. Most wind farms are in desert or prairie areas where the main vegetation is grassland or sage scrub. That, combined with the fact that many are build on the margins of significant topographic features, is why bird kills here have such a high proportion of raptors.

    • hunterson

      Just “create” a way to scare away millions of animals over thousands of square miles, day and night.
      That is magical thinking. Wind mills are failed 19th century technology that was resurrected zombie style at great public cost, does huge damage and delivers almost no power.
      Kill off the wind mills. End all subsidies, enforce environmental laws strictly on them.

  • janssen86

    The precautionary principle means the reversal of proof: It states that if an action has a suspected risk of causing harm, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action. As long as they cannot prove this negative, they must refrain from said action. The principle has been used by the Green movement against DDT as an effective means against malaria, against Golden Rice which promises to save millions from disease and blindness, against nuclear power which even after Three Mile island, Tschernobyl and Fukushima claims the least life for the power it generates, against neonicotinoids that ensure crop protection and thus secure nutrition even despite the Green biofuels craze etc.

    The Greens themselves fail to accept this reversal of proof to their own policies: Not only do they refuse to acknowledge the devastating effect their wind turbines have on birds and bats; there is a radioactive lake in Baotou, in Inner Mongolia, that keeps growing as a consequence of rare earth mining for the turbines’ magnets. Or to cite a more recent example: falling into the Arctic sea is an instant death sentence. A couple of weeks ago, Greenpeace “activists” attempted to board the Prirazlomnaya platform in the Arctic. I never heard how Greenpeace proved how they’d have mitigated against such risk had they not been stopped by the Russian coast guard.

  • Buddy199

    However, if a study had found that nuclear power or oil & gas was responsible for more than 600,000 bat deaths a year, do you think green-friendly journalists would have picked up on it?
    —————-
    Good point, fairly made, and tiresomely obvious to those of us who follow the MSM’s reportage. Basically, their operating principle is “see no evil” that conflicts with the progressive agenda until they are either dragged to a story out of sheer embarrassment by the conservative media, or a story becomes so enormous that it’s impossible to ignore or explain it away, i.e., Obamacare’s crash and burn. The easiest way to get rid of Fox, Drudge and the rest of the conservative media would be for the mainstream outlets to actually report the news in full, fairly and without a blatantly obvious left-leaning agenda. Which means Fox et. al. will continue to thrive.

  • JD

    Smells like some good old propaganda for the oil and coal industry to me. Gotta love the corporate American media for this, for at the end of the day they know full well who pays the bills. ;)

    • myview1872

      Did you know that some of the biggest investors in wind generation are oil companies. They wouldn’t want to harm this revenue stream, would they?

    • Larry_Lorusso

      Smells like some good old propaganda from wind developers. People are being sold damaged goods with IWT’s. We were told no one would hear any noise and many others wouldn’t see them, blatant lies. We were also led to believe much more power output would come from the project. Large turbines use considerable amounts of electricity to run and need to be connected to the grid. When shut off they need power for the brakes and various systems and hum from the large hydraulic systems that turbines require. Yesterday they were trying to jump start them to take advantage of the spike in wholesale prices that often occurs about 6:00pm here in New England. They kept trying without success for some time. Imagine how much electricity is used to spin a rotor with blades 125 feet long and weigh almost 20,000 tons each?

  • Laura Snider

    A bit of a tangent away from the birds/bats thing, I worry about the way wind turbines will change how we’re able to view our landscapes in the future. Right now, we really romanticize what massive wind turbines look like on the horizon. Take the picture that’s posted on this blog. But will we still feel that way in 50 years when we’re driving across Wyoming and there are turbines on all sides? In the 1920s, when the Valmont Coal Plant was built in Boulder, locals were quoted in the newspaper as saying the coal plant actually beautified the lake it sat on. People were so excited for a coal plant! The jobs it would bring, the stability for the town, the progress! But today, there are few people who would probably say that the smoke stacks are a nice addition to town.

    • jh

      I agree! Wind turbines are a blight.

  • bwana

    The scale of a wind turbine project is what makes it profitable! Small wind turbines and a limited number of them in one location greatly reduces output and recovery of associated infrastructure. Either do it big or don’t do it at all!

    The above said, I believe solar power will be the “green” economic power source of the future… assuming, of course, we can convince other countries to absorb the environmental impact of producing solar cells :).

    • hunterson

      Solar has the two pesky problems of sunset and clouds. We are stuck with heating and / or burning things to get real power.

      • bwana

        However there are huge patches of sunny desert worldwide that have essential no use at present. With a means to store solar energy sunset might just less of a pesky problem…

  • Bren

    Cats, cars and building do appear to kill more birds than wind turbines. However two (or more) wrongs don’t make a right.
    Wind energy is not a benign technology, numerous adverse effects and knowledge gaps have been identified in the peer reviewed scientific literature. This is particularly true for bats, whose mortality has been observed at an unpredicted and unprecedented level. Bats also face the combined effects of wind turbine mortality and White Nose Syndrome mortality (almost 100% fatal in infected colonies). New generation larger turbines are demonstrating even greater bird mortality than the older versions they are replacing.
    Wind energy is a failed experiment in Europe, despite proponent assurances to the contrary. In addition to wildlife mortality and habitat loss (direct loss and barrier effects), it results in little or no CO2 savings, unreliable (requires backup generation – usually gas), expensive, human health issues are reported yet not resolved satisfactorily.
    Wind projects must be curtailed until many identified adverse effects and knowledge gaps are better understood, using scientific vigor.

  • Martin

    As I think your subtext here says, the Precautionary Principle is a poor way of looking at … well, anything really. If you’re going to look at risk of harm, then do a risk/benefit assessment.

    The Precautionary Principle is only ever invoked when the ‘answer’ is already known, as a pseudo/pretend-logic.

    If you invoke the Precautionary Principle to, say, “using the Precautionary Principle”, it fails.

  • Wings_42

    We had bird killing cats in the past. They were amazingly effective.

    Our domestic cats are genetically identical to African Wild Cats. They evolved in Africa as killers of birds. They are now the most
    effective bird predators in the western hemisphere. Being an introduced species, the New World birds haven’t yet evolved what they need to do to avoid cats.

    Our cats are now 100% indoors. We need to take action to protect birds and bats. Verticle axis wind turbines are more effectient and far less dangerous to wildlife. Check out http://www.ecogeek.org/wind-power/3555-caltech-study-says-vertical-axis-wind-turbines-10x.

    • hunterson

      vertical turbines are vulnerable to winds that vary with altitude above ground.

      I am a cat owner as well, and I admit that if we were serious about helping native species of all sorts, we get rid of feral cats and feral hogs very aggressively.

  • Sang_froid

    I said this exact thing several years ago! If you ever saw one wind turbine operating you could see where it would be a hazard – then think of hundreds of them scattered over the landscape in one square mle. And, as Laura states below, it is a blight on our natural landscape.

    • bwana

      And just where would you get your energy? Ok as long it isn’t in my backyard? Put them in someone else’s backyard? Maybe you’d like a coal fired generation plant in place of the windmills?

      • Sang_froid

        Hydro electric would be preferred. However, nuclear plants would be the most efficient and least costly over the long run if only people would get their heads out of their assholes to realize this. They are a lot safer then you may think. However, your questions implies you don’t think much.

        • bwana

          I totally agree regarding nuclear power! Hydro electric is nice; however, with water supplies a bit questionable at present, i.e.: reservoirs deleting, I’m not too sure if it is viable option?

          • Sang_froid

            The question isn”t the amount of water – there is plenty if properly managed. The problem is the environmental lobbyists! Those reservoirs also provide wildlife habitat, recreation and a stable water supply.

          • bwana

            But those poor people in the desert with swimming pools want to fill them (to evaporate)… Also those silly farmers want to irrigate their crops (where crops probably shouldn’t be grown in the 1st place). Everyone wants their piece of the pond!

  • CBRer

    They’re still a hell of a lot better than oil, gas, or coal fired generators. And adjustments to wind turbine “cut in” speeds during migratory times of year are proving effective to reduce the number of animals killed. How do YOU spell “Red Herring”?

    • hunterson

      I spell red herring “trying to pretend modern power plants are a big problem”.

  • Johannes Delacroix

    in the philippines, they have several typhoons in a year and there’s a lack of available clean energy. having wind turbines would provide them much needed power. and to minimize the impact on avian deaths, it would be best to build wind mills off shore in the path of the typhoon.

    • hunterson

      lol.and rebuilding the windmills after the typhoons would generate lots of good jobs on a regular basis, to boot!

      • Johannes Delacroix

        of course, you have to build wind mills that are able to withstand 300kph wind

        • hunterson

          lol. If we could build complex free standing structures to stand hours of 300 kph winds, we would not be in need of windmills.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Michael Boessen

    Something like FORTY THOUSAND human beings are killed in car wrecks every year in the United States alone. BILLIONS of animals are killed by vehicles annually. (I think I got a bird and a toad just today on my morning commute.) Deer alone add roughly 13% to the insurance cost of the average car where I live. Where is the outcry? Should we just quit driving cars? Since we all know darn well we can’t live without the cars, we somehow rationalize and comparmentalize these numbers and put them out of our conscious minds. The wildlife damage due to wind turbines is no doubt tragic and unfortunate, but the numbers I am hearing so far are a pittance compared to the vehicular slaughter. Anyone who can add 1+1 and come up with a correct answer should be able to realize that environmentally we can’t live without these wind turbines. There are going to be tradeoffs. That said, nuclear power, which, to date has killed less people and less animals, and has done less harm to the environment than any other energy source, is almost universally reviled and feared. Doesn’t make any sense. If you want to save wildlife and the planet, stop building expensive, impractical, remotely located wind farms and build more nuclear plants.

    • bwana

      For once, someone with something worthwhile to say! Yes, nuclear is definitely the way to go!

  • hunterson

    But cats do not require direct tax payer subsidies to kill birds, and windmills do.
    Cats are also cute and can sit on your sofa where you told them not to. Windmills do not fit in with the idea of preserving open spaces. Nor with securing a better power supply. Or with legitimate finance and economics.

  • American ex-Pat

    The eco-whacks will not acknowledge the destruction wreaked on certain species because eco-whacks are in almost every case a liberal/progressive. So if bats and birds are being slaughted by the hundreds of thousands it is okay because wind energy is okay because liberals/progressives deem it so, apex predators, game birds, and ecolgically important bats be damned!

  • Eli Rabett

    So, you don’t like cats.

    Cats kill a lot more, orders of magnitude more of protected species than wind turbines. Time to put tabby down Keith.

  • http://barnardonwind.wordpress.com/ Mike Barnard

    So let’s put this in a much better context. Yes, wind turbines kill birds. But the ~600,000 is an outlier by a guy named Smallwood who disagreed with 73 empirical studies of actual bird deaths using best practices which had already multiplied counted dead birds by accepted factors for predation and other things. Based solely on his own iconoclastic work, he multiplied these actual empirical studies already adjusted numbers up a lot.

    And unsurprisingly, he ends up with bigger numbers which still aren’t that big.

    After all, the best evidence is that there are between 10 and 20 billion birds alive in the USA at any given time. Even given his inflated numbers and the smaller range of birds, that’s about one in 17,000 birds killed by wind turbines. This is not a species threatening level of deaths. More appropriate median numbers of avian mortality of around 234,000 annually from teams of researchers and the higher estimate of birds gives us one in 86,000 birds killed by wind turbines annually in the USA.

    Meanwhile, every cross-generational study finds that wind energy is the least harmful to avian populations of any form of generation. It doesn’t disrupt nearly as much habitat, it doesn’t kill as many directly and it doesn’t threaten populations with CO2.

    So my apologies, but this article is incorrect on several fronts. Wind turbines do not represent a major threat, they represent a major reduction in threat outside of very specific species and siting considerations.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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