I hesitate to get into politics in these blogs on birds, but the reason bird populations are in trouble are mainly due to various kinds of legislation – on land use, climate change, pesticide use, and so forth, which, of course, was passed by politicians who we elect. And having just had a major election in the U.S. I thought it appropriate to pass on a few thoughts.
In the discussion of climate change that occurred during the final presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the discussion of alternative energy came up. Biden touted electric, solar, and wind energy and chided President Trump for his statement that windmills “kills all the birds.” Trump: “… and of course it’s like a graveyard for birds. If you love birds, you’d never want to walk under a windmill because it’s a very sad, sad sight. It’s like a cemetery. We put a little statue for the poor birds. It’s true. You know in California if you shoot a Bald Eagle they put you in jail for five years. And yet the windmills they wipe them all out. It’s true. They wipe them out. It’s terrible.” (Little statue?)
While it is true that wind turbines do kill some birds, they are not even close to the primary cause of death to the avian population. That’s cats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that cats are responsible for the deaths of 2.4 billion birds each year. After that, collisions with building glass and vehicles are to blame for about another 800 million deaths. By comparison, about 230,000 birds are killed after colliding with a wind turbine every year.
“Bird kills [by wind turbines] are less than 0.02% of the total populations of songbird species, and orders of magnitude less than other causes,” the Department of Energy says on its website. “Over the past two decades, the impact of wind development on birds has been greatly reduced by improvements in turbine design and particularly through improved project and turbine siting.” (Vox)
There are lots of other dangers for birds besides wind farms, cats, and windows – climate change, habitat destruction, pollution, pesticides, cars, fires, poaching, and so forth. But the real, bottom line, hazard for birds and other wildlife is legislators- at the local, state, and federal level who see wildlife laws as obstructions to short-term economic gains. The world would be a much better place if lawmakers saw fit to create laws with the environment – air, water, and ecosystems – in mind. Of course they have to understand such. But with some legislators saying climate change is a hoax( Senator Inhofe), another denier Senate leader Mitch McConnell saying “I’m not a scientist, I’m interested in having low cost electricity” and one representative actually thinking that an island will tip over with too many people on it (Hank Johnson on Guam), I’m not too optimistic.
Politicians often offer a false choice between the natural world and the economy (Audubon 2017). The protection of ecosystems not only protects the natural environment but adds to the economy and makes the world a healthier place as ecosystems clean the air and water. If we protect the environment and the birds we all win. Birdwatching-related expenditures alone add $80 billion to the economy, to say nothing of the reduced costs of cleaning the air and water and better health for everyone.
I’m hopeful that the new administration will take heed and make our environment a priority.