Climate Change, Wind Energy, and Conservation: A Survey of Conflicting Issues


Title: Climate Change, Wind Energy, and Conservation: A Survey of Conflicting Issues
Authors: Bauman, D.
Publication Date:
March 23, 2017
Pages: 23

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Bauman, D. (2017). Climate Change, Wind Energy, and Conservation: A Survey of Conflicting Issues. Report by Black Swamp Bird Observatory. pp 23.

There is a multiplicity of program offerings by many groups which intend to contribute to the remediation and mitigation of climate change. This multiplicity brings into play a very real problem of its own: the lack of concerted and coordinated action among the groups. The actions and planning by these groups are neither on the same track, nor do they seem to share common goals. Some of these groups are the US Department of Energy, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the American Wind Energy Association, the American Bird Conservancy, and the National Audubon Society to name just a very few. It is the purpose of this paper to bring together a “state of the art” description of the wind energy efforts, and to relate how they are often at odds with each other, particularly with respect to the conservation of habitat and wildlife species and the mitigation of climate change.


One approach to mitigate climate change is the transformation of the energy industry toward renewable energy generation of electricity, specifically going from traditional coal-fired generation to wind energy generation. There are a number of problems that have arisen from this course of action: (1) the lack of coordination among agencies and business groups responsible for siting, installing and operating wind farms; (2) the lack of public understanding of the consequences of installing a wind farm of many turbines as compared to a small number of turbines; (3) the lack of environmental regulatory authority over the businesses installing wind farms; (4) a general lack of understanding of the true nature of the environmental impact of wind farms, both to humans and other species, particularly birds and bats; and (5) most fundamentally, the unabashed lack of environmental care or concern on the part of some wind farm businesses, as if somehow a wind farm were inherently good for the planet no matter what.


Taken together these problems have led to a disturbing trend among scientists of all sorts, from engineers to ornithologists, which is that they and their work become a mere marketing tool for the wind farm industry, subordinating science to concerns about public perception and industry growth. This is particularly true in the misuse of environmental impact assessments as tools to allow wind projects to proceed without due caution or concern for the environment and the species that reside there. Granted, some of the science involved in predicting the effect of wind farms on bird and bat species is imprecise at best; but in the last analysis we know one thing for sure: there are good places and bad places to put wind farms. Herein lies the crux of the dilemma. The wind industry, like all successful capitalist groups in a fairly uncontrolled business environment, sees unfettered growth as good in itself. Mitigating climate change does not require that kind of growth, however; it only requires enough growth in the wind industry to cover the increase in energy requirements of the growing world economies and replacement of energy produced by non-renewable sources, i.e. coal.


One of the effects of climate change, coupled with a growing world economy, has been the disappearance/displacement and extinction of various plants and animal species. Wind farms are specifically harmful to birds and bats, killing them by the hundreds of thousands here in the United States alone. One reason this is so unpalatable to us who are "conservationist" is that the killing is largely avoidable. There are simply places that wind farms should not be installed because they are too close to too many birds or bats. As an analogy: we can tell you it is not safe for your children to play in the street. We may not be able to tell you for certain that it is safe for them to play in the front yard instead because we haven't any information about your front yard. We would have to get that information before allowing the children to play there. So it is with wind farms: we know they should not be placed in bird and bat migration routes, along sea shores or lake shores, near nesting areas, or in wintering spots. That's where birds and bats congregate at different times of the year. We can't tell you for sure whether there is a safe place for them nearby until after doing a scientific, rigorous environmental impact study for a proposed "front yard."


What is to follow is a survey of conflicting issues in the wind industry from the perspective of conservationists concerned for the welfare of bird and bat species. It is a description of the current wind energy technology with the hope of illuminating the issues both sides are facing, and with the hope that a resolution to them may be developed intelligently. We conservationists refuse to relegate the lives of birds and bats to collateral damage when to do so is unjustified and so avoidable. If even a small fraction of the scientific rigor used to engineer the complex systems within wind turbines were applied to proper siting of turbines, this discussion would not be necessary. However, since the wind industry has avoided or been negligent of scientific integrity in their siting choices, we conservationists must defend the birds and bats and their role in sustaining the ecosystems of which they are an integral part.

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