Policing our own: integrity in the midst of struggle

Wind turbines kill bats.

Wind energy is one of the biggest sectors of renewable energy at the moment, and it’s something that I, along with many other climate activists, have strongly supported.

It’s important to remember, however, that the corporations responsible for the proliferation of wind turbines around the world are still corporations, and are still vulnerable to the same kinds of abuse and neglect that we so regularly vilify when they come from the fossil fuel industry.

The variety and severity of damage done by wind turbines is miniscule by comparison, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pay attention to problems with the current technology.

Opponents of wind energy occasionally condemn the turbines as bird killers, but they’re rarely sincere about their concern for birds, as that concern only seems to manifest around wind turbines, which make up a vanishingly small percent of human-caused bird mortality. Windows, cats, and power lines alone account for over one billion dead birds per year in the US and Canada, and that’s not accounting for habitat destruction.

So calling out wind turbines for bird kills is disingenuous at best. On the scale of threats, they don’t rate.

Bats are another matter. We’ve known for some time that wind turbines kill them on a regular basis. They don’t HIT the bats – bats are too quick for that – but while bats can avoid the blades themselves, they can’t even detect the low-pressure pockets right behind the blades. The sudden change from high pressure to low pressure effectively bursts their lungs, and they die.

We knew this was happening, but we didn’t know how MUCH it was happening. Now we have an idea, and the news is not good. A new report from the American Institute of Biological Sciences estimates that at least 600,000 bats were killed by wind turbines in 2012 in the contiguous United States. That makes wind turbines a significant threat to bat populations, almost on par with the White Nose Syndrome that has been decimating them for the past seven or eight years.

To be clear – beyond the principle that it’s bad to drive species to extinction, bats are important. They consume vast quantities of insects, and it has been estimated that their value to the agricultural industry alone may be as much as fifty BILLION dollars per year. Letting them die out would be a bad thing all around.

Terrible as this is, I still support the expansion of wind power the world over. I still want to see more turbines going up, and I want to see the ones already in operation STAY in operation. That said, something must be done. We’ve known for years that there are ways to try to discourage bats from flying near wind turbines. Changing their color is one, so that they don’t attract moths. Another could be installing sound generators to make them unpleasant to bats while still being beyond the reach of human hearing.

I don’t know what solution would end up working best, but I do know this – as with any other corporation, the manufacturers and purchasers of wind turbines are highly unlikely to make any changes unless they are forced to do so.

So let us continue to support wind power, but let us also police our own, and make sure that problems like this are addressed, and done so in a way that doesn’t generate support for fossil fuels, because lest we forget, the intensifying drought cycle from global climate change ALSO threatens bats.

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4 responses to “Policing our own: integrity in the midst of struggle

  1. Abe, by far the most bats are dieing from the so-called white-nose syndrome; which is wiping out 90-100% of entire bat colonies. This is a relatively recent problem, and it is very serious.

  2. Oh, I don’t question that, Neil, but wind turbines form a significant additional threat to a group of animals that are already in serious danger, and much more of a threat to bats than they are to birds.

    My overall point is that corporations in general need to be policed, and that doesn’t change just because the corporation in question is doing something important for the world at large.

  3. Thank you for this — I had read that wind turbines were killing birds and bats (eagles were the most recent thing I had read about), and not known what that meant for wind power, or what we could do to ensure that as few animals are killed as possible. It’s good to know that something as simple as painting the turbines a different color can make a difference.

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