A case of comparing apples to tangelos and strawberries…

Guest post by Juliet Walker

Former Australian Greens leader Bob Brown’s objection to a proposed wind farm in Tasmania due to the toll on bird life and visual pollution will hopefully bring to the fore an issue that has been steadfastly ignored by the mainstream media. Despite growing opposition to wind farms around the world from prominent environmentalists , wildlife groups , and concerned citizens, many people naively believe the simplistic fairytale about the benefits of wind farms. Typical of the low resolution thinking that underpins the climate change issue generally, and the cartoonish framing of renewable energy as a virtue and a necessity to save us from the ravages of ‘climate change’, the public simply has not been exposed to a mature, rational discussion about whether the costs – environmental, economic and social – outweigh the supposed benefits. Sure, wind is clean, wind is renewable. It doesn’t follow that the industrial machines that are the means of harnessing the wind are clean, renewable or in any way ‘good’ for the environment or for people, both broadly or at specific sites. At the very least, the negatives should be being discussed as openly and honestly as the positives are being pushed.

Mr Brown’s public opposition to the wind farm had him being attacked from all sides as a NIMBY hypocrite, given his prior support for renewable energy and his protests against the Adani coal mine. The more generous claimed he was just ‘misinformed’, bringing forth an online flood of shoddy arguments and statistics and links to ‘scientific studies’ to defend wind farms against the mass slaughter they are inflicting on wildlife.

A commonly cited paper is The Avian and Wildlife Costs of Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power from the Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences (vol. 9, no. 4, December 2012, 255-278. The author notes that “earlier literature reviews of 616 studies on wind energy and avian mortality found that every single one drew a negative connection between wind energy and the natural environment (Sovacool 2009)”. He then goes on to make a case for wind farms but does so using deeply flawed logic & methods. The paper compares direct on-site impacts (ie. actual bird fatalities from impacts with wind turbines & power lines), with the on-site fatalities of birds from collisions with nuclear cooling towers & power lines PLUS the indirect up and downstream impacts from the entire coal & uranium fuel cycle such as mining, habitat destruction & combustion. Thus the paper calculates wind farms killed 46,000 birds in the US in 2009, nuclear power plants killed 460,000 and fossil-fuelled power plants 24 million! This is equivalent to a per gigawatt hour fatality rate of 0.27, 0.6 and 9.4 respectively.

While it could be argued that the impacts of fuel extraction do not apply to wind farms because wind is the ‘fuel’, the paper neglects to include all the mining, infrastructure, manufacturing, and habitat destruction involved in creating wind turbines and wind farms which, just as for coal & nuclear, have indirect impacts on birds. Expansion of wind farms means the material for many more slaying machines needs to be mined, and much more land is needed to generate electricity. Due to the low energy density of wind power, 40-50 times the land area of coal and 90-100 times that of gas, is required.

The paper also includes in the fossil fuel tally the highly contestable, unproven and ill-defined impacts of ‘climate change’.

“For fossil-fuelled power stations, the most significant fatalities come from climate change, which is altering weather patterns and destroying habitats that birds depend on”.

This is a completely unsupported assertion. In fact, the IPCC’s AR5 report stated that:

“There is VERY LOW confidence that observed species extinctions can be attributed to recent warming, owing to the VERY LOW fraction of extinctions that [are] ascribed to climate change & TENUOUS NATURE of most attributions”

The paper goes on to say:

“Looking at the mid-range scenarios in climate change expected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they projected that 15% to 37% of all species of birds could be extinct by 2050. These numbers, too, can be tentatively quantified into 9.16 deaths per GWh from oil, natural gas, and coal-firedpower stations.”

‘Tentatively’ indeed. If observed species extinctions cannot be attributed to climate change in the present, how is it possible to attribute future extinctions to poorly defined and unproven ‘climate change’? The author does state that “calculating the relationship between avian fatalities and climate change is admittedly simplistic”. Unfortunately, this is not the message that uncritical or ideologically blinded readers take from this paper. The astonishing 24 million bird fatalities blamed on fossil fuels changes dramatically when ‘climate change’ is taken out of the equation. Even when mining impacts are included in the fossil fuel tally but not the wind farm tally, wind farms can be seen to have a higher fatality rate of 0.269 GwH, compared to 0.2 for fossil fuel energy.

The paper’s conclusion that wind farms have a far lower avian fatality rate per gigawatt hour than coal or nuclear energy sources makes another wrong assumption: that “the wider use of wind energy can save wildlife and birds as it displaces these more harmful sources of electricity”. This neglects to recognise that all wind farms require back up energy, which is usually fossil fuel or nuclear energy. To neatly divide the environmental impacts between wind and other energy sources is completely disingenuous. In fact, recent studies show that fossil fuel demand increases as renewable energy expands. To replace fossil fuel energy and nuclear entirely with wind (and/or solar) farms would require battery backup, the indirect impacts of which would also need to be factored into the fuel cycle impacts on habitats, if an apples to apples comparison is to be made

James Hansen, arguably the most well known global warming alarmist, stated in 2016 that:

“The notion that renewable energies & batteries alone will provide all needed energy is fantastical. It’s also a grotesque idea, because of the staggering environmental pollution from mining & material disposal, if all energy was derived from renewables & batteries”

Finally, the paper goes on to make the most specious argument of all: vastly more birds are killed by transmission lines, communications towers, cars, building windows and cats, concluding that “the impacts of wind turbines are therefore negligible compared to other sources of avian mortality”. This empty argument is repeated over and over online by the Twitterati , activists, academics and the media yet the conclusion is a ludicrous non sequitur! None of the other causes of bird fatalities are going away, irrespective of the type of energy we use! It is nonsensical to argue that because more deaths are already caused by other unrelated factors, additional fatalities are inconsequential, particularly considering the particular species of birds that are affected by wind farms, a point the author does acknowledge. Cats don’t kill eagles. It is like arguing that because we already cut down millions of trees, it doesn’t matter if we raze a National Park! Because we already catch a lot of fish, killing more fish on the Great Barrier Reef is not an issue. Because we already have large environmental impacts, creating additional environmental impacts elsewhere through new activities is inconsequential. Ridiculous.

To his credit, the author acknowledges ‘a number of salient limitations in the paper, stating that “the role of climate change on bird extinctions, although indeed worrying, is not conclusive and as such should be approached with extreme caution”. He also states that “these findings are not a license for wind turbines to kill birds, for wind farms to be sited recklessly, or for research to cease on better designs that make wind energy less destructive to wildlife and its habitat.”

It is a shame that those limitations (and the bulk of studies that show wind farms do indeed pose a serious threat to birds and bats) are ignored by those with an agenda, and that dubious, back of the envelope calculations and poorly reasoned justifications continue to provide ammunition for countless climate change activists and academics as ‘evidence’ that millions of bird deaths at wind farms are insignificant.

Juliet Walker

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51 thoughts on “A case of comparing apples to tangelos and strawberries…

  1. That paper does look like something that would be published in a journal called The Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences. Pulling numbers from their nether regions does seem characteristic of hardcore Greens.

    • It helps in writing such a paper to know your agenda, write the conclusion first and then fill the space between the title page and conclusion with the necessary garbage.

  2. Excellent!
    Now if we can only get their ABC to interview you, and NINE to have you write an op-ed, the public might begin to understand the issue.

  3. Thank you for shedding some light on the environmental issues of wind turbines Ms Walker. It’s also great to have some balanced input from an Australian University, at a time when these universities are being derided by the poor performances of some such as JCU.

    • particularly considering the particular species of birds that are affected by wind farms

      I’m not so sure. Just the other day I had a bald eagle crash into my diningroom window. It was looking a but stunned until my cat decided to take advantage of its state finished it off by throwing it against by car windscreen.

      Clearly we need to evaluate the relevant risks and more money is needed to better understand these key environmental risks.

  4. That 24 million dead birds per year howler comes out to roughly half a million a week, close to a hundred thousand a DAY.

    We’d be up to our asses in bird carcasses if that were the case.

    Kinda makes ya wonder about the cognitive abilities – or lack thereof – of so many of these people.

    • If the cause is right you just have to work out how to massage the statistics, no-one said it had to be accurate so long as it makes the right narrative. You need to take care if you don’t agree with the narrative then you are a deni@r.

    • I wonder if the papers author is aware that birds and bats are pretty good at avoiding colliding with static structures such as cooling towers, houses, and other buildings – other than when they perch or nest on them.

      Unlike the ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ nature of wind turbine blades; and in the case of bats, it’s just flying into the unseeable high pressure area which makes their lungs explode.

      • My then wife & I did a Barn Conversion in the 1990s living in a mobile home (trailer for the Colonials ;-)) for 18 months, & only once did anything happen when a small bird flew into (not in) a window, presumably because it couldn’t see glass, unsurprisningly! Sadly it died instantly, so yours truly had to dig a small hole in the ground to bury it, with full military honours via the Last Post & Revallie on my aging Bb cornet to placate the children, what the neighbours thought I had no idea! 😉

        • Invariably when I clean the windows at home, birds fly into them (usually rainbow lorikeets for some strange reason – beauty not brains?) They are often drifting in and out of consciousness; I was told not to let concussed people go to sleep so I tap the birds to keep awake. : ) ‘Hang in there little fella!’ I’ve had a few fly off unharmed when they come to, others not so lucky. It’s a good excuse to have dirty windows at home.

          • An old farm house near us was replaced by a new one 20 yards closer to the river. Immediately azure kingfishers started to die in collisions with the new house, which had never happened with the old one. It was apparently on a kingfisher flight path and had windows that tilted out, which may have reflected the sky to the on-coming birds. Those are the only building-related bird deaths I have seen in 60+ years.

            Fast birds like Magpies, King Parrots and Red Wattyl Birds don’t have a problem with my windows and I have a yard full of birds. The Wattyl Birds go screaming past my buildings with inches to spare.

            Years ago my father replaced several sheets of corrugated iron on a hut and that night they were awakened by several crashes of Magpie Geese trying to land on the moonlight reflection of the shiny new roof, which they mistook for water. No casualties.

      • Yes, I can’t really understand why birds would crash into cooling towers, but that is indeed what is claimed in the paper. One of the most bewildering stats quoted in the paper is 3,000 birds over two nights were killed at ONE nuclear power station by colliding with the towers. There aren’t very many species of nocturnal birds. That’s a LOT of owls or nightjars!

  5. ”””Looking at the mid-range scenarios in climate change expected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they projected that 15% to 37% of all species of birds could be extinct by 2050.”””

    Well I presume climate change is also going on at my place too and since I moved here 15 years ago the number of birds (total and species) has exploded from near zero to maybe 30 new species as permanent residents simply by planting a few trees and shrubs and not allowing horses ((if you want to destroy some land in a hurry put horses – and /or wind turbines – on it)). So, climate change has resulted in a net loss of ZERO bird species here. I’m getting tired of some people coming up with claims which they very obviously have no idea whatsoever about.

    • Wandered around under wind turbines in Oz and never seen a dead bird or bat under them. Not saying it can’t happen but the critters seem a whole lot smarter than these Greenies. Bob Brown has got selective bird chopper syndrome all of a sudden. From what I ‘ve seen you can dismiss the bird and bat chopper meme as an objection to wind turbines as it’s all about wind reliability damning them and their 30% average installed output covering up for their gross marginal sins-
      https://anero.id/energy/wind-energy/2019/april
      They’re simply expensive rubbish as reliable generators of electricity engaged in dumping.

      • I don’t think you can assume too much from your personal experience. A large number of studies have indeed shown it’s a serious issue. A problem with the counting is where the birds end up, which may not be directly under the turbines. It depends on their injury, and also the presence of scavengers. But certainly, the wildlife tolls is just one of the issues. When environmental impacts can’t even be justified on economic or social grounds, you have to wonder what this is all about.

      • Try that at some of the wind farms up here in New Hampshire and it’s a different story. You’ll see lots of dead birds and bats, including some protected species like ospreys and eagles.

      • There was a report of dead Eagles at the Bald Hills windfarm at the same time as the report from dear old Bob. 7 Eagles being killed in a 2 month period after it opened – Graham Lloyd – The Australian 20/21 July

  6. Environmentalists who are against windmills because of the toll on bird and bat life, plus unbelievable environmental neglect in China where almost all the extraction of rare earth metals like neodymium and dysprosium, needed for wind mill generators is produced and the eyesore of these monsters on ridges, hills and seascapes, are the real environmentally concerned people. The promoters are crony rentseekers and those in it for the creation of a néomarxiste nouveau monde.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/26/business/global/26rare.html

    The main rare earth resources n China are in special deposits of clay. The “industry” is run by illegal gangs who employ villagers to dig pits in the clay that they fill directly with sulphuric acid that extracts the rare earths as soluble sulphate salts. They precipitate the rare earths as carbonates. The acid residues drain away in rivers, kill fish and other living things and pollute agricultural land destroying its productivity almost indefinitely. This is no secret to the promoters of windfarms.

    There are very large resources of rare earths in Canada and elsewhere, but the economics of development of responsible production of these has been foreclosed on by the cheap, dirty industry in China. The health of these workers must be a horror to behold.

  7. The impact of wind turbines seams to be additive to our existing energy infrastructure. They add to bird mortality, CO2 emissions, grid instability, energy cost, energy poverty, etc.

  8. “…with the on-site fatalities of birds from collisions with nuclear cooling towers “

    I’d say that a dead bird that couldn’t spot a cooling tower has just improved the species through natural selection.

  9. Wind turbines and photovoltaic panels are neither clean nor renewable nor sustainable. The point is that the green faith is the foundation of a political, economic, and social myth, that is a first-order forcing of catastrophic anthropogenic developmental misalignment.

    • and a pv array the magpies cockies and sparrows sit n shit on? produces how much less I wonder
      curiously i havent heard of cockatoos here stripping the wiring on pv units
      they do a hell of a job on aerial wiring, outside powerlines running to sheds etc usually
      might be interesting to see how large flocks coming into dig soils for grasses etc go in future when they adapt to their presence.

  10. I am bemused by the symmetry of this author statement that the argument that vastly more birds are killed by cats than by windmills and so we shouldn’t be too concerned is “the most specious of all” while Larry
    Hamlin and others constantly claim that the USA doesn’t need to limit its emissions because China and
    developing world are not doing so.

    • Izaak, you are committing the same error in ignoring species & location distinctions. Is there something unique about the USA’s CO2 emissions? Do CO2 emissions all end up in the same place? In other words, you’re conflating quantity with ‘quality’ again. I agree that the argument for not limiting emissions in one place because emissions are being created in another is not sound if you accept the total quantity of emissions is an issue, and the ‘problem’ gets worse the more emissions are created. But we arrive back at the same question: if wind farms are supposed to save the environment but are creating new environmental & social problems while doing little to reduce emissions, what exactly is the point of them?

  11. Ms Walker wrote
    “It is a shame that those limitations (and the bulk of studies that show wind farms do indeed pose a serious threat to birds and bats) are ignored by those with an agenda .”
    It is also a shame that the direct heath threat to humans and animals is usually ignored, even by those oposed to wind farms.

    Infrasound is the frequencies of sound at or below the range of human hearing. The cutoff is normally considered to be 20 Hz but the problems may extend somewhat above 20 Hz. That infrasound can cause damage to internal organs has been know to some degree since early research in the 1960s.
    https://www.intechopen.com/books/acoustics-of-materials/acoustics-and-biological-structures

    That frequent infrasound exposure causes unusual tissue growth in certain common animal protein structures, observable, verifiable, and repeatable, has been know for perhaps more than two decades. First discovered in autopsies, then biopsies, diagnosis eventually became possible by several less intrusive means in living humans and animals.

    These tissue changes occur in many parts of the body, including heart, lungs, trachea, inner ears, and brain. The changes modify how the organs and other tissues work. Most are debilitating and often eventually fatal. The cause is not widely recognized because there are no unique symptoms; the tissue changes are not obvious without particular attention to fine structure. As with hearing loss from overly high sound levels, deterioration is gradual and often permanent if exposure goes on long enough.

    The tissue changes are consistently reproducible under laboratory conditions (animal experiments, obviously). They occur under 8 hour days, five days per week, (i.e. intermittent) exposure corresponding to normal factory work schedules. They progress faster under more frequent exposure. Infrasound can not be protected against with earplugs or stone walls. Infrasound from an outside source is often considerably more intense inside buildings than immediately outside because of structural resonances (which is sometimes also true of audible low frequency sounds).

    Birth defects and still births are common in some animals, uncertain but indicated in humans. Overall, this seems to be hard, repeatable science. I have come across no information, or even hints that any scientist has found conflicting results, yet most investigations of possible problems seem to be done in complete ignorance of published studies, concentrating on more touchy-feely aspects (how do you FEEL about living near wind turbines?) rather than the induced physical changes. Essentially all legal standards for determining sound pollution or noise disturbances are based on the Fletcher-Munson hearing curves developed a century ago and do not even detect the presence of the low frequencies that do the damage.

    Wind turbines came under investigation from this aspect only recently. Previous work on the medical results of infrasound exposure was from studies of other industrial infrasound sources. The wind turbine results are alarming considering how common wind farms are becoming in some areas and how near to dwellings they are often being built. Some of the relevant parameters have been roughed out but there is much that needs to be determined about the extent of the wind turbine problem. The particular infrasound signature of wind turbines has been measured as much as 20 Km from the source but at just what intensity level the problem may become insignificant has not been determined, as far as I know.

    wind turbines infrasound video

    • Andy, I take your point and am sympathetic to the health arguments against wind farms. These are always ignored/dismissed by alarmists in their environmental saviour delusions. The point of the article is really to tackle those delusions head on, to question the purported environmental grounds for wind farms. To fight fire with fire essentially.

    • Thanks for your comment and the link, AndyHce.
      Dr. Mariana Alves-Pereira will be giving a presentation at the University of Waterloo on September 12th. She has publicly stated that knowing what she knows about the harm from LFN and infrasound from turbines, she would not live within 20 km from them and yet innocent men, women and children in rural Ontario are being forced to live within a km from them, thus being impacted in their homes and in their beds while they try to sleep. They did not consent to this.
      Can you imagine having your home surrounded by over 90 massive turbines within 10km?

      • Clearly more research is necessary into the extent of the problem, such as how far the infrasound energies propagate and under what conditions. However, while her YouTube videos do not expound on the methods for tissue diagnosis in any detail, if the changes are as clear, and the organ dysfunctions as observable as her lectures suggest, specific evidence should be obtainable from effected persons.

        It seems to me that would provide an easier avenue for damage lawsuits than any claims about bird and bat deaths, environmental deterioration, or the true economic consequences to electrical power generation. While there would no doubt be heavy resistence from vested interests, including a large body of politicians, evidence presented in court could do much to publicize the dangers and lead to more effective resistence.

      • A lecture, which I unfortunately can’t attend, should offer the chance for someone to get answers to a few questions. For instance the investigations into airplane jet engine mechanics and the one into the flying airline employees.
        Were there solutions to the problems?
        Were the solution widely adopted?
        Do those particular problems still exist in everyday practice?
        Is diagnosis of tissue and organ changes possible in the average modern hospital or only in special facilities?

  12. The comparisons to deaths of birds, due to the natural instincts of pet felines, is flawed.
    The various cats that have agreed to lodge with us (As everybody knows, cats select their own homes & will happily upsticks & move if they receive a better offer!) do kill birds, however, the largest we’ve known them dispose of, is a Partridge, mainly small species, Sparrows, etc.
    We know that the wind subsidy farm machinery, kills much larger, endangered species, Vultures, Eagles & the like.
    I’ve never know our cats, bring a bat back to play with either.

    • The other flaw is in Potential Exposure.
      Worldwide there are approx 600,000,000 cats and 300,000 wind turbines 2000:1
      New York City alone has between 6,000,000 and 12,000,000 windows so World Wide Windows easily top 100,000,000,000 and possibly in the trillions. 1,000,000:3

      Wind turbines claim an average of 1.4 birds and 2 bats per turbine per year with some turbines claiming more than 2 birds and 3 bats per month.

      Rate of exposure to wind turbines will only increase and it is rates of exposure that rule over current mortality rates.

  13. If we are going to criticise the coal or nuclear industry because birds occasionally fly into cooling towers than we need to outlaw glass windows worldwide and start living in the dark, judging from the inability of birds to tell they are flying into a reflection and not a real space.

  14. The paper here cited amd discussed appears to be so riddled with all the “no noes” in science that first it should never have been published and secondly is a waste of time to even discuss .

  15. Another uneducated fool that thinks we plant seeds to grow wind turbines (or the fool wouldn’t call it a farm. I will admit he could be 100% prowind and using the term to help the wind industry—that’s possible). Language really does have NO MEANING ANYMORE.

  16. I think a windmill tip travelling at 180-200 mph presents a far greater threat than static buildings.

  17. You cannot blame cats,pylons,transmission lines for avian deaths caused by offshore windfarms. The Isle of Man bird society (UK) has reported 50% decline in sea bird numbers since one of the largest offshore wind farms was opened nearby.

  18. Can we please stop referring to large wind turbine installations (10-100 units) as ‘farms’. These are industrial facilities as much as a mine site is an industrial facility. Only in their very large acreage requirements (because of low wind energy densities) do they resemble some farms. Their only utilization of a soil resource is to dig it up and replace it with many-ton, reinforced concrete foundations, gravel access roads, and buried electrical lines.

    • I think that’s a really good point. Language is important, and no doubt the term ‘wind farm’ gives them a nice, bucolic feel. Let’s call them wind factories instead. And ‘wind blades’ instead of wind turbines would be a more apt description of their effect.

      • Give the left some credit. They are very good at propaganda. The reason the left appears so stupid to the right is because so much of what they believe is based on emotions. Emotions are stupid to thinking people. However, if you are trying to sell something then you need to appeal to emotions.

        • Personally, I prefer ‘whirligigs’. Big toys for over-grown boys. ‘Wind turbines’ are good at killing birds but useless for generating electricity. Give me an old-fashioned coal-fired power-station, on top of a coal-mine if at all possible, any day. Plenty of electricity and plenty of CO2 to help the plants grow.

  19. The limitations (“To his credit, …”) admitted to by the author do not show up in the abstract except for “Within the uncertainties of the data used.., ” but ends with “The paper lastly highlights other social and environmental benefits to wind farms compared to other sources of electricity and energy. ” This is now a very common methodology in these types of environmental and journalistic accounts, not just those climate or energy related. Didn’t used to be allowed in old education days. Doesn’t absolve you just because you mention it in the end or fine print. Is this common in grant proposals nowadays?

    Also what about possible changes in bird, reptile, mammal, milliped, etc. mortality from raising speed limits? And bright hot car hoods attracting dragonflies (presumably fecund females) apparently confusing it with water. Need to require hood inspections for dragonfly eggs, cuts predation on mosquito populations?

  20. I think I smell a rotten analysis.

    I have worked over forty years at various nuclear power plants each with the iconic cooling towers. Several
    with two towers per plant. My path driving into work took me down a road less than a hundred yards from the towers. My path from my office to the control room took me near the cooling towers. Several times a month I assisted with the testing of equipment near the rivers edge and other areas away from the towers. Never in those 40 years did I ever see a dead bird anywhere on the plant property. Never.
    460,000 birds / 100 plants / 40 years = over 100 birds a year that should have been killed and fallen. Where are they? Also, never at any time has any coworker told me they found/saw a dead bird.

  21. Labelling intermittent solar and wind generators of present technology “renewable” is misleading and deceptive. The current technology is UNRENEWABLE in the sense that they do not provide enough energy over their generating life to enable their replication.

  22. The doomsayers UN etc never show us graphs of temperatures. They only show graphs of
    Temperature “anomalies” ie changes in temperature from what was expected. These
    Anomalies are statistical construction which use approximation and assumptions none of which
    Have ever been validated by peer review.
    Theses anomaly graphs are used as the basis for expending hundreds of billions on reducing
    MMCO2 !!!
    Furthermore the A large part of the NOAA stations where temperatures are recorded are in urban areas where night time emissions of heat from buildings etc greatly warms the temp record
    Unnaturally. Probably contributing to the anomaly calculations resulting in …any amount of
    Global warming the UN and MSM wants us to see …..it could not be more unscientific!!
    AND Dr Hansens agency fraudulently altered his own official records in order to give the
    Impression of massive warming, whereas the records of “day time temps over 90,95,100 and
    105 peaked in the 1930s and have decreased EVER SINCE!!
    But as the UN says….the science is settled!!! UNBELIEVABLE!!

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