Pet cats kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds in the US each year, according to a study conducted by scientists with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service. This is a significant problem that bird conservation groups have tried to address for years, although the revised numbers are very startling. Unfortunately, this disaster is used by some industry advocates to belittle another cause of avian mortality -- wind turbines. Sierra Club senior editor Paul Rauber broadcast a Tweet and a blog post this week giving credence to this false logic, implying that if one cause of bird mortality is significantly greater than another, the lesser cause can be ignored.
In a Tweet featuring a chart comparing annual bird mortality by wind turbines to bird mortality by cats, Mr. Rauber stated: "If bird fatalities are an argument against wind power, say goodbye first to Puss." Mr. Rauber apparently found the infographic from another organization's tweet, which read: "The next time someone tells me wind energy is too "dangerous", I'm going to whip out this infographic." Mr. Rauber also referenced the graphic on a Sierra Club blog post. Using Mr. Rauber's faulty logic, one could argue that hammers kill more people than assault rifles, so there is no point in regulating access to assault rifles (a sad distraction actually employed by some misguided folks, including Fox News).
The Sierra Club is viewed broadly by its hundreds of thousands of followers and members as a vanguard of conservation. It is simply irresponsible for the Sierra Club's senior staff to belittle over 440,000 birds killed by the wind energy industry each year, especially when other elements of the Sierra Club trying to encourage responsible siting are being ignored by the wind industry. What guarantee do we have that the Sierra Club takes its responsibility to guide the renewable energy industry seriously if some of its staff are willing to give the wind industry a free pass on account of the fact that turbines kill less birds than cats?
There is actually a lot more we need to learn about the wind industry's impacts on birds and bats, but the wind industry has been reluctant to cooperate with studies, and has even attempted to gloss over its impacts by co-opting conservation and wildlife groups, according to American Wind Energy Association strategy documents. The estimate that wind turbines kill 440,000 birds in the US each year is expected to climb to more than a million as the energy industry installs more turbines, and this number does not include bat mortality, which probably exceeds the annual number of bird deaths. A single wind facility in Pennsylvania killed more than 10,000 bats in one year.
If we're going to build a truly sustainable clean energy future, we have to hold all industry accountable to high standards. Ignoring the wind industry's impacts should not be an option for the Sierra Club, because we're ushering in a new industry that will hopefully replace fossil fuels. It is our responsibility to make sure we're not replacing one ecological disaster with another.