Sierra Club Senior Staff Dismissive of Industry Impacts

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.


  1. Shaun, you sure read a lot into a 140-character tweet. For the record, though, let me say that pointing out that domestic cats cause bird fatalities many orders of magnitude greater than wind turbines does not excuse turbine operators from killing birds. You'll be interested to learn that I have written on this subject at greater length in a story for the March/April 2013 issue of Sierra; I hope you enjoy it.

  2. Paul, thank you for your response. The graphic you reference on your Sierra Club blog post and in your tweet is clearly intended to influence opinions and downplay the scale of the wind industry's impacts. The source of the graphic, which you link to from your blog post, characterizes attempts to regulate the wind industry's impacts as a tool of a misguided opposition; in fact, enforced siting guidelines are supported by the Sierra Club. The creator of the graphic states: "if you want to protect birds, forget about wind." This link should be removed from your Sierra Club blog post.

    I look forward to reading your article in the next issue of Sierra. I thought your article on distributed generation was great. Hopefully there will also be an article on energy efficiency (assuming I did not already miss one), since this could give folks a way to personally contribute to the fight against fossil fuels, even if they do not qualify for rooftop solar under existing policies and incentives.

    1. Removing links and censoring information is a very poor form of argumentation, IMO. Make your point as you wish; don't try to prevent others from making theirs.

    2. If you think it is appropriate to link to a page that belittles one of the Sierra Club's concerns about wind energy and its position on enforcement of guidelines, then I guess it is your prerogative as a senior staff member to keep that on the page. The point you are making on the Sierra Club page is that a kitschy graphic that portrays 440,000 dead birds as a drop in the bucket provides a useful reference to Sierra Club members, even though it glosses over the problems we actually have with a rapidly expanding wind industry and communicates to readers that enforcement is not a priority.

      Asking Mother Jones--the original publisher--to take down that graphic would be censorship. I'm asking for the Sierra Club to avoid faulty logic and inconsistent messages when communicating with its membership about its core mission of conservation. Our communications should support our goals, not undermine them.

      I hope your full article on this topic will point out that elements of the wind industry oppose the Sierra Club's position on conservation and wildlife protection, ignore US Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines, and are not cooperative with studies to better address the problem. We owe it to our members to let them know that the industry we hope will trump fossil fuels wants to industrialize treasured wildlands, is more intent on making a profit than saving wildlife, and refuses to be held accountable. If we're going to champion sustainability, we have to be informed of these industry shortcomings.


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