Trivializing Loss of Life to Defend Industry

I am looking forward to the next issue of Sierra magazine because it will feature an article regarding the wind industry's impacts on birds and bats.  The author, Paul Rauber, wrote a good piece in the last issue on distributed generation, and some of the policy reforms necessary to expand deployment of community solar.  However, as I pointed out earlier this week, Mr. Rauber thought that a graphic and article published by Mother Jones comparing bird mortality by wind turbines to bird mortality by cats was a useful piece of information to share with the Sierra Club's thousands of followers in a separate piece published on the Club's website.  The Mother Jones article and graphic not only portray the loss of 440,000 birds a year as trivial, but also suggests that enforcement of bird conservation law on the wind industry is a tool of renewable energy "opponents."  The article boils down two complex and different problems into an unsophisticated and kitschy graphic that only serves to disarm voices expressing concern about the wind industry's impacts, including voices within the conservation community.

Mr. Rauber has yet to acknowledge that the intent of the graphic and accompanying article undermine the Sierra Club's objectives to ensure that the expanding renewable energy industry appreciates and protects wildlife.  Mr. Rauber suggested removing the Mother Jones link from the Sierra Club website would be "censorship," and told a concerned biologist on Friday that the best reason to say that cats kill more birds than wind turbines is "because it's true".  Yes, the data depicted in the graphic are accurate, but the graphic's defense of the wind industry's impact is not consistent with the Sierra Club's objectives. 

In a letter sent to Secretary of Interior in January 2012, the Sierra Club leadership had this to say about enforced wind energy guidelines:
"...the wildlife values embodied in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other statutes should be protected by the full weight of the enacted laws and strong enforcement thereof."
Aside from this letter, Sierra Club members and staff have been fighting to protect pristine ecosystems and endangered birds and bats from ill-sited utility-scale wind and solar energy projects.  These efforts are not a blanket opposition to all renewable energy, as the Mother Jones article implies, but to ensure that the successors to dirty fossil fuels establish a more sustainable business model.  It is not "censorship" to remove the Mother Jones link from the Sierra Club website, but an effort to avoid faulty logic and inconsistent messages when communicating with our membership. Our communications should support our conservation goals, not undermine them.

At a very basic level, though, the comparison of bird mortality presented in the Mother Jones graphic is offensive.  Even if you do not read the accompanying article lamenting attempts to enforce guidelines on the wind industry, the graphic portrays 440,000 bird deaths as an insignificant drop in the bucket, and manipulates the loss of living creatures with the misguided intent of defending an industry. The Sierra Club's founder had a profound appreciation for each and every living creature, and would not trivialize the loss of even the "smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge." Hopefully Sierra magazine will take this loss of life more seriously in its next issue, and highlight the disregard elements of the wind industry have shown for wildlife.


  1. Thanks for this. Does the graphic note the species killed by cats? Do cats kill large numbers of migrating raptors? Bats? The use of the graphic as described sounds specious and scientistic, hardly good policy nor good politics. Now, to go find the article in question. Thanks for the reporting!


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