Fossil Fuels are Never Preferred
With numerous available options for energy generation, we can now broaden the debate to include soil, plants, and animals as equal stakeholders in the pros and cons of each. As a nature-lover and green building professional, I’ve long been a proponent of renewable energy over fossils fuels. For me, promoting wind and solar power over coal-fired power plants is an easy choice. To strengthen my beliefs, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 made it crystal clear that offshore drilling has potential for major externalities-especially harmful in the most catastrophic of failures like that one. So we have to ask ourselves, ‘Is the potential environmental risk worth the short term economic gains?’
What about Nuclear?
To avoid the obvious pitfalls of fossil fuels, some of my less tree-hugging friends thought nuclear was the golden solution. However, nuclear is a tricky option to classify as preferred or nonpreferred. For me, it lands in a slight grey area. Usually I place it in the nonpreferred end of the spectrum, because the ‘worst case’ scenario is exponentially harmful to the entire planet. And then Fukushima happened in 2011 and showed us just how bad it could be. Did you know that six years later, the radiation is not fully contained and it is still leaking into the ocean? Therefore, it is difficult for me to support nuclear power in any fashion.
Consider the Birds
Now we are in 2017 and wind and solar are still both great options, right? Unfortunately not always; they have wavering degrees of goodness. My pro-fossil fuel friends love to remind me that wind turbines kill around 200,000 birds each year in North America. I have no ability to debate that fact; it’s true and it include bats as well. Which is why I’m re-thinking solar and wind as equivalent options on the spectrum of preferred energy solutions.
It is also true that every system has externalities, and the best we can do in the green movement is try to minimize those negative impacts of an otherwise beneficial system. So the wind turbine issue leaves me wondering, ‘Are birds and bats in the sky less important than fish in the sea?’
What Changed for me
I’d like you to consider that perhaps they are even more important. Bats eat mosquitos, we can all agree thats a good thing. My whole perspective on birds changed when I was recently introduced to the psychological benefits of birdsong at the Firefly Earthskills gathering in Asheville, North Carolina. At first, the human connection to birdsong sounds like another hippy-dippy mantra like, ‘save the whales’ (more on that later, also very important). But when I dug in and did my research, I am now more convinced than ever that we need to support the growth of bird populations and reap the benefits of their calls and songs.
It’s not just hiking enthusiasts like me who believe birdsong is interconnected with our bodies and minds, scientists agree! The BBC published an comprehensive article (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22298779) highlighting five case studies where playing recorded birdsong in indoor environments physically relaxes our nervous systems and mentally boosts our brain performance. The stochastic (ie. random) nature of bird sounds creates a non-rhythmic soundscape that science has yet to be able to quantify why our brains like it, but studies show they do!
If we lose birdsong to wind turbines, we could also lose this free anti-depressant and self-soothing medicine of mother nature. Plus, other more subtle connections that have yet to be discovered, like why birds sing at dawn.
The most surprising revelation in my research is that the Audubon Society, a 100 year old bird conservation nonprofit, does not condemn wind power. Although they have been involved in federal law suits against some wind projects, their current stance on wind power is to support properly sited wind turbines and innovative technologies that repel birds from away turbines. Unfortunately, these strategies are not yet standard practice. The good news is that awareness is growing and precedents are being set for bird friendly wind power.
Become and Advocate
Therefore, I will no longer support wind power without noting the challenges to all stakeholders, including our feathered friends in the sky. Now, I am empowered to be an advocate for the birds as equal stakeholders in a green economy. Going forward, bird deterrence is just another layer of due diligence that must be included when planning new wind power projects. And like all decision making in the green movement, transparency is essential; keep asking questions.
Read more about birdsong: https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/birdsong/
and the Audubon Society: http://www.audubon.org/wp-content/audubons-position-wind-power
and what options are available: http://abcbirds.org/program/wind-energy-and-birds/bird-smart-strategies/