It’s been a bad year for Al Gore and his global warming buddies. The president of the United States complains that the water off Martha’s Vineyard is too cold; New Yorkers are suffering through the coldest summer in memory; and to top it off, recent data contradict that global warming can be countered in any significant way by a domestic war on fossil fuels.
Still, the war on fossil fuels has been going on for years and, as in any war, innocent victims are dismissed as regrettable but necessary collateral damage. After the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, reporters and politicians predicted that it would result in a massive loss of bird life. Columnist George Will observed that more birds were being killed every year by wind farms that were likely to die in the Gulf.
Alternative-energy fans went nuts and political fact-checkers went on the prowl searching high and low for evidence that Mr. Will didn’t know what he was talking about. One Florida newspaper concluded that while there was only evidence at the time that one bird had died, it wasn’t prepared to say that Mr. Will was correct because thousands more could succumb to corporate greed before the clean-up could be completed. Besides, that particular bird had been featured in television and print reports dozens or perhaps even hundreds of times, leading the public to believe that thousands of birds were victims of British Petroleum’s corporate greed and our obsession with fossil fuels.
At the time, 100,000 birds were being chopped up by wind farms every year, but even this figure wasn’t enough to allow them to accept the truthfulness of Mr. Will’s comment, and while the paper was right in assuming that more birds would die somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, the bird genocide predicted by critics of BP never materialized.
Wind farms may have chewed up a mere 100,000 birds a year, including eagles back then, but as the government has subsidized wind power since, it is now estimated that more than 573,000 birds are meeting a similar fate every year.
The Obama administration supported legal action a few years ago against an oil refinery that allowed one mallard duck to land in a waste pool and die, but thinks wind farms should be allowed to kill with impunity by promulgating regulations to exempt them from the penalties the rest of us would face if we are caught killing off bald and golden eagles for fun or profit.
Not to be outdone in the war on birds, solar-energy enthusiasts have gone the wind farmers one better. They’ve built a $2.2 billion solar-energy facility in California’ Mojave Desert that, according to an Associated Press report, has been described by wildlife experts as a “mega-trap” for birds. The BrightSource Energy facility has only been operational since February, but is dispatching birds at an ever-increasing rate.
What BrightSource, which includes Google as one of its primary partners, has done is to build a huge field of mirrors that catch, focus and reflect sunlight onto 40-story high “power towers” that convert the sunlight to heat, generate steam and thus produce electricity. The current facility can provide enough to light as many as 140,000 homes, but BrightSource wants to expand.
Federal wildlife officials, again according to AP, visited the facility as it was undergoing test runs last year and witnessed what they and BrightSource employees have taken to calling “streamers.” These are birds that fly over the facility, are essentially fried in the air and fall to the ground trailing smoke as their feathers ignite and burn. One expert who has studied the “streamers” told reporters that the reflected sunlight attracts insects that in turn attract thousands of birds; thus, the perfect killing machine.
Bird lovers are trying desperately to halt the expansion of the facility, but aren’t likely to succeed because California and federal officials seem to think that if we lose a few hundred thousand or even millions of birds a year, it will be worth it to cripple the fossil-fuel industry. Besides, say the alternative-energy aficionados, the operators of the facilities are killing far fewer birds every year than house cats.
The government knows what to do about that even if, unlike our wind and sun farmers, they don’t have much of an appetite for eagles or raptors. Since house cats don’t produce much in the way of alternative energy, the government is spending millions to neuter them and thus reduce their number, if not their appetites.
What a country.
David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times.