Can wind energy help save birds?

This blog entry was written by Allie Brown, former Clean Energy Advocacy Manager at SACE.

Guest Blog | September 16, 2014 | Climate Change, Energy Policy, Wind

The effects of climate change are already here and recent studies show it may be getting worse. Last week, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released a report concluding that 2012-2013 was the largest annual leap in greenhouse gas concentrations in three decades. These findings have serious implications for the severity of climate change, and Audubon scientists are predicting an extreme impact on bird species across the U.S in a newly released Climate Change Report.

The Brown Pelican. Credit: Audubon

The Audubon Society’s findings are shocking: Nearly half of all bird species in North America are at great risk of extinction due to climate change. Audubon conducted an extensive seven year study, entailing a breeding survey to determine “climatic suitability” for each bird species in North America. Audubon scientists then used greenhouse gas emission scenarios to map bird migration changes over time. As temperatures increase, Audubon predicts many bird species’ suitable habits will greatly shrink.

314 bird species in North America could lose more than 50% of their current habitat range by 2080 if no action is taken to combat climate change. The Brown Pelican, Eastern Whip-poor-will, and Orchard Oriole and are just a few of the many bird species greatly impacted by climate change here in the Southeast.

One of the major solutions the Audubon Society presents is reducing carbon pollution that causes global warming. Fossil fuel power plants are one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions in our atmosphere and the major driver of climate change. That’s where clean energy comes into play. Renewable electricity, like solar and wind, could greatly lower carbon emissions and play a major role in protecting these birds species at risk.

Yet, anti-wind energy opponents (often fossil fuel funded groups) publicize wind energy as detrimental to birds. In reality, wind energy does not cause population level threats and accounts for an extremely small percentage of unnatural avian mortality. A new study released yesterday estimated that less than 0.1% of songbird and other small passerine species in North America are killed by wind turbines annually. This is a small fraction of avian mortality compared to bird collisions with windows and cell phone towers as well as cats (nearly 1 billion birds may be killed by cats in the U.S. annually).

Wind energy is a 100% clean energy source that is far less harmful to birds than the energy it displaces. The Audubon Society recognizes the need for emission free electricity and strongly supports property sited wind energy sites. In 2013, the electricity generated by wind energy helped to avoid 93 million metric tons of C02–equivalent to taking 16 million cars off the road.

Source: Forthcoming AWEA U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report Year Ending 2013

Today modern turbine technology and responsible siting practices has helped to greatly lessen wind energy’s impact on bird populations. Through extensive and transparent ecological impact studies, the wind industry works to ensure that wind farms are sited in locations that will have low impacts on migrating birds and endangered species.

These recent reports from WMO and Audubon Society reiterate that there isn’t enough being done to disrupt climate change and bird population decline. There is an urgent need to ramp up clean energy electricity, including wind energy, in order to greatly reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.

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