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Wed Sep 27, 2017, 07:39 PM

A Minor Problem For Sound Science of the Effect of Offshore Windfarms on Seabirds: There Isn't Any. [View all]

I've just been leafing through a wonderful book that one wishes didn't have to be written.

It's um, this one: Why Birds Matter

One of my scientific interests is material flows in which I focus on particular elements in the periodic table, and I've collected and read a great deal of literature on that subject. One very important element is the element phosphorous, on which the real "green revolution" - that would be the fertilizer revolution in the 1950's and not the absurd scheme to lace the world with wind turbines and solar cells - depended.

Why Birds Matter is written for our times, inasmuch the argument consists of a great deal of comment on the economic importance of birds, and what it would cost to the human economy if they ceased to exist, and they may cease to exist; many species have already done so, and more are sure to follow.

The only thing we really, really, really care about is, um, money, right and left.

And one of the big economic drivers on this planet is, um, food.

We absolutely must have phosphorous, to feed humanity and for that matter, all living things, whether or not we decide that the only people who should eat are those who can pay for it.

It turns out that one of the most important sources for phosphorous on this planet is, um - well there's no nice way to put it - bird shit. And this is the topic of chapter 9 in "Why Birds Matter."

The island nation of Nauru once had the highest per capita income in the world because it was the chief exporter of bird shit, or what bird shit had become after a few million years, phosphate rock. After Nauru, a small country, dug up all the bird shit on the island and exported it to Australia and New Zealand and elsewhere, the government decided to "invest" all the money, and all the investments went bad, and now Nauru is a very poor country with no resources, very little remaining phosphate, a population with a diabetes problem and an economy based on warehousing Islamic refugees who tried to make it to Australia but who were intercepted by the Australian Navy.

So Nauru needs seabirds to shit on it again. But seabirds are in trouble.

And one of the big trouble for seabirds is, um, wind farms, which are often, to my personal regret, described by people on our end of the political spectrum as "green" and good for the environment.

They are no such thing. I was recently challenged here to produce some um, "peer reviewed" literature (which isn't by the way, magical) on the negative impact of wind farms on the environment, and I pulled some stuff out of my files, and poked around the recent literature on the topic. Here is my response to the challenge: Sure, I'd be pleased to...

After poking around a bit for some more updated stuff than what's in my files, I came across this nice piece: Lack of sound science in assessing wind farm impacts on seabirds (Green et al, Journal of Applied Ecology 2016, 53, 16351641) I believe it may be open sourced, so you can read it yourself if you're not in a library. (I'm in a library as I write, so I can't tell if it's open sourced, but I think it is.)

Some text from the paper:

Electrical power generation from wind farms has grown rapidly in the UK and European Union (EU) in the last decade and is set to grow further. By 2020, the EU proposes to source 20% of energy from renewable sources (Directive 2009/28/EC). Wind energy is expected to provide 914% of global electricity generation by 2050 (IPCC 2011). This may eventually reduce climatic change and its negative impacts on biodiversity, but there are also several poorly quantified negative effects on wild species of renewable energy generation, including wind turbines. For example, birds and bats are killed by colliding with turbine blades or towers and there may be effects of wind farms on mortality and reproductive rates of a wide range of species from avoidance and displacement. Birds may incur additional costs or forego benefits because of reduced transit or foraging within or near to wind farms (Drewitt & Langston 2006; Searle et al. 2014). Depending upon the strength of density-dependent compensatory processes, these effects could reduce the population to a lower stable level or cause its extinction (Wade 1998; Niel & Lebreton 2005)...


Estimates of the effects of wind farms on seabird demographic rates are neither robust nor validated

Collision risk models (CRMs) are used to predict the number of fatal collisions of flying birds with wind turbines and per capita additional mortality rates. In the UK, the most widely used CRM is that of Band (2012) (see review by Masden & Cook (2016)). The model requires estimates or assumptions about bird numbers and ages at the wind farm, attribution of birds at the wind farm to source populations, sizes and age structure of source populations, flight behaviour and avoidance rates. Data specific to the project and species being assessed are usually collected on seabird numbers and flight heights, judged by eye, but these estimates are subject to substantial uncertainties, variability and potential biases (Johnston et al. 2014), including:

1.accuracy of input variables is rarely quantified, is often poor, and the CRM outputs are highly sensitive to the values used, including flight speed (Masden 2015), and avoidance rate estimates;
2.in many cases, birds at risk are not attributed to source populations because recently developed tracking technologies are either not deployed at all or not on a sufficient scale for robust estimation;
3.count and flight height data are usually insufficient in quantity and quality for precise estimation of seasonal variation, age structure and age differences (Band 2012).

Total avoidance rates used for CRM calculations for seabirds, including within-wind farm avoidance of individual turbines and macro-avoidance by movement of birds around the turbine array, are most often based upon judgement or extrapolation from other contexts rather than pertinent data. Empirical values are only available from a few species (mostly gulls and terns) and usually extrapolated from studies of onshore wind farms, where different circumstances prevail (Cook et al. 2014). Robust direct estimates of within-wind farm avoidance rates are lacking for seabird species frequently present in and near planned and consented offshore wind farms in the UK, such as northern gannet Morus bassanus and black-legged kittiwake Rissa tridactyla (Cook et al. 2014). Macro-avoidance and displacement rates have been estimated using radar, visual surveys and imaging, but robust quantitative estimates...

By the way, birds and bats are only part of the reason that the wind industry sucks, but it is, I think, an important part.

The wind and solar industries are nothing more than fig leafs for the dangerous gas industry, and the dangerous natural gas industry is killing us as surely as the dangerous coal industry is.

This post won't get the more than 60 recs a post on this website got for a poorly reported blurb about how wonderful the wind industry is for, um, mussels, but I think if we cannot question our own assumptions, cannot rethink our biases, we will not serve humanity.

Don't be rote. Think.

Have a nice day tomorrow.

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