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Stealing Our Sympathy

There is a growing sense among the public that life on our planet is being threatened by our careless misuse of its resources.

There is a growing sense among the public that life on our planet is being threatened by our careless misuse of its resources.

The most obvious evidence of this misuse is climate change. Unexpected dramatic weather patterns are now being experienced everywhere. Along with rising sea levels, due to the melting of polar ice, these patterns have led to increased flooding of coastal communities. Perhaps more insidious is the growing desertification of large continental areas. This is accompanied by a rapid reduction in fresh water supply, essential for food production, in neighboring agricultural regions.

Specifically, it is the burning of fossil fuels, with the accompanying release of carbon dioxide, that is to blame. Those fuels powered up the industrial revolution, but their time has come and gone.

We can replant swaths of landscape to absorb some of the carbon dioxide that humans continue to produce, but our overwhelming need is to transition rapidly to carbon-free sources of energy. Our planet is fortunately blessed with just such non-polluting energy resources – the sun and the wind – which can, with relatively small investments, provide us with unlimited supplies of power into the indefinite future.

There is just one thing that might get in the way – namely the financial interest of those with a stake in our outdated sources of energy. These tycoons may be few in number, but they are huge in influence (i.e. money!). They know that wind and solar power installations can be rapidly built, can threaten the profitability of coal, oil and gas, and can subsequently lead to their mines and wells being closed down. They therefore feel a need to create and sow widespread doubt amongst the public, about the effectiveness of the new sources of energy. This goal is being accomplished, extraordinarily successfully, through the exploitation of a completely unexpected resource – human sympathy.

So how did they achieve this?

Years ago, with the erection of the first wind turbines around the United States, the public response that was most discussed was that of visual impact. It is understandable that when large new structures are added to the landscape, some concern may follow. However, it turns out that as people become aware of the usefulness of the new additions, and of their contribution to society’s well-being, then acceptance, and even affection, follow. This transition from hostility to appreciation happens, even when a structure is not intended to be functional. An example of this, cited by Paul Gipe in “Wind Power in View”, is the evolution of Parisians’ attitudes – from negative to positive – to the erection of the Eiffel Tower.

Fossil fuel interests soon realized that it was unlikely that they could delay the erection of wind turbines by encouraging dislike based on visual pollution. So what other factor could they find – or maybe invent – that the public might object to? The unexpected answer is danger to birds and bats.

Most humans care about animals (at least the ones they don’t eat). This is particularly true of bird lovers, of which there are millions in the United States. Caring for birds is based on unselfishness, unlike one’s feelings about an altered view, or about mechanical noise. By appealing to peoples’ concern, and potential guilt, rather than to their self-interest, fossil fuel supporters have brilliantly succeeded in cultivating not just delaying tactics, but outright opposition to the installation of wind turbines. Countless statements in countless documents now describe the danger that wind turbine blades pose to birds. Repetition sparks repetition. More and more extensive and elaborate studies are demanded for every proposed wind project. Many installations have now been put on hold, or simply stopped. All this is in spite of the fact that accidental bird deaths are thousands of times more likely to be due to collision with glass windows than to collision with wind turbines (see linked article). Less obvious, but even more deadly, is the mortal threat that global climate change is already causing directly, to many animals.

All this deception by the fossil-fuel industry would be effective enough, even if they were the only ones responsible for spreading the fear-mongering. However, they have had the invaluable support of some so-called environmental groups, who have provided the key element of credibility to the deceit. How much these self-described conservation groups are unwitting supporters, and how much they are actual allies, of the anti-wind power effort, has yet to be decided. Some of them have simply helped to spread doubts about the sites of many wind projects, while others have actually been the leaders in halting proposed wind installations (see linked article). Some unrelated environmental organizations then highlight these stories in their publications, and inadvertently spread the lies even further.

It is vital that we all become aware of this massive deception. We should realize that birds are capable of navigating around or between the slowly rotating blades of large wind turbines, and are in far, far greater danger when they fly near our towns and cities.

If we allow ourselves to be deceived by the fossil-fuel industry and their fabricated worries about birds, then we will be refusing to look the future squarely in the face. We must end our addiction to fossil fuels, and work to establish clean, renewable alternatives.

The birds and bats will thank us.

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