Ryan Zinke wants you to think of the birds.
The Trump administration’s interior secretary pointed out the downside of the boom in wind power this week, noting that the spinning blades that now generate more than 25 percent of the electricity in some Midwestern states can be deadly for flying animals.
Speaking to an oil-industry conference in Houston, Zinke touted plans for boosting fossil-fuel extraction on the roughly half a billion acres of federal lands his department manages, and downplayed the downside. While acknowledging that burning oil and gas releases gases like carbon dioxide, he added, “All energy has its consequences.”
"We probably chop us as many as 750,000 birds a year with wind, and the carbon footprint on wind is significant," Zinke said.
Turbine collisions do kill hundreds of thousands of birds a year. But most research suggests the numbers are far smaller and pale in comparison to other bird threats.
“Like so much of what this administration says, these statements are fact-challenged,” John Rogers, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Seeker.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service, an arm of the Interior Department, says the midpoint of scientists’ estimates is about 328,000, but the number could be as high as 680,000 a year.
Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Gavin Shire told Seeker the figure Zinke cited “is well within the bounds of possibility.” The high end of previous estimates came from a study conducted in 2012 and 2013, didn’t include Alaska and Hawaii, and there’s been “quite a considerable increase” in the number of turbines built since then, he said.
But by comparison, between half a million and a million birds a year die in oil, tar, and brine pits. Around 25 million die when they hit power lines. More than 300 million are killed when they slam into building windows.
And cats kill more than 2.4 billion birds a year, making the toll taken by wind turbines look like a rounding error.
Zinke’s comments are an echo of others by President Donald Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax” and “bullshit” and lamented both the look of wind turbines and the birds lost to the spinning blades.