EarthTalk: I have heard that wind power turbines
kill a lot of birds, including migrating flocks, and that
some people oppose wind power for that reason. If this is
true, to what degree do they harm birds and what is being
done about it? -- Ken Lassman, Lawrence, KS
is ironic that non-polluting, renewable wind energy, long
touted as a potential savior in the fight to stop global warming,
is getting a bad rap for killing wildlife. High profile examples
such as at California’s Altamont Pass--where outdated,
oversized wind turbines kill some 1,000 birds of prey each
year--plague the growing wind power industry; even though
more modern, better-sited wind farms kill far fewer birds.
to a 2002 study of anthropogenic (human-caused) bird mortality
conducted by researcher Wallace Erickson, birds face daily
threats far more lethal than wind turbines. Erickson’s
study found that between 500 million and one billion birds
are killed annually in the United States alone from collisions
with man-made structures including communications towers,
buildings and windows, and contact with power lines. Hunting,
cat predation, pesticides, commercial fishing operations,
oils spills and cars and trucks also take a heavy toll. All
this is important to realize, say wind power advocates, in
putting the relative impact of windmills on bird populations
in perspective: Contact with wind turbines represented less
that one percent of the total number of human-caused bird
deaths in Erickson’s study.
are, however, steps that can be taken when constructing wind
power turbines to minimize their impact on birds. The American
Bird Conservancy (ABC) advises that lighting on turbines should
be minimized, tension wires and lattice supports should be
avoided, and wind turbine power lines should be placed underground
whenever possible. Also, already more modern wind towers are
being designed in ways that prevent birds from perching on
them (solving one of the problems with the Altamont Pass towers)--and
the turbine blades rotate much more slowly than earlier designs.
addition, says ABC, careful reviews of potential wind turbine
sites should be conducted. Known bird migration pathways,
areas where birds are highly concentrated, and landscapes
known for their popularity with birds should be avoided “unless
mortality risk has been analyzed and the likelihood of significant
mortality has been ruled out.” Wind farms should be
situated on already disturbed land, such as in agricultural
areas, so as not to displace existing bird habitat or travel
corridors. Sites should also be reviewed for use by birds
listed under the Endangered Species Act.
concerns about global warming and pollution from fossil fuel
use demand that we move as quickly as possible toward clean,
renewable energy sources, even if they are as yet imperfect.
“When you look at a wind turbine,” says John Flicker,
president of the National Audubon Society, the world’s
pre-eminent bird advocacy organization, “you can find
the bird carcasses and count them. With a coal-fired power
plant, you can’t count the carcasses, but it’s
going to kill a lot more birds.” Indeed, according to
Erickson, for every 10,000 birds killed by human activities,
less than one death is caused by a wind turbine. And if greenhouse
gases are not reduced significantly in the next decade, we
could bear witness to a large number of plant and animal extinctions
in the coming years.
Bird Conservancy; American
Wind Energy Association; National
COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES
turbines do kill some birds, but industrial emissions kill
a lot more--and if greenhouse gases are not reduced significantly,
global warming may well bring about a large number of plant
and animal extinctions in coming years.
What kinds of cat litters are kinder to the environment:
traditional clay litters (so-called clumping litters) or other
varieties? What about some of the new alternatives, such as
those made out of wheat and corn? -- Stef Gandolfi, Oakland,
clumping cat litters are the most common and widely sold in
supermarkets and pet supply stores. Clay litters do not biodegrade
and instead pile up in landfills, producing chemicals that
can potentially harm human health. According to the International
Agency for Research on Cancer, clay litters also produce dusts
that contain silicon particles, which are known human carcinogens.
In addition, the clay used for litter is obtained through
strip-mining, a practice that causing adverse environmental
effects on surrounding soil, water and air.
Some pet owners
have reported respiratory and other health problems in their
cats due to both the inhalation and ingestion of clumping
clay litters. Once inside the lungs or digestive tracts, the
litter can expand from moisture and cause irritation and blockages.
In the lungs this can lead to infection, and in the intestines
dehydration and a decrease in nutrient absorption can result.
Scientific studies and documented cases of such incidents
seem to be in short supply, however, and such claims seem
to only be anecdotal.
To be safe, however,
there are a number of environmentally friendly alternatives
that are deemed safer for people and cats alike. Recycled
newspaper, for one, can be used to create cat litter in pellet
form. It is biodegradable, flushable, burnable and 99 percent
dust-free. It also has the advantage of not getting tracked
around the house, unlike clay litters. Fibre Cycle, a company
with the primary mission of finding innovative and environmentally
friendly uses for recycled paper, sells such paper-based cat
litter and claims it to be highly absorbent, biodegradable,
long lasting, lightweight and virtually dust-free.
are made from materials such as corn, corncobs, cornhusks,
wheat by-products, wheat grass and beet pulp. According to
Worldwise, a leading manufacturer of environmentally responsible
pet products, plain ground corncobs are a good choice because
they are made of natural, flushable biodegradable materials,
have no odor, are very absorbent and don’t produce the
same kind or volume of dust as clay litters.
Litters made from
pine and cedar saw dusts offer yet another clay-based alternative.
As with the plant-based offerings, they are made from natural
scrap materials that biodegrade. They also eliminate odor
naturally—due to the innate ability of both pine and
cedar to absorb and neutralize ammonia—rather than cover
up odors with chemicals and perfumes. Feline Pine, from Florida-based
Nature’s Earth Products, is a wood litter made from
100 percent natural pine that has been heated and pressurized
to remove any harmful wood oils. When ready for changing,
the biodegradable litter—available in both clumping
and pellet varieties—can be simply emptied into the
backyard compost or mulching pile. One caution about pine,
though: Some cats have a sensitivity to pine aroma and as
a result could shun the litter box altogether.
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