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The casualty toll of green energy

Merrill Matthews

The danger wind turbines pose to birds is well known. Less appreciated is that hundreds of thousands of bats are also dying.

Both birds and bats are critical to our ecosystem, and their mass extermination may pose a bigger, more immediate threat to the environment than climate change.

Scientific American recently published a story highlighting the problem of bat deaths from wind turbines. The article also discussed a wind industry initiative to reduce the toll by an estimated 30 percent. Even if these efforts succeed, they may not be enough to avert serious consequences.

A Wildlife Society Bulletin study estimated that some 573,000 birds — including 83,000 birds of prey such as eagles and hawks — and 888,000 bats were killed in 2012. But the number of wind turbines has grown substantially since then.

And it’s not just North America. Scientific American explains, “A research paper published in January of this year found that wind turbines are, by far, the largest cause of mass bat mortality around the world.”

Birds get more attention and seem to be more appreciated than bats, but bats are crucial to the ecosystem and to humans. They eat large numbers of insects, including some very damaging ones, allowing farmers to reduce the amount of pesticides used on crops. In addition, bats are pollinators, they scatter fruit seeds, and are considered a “keystone species” in some regions where the ecological system depends on them.

The great mystery surrounding these bat and bird deaths is the ho-hum response from so many people who regularly lecture us about the importance of the environment.

Some animal rights and environmental activists are pushing back against the bird and bat holocaust. But they are conflicted because of their support for renewable energy.

Environmentalists who think that climate change is our most serious threat have themselves become a threat — to wildlife vital to the ecosystem.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation.