Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Windmill Advocates Tilting at Critics

AKA Bird Cuisinarts Part II (Part 1 Here)

Hat Tip: Instapundit

The numbers below, attributed to the National Research Council have been presented as representing the breakdown of major ‘anthropogenic causes’ of bird deaths, are now flying (no pun intended) around the World Wide Web:

Domestic cats: Hundreds of millions a year
Striking high-tension lines: 130 million - 1 billion a year
Striking buildings: 97 million to 976 million a year
Cars: 80 million a year
Toxic chemicals: 72 million
Striking communications towers: 4 to 50 million a year
Wind turbines: 20,000 to 37,000

How unfortunate.

Unfortunate, because at first look these numbers could be nothing more than, in a word, “crap”. It is particularly unfortunate because to realize they are crap, all one has to do is to simply cogitate for a moment on the numbers as they are presented:

Doesn’t the first number (‘Domestic Cats’) appear particularly vague to the reader? It looks very much like “somebody’s” obvious WAG (Wild A** Guess). Think about it. The expression used represents any number between 200,000,000 and 999,999,999 dead birds. Isn’t that a little ‘broad’ of a number to have come from any meaningful and conclusive research?

About the second, third, and sixth (Striking High-Tension Lines, Buildings, and Communications Towers) numbers : see anything perplexing about the ranges offered? Exactly what should one conclude about any estimate that spans an entire order of magnitude? Think about it - there is enough uncertainty in the numbers provided to consider the very high probability that whoever gathered this ‘information’ didn’t have enough data to actually determine the real numbers. Heck, they couldn’t even determine the scale of the deaths due to these causes.

The fourth ‘cause’ listed is suspect given the weapon (Cars) and the geographical size of the ‘crime scene’ (Roads). Accepting the 80 Million number as a convenient ‘round-off’, how was the data collected and estimate formed? There’s an awfully lot of cars to follow, with thousands and thousands of miles of roads cutting through untold numbers of different ecosystems and bird populations to factor into any estimate. Full Disclosure: I admit I may have been a little more skeptical than some concerning this number, due to my exposure to my Grandfather’s stirring tales of observing and auditing game bird population survey lunacies in Jackson County, Oregon.

Toxic Chemicals. Hmmph.
Nice number. 72 million. Not 70, not 75. Seventy Two.

Fairly specific for a causality :
1. that doesn’t always kill at the point of exposure,
2. with a victim that for what must be an overwhelmingly large, yet unquantifiable percentage of the time probably isn’t even found or subject to a post mortem,
3. with a verifiable sample population that has the cause of death assessed by someone who might be in their line of work due to their inspiration by Rachael Carlson. (my personal skepticism coming out here)

There's not enough evidence to throw out this number without further review by a long-shot I know, but it is definitely a number I would want to investigate before I accepted it much less repeated.

Wind Turbines. A realistic ‘appearing’ range anyway, but from my anecdotal experience it seems..ahem… low. Also given the ‘study’ purpose, might the research have just a 'slight' windmill bias?

Don’t Take My Word For It -- Take the Source's Word For It.
Well I know these numbers are crap, and normally I wouldn’t even bother to investigate how the crap was created in the first place. I would just take the position that if someone else thought I was wrong, then they could go try and prove it. But this information was easy enough get: it comes from the ‘study’ that provided it in the first place. From Pages 50 and 51:

The authors immediately after this admission attempt to make a case that the numbers are still meaningful, but their logic is severely undercut by their own later descriptions of what they see as needed for future research and by what is in their summary at the end. Also, if anyone bothers to read this report/study they should note the authors devote a lot of attention to the far less cute but no less threatened bats. For some reason, there is not just the same outcry over that equally important part of the ecosystem.

So, why don’t we just build us some nice clean nuclear power plants, instead of clogging up our landscapes and seascapes with these ugly windmills, hmmmm?

On a personal note:
1. I’m still waiting for somebody to do an in-depth analysis of the Wind Energy industry’s waste stream.
2. It chaps my cheeks to be on the same side as Teddy Kennedy on any subject, even if he’s on the right side for the wrong reasons.

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