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Tough Choices Ahead

August 29, 2011 - I was reading today that birdwatchers in California are disturbed because of the deaths of six Golden Eagles that collided with wind turbines. Some of the most enjoyable hours of my adult life have been spent birdwatching, and my concern regarding birds' plummeting populations has gone on for a long time now. Certainly the loss of these majestic birds hits home for a number of reasons: 1) the dead birds were found and accounted for, which had to be unnerving because 2) they are extremely large birds, as American birds go; 3) wind turbines are still a relatively new technology with which we are only beginning to grow accustomed; and 4) all of us in the birdwatching community realize there are lots of other accidents that can and do happen to birds every day, particularly the young, inexperienced birds.

The reason I mention the fact that the birds were seen and identified is that so, so many of "our birds" winter in Central and South America, where loss of habitat due to deforestation has played havoc with warblers and songbirds for decades. Their passing goes largely unremarked; we know only that the numbers of birds making the return trip continue to decline. We cannot see the individual birds searching desperately for a place to nest, or for food for nestlings (Bugs and larvae that used to live in or on the trees). What we cannot see, we cannot mourn as deeply.

Deforestation is, of course, a cause of global warming, since trees remove carbon dioxide from the air. The reason the wind turbines exist in the first place is to replace fossil fuels, the burning of which is another cause of global warming. Deforestation is once again occurring, every bit as massively as it did in the Amazon, but this time in the boreal forests of Canada, in order to make way for tar sands oil pipelines. Not only does the loss of so many trees rob birds of places to live, it robs all mammals of clean air to breathe. The more trees we lose, the dirtier the air will get.

Ultimately, I'm not really very torn. We need those wind turbines. Lots of them. Yes, counting big or little dead birds causes the animal lover's or nature lover's heart to skip a beat, whether they've been felled by a wind turbine, or by tall buildings that go dark at night, a common mishap in cities all across the country. Wind turbines will never put millions of all kinds of creatures to death, however. Global warming will. I do not exaggerate. Climate change could well end up endangering most species on the planet, humans included. Alternate or renewable sources of energy that do not pollute are essential if the earth is to have a future. When you see a wind turbine, imagine the lives saved by the air being made a little bit cleaner.

And speaking of cleaner air - did you know that there's a system that removes nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury, and other chemical effluents from the emissions given off by fossil-fuel burning power plants? It's been developed by a company in Israel called Lextran, and it works - roughly - like this: liquid is sprayed down an emissions tower, and as the droplets encounter toxins, they convert them into safer substances by means of chemical reactions. The converted droplets fall to the floor of the tower, where they are collected. Because many, if not most, countries are enforcing more rigorous air pollution standards, Lextran has potential customers all over the world. Their first two customers are Rumania and China.

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