By Merrill Matthews
The casualty toll of green energy continues to mount. 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 poses a bigger, more immediate threat to the environment than climate change.
Scientific American recently highlighted the problem of bat deaths from wind turbines, citing a wind industry initiative to reduce deaths by 30 percent. Unfortunately, even if these efforts succeed, they may not be enough to avert serious consequences.
A Wildlife Society Bulletin study estimated that 573,000 birds-including 83,000 birds of prey such as eagles and hawks-and 888,000 bats were killed by wind-energy projects in 2012. But the number of wind turbines has grown substantially since then.
Echoing those findings, Bird Studies Canada estimates that 14,144 non-raptors and 462 raptors were killed by wind turbines in Canada between May and October of 2015. The same study estimates 42,656 bat deaths-three times the number of bird deaths.
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."
Bats are crucial to the ecosystem and to humans. They eat many insects, including some very damaging ones, reducing the amount of pesticides needed for crops. Moreover, bats are pollinators, they scatter fruit seeds, and are considered a "keystone species" in regions where the ecological system depends on them.
The mosquito-borne Zika and West Nile viruses are major public health threats, which makes murdering bats and birds that consume mosquitoes all the more dangerous. Bats prey on mosquitoes, as do Purple Martins, a species fourth on Bird Studies Canada's "Top 15 Hit List" of birds killed by wind turbines.
Yet there is a ho-hum response from many people who regularly lecture about the importance of the environment - no one more so than President Obama.
President Obama recently unveiled a plan that would turn a blind eye to the killings. Under the plan, "wind companies and other power providers could kill or injure up to 4,200 bald eagles a year without penalty-nearly four times the current limit. Golden eagles could only be killed if companies take steps to minimize the losses, for instance, by retrofitting power poles to reduce the risk of electrocution."
Since when is it acceptable to kill 4,200 bald eagles? Although they were removed from the endangered species list in 2007, the birds are still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Act of 1940.
In this presidential election year, we frequently hear about "equal justice." Accidentally killing a bald eagle can bring down the full wrath of law enforcement - unless you own a wind turbine apparently.
Some bat species are on, or are being considered for, the endangered list, but wind turbines don't care.
Animal rights and environmental activists are pushing back against the bird and bat holocaust, but are conflicted because of their support for renewable energy.
Past environmentalist efforts rightly supported expanding natural gas because it burns cleaner than coal and nuclear energy-neither of which would decimate bird and bat populations. But those days are gone.
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 in Dallas, Texas. Follow at twitter.com/MerrillMatthews.