How many birds must die while you pour refrigerated soy milk on your granola?

According to The Province:

More than 300 sea birds, mostly brown pelicans and northern gannets, have been found dead along the U.S. Gulf Coast during the first five weeks of BP’s huge oil spill off Louisiana, wildlife officials reported Monday.

Tragic. Poor birds.

According to another report:

While generating megawatts of electricity, windmills on the Tug Hill Plateau in northern New York are also killing hundreds of bats and birds, according to a recent study.

The consultants’ report for PPM Energy and Horizon Energy identified 123 birds, mostly night migrants, and 326 bats found dead over the course of five months last year beneath 50 wind turbines on the plateau between Lake Ontario and the western Adirondacks.

Those poor birds and bats, done in by some windmills. The article describes 123 birds and 326 bats killed by 50 windmills over 5 months. While the other article explains that about 300 birds killed. This by about 37 million gallons of oil over 5 weeks.

The wind-watch article also mentions that those 50 turbines produce 900,000 megawatt hours per year.

Let’s only consider the number of birds killed.

1.7 MWh per barrel of oil x 37,000,000 barrels = 62,900,000 MWh of energy in the oil spill to date
62,900,000 MWh / 300 birds = 209667 MWh per bird killed

50 turbines produce 900,000 MWh per year
4.35 weeks/month * 5 months = 21.75 weeks
21.75 weeks / 52 weeks/year = 0.42 years
0.42 years * 900,000 MWh/year = 376442 MWh produced by windmills over 5 month period
376442 MWh / 123 birds = 3061 MWh per bird killed

Oil vs. Wind
209667 MWh per bird killed (oil) / 3061 MWh per bird killed (wind) ~= 68

What does this mean?

In terms of environmental impact measured by one factor (birds killed), windmills are about 68x more efficient at killing birds per unit energy derived. To garner the same amount of energy needed from wind than from oil, we’d have to operate the windmills 68x longer or increase the number of windmills by 68x in order to get the same amount of energy. This means that about 68x more birds will die if we wanted to match the energy we’d get from oil. This would result in 68 * 123 birds = 8425 birds dead compared to the 300 dead from the oil spill for the same amount of energy derived.

There is, of course, one major flaw in the calculation above (besides my wanton disregard for sig figs). We’ve only considered oil spilled in the gulf. Alas, the vast majority (ie. 99.9999%) of oil isn’t spilled. When oil isn’t spilled, its efficiency in killing birds goes way down. Further, the wind energy we consider above is the norm not the exception; this is the rate of bird death during normal operation of wind turbines.

Clearly, when considering the environmental impact of oil by showing dead oil slicked birds on cable news, oil actually isn’t comparatively bad. In fact, it is a less efficient killer of birds per unit energy derived.

The champ?

And in Canadian politics, the NDP crows about windmills:

and chirps off-shore drilling:



  • Alex

    I love it. Use the eco-reasoning on them and they lose.

  • Chris Slothouber

    Are oil spill(s) the only part of the oil life-cycle that kills birds? What about the diminished habitat, biodiversity, etc. that kills birds too? And the oil used to manufacture the turbines. While I appreciate the sentiment, this is a bit too simplistic to have any real meaning.

  • Alberta Girl

    I see that “biodiversity” is the new “buzz” word used by the eco’s. I guess making it simplistic goes to both sides, Chris.

  • bert

    Maybe when you have to start living in a cave because you cant afford energy you will see that its not too simplistic.

  • C. Ormarant

    I know you’re not this stupid….but maybe you are.

  • Canadiansense

    We have numerous studies of installing these oversized fans in the “wrong spot”. We are now having reports and studies showing the 30 year life cycle of these giants fans in replacing the “dirty” is NOT cost-effective.
    How many more animals are being sacrificed for the tax funded Green Lobby?

    The CBC is busy framing 500 birds dying blaming Syncrude, Alberta as a “environmental disaster”.

    Greenpeace, Animal Conservation Groups, Bird Groups, activists are blind to the thousands dying annually from giant fans.

    The question is why?

    Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy estimates that U.S. wind turbines kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds per year.

    The wind energy industry has been constructing and operating wind projects for almost 25 years with little state and federal oversight. They have rejected as either too costly or unproven techniques recommended by NWCC to reduce bird deaths. The wind industry ignores the expertise of state energy staff and the knowledgeable advice of Fish and Wildlife Service employees on ways to reduce or avoid bird and wildlife impacts. – The House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans

    Oversight Hearing on: “Gone with the Wind: Impacts of Wind Turbines on Birds and Bats.”
    Testimony of Donald Michael Fry, PhD
    Director, Pesticides and Birds Program
    American Bird Conservancy
    May 1, 2007, Room 1324 Longworth House Office Building.

  • Canadiansense

    Simplistic or head in sand?

    The facts are clear Giants Fans are bad for birds, bats and are NOT cost effective.

    Go to California, Norway, Spain, Portgual where these GIANT FANS are installed on a large scale and find your STUDY and Report that demostrates their cost-effectiveness.

  • Gayle

    So is it your contention the only environmental damage caused by oil spills is that some birds die? Really?

    Because I know they are still finding oil under the sand in Alaska. As Chris points outs the oil enters the ecosystem causing exponential environmental damage.

    Pray tell, how does windmill damage enter the ecosystem causing exponential damage?

    Your argument here is not worth the couple of minutes it must have taken you to invent it.

  • Greg

    Regardless of any total environmental effects, wind power is completely useless, at least in my jurisdiction of Ontario. The only other source of power that is reduced on windy days is hydro electric, which is carbon free and almost free to run. No coal or natural gas control technology exists to mitigate the variability of the wind quickly enough, so they throttle a valve at Niagara, and pay people $0.40 per kw for useless wind power. If you wonder where I got this information from, it was a strong advocate of wind power and professor of wind technology at U of G.

  • Kevin

    Let me get this straight:

    Oil mixed with sand in Alaska = “Exponential” damage caused by human spill not cleaned up well.

    Oil mixed with sand in Alberta = NOOO don't clean up THAT sand, you'll kill the environment!!!!1!1!one!!

  • drich

    But zero MWh of energy can be produced from oil that is spilled into the ocean. Therefore your equation should look like this:

    0 MWh per barrel of oil x 37,000,000 barrels = 0 MWh of energy in the oil spill to date
    0 MWh / 300 birds = 0 MWh per bird killed

    Spilled oil produces no energy per bird killed. Therefore, oil energy is
    infinitely more efficient at killing birds than wind mills.

    And you call yourself a scientist…….

    (Yes I realize this is ridiculous, almost as ridiculous as your original calculations.)

  • Gayle

    Ummm. What?

  • Gayle

    Well that totally avoids the actual point, but thanks anyway.

  • east of eden

    But it was worth the time it took you to read it and comment.

  • east of eden

    Actually, it doesn't avoid the point, at all. You either missed it or are just making your usual comment. Gayle, you are so predictable.

  • east of eden

    Good point, Kevin. Unfortunately, it was a little to intellectually refined for Gayle to understand. Is there any way you can dumb down your comment so that she can understand it?

  • CanadianSense

    Ontario Nature (ON), an environmental organization of conservationists and field naturalists, has adopted a resolution opposing wind energy development within 5 km of national and provincial parks and Important Bird Areas of known migratory significance.

    Will the Ontario Premier protect and listen to these people?

  • jsut reading the blogs

    Gayle, how much coal is strip mined in Alberta, you know, just down the road west of Edmonton? Big “dirty” pits of grey rock waste and black “dirty” coal shovelled into Transalta's and ATCO's coal-fired furnaces. Right on the shores of Lake Wabamun. I can send you pictures, if you want.

    How much of that coal is used to produce the electricity that powers your computer, so that you can post here? How much of the heavy oil produced in Ft. McMurray is used to produce electricity in Alberta? I don't hear you hollering about that do I? The coal pits are closer than Ft. McMurray. How many shares are invested in your pension plan into Transalta and ATCO? What kind of vehicle do YOU drive, sweetie and what does it burn? Or do you walk to Safeway, CO-OP, IGA, Sobeys?

  • Gayle

    I love the way you guys come here and try to change the subject. Remember when Taylor wrote a post about how wind power kills more birds than oil spills? Remember when he tried to make the point that wind power is harder on the environment than oil spills? Remember when I pointed out he was wrong?

    And now you just want to bring something else entirely into the debate? Why, it is almost as if you realize that saying wind power is more damaging to the environment than oil spills is kind of stupid.

    Anyway, if you do not hear me complaining about the environmental cost of strip mining and the tar sands, that is because you do not actually know me, and have never had a conversation with me.

    But carry on with your senseless diatribes. I am sure they make you feel better…

    (and yes, I drive a fuel efficient vehicle, but only rarely since I generally either walk or take public transportation. You silly, silly little person…)

  • Gayle

    Maybe, instead of your rabid cheerleading anyone and anything who tries to engage me, you could try actually, you know, raising a legitimate point or something.

    PS – saying “You are right and Gayle is wrong” is not actually a substantive argument. Try again.

    Good luck!

  • Gayle

    Hmmm – I do not see anything in Greg's comment that addressses the question of whether wind power causes more environmental damage than oil spills.

    Could you be a dear and point that part of his argument out for me?


  • East of Eden

    Gee Gayle, I really don't want to do the work for you. You aren't capable of seeing what some of of are – it's just one of those things. We all have our own individual strengths and, well, that's not one of yours. Sorry, but there are so many things that you say you don't see and somehow you think that's the other person's fault. But, Gayle, it's down to you – if you can't see the point, it just means that you don't get the point through no fault of the commenter.

  • east of eden

    Nice try, Gayle. I can make what I think is a substantive comment and, if you don't find it substantive, well – that's just too bad, Gayle. Your judgement really doesn't mean a thing to me. I'll comment as I wish. Sorry, my dear, but that's the way the ball bounces.

  • Anonymous

    Pretty stupid comparison, Mr Taylor. And it will get more stupid by the week as the wildlife toll from the leaking BP well comes in.

    You all seem to be missing the bigger point. The major energy issue confronting the world is not which energy gives the lowest birds killed per MWh, it’s why we continue to consume ( and frankly, waste) as much energy per capita as we do in Canada.

    Large tracts of Northern Alberta are being pretty much ruined, and risky ventures like deep offshore drilling are continuing worldwide simply because of insatiable demand. And neither the US nor Canada are willing to take meaningful steps to moderate demand and promote sensible energy policy.

    In about 30 years, Stephane Dion’s Green Shift may well look like a missed opportunity. In the meantime, Canada’s energy policy is to dig up and sell every drop of oil we can to the US, as fast as humanly possible.

    Have fun while it lasts.

  • Gayle

    In other words, you can't point to something that does not exist.

    Thanks for proving my point – again.

  • Gayle


    Not sure what happened to my original response, so I will repost.

    Allow me to point out that you, too, have decided to completely ignore our host's argument that somehow wind power causes more environmental damage than oil spills.

    Your questions are actually completely irrelevant, considering the topic and my response to it, but in any event, the reason you do not hear me complaining about the environmental impact of the tar sands and of strip mining is because you do not know me, and have never sat down with me to discuss these issues.

    And while this is also totally irrelevant to the topic, in the spirit of good will I will tell you that I drive a vehicle with excellent fuel consumption – when I drive. I normally take transit or walk.

    I do not have a pension plan.

    I do hope that helps you get a handle on that anger management problem.

  • kenn2

    (for fans of argument styles, E0E's response above is classic ad hominem – Circumstantial Ad Hominem, to be specific – and a complete dodge of the question)

  • dirk

    Damn what a cynical “argument” ,totally bizarre. Dude you should be embarrassed.

  • Stephen Taylor

    Nice technique there. I said that windmills were harder on birds than oil per unit energy attained.

    You can't win an argument by changing the frame of it.

  • Switchyard O'Taylor

    I call… let's see YOUR hand.

  • Switchyard O'Taylor

    Sure you can… with the following caveat:

    You must be Gayle.
    And also you must forgo a state of cognitive reality.

    See voila… You can feel good about losing an argument on the internet!

  • Switchyard O'Taylor

    Why would you purchase a fuel efficient vehicle and then not use it? There are people all over the world who could benefit from a low emissions vehicle because they drive a lot. Hording such a precious resource is so insanely selfish…. words have no ability to describe your evil.

    You are responsible for so many emissions indirectly because of your green selfishness it's insane….

  • Gayle

    Sure you did, and then I asked you if you were suggesting that the only environmental damage caused by oil spills were that birds were killed, and you ignored the question.

    And then I pointed out that oils spills cause much more environmental damage than windmills, and you ignored that point too.

    And then I pointed out your argument here really is not worth the time it took to write, and you ignored that too.

    But now you are suggesting I am changing the frame? Not at all. All I did was point out your frame was silly. And that it is.

  • Gayle

    I wonder if you think you are being funny???

    Sometimes I need a car, and when I do I drive it. Most of the time I don't, so I don't.

    It really is not that hard – if you are able to think that is.

  • Canadiansense

    Per Capita favours the Chinese, the largest polluters including the Americans.
    Canada is responsible for 2.3% Global Carbon emmissions. Canada is unimportant in the contribution of total.
    Diverting taxes to fund special interest groups that have a vested financial interest in Green Technology, have not lost, not allowed independent review of their research.

    The bulk of our “dirty” energy is sent to the US and shortly China. The biggest reduction and growth of emmissions are the BRIC countries who want us to pay.

    Nearly half of our emmission are from Central Canada including autos. As soon as Ontario-Quebec ban the automobile, heavy manufacturing, resource extraction industry that make up the balance give me a shout.

    Selling of Carbon Credits ripping off the taxpayer by environental groups, organized crime making billions, double selling Carbon Credits by European countries may not be a problem for the lazy media or the UN.

    As a taxpayer those Windmills require massive tax subsidies and artificial higher hydro rates. (What are the details ?)

  • east of eden

    Doesn't a cormorant barf and defacate on its perceived enemies? Not the most pleasant of birds.

  • east of eden

    Somebody brought up a good point the other day when we were talking about 'green'. The amount of energy and resources that it takes to build one wind generator and the energy and resources taken up in maintenance far outweighs the productivity of the thing – thus, it is not green, at all. The net result is a monumental use of energy and resources – think of the amount of metal that must be mined, refined, milled, formed, etc and this all takes heat and energy. Then, think of the transport, the digging of the foundation, the raising of it, the cables to transport the electricity, etc. A far better idea, for Ontario at least, would have been an east-west grid. We are between two huge hydro producers but we cannot access the power. Why? Prior to Bob Rae, Ontario was in discussions with our bookends but the Rae government threw up so many roadblocks that the bookends walked away. Gee, where is Bob, now?

    Hybrid cars are another green myth. The battery alone take enormous amounts of energy to produce. So, we have not only a conventional engine, but an electric engine and that big battery. Sorry, hybrids are just not green.

    Bottled water – now there is something that should be banned, as should disposable diapers. Lots of energy used to produce both products and lots of pollution from both.

  • kenn2

    My first try was moderated out, I guess, but I 'll give it another shot.

    This is a classic example of the ostrich-like behaviour of 'conservatives' when it comes to energy, climate change, and environmental responsibility – pick a small fragment of the whole issue and then backcomb and tease it into what they think is a genuine argument. It's a logic combover covering the bald spots of ignorance.

    It's in particularly bad taste considering the environmental damage that will result from the BP gulf deep-well leak.

    Participants here have had no issue with the mistreatment of Islamic Canadians and Afghan detainees so it's not likely that the death of a few tweetie-birds would concern you either way. But clever riffing on what power source has the lowest bird-kill per MWh is just one more chance to avoid the real energy crisis that looms ahead.

    Canadians and Americans consume energy per-capita in huge amounts, amounts that cannot be sustained for more than a few decades at most, yet any attempts to develop alternative sources or create energy-savings through expanded public transit, or promote moderation, are met with sneers and derision from the right. Our current government policy on oil amounts to no more than digging up and delivering to the Americans every drop of oil that we possibly can, as fast as possible. No-one visits Northern Alberta anyway, so what the heck…

    In 20 or 30 years, Stephen Dion is going to look like a genius, and the Green Shift as a missed opportunity. Not counting young Mr Taylor, most of us here will be dead in 30 years, so… not our problem, right?

  • Switchyard O'Taylor

    The funny thing is you don't get it.

    A taxi driver uses a 1993 Olds and gets 11 mpg and drives 400 miles a day.
    You use a 200X Prius and get 54 mpg and drive 10 miles per day.

    If you were a real green you would give your car to the taxi driver to save the world the difference in emissions.

    And this speaks to something much larger of course. Knee jerk reactionists like yourself would put up windmills where it's not windy. Just like you would buy a precious commodity (like a Prius or a wind mill) and squander it by not driving much or implementing it where it's actually windy.

    You remind me of the people with solar panels in Vancouver.

  • kenn2

    A ridiculous ( and unproven) argument. Some right-wing blowhard spouts this and you accept it as gospel, yet the majority of energy and climate scientists cannot persuade you to clean up a little and maybe not use as much energy, so it might last a bit longer. Nice.

    The money/energy cost of building and maintaining wind generators isn't that much, relatively speaking. Not insignificant, but not that much, really. How much does an oil rig cost? How about those monster scoops and the 3-storey tall dump-trucks used to mine oilsands, not to mention the huge, energy-intensive processing plants to separate oil from sand? Pipelines? Care to put a price on the amount of land despoiled by oilsand-mining activity? Even “free” hydro-electricity has big costs associated with dam construction, generators and turbines, and maintenance.

    You also haven't considered that modern windmills are still a new, evolving technology, and that newer designs will have improved efficiency and longer lifespans. And probably kill fewer birds and bats too…

    There's no disagreement that coal, oil and natural gas give alot of energy compared to the effort to get them. But there's only a finite amount of these. It's very likely that people alive now will still be around when the world runs out of easy oil. We don't have time to bury more dinosaurs then wait 30+ million years for the next batch to be ready.

    You are also clueless on hybrid cars. Your parroted info on the energy cost of producing batteries is flat-out wrong. (I suspect you have almost no idea how hybrid cars actually work, but not everyone's an engineer, so you're forgiven). At present, it's true that for the average consumer, hybrid cars may not yet show a clear economic advantage, but in commercial use hybrids have already proven their efficiency AND cost-effectiveness. Many courier companies have gone to hybrid vans and are reaping better mileage and reduced maintenance costs (hybrid is great for start/stop operations). Hybrid cabs are popular with cab-owners. One I talked to was getting great efficiencies from his hybrid cab.

    “Conservative' used to mean that you take pains to use ('conserve') your resources judiciously, and not act in an extravagant or wasteful manner. Curious how conservatives are now climate-change deniers and oil-industry apologists.

  • kenn2

    A taxi driver uses a 1993 Olds and gets 11 mpg and drives 400 miles a day.

    Riiight. Is this a hypothetical? Cos no Canadian city that I know of permits cars older than maybe 6 years as cabs. And, if you're interested, many cab companies are switching to hybrids. Cos they're cheaper to run AND maintain, in taxi service.

    Knee jerk reactionists like yourself would put up windmills where it's not windy.

    Um, it's really clear who the knee-jerk reactionaries are in the energy debate. Hint – not the greens.

  • Canadiansense

    Can you link a study that Windmills save money, reduced the use of fossil fuels in the European countries that adopted in 10-20 years ago?

    Clearly you are lying about the thousands of scientists support the IPCC Global Armageddon -Ponzi Scheme. Try again.

    I have no interest in debunking the numerous errors attempts by the fraudsters who use denier and oil shill ad hominem attacks.

    Try Cuba, Iran and China you would be more comfortable.

  • Gayle

    How about we use a reality check rather than your false comparison.

    The Light Rail Transit in the City of Edmonton runs every day of the year, whether or not I am aboard. My car does not run at all when I am on that train.

    And, as kenn points out, there are no taxi cabs like the one you fabricate in your scenario. Almost every cab I have taken in the past 2 years has been a hybrid.

  • Switchyard O'Taylor

    Pick a less extreme example…
    How about an Echo?

    Either way hording a precious resource (like a prius, there are waiting lists) to feel good about oneself is insanely selfish.

    So Kenn2, why attack the arm of an argument rather than the body? Tell me what's good about taking energy efficient technologies and implementing them where they're inefficient?

    These are the same greens who were so against run of river in BC that we're having a major dam construction for the first time in 30 years. The same reactionaries who protested nuclear power (because they confused it with nuclear arms) to the point that the US has mostly coal power.

    It's baffling how hard it is to get through to some people that their selfish selfgreening is actually making the world a worse place. Did you ever read the study that showed that “buying green” made people more selfish?… (sorry it's behind a wall)

  • Gayle

    Heh. CS has no interest in bring facts to the table.

    How quaint. And convenient.

  • Switchyard O'Taylor

    Your car does not run at all when you are on the train…

    Do all the commuters of your city drive hybrids or take the train as well? I compared it to one industry and you and Kenn came up with some pretty weak responses, and only to the specific and not the general. Why not do one better and get a zipcar? Or donate the sales of your car that you never use to a green organization?

    Why does a prius somehow absolve you of the guilt of living in a northern climate, probably heating your house with natural gas and powering it with heavy oil. Living in Edmonton, you must also work in oil, or have to travel to get any proper business done…. how often do you fly? Where do your vegetables come from, especially in winter? How large is your home? Do you heat your garage or plug your car in? How many pets do you have?

    How about we check your reality?

  • Canadiansense

    Gayle, defender of the Liberal Party is too LAZY to do her own research!

    A pity.

    Are you still sore Iggy did not invite you to share your insight at Canada150?

    I hear the NDP are looking for some socialists to help hold onto their only seat in AB. Best of luck.

    Any chance you are going out to Turkey and joining the hate boat brigade, they could use some more tools.

  • Gayle

    Ha ha ha!

    I love these extremist arguments. It is OK to kill the environment with oil spills and tar sands because someone like me does not go into the bush and live off the land.

    Since all I do is try to live in a fashion that lessens my environmental foot print instead of eliminating it, that justifies people like you burning and raping and pillaging all you want.

    It's a funny argument. Pathetic, but still funny.

    Anyway, I was wondering if you had anything to say about the actual subject of this thread? Going to put forward an argument that the only environmental impact of oil spills is that some birds die?

  • Gayle

    Hey look! Now this thread is all about me!

    Ha ha ha!

  • Canadiansense

    Spoken like a true arrogant Liberal.

    You and Ignatieff share many qualities.

    Liberals drank so deeply for so long at the well of their own superiority that they can’t believe the well is dry. -Kelly McParland NP One Trick Pony.

    Any other tricks?