Saving the planet is more important than saving some birds

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America needs to build new and greener energy infrastructure, but there is a problem standing in the way. Or perhaps I should say flying is in the way, because that obstacle is birds—and more generally, human bias toward the status quo when animal interests are at stake.

We should be more prepared to disrupt existing animal habitats when building wind or hydropower. This means, frankly, that we should be more willing to kill animals. The installation of wind turbines, for example, often leads to the death of a number of birds. Favoring more wind turbines does not mean that more birds will die; It’s to support a more robust, long-term supply of green energy – which would benefit birds (and of course humans too).

Unfortunately, the federal government is making it more difficult to build new wind turbines and taller buildings. The Fish and Wildlife Service has put in place new regulations to limit accidental killing of migratory birds, and these rules will increase the costs of building many types of structures.

Once again, to be clear: I support increased protections for animal welfare and rights. I am in favor of stricter regulation of chicken factory farms, for example, even if these regulations eliminate factory farms altogether. I’d rather close or at least improve factory farms, which torment and then slaughter hundreds of millions of chickens annually, than make it more difficult to build more wind turbines.

And it’s not just taboos: I prefer a more proactive political agenda to promote animal welfare. This could include supporting new “artificial meat” technologies, further research into animal diseases and epidemics, and even research into the possibility of bringing back extinct animals through genetic engineering. The United States should also have more consistent enforcement of animal cruelty laws.

Protecting birds by reducing wind energy is the most harmful way to try to serve nature and the environment. It’s a way to pretend to take care of birds. It is also an illustration of how many institutions are dedicated to protecting vested interests—whether they are in the political or natural world.

It also makes sense to create more high-rise buildings. Tall buildings, such as wind turbines, are likely to kill a number of birds that would not otherwise die. However, increasing the density of construction will reduce energy consumption, thus preserving the environment in other, less direct ways – ultimately to the benefit of other animals, including humans as well. If we are willing to think in terms of trade-offs, this conclusion should be clear.

And once you start thinking in terms of trade-offs, the most outlandish (actually extreme) ideas present themselves. Cats kill millions of birds annually, for example. So why not tax domestic cats through the licensing process rather than restricting wind farms? Such a proposal would not be seriously considered, but not because it lacked merit. That’s because the focus is on protecting the status quo of various animal breeds, not benefiting animals (and humans) in the most effective way.

When it comes to birds, we seem to care more about how they die than we do about how many of them die (in philosophical parlance, I prefer the alternative philosophy of “consequences of birds.”) Our cats are allowed to kill them, but we humans are not—or rather we are, but only in acceptable ways. This status quo is very important, to protect it, we will slow the movement towards greener energy supplies and a healthy environment.

If nothing else, this is all a warning sign that American policy is failing when it comes to thinking about environmental trade-offs. Our approach to protecting animal welfare is incoherent. The bright side is that there is plenty of room for policy improvement. The right mix of options, especially when it comes to construction, may be better for both human and non-human animals.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

The Left’s Little War Against Renewable Energy: Noah Smith

• Solar is profiting from the energy crisis, and wind is losing: David Fickling

• The Solar Farm That Almost Destroyed Copake, New York: Francis Wilkinson

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial staff or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Tyler Quinn is a columnist for Bloomberg. Professor of Economics at George Mason University, host of the Marginal Revolution blog and co-author of “Talent: How to Identify Powers, Creators, and Winners Around the World.”

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