Saturday, April 6, 2019

Literary Corner: Mr. President, tear down those hotels!

A year ago, Ishaan Tharoor at Washington Post was using the most famous windmills in European literature as a metaphor for Mexico (I think that's the Mexican flag in upper left, though the color process has made the green bar awfully blue), and our president's other fantasy enemies, but no, he's really got a serious issue with literal windmills!

Which goes back at least in part, as is well known, to his long war with the Scottish government over his golf course and resort near the village of Balmedie in Aberdeenshire, which he bought in 2006 under what he believed or claimed to believe were assurances from then chief minister Alex Salmond that no wind farm was going to be constructed within sight of the course (the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds opposed both the proposed wind farm and the golf course, but Salmond helped Trump out with the permitting for the latter, I assume in the name of job creation). But by the time the course was ready to open in 2012, the wind farm had been more or less decided on, and Trump was threatening to back out of his own commitment (Salmond would be "known for centuries" as "the man who destroyed Scotland", he threatened, and when RSPB withdrew its objection to the energy project, since the number of birds killed by wind turbines is minuscule compared to the vast numbers that die or are never born because of the effects of fossil-fuel energy production, he said it should change its name to "Royal Society for the Killing of Birds"). But the threat was empty, like most of his threats, and he opened the place anyway, and lost his last appeal, during the presidential transition, as it happened, in December 2016.

So we know he never forgives or abandons his hope for revenge at all costs against those who give him a defeat, whether it's the NFL thwarting his longing to own a team or Mrs. Clinton not inviting him to her daughter's wedding, and that ought to be enough to explain his feelings about wind power, but I can't help feeling it's somehow more than that, that windmills truly creep him out in some irrational way, as you could hear in the tone of his remarks to the National Republican Congressional Committee on Tuesday, where the tone mounted to the macabre, with a childlike hardness, a little Christina Rossetti:

Windmill Song
by Donald J. Trump

Hillary wanted
to put up wind,
wind. If you—
if you have a windmill
anywhere near
your house, congratulations!
your house just went down
75 percent in value.
And they say the noise
causes cancer. You tell
me that one, okay?
Rrrr rrrr—you know
the thing makes the—
it’s so noisy. And of course
it’s like a graveyard for birds.
If you love birds, you’d never
want to walk under a windmill
because it’s a very
sad, sad sight.
It’s like a cemetery.
We put a little—we'll put a little
statue for the poor birds. It’s true.
You know in California,
if you shoot a bald eagle,
they put you in jail for five years.
And yet the windmills wipe 'em
all out. It’s true. They wipe
'em out. It’s terrible.
It's possible the presence of a wind farm lowers property values—between 4 and 8% in a study in southern Ontario, for properties no more than 4 km away, which is of course less than 75%. A study in the Netherlands found wind turbines at up to 2 km were responsible for a 1.4% decrease in value. No significant effect was found for a sample of 24 wind facilities in the US in a couple of general studis and another specifically urban one, and one in UK found that while prices decreased when a wind turbine project was announced, they went right back up after the project was built. So I guess the jury's out.

Wind turbines are not noisy enough to give you a headache
That's consistent with findings from the Victorian Environmental Protection Agency in Australia. At a distance of 500 to 1,000 metres, the decibel level is around 35-45 - much quieter than the 60 decibels measured in a busy office environment.
Turbines also produce sound below the range of human hearing, called infrasound. At high-enough volume, infrasound has been found to make us feel dizzy, nauseous and headachey. Generally, it's only above 110 decibels that this effect occurs.
—and no connection between noise pollution at any level and cancer of any type has been found. (There's a correlation between constant proximity to traffic noise and incidence of cancer, but where you get traffic noise is where you get exhaust fumes, which are a "known and potent" carcinogen, so the noise is probably not to blame.)

I won't bother you with all the data on bird deaths from wind turbines compared to other hazards, except to note that cats feral and domestic are several thousand times worse,

followed closely by tall buildings with glass windows, the second most dangerous item in the high-estimate scenario. If Trump really cares about our avian friends, he knows what he needs to do: Mr. President, tear down those hotels!

And if the area under a windmill is like a cemetery, it's a cemetery where some birds enjoy picnicking:
A comprehensive study of wind turbine bird deaths by the Canadian Wildlife Service in 2013 analyzed reports from 43 out of the 135 wind farms operating across Canada as of December 2011. After adjusting for search inefficiencies, the study found an average of 8.2 bird deaths per tower per year, from which they arrived at a total of 23,000 per year for Canada at that time. Actual habitat loss averaged 1.23 hectares per turbine, which involved the direct loss of, on average, 1.9 nesting sites per turbine. The effective habitat loss, which was not quantified, was observed to be highly variable between species: some species avoided nesting within 100 to 200 m from turbines, while other species were observed feeding on the ground directly under the blades. The study concluded that, overall, the combined effect on birds was “relatively small” compared to other causes of bird mortality, but noted that mitigation measures might be required in some situations to protect at-risk species.[83]
The particular danger to endangered raptors like bald and golden eagles is real, but it doesn't threaten anything like extinction (the Obama administration allowed for a total of 4,200 eagles to die over a 30-year period before they would start assessing penalties, something like 2% of the total eagle population, and it's hoped that new bird-friendly designs and the intelligence of the birds (migrators have been learning to avoid wind farms, and I'd think predators would too, eventually) will mitigate those numbers greatly.

Anyway this has been another edition of Everything Trump Knows Is Wrong.

The earliest wind-powered device, the pipe organ of Hero of Alexandria (10-70 C.E.), via

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