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Save the whales

22 Feb 2023 | OP ED Watch

When Patrick Moore says it, people listen. Or at least they ought to. He’s the guy in the most famous seal-hugging photo ever. And now he’s in high dudgeon because “1975-1979 Greenpeace crews went into the Pacific and got in front of the harpoons that were killing 30,000 whales/year. I was on all 5 voyages. We stopped whale hunt. Now Greenpeace supports massive wind farms in whales habitat. Traitors all!” Strong words from a guy not known to mince them. But as Leighton Woodhouse and Michael Shellenberger explain, justified in every dimension.

It's not just that offshore wind farms really do appear to be deadly to whales, including the acutely endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which just 340 remain on our planet. It’s that to create these lethal facilities the environmental and political establishments have swept aside the institutional and intellectual obstacles to despoiling the natural world that, for decades, they piously insisted were core and non-negotiable matters of principle for them.

As Woodhouse and Shellenberger declare with appropriate outrage:

“Since the passage of the 1973 Endangered Species Act, environmentalists have fought for strict protections for endangered species. They have demanded that the government apply what is known as the ‘precautionary principle,’ which states that if there is any risk that a human activity will make a species extinct, it should be illegal. And yet here we are, on the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, watching the whole of the environmental movement — from the Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation to scientific groups like the Woods Hole Institute, New England Aquarium, and Mystic Aquarium – betray the precautionary principle by risking the extinction of the North Atlantic right whale.”

If you’re wondering how a wind farm could be so deadly to creatures that are under the waves rather than up in the air, like the birds and bats being slaughtered by the millions by, uh, wind farms, there are several related factors at work here. One is that, as anyone with an ounce of environmental sensitivity knows (or anyone who has heard Pink Floyd’s iconic “Echoes”), whales depend on sound for navigation and social communication. And wind farms create a lot of undersea noise while being built and while operating.

Another less obvious issue, Woodhouse and Shellenberger warn, is that “air turbulence generated by the turbines” could “harm or destroy zooplankton feeding grounds.”

The wind firms are acting like greedy oil company planet-trashing bullies in one more green nightmare:

“wind developers are demanding higher speed limits for their boats. If they don’t get them, the industry claims, it will need to build hotels for the workers at the sites, right in the middle of right whale habitat.”

Which brings us to the other major problem. Like their onshore siblings, offshore wind mills have huge footprints that stomp all over habitats and their inhabitants. We don’t like to play “Gotcha” over a single memo, but a top NOAA official did warn that, Bloomberg paraphrases, “Wind turbines may disrupt the dense concentration of zooplankton that the whales depend on for sustenance, potentially forcing them to spend more energy and take more risks searching elsewhere for food”. And one of the additional perils, Moore clarifies, involves the construction and vibration of the vast platforms the turbines sit on:

“It is not only the sonar surveys that may pose a real problem for the whales. Depending on their size, each of the 1,500 turbines will require a concrete base excavated into the ocean sediment up to 150 feet deep and 30 to 40 feet wide. This will clearly cause a huge amount of mud to be dispersed into the water column. Both these species of whales are of the baleen type. They are filter-feeders using their baleen to strain their food into their stomachs. The mud from these many excavations may interfere with their feeding and may also affect the species they depend on for food.”

So what’s the party line? Why, CNN leaps in with “What’s killing whales off the Northeast coast? It’s not wind farm projects, experts say”. (Oh, and the trolls now say Moore is a know-nothing planet-hating dolt.) Meanwhile, incredibly, environmentalists are simultaneously trying to clobber the Maine lobster industry as… wait for it… a threat to the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

Traitors all, indeed. To logic as well as their environmental cause.

4 comments on “Save the whales”

  1. The precautionary principle is essentially meaningless because you can use it to advocate just about anything. If building wind turbines could conceivably cause harm to wildlife then we shouldn't build any. Conversely, if not building wind turbines could conceivably result in harm to wildlife from climate change, then we should build as many as possible.
    The real purpose of the precautionary principle is to allow high-priced consultants to collect large fees for running environmental assessments every time anyone wants to do anything. Hey, it's a tough job but somone's gotta do it.

  2. As a Petroleum Geophysicist active for the past 40 years, I'd like to see the evidence.
    The seismic site surveys don't last long (a few days at each site?), and I suspect they aren't quite as loud as a big ocean going tanker. Would a short term seismic survey really be capable of harming any whale? Would a short term seismic survey do more harm than a frequently traversed ocean tanker route? What is the resonant frequency of a windmill structure? When building the foundation for a windmill how much mud is stirred up and and for how long? How many windmill foundations are being built at the same time? How much mud does a big storm stir up and how many whales are hurt by storm created mud?
    I greatly admire Patrick Moores and John Robson's work, but this "windmill frenzy" might be playing the same type of exaggeration game against windmill construction that the climate alarmists have been playing against the oil business.

  3. Following the Precautionary Principle (essentially a tenant of BANANAs) would have prevented the employment of the discovery of fire.

  4. I don't know enough about Whales to comment but when it comes to the Endangered Species Act, nothing stands out more to me than the Spotted Owl pretext to halt all old growth harvesting on the US Forest Service lands in Washington and Oregon 35 years ago. Although the smaller Spotted Owl required forests with old growth characteristics which could easily be achieved in second growth stands, they were and are being driven to extinction to this day by the larger Barred Owls which the US Forest Service now is engaged in shooting as their way of playing God in Darwin's world. Damaging Raptor nests and their occupants is a serious crime for all but Wind Farms who slice and dice with the consent of the EPA and the greens who sued the Forest Service into "non-action" when it came to the Spotted Owl.

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