PRESS EDITORIAL: Fire and ice, wind and birds

We are making progress on climate change.

No, it’s not the kind of significant progress in reducing fossil fuel emissions that is needed to limit the worst effects of the potentially catastrophic warming of Earth.

The progress evident in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world is in accepting the reality that the climate is changing and humans are causing it.

The Yale Climate Opinion Maps found that the number of Americans who believe climate change is happening has been steadily increasing and in 2021 reached 72% of the population. The Yale Climate study also reported that 57% now believe human activities are causing climate change.

Though the trend is encouraging, the numbers show that a significant percentage of the public still refuses to believe what science has found to be indisputable fact. A survey of scientific papers published worldwide in the last year found that 100% of them confirmed climate change and 99% determined it was caused by human activity.

Legions of skeptics are still saying the scientists are wrong, but many of the deniers have changed their tune. Instead of, say, pointing to a super-cold Wisconsin winter as evidence that global warming is nonsense, they now concede that the planet is getting hotter, with serious weather consequences, but insist that it is caused by nature and not humans.

A recent letter to the editor from an Ozaukee Press reader posited that warming is caused by the tilt of the earth; another contended it is merely a natural phenomenon similar to the warm-up that followed the ice age. Both suggested that efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions are led by individuals and institutions seeking to profit financially or politically from instilling climate-change fears.

The deniers are not just rejecting science, they are rejecting the obvious truth that even if somehow the fantasy that humans are not causing climate change has merit, the profligate burning of fossil fuel is still a plague on humanity.

Eight million human beings die each year from breathing air contaminated with fossil fuel emissions, according to a study by Harvard University in cooperation with three British universities.

A recently published study by University of Wisconsin researchers found that 53,000 premature deaths could be prevented each year in the U.S. alone by eliminating the particulate matter that accompanies carbon dioxide in air pollution caused by fossil fuel energy.

Preventing those deaths from sickness caused or worsened by breathing polluted air, including COPD and other respiratory diseases, as well as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, would result in health care savings and other benefits of $608 million per year, the research determined.

The means to realize those savings in human lives and economic resources, while at the same time staving off the predicted devastating effects on the world of the overheated atmosphere, are becoming more practical to use by the day with the clean energy sources now available, primarily wind and solar power. Yet these advances seem to be as much a lightning rod for controversy as climate change itself.

Indications that a Canadian company was looking at installing wind turbines in various parts of Wisconsin were met with alarm and organized opposition in Sheboygan County. The company has since said it has no plans for windfarms there, but opponents vow to fight to change state law that in some instances prevents local zoning from excluding wind turbines.

Windfarms, of course, are power plants, and like the pollution-belching coal-fired generating plants of the past, people don’t want them in their backyards. This is understandable, and the onus is on energy regulators such as Wisconsin’s public Service Commission to be as sensitive as possible to residents’ concerns in restricting the siting of these plants.

The demonization of wind turbines goes well beyond annoyance to claims they cause various human maladies (none verified) and are laying waste to bird populations. Wind energy opponents, it seems, have become devoted bird lovers.

A Sheboygan reader referred to wind farms as a “depravity” in a letter to the Press and faulted environmentalists and the media for condemning the recent shooting of a single American eagle in Ozaukee County while ignoring the wholesale killing of birds by wind turbines.

In fact, the menace of wind turbines to birds, far from ignored, has been well studied. USA Today reported on a peer-reviewed analysis by federal and private sector scientists that placed the turbine-caused death toll at 214,000 to 368,000 birds per year.

For context, the study found that in a year 6.8 million birds die in collisions with cell and radio towers and as many as 3.7 billion birds are killed by domestic cats. Research published by the American Bird Conservancy added the statistic that 5.6 million birds are killed annually by electrocution or flying into power lines.

Regardless of the number, it is unfortunate that wind turbines kill birds, but we can’t do much about that. It is also unfortunate, in a more tragic sense, that fossil fuel energy sources kill humans. We can do something about that—and we must.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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