The Birds on Trump’s Brain

Richard Eskow


Donald Trump’s brain. It’s an unusual instrument, and a frightening one, even in the best of circumstances. Now someone has “put a bird on it”– a lot of them, in fact. Here’s what Trump said about wind power on Monday:

“The wind kills all your birds. All your birds, killed. You know, the environmentalists never talk about that.”

Your birds. All of them. Killed. Got that?

Trump has birds on the brain. Who put them there?

Conservatives have been peddling the myth that wind turbines are a bird threat for years. It was so routinely hyped on Fox News a few years ago that it was thoroughly researched and debunked back in 2012.  The falsehood began with some unfortunate bird deaths at the Altamont Wind Pass Farm in the 1980s – a tiny percentage of bird fatalities that has since fallen even farther as the result of engineering improvements.

How small is that percentage today? One of the higher estimates of bird deaths from wind turbines comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which puts the toll at about 500,000 birds per year. For perspective, more than 13 million birds reportedly die in the United States every day.

More perspective: An estimated 10 billion birds live in North America (rising to 20 billion during certain seasons), which means each bird has about a 1 in 20,000 chance of dying in a wind turbine collision this year. An American human is more likely to die from “pneumonitis due to solids and liquids” than an American bird is to be killed by a wind turbine.

Birds are sentient beings. They’re beautiful creatures. Each death is a shame. But compared to other causes of bird death, 500,000 per year is a very low number. Cats kill as estimated 2.4 billion birds every year in the US, according to the Nature Conservancy. Between 365 million and 988 million birds die each year in the US from collisions with windows, according to a 2014 study published in The Condor: Ornithological Advances.

That means buildings are bird-killers – a finding that should dismay conservative fans of Howard Roark, the skyscraper-building architect/hero of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.   And who builds bird-killing buildings in real life? Donald Trump.

Here are some more ornithological assassins: Each year power lines kill at least 130 million birds –260 times as many as die from wind turbines. Automobiles kill an estimated 80 million, 160 times as many. Pesticides kill an estimated 70 million, 140 times as many.

But conservatives have not condemned buildings, or cats, or power lines, or pesticides, or automobiles. In fact, they embrace many of these things.

A farmer will occasionally kill a gopher when he’s plowing a field, but conservatives aren’t calling for a ban on family farms to save the gophers. So why has this been blown out of proportion?

It may not be just coincidence that this particular legend serves the financial interests of fossil-fuel corporations like Koch Industries. Every falsehood starts somewhere. Sometimes they’re even cooked up in corporate boardrooms.

“I have friends that own the mines,” Trump said in a rare moment of honesty.

In many ways, Trump is a garden-variety conservative. He hates regulations, love wealthy corporations, and spreads standard-issue right-wing lies. Of course, it takes the unique brain of Donald Trump to turn an old and discredited conservative canard into a uniquely Trumpian construction like:

“The wind kills all your birds. All your birds, killed.”

Trump also said that wind turbines are “driving you loco when you look at them” (although, to be fair, in his case something certainly seems to be).

In addition to producing good jobs in the US, wind turbines protect the environment and reduce the effect of climate change. That’s good for birds, too, since even more of them die from the destruction of their natural habitats – many more – than are killed by cats and buildings and power lines.

But Donald Trump, like so many other Republicans, doesn’t believe in climate change. Trump says “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese …”

Hmm. So the Chinese invented climate change, and we’re building wind turbines because we’re concerned about climate change. Does that mean that, in Trump’s mind, it’s a Chinese conspiracy to kill all your birds?

It’s hard to say. Here’s what we do know: Trump is still the Republican Party candidate. And when it comes to climate change, and regulations, and fossil fuels, he’s more typically Republican than you might think.

But when it comes to bird brains, he’s in a class by himself.

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