For the Birds Radio Program: Free Gifts for the Birds: Conserve Energy
All this week we’re talking about Christmas presents for the birds—free things we can do that can make their lives better. Today our suggestion is to conserve energy. In your house, turn off lights and other electrical things when you’re not using them. This will certainly help with your electric bill, but how can this possibly help birds? Much of the electricity produced in Minnesota comes from coal-burning, a major source of mercury in the atmosphere, which rains into lakes and streams, affecting fish and the birds (and people) who eat fish. Wind-generated electricity saves on every kind of fuel, but kills lots of birds directly when they bonk into the turbines. Nuclear power plant effects on birds haven’t been studied carefully, but heated water and possible radiation leaks have the potential to affect birds. In truth, as far as I can tell, if not for the pesky long-term problem of radioactive waste storage, nuclear energy is probably the safest way to generate electricity as far as its effects on birds go. But no matter how you look at it, saving energy reduces the effects of generating that energy in the first place. Electricity is necessary, but we help birds when we make an effort to at least not waste it.
Turning down the thermostat also helps. If you don’t heat by electricity, you’re saving trees, natural gas, or heating oil.
Just as important, or even more so, slow down when you’re driving. In January 1974, Congress established the 55 miles-per-hour National Maximum Speed Limit, signed by President Nixon. The National Highway Traffic Administration’s analysis of available data indicated that the lower speed limit forestalled 48,310 human fatalities through 1980—although no one calculated the number of birds saved, it was most certainly many times that. Motor fuel savings were estimated at 2.4 billion gallons per year. Reducing the amount of gasoline needed reduced the amount of crude oil pumped and the likelihood of oil spills, and cut down the air and water pollution that came from refining and burning gasoline. But all these savings were thrown out the window as people forgot their concerns about energy savings and raised the speed limit again. Slowing down saves energy, saves lives, and also increases your chances of seeing eagles, egrets, and other interesting birds as you enjoy the scenery. But try not to be self-righteous about going slow—to be safe on any road, you need to adjust your speed to other traffic or just pull over for a bit to let cars pass. A gift for the birds shouldn’t be too inconvenient for other human beings.