The Colorado Daily's recent report on the CU-led research on the oft-overlooked effects of the noise pollution associated with fossil fuel extraction raised my awareness of a problem that I was not even conscious of: Birds are developing PTSD-like symptoms from the drilling noises.
Indeed, in a twist of irony, I had always assumed that renewables — specifically wind power — carried the greatest risk to birds. But some further research reveals that it has long been known that this is not the case. A study from 2009, "Contextualizing avian mortality: A preliminary appraisal of bird and bat fatalities from wind, fossil-fuel, and nuclear electricity," found that wind farms in the U.S. killed about 7,000 birds in 2006, compared to 327,000 bird deaths from nuclear power plants and a whopping 14.5 million from fossil fuels. And this is to say nothing of the damage to birds' livelihoods highlighted in the study the Daily reported on.
All of this is to say, I now have yet another reason to be desirous of a societal switch away from fossil fuels. Unfortunately, the problem is not a dearth of reasons on the part of myself and my fellow graduate student population. Rather, the (or, at least, a) problem is a lack of solutions that appeal to the majority of Americans, many of whom fear the big, clumsy hand of government more than they fear a few million bird deaths.
What solution can be struck to appease everyone while also not backing down from a commitment to help the environment, both for its own sake and for ours? The answer may well be a carbon tax. Imposed nationwide, it would place a cost on the extraction of greenhouse gas-emitting substances in proportion to how much is emitted.
A carbon tax is not a solution that traffics in absolutes. It will not shut down all, or even many, coal-fired power plants overnight. But that is the point. Most carbon tax proposals are designed to increase over time in a preannounced way so major economic players can plan accordingly. In this fashion, the tax promotes, via the market, a maximally smooth and gradual transition away from carbon.
One nonpartisan organization that already has a foothold in Boulder and is interested in promoting this approach is the Citizens' Climate Lobby. And just now, an additional chapter of CCL is forming at CU Boulder. If you are a student and you are interested, why not join us? It's an engaging, practical way of flipping climate change the bird.
By Daniel Palken, research assistant at CU, Boulder