BEEF Editors' Blog

Death And Destruction Show Green Energy Isn’t So Green


While hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is demonized, less efficient energy development cause animal death and destruction that largely goes unreported and unnoticed.

“Farm the best and leave the rest.” That sounds like a good rule of thumb for optimizing cropland and doing it profitably. But what happens when the economics of that axiom are upset by outside forces – ethanol subsidies, for instance. A South Dakota State University study released last March provides a pretty good illustration.

Study authors Christopher Wright and Michael Wimberly estimate that 1.3 million acres of grassland in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Nebraska were converted to crops between 2006 and 2011. Such sod-busting has been concentrated in the Dakotas, east of the Missouri River, writes Michael Fritz in the November issue of BEEF . He cites the authors as characterizing the magnitude of this conversion as “being similar to the peak rates documented during the 1920s and ’30s, when tractors and other mechanized equipment came into widespread use.”

In fact, the Associated Press reports that U.S. farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn last year than a decade ago, taking a lot of land out of conservation use. Who can blame these sodbusters, however? They’ve only responded to the market signals.

In a recent Associated Press series on the decline of the grasslands, authors Chet Brokaw and Jack Gillum write about how the prairies are vanishing in the quest for green energy.

“Expansion of the Corn Belt is fueled in part by America's green energy policy, which requires oil companies to blend billions of gallons of corn ethanol into their gasoline. In 2010, fuel became the No. 1 use for corn in America, a title it held in 2011 and 2012 and narrowly lost this year. That helps keep prices high,” they write.


Subscribe now to Cow-Calf Weekly to get the latest industry research and information in your inbox every Friday!

But the loss of grasslands isn’t the only deleterious effect of the push for renewable fuels. While environmentalists and the federal government pooh-pooh and obstruct where possible the use of privately funded hydraulic fracking for abundant, highly efficient and affordable natural gas, billions in taxpayer dollars flow to much less effective technologies like wind and solar. And the unintended environmental effects don’t get much notice.

For instance, many of California's solar plants are located in the Pacific Flyway, one of the four major north-to-south trajectories for migratory birds. Thousands of birds are dying in one of two ways – they mistake the shining solar panels for bodies of water and crash into the panels, or plunge to the deaths when the ultra-polished solar mirrors bounce sunrays strong enough to burn their feathers.

In addition, a new study published in the journal BioScience estimates that more than 600,000 bats died last year in the U.S. as a result of hitting wind turbines. Mark A. Hayes, a University of Colorado-Denver bat biologist, says that estimate is “probably conservative.” Using the “precautionary principle” that environmentalists love to cite to halt development, maybe a moratorium on further windmill installations is warranted.

Meanwhile, research reported in the Journal of Raptor Research states that windmills have killed at least 67 golden and bald eagles in the last five years. That figure could actually be much higher, the article says, and Mike Parr of the American Bird Conservancy, calls the tally, "an alarming and concerning finding.”

The Daily News article points out that “wind farms are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning rotors as wide as a passenger jet's wingspan. Though the blades appear to move slowly, they can reach speeds up to 170 mph at the tips, creating tornado-like vortexes.”

When can we expect an activist Matt Damon movie about all this?


You might also like:

Hunting Liability Concerns -- Are You Covered?

Which Skills Do You Have That Your Grandkids Don't?

How To Successfully End A Ranching Partnership

Will Cattle Feeding Profits Be Short-Lived?

3 Health Concerns A Busy Rancher Can't Ignore

EPA Proposes Reduced Ethanol Requirement

Discuss this Blog Entry 13

ridinshotgun (not verified)
on Nov 27, 2013

Regarding wind farms...The windmills have so many negative effects that there isn't space to type them. Start with 400 cubic yards of concrete per windmill 40 feet in the ground. That is there FOREVER! They can sling large chunks of ice in the winter. They ruin a view of a landscape. They make whooshing sounds with each revolution. They cause power lines to be trenched across miles of farmland. They hold hundreds of gallons of a specialized toxic gear oil in the head which is 200-300 feet off the ground. They raise our electric rates. The contracts typically place restrictions on what you can do on your own land so you don't interfere with wind currents. They don't generate power in times of too little or too much wind. Some people have reported negative health effects like migraines from living near them. They drive down property values.
I could go on and on. Why is it that the Green agenda is so intent on driving up costs for everyone?

on Nov 27, 2013

Because the Green agenda does not live in the real world.

Grace Wilson (not verified)
on Nov 27, 2013

We recently had a guy in our church produce a film on the destruction "environmentalism" has done to the environment. It was really well put together and should be out in February. I'm going to find out what the link to his website is, so everyone can check it out. He is doing a fanamanal job trying turn around the destruction the environmentalists have done. The farmers and ranchers should be the ones who are advocating for a better world to live in. Just by doing it in a way that actually helps the land, not by making it worse....

Anonymous (not verified)
on Nov 27, 2013

Not much attention has been paid to the impact of fracking chemicals to the acquifer and there spreading onto the land surface at drilling time. Who cares? This cowboy! Conservation of energy holds the most and immediate promise.

on Nov 27, 2013

Anonymous, if you have any information on groundwater being contaminated by hydraulic fracking, please inform us. I don't know of any.

on Nov 27, 2013

I agree on the windmill issue. Driving to Purdue from Northwestern Indiana they have 10 miles of windmill farms. I can'r imagine living in that area.

Darren (not verified)
on Nov 27, 2013

Here are the facts people... Every single year the worlds population grows by 75 MILLION. You talk about grassland being torn out because of the market, well 1+1=2 right? How do you think we are going to feed all those people. During the 20th century the population of the US alone has quadrupled. There are currently 314 million people in the US and it will increase by at least 1 percent every year. That is 3 million more people in the US each year that have to be fed. And not just that... Commerce and Industry are growing just as fast. We need more energy every year. Lets face it people, the human race is growing at an alarming rate and one way or another we are going to consume our resources and kill off many species of animals in the process. Its been done time and time again in the past and nothing is changing. I completely agree that there are many downfalls to wind and solar power but would you trade that for Coal plants that spew out CO2 and cause global warming. Or perhaps Nuclear... plenty of radioactive waste to go around, not to mention the meltdowns. There is NO free energy. Something has to be consumed in order to get it. So lets pick the one that does the least amount of damage to the planet. Personally, I think we need to figure out another way to harness the suns solar energy besides big bulky panels that don't produce much power. We are blanketed by enough solar radiation every day to power the whole world for a year. Just my two cents.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 20, 2013

How is solar energy going to feed us? I'm a little confused on how you went from tearing up grassland to solar panels.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Nov 29, 2013

Just remember these "Greenies" are the same school of people that in the 70s had to save the trees from paper. SO now we have PLASTIC Walmart bags hanging from every tree in the world.

Steve C. (not verified)
on Nov 30, 2013

If every suburban cul-de-sac and ten city blocks was required to have a wind turban, we would see a lot less support for them despoiling the farms and grasslands.
If Man doesn't come to grips with human population growth, Nature will, as She always has when organisms become too numerous and despoil their own environment. Unfortunately most other life will already have already been exterminated.

on Dec 6, 2013

The Obama administration is apparently about to give wind farms a free pass on killing eagles.

on Dec 11, 2013

There's so much to say. I am dismayed to see the tribalism here, both in the article and in the comments.

I think there are tradeoffs with all forms of energy, renewable and mined. So, when I see natural gas fracking described in glowing terms and wind and solar caricatured as the enemy, I recoil. Not because I would speak in glowing terms about wind and solar, but because I don't think the conversation is (to quote a phrase) fair or balanced.

I have studied the various energy sources. I have misgivings about all of them. This is enough to get me branded as a "heretic" no matter who I'm talking to. If I point out to a wind mill evangelist that wind mills ruin scenery and make a sound that reminds me of a light industrial factory, I find myself treated like a lobbyist for Exxon. If I point out that natural gas fracking can mess with groundwater, drain aquifers, and release a lot more methane than its evangelists want to admit, then I'm a "greenie."

If I point out that the wheat farmers of the Columbia Plateau are, um, a little selective in their free-market, anti-government rhetoric given that they get water from the dams, rental income from the windmills, and subsidies from the government (which, by the way, stole the West for them in the first place), and always seem to be driving a new pickup truck no matter how "bad" a year they had (again), then I'm ungrateful or maybe a communist.

If I tell my rancher friend that I own an electric car, he laughs and says, "It figures." If a city environmentalist (or worse yet, a city bicyclist) happens to see my 22-foot long diesel pickup truck, they think I'm the enemy. If I tell a city friend that it's not enough to pay ranchers for each beef killed by wolves because ranching isn't just a job but it's also a calling, and that livestock aren't just wallets on four legs but someone's life work seven days a week, then I'm a traitor to a cause that I never signed up for to begin with.

If I tell my Democratic friends that Obamacare is causing serious problems for ranchers with individual policies, and point out the broken promises involved, I'm a wingnut. If I tell my rancher friends that food stamps are good for everyone and are the right thing to do because this is America and we can feed everyone without batting an eyelash even if (truth be told) I don't particularly like them or approve of them and that music they play, then I'm a socialist. And heaven help me if it's a Sunday and I happen to observe that the only god this country really seems to worship most of the time is the Almighty Dollar.

A tiny suggestion. How about stepping back and trying to see each other as Americans -- in all of our self-righteous and self-contradictory glory -- rather than "greenies" or "wingnuts" or "socialists?" How about being a little more candid about the pluses AND the minuses, especially of those things you support? How about trying for a brief moment to see it from a different point of view? How about looking at the facts square in the eye -- all the facts, including the facts that make you squirm?

We didn't get to where we are as a people by ripping each other to shreds, or by lying to ourselves or to each other -- at least not all of the time. I live in the big city, and I'm deeply grateful to the American rancher for feeding me. I am crazy, crazy in love with America the Beautiful, and I fly the flag proudly 365 days a year. Words will never even begin to express the gratitude I feel when I drive through this unbelievably beautiful place that we are so incredibly lucky to call ours. I go to the rodeo and to the symphony, and when I vote I split my ticket and try to hold everyone to the same set of standards for honesty and integrity.

I try to do the right thing, but always knowing that I'm a human being and therefore will fall short because there is no human being alive who is perfect. I will fall down, but I'm an American so I will not stay down. I'm a greenie and a wingnut and a socialist and a Democrat and a Republican, and beef is what's for dinner. I thank the ranchers for putting it on my dinner table, and I literally go to the fishing boats in Seattle where the Alaska catch lands, and thank the crews for putting smoked salmon on my breakfast table. Those who feed us are very, very high on my list.

Folks, how about looking at the whole picture? Like it or not, we really are all in this together. We're not stupid or simple, unless we decide we want to be. Come on, THINK. In the end, it'll be our brains and our courage and our realism and our ability to work it out that'll see us through. We're only each other's enemy if we make that tragic choice. The rest of you can do that if you want, but not me. "I love you because you're my family, and I laugh because there's nothing you can do about it."

on Mar 12, 2014

I believe in the future of renewable energy. Our house has solar panels to save money on our bills (which are extremely high). I suggest anyone with a bit of property, a business or a roof to see if you can put solar, it's really worth it. Quick tip: we used to get tailored quotes for our home. They got us the top solar installers in our area to send free took us less than a minute with their process and we got to compare apples with apples.

Please or Register to post comments.

What's BEEF Editors' Blog?

Everyday musings from BEEF Editors on the latest beef industry news and events.


Burt Rutherford

Burt has more than 35 years of experience communicating about beef industry issues. A Colorado native and graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in agricultural journalism, he now works...

Wes Ishmael

Among the industry’s most insightful thinkers, Wes Ishmael concentrates on industry price and market perspectives for BEEF magazine. Along with his monthly “Cattle Economics” column...

Sponsored Introduction Continue on to (or wait seconds) ×