"Everthing is Beautiful" until it morphs into a "Bird Killer"
Something has been forgotten in the design of environmentally friendly buildings. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution describes what:
It is one of Emory University's most environmentally friendly buildings, a hallmark of the institution's efforts to "go green." To hear John Wegner describe it, it's also a slaughterhouse. ...
"The building killed 60 birds in the first year," said Wegner, Emory's chief environmental officer. "It was the wall of death." ... Magnolia warblers, Swainson's thrushes, ovenbirds — no species was safe.
Now Emory drapes parts of the $40 million building with black mesh netting for about three months each fall, and migrating birds bounce off safely. ...
Turns out, environmentally friendly buildings are often bird killers. Ornithologist Daniel Klem, a professor at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania who has studied the problem for decades, said between 100 million and 1 billion birds die in the United States each year in collisions with glass.
Buildings that earn LEED certifications, the brass ring of environmentally sustainable construction, are often largely glass. Klem said few architects take their feathered friends into account. They are an unintended consequence of light-filled structures.
What else has been forgotten? Well nothing that we can think of right now. Michael Crichton, discussing modern man's attempt to keep nature in some imagined pristine state argues that if environmentalists want to keep things "just so" then they are going to have to keep adjusting and adjusting and adjusting the natural world without end. Because it won't stay still.
The natural system of inherently chaotic, major disruption is the rule not the exception, and if we are to manage the system we are going to have to be actively involved. ... We now know that nature has never been untouched.
The first white visitors to the New World didn’t understand what they were looking at. In California, Indians burned old growth forest with such regularity that there is more old growth today than there was in 1850. Yellowstone was a beauty spot precisely because the Indians hunted the elk and moose to the edge of extinction. When they were prevented from hunting in their traditional grounds, Yellowstone began its complex decline.
We now have research to help us formulate strategies for management of complex systems. But I am not sure we have organizations capable of making these changes. I would also remind you that to properly manage what we call wilderness is going to be stupefyingly expensive. Good wilderness is expensive!
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution assures us that all those environmentally-friendly bird killing buildings across the country can be easily fixed -- for a price.
At Klem's urging, Swarthmore College installed "fritted" window panes in a $71 million science building. Small dots make the glass look frosted so birds won't be confused.
And just this year, Toronto adopted new bird-friendly guidelines designed to save the lives of more than 10 million migratory birds, including building with nonreflective glass and redesigning ventilation grates and placing internal greenery away from windows.
But Klem said these are small steps for such a massive problem. Glass companies and the construction companies have to get involved, he said. "We know what it takes to fix it," he said. "The question is how willing is the industry?"
The key question buried in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article is "how does the glass window market react to new information that 'environmentally friendly' buildings kill birds"? Presumably the "environmentally friendly" buildings are now producing a hitherto unrecognized pollutant that needs to be internalized into their cost curve, or at least into those producing glass windows. Then the market create an incentive to convert to pebbled or frosted glass.
One of the least appreciated mechanisms for dealing with externalities is the market. But activists have declared that in the matter of carbon, the market doesn't work well enough. Kyoto is an attempt to impose a penalty, which can be traded in emissions markets, to "fix" the fact that "greenhouse gases" are not part of the private cost curve. But how if the measures adopted to comply with Kyoto themselves created externalities? Would the UN periodically update the regulatory regime? Will it keep "fixing" the markets? And what of the cost of regulation and compliance, because it is certainly not free.
Ultimately much will depend on whether the science is good. Imagine that we were all investing in a project which would return a supposed benefit. In this case the project is "carbon stabilization" which is presumed to have a value. We don't know the optimum levels of greenhouse gases. We don't even know with any certainty whether they matter to the real objective function: human welfare. We can't even agree on a common objective function, whether it is optimizing human welfare or Gaia or whatever.
But the point is that we expect a return on all the effort being poured into Kyoto and are being charged for the investment. But what if it's a dry hole? What if there's no return? What happens if in fact we have to pay for fixing the damage we did with Kyoto because we didn't care about the science since the "precautionary principle" took care of everything? What then?
'The market will fix it'. Yes, but we've fixed the market because it wasn't working to our satisfaction. Kyoto has the potential to be greatest single boondoggle since Charles Ponzi began his illustrious career. That's not to say it won't benefit mankind. But then, how would we measure that benefit? Oh, I forgot: the precautionary principle renders that question unnecessary.