Saturday, November 24, 2007

"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.


Blogger Tyler said...

Hmmmm, good point and something that should be taken into account. But what about global warming and its resultant effects on habitability? I'd say that might kill quite a few more of our avian cousins than window glass

11/24/2007 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger exhelodrvr1 said...

How about if we tax the owner of the building for every bird it kills?

11/24/2007 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

In the UK, they've revived the virtual pillory and whipping-post.

Co Down has been named and shamed as one of the dirtiest spots in the UK - when it comes to battling climate change.

Belfast, however, came out as surprisingly environmentally friendly, ranking among the UK's lowest emitters of carbon dioxide per household.

The new research, published by the Energy Saving Trust (EST), reveals the UK's biggest carbon wasters down to the nearest council area and street. The findings highlight which regions can save the most energy and what can be done to combat climate change.

11/24/2007 02:54:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

It may be no coincidence that County Down "is the most industrialised region in Northern Ireland, encompassing urban and parts of greater Belfast"

And one of the offending articles is apparently the patio heater

Noel Williams, Head of the Energy Saving Trust in Northern Ireland, said: "Patio heaters across the UK and Northern Ireland will soon emit the same amount of carbon dioxide as around 19,000 households do in a year.

"However, Northern Ireland has the most householders who own or are planning to buy a patio heater compared to England, Scotland and Wales.

"The question is - why don't people just wear a jumper?"

The answer might be, why doesn't the Energy Saving Trust mind it's own business? There are very often unrecognized economic reasons why people make certain choices. Buying patio heaters instead of coats, for example. One classic case I recall was the tribal preference for the plastic bucket. The tourists were all ga-ga over rattan baskets and wondered why natives liked the chinese plastic pail when the rattan basket seemed so much more environmentally friendly. But you can fetch water in a plastic pail. And that was a needful chore the First World environmentalist might not have thought of.

The patio heater buyers in County Down probably have some reason for making their consumer choice. They are not prima facie stupid.

11/24/2007 03:05:00 PM  
Blogger Towering Barbarian said...

Roscoe P. Coltrane,
Ah, so in essence the environmentalist position on this would be, "We had to make all birds extinct in order to save them!"? o_O

As for the effect of global warming upon habitability let us note that more birds and animals abound in the tropics than do in the Arctic. The fear of a warmer Earth that so many Environmentalists choose to have seems to me to be nothing more than a manifestation of group hysteria at its finest. But this does bring up an interesting question - If the environmentalists couldn't forsee what effect their preferred buildings had upon birds than why should we trust them to do more good than harm if they should be permitted to try to tamper with the climate? O_o

11/24/2007 11:20:00 PM  
Blogger OmegaPaladin said...

Excellent post, I discussed this further at my blog.

The environmental movement seems to have taken over from the evangelicals in the department of righteous fury. Sad, really. Especially considering that us evangelicals claimed God's backing and the environmental devotees only have Gore.

11/25/2007 12:26:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Between 100 million and 1 billion birds a year because of buildings? Even more reason to stop the "slaughter" of bird via wind turbines. Even though they produce emission-free energy, they too kill birds.
"No one knows the actual number of birds killed by wind turbines, but estimates range from 30,000 to 60,000 a year, according to the American Bird Conservancy."

For shame. We should quit living in buildings, using transportation, kill sheep and cattle (they produce 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand via flatulance). In essence, quit using energy - sushi from a stream anyone? And refuse to live in any climate that would require producing a fire.

11/25/2007 05:25:00 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

I’m an architect who specializes in facades and I can tell you the article gets things mixed up a bit. Building are all glass because the architects want them to look that way. It is not necessarily going to help you obtain a higher LEED certification, and it could very well hurt.

Most decent architects do not want reflective glass, they prefer as non-reflective and transparent as possible.

If you consider a tall building, typically the floor to floor height is 3.6 meters. Normally 270 cm of this is office space and the other 90 cm is the space between the false ceiling and the raised access floor where all the services and ducts are running and slabs and beams are located. This 90 cm (spandrel zone) may be finished in glass on the façade but behind there will be an insulated panel. Whether this zone is glazed or not has next to no influence on the buildings thermal performance.

For the 270 cm portion of the façade which potentially has vision glass there is a trade-off to be made concerning energy efficiency. On the one hand natural light will help reduce the heat and energy loads created by the artificial lighting that would be necessary if the natural light were not coming in. Glass has a light transmission rating to tell the architect and the mechanical engineer how much natural light will come in. On the other hand, glazed zones allow the heat of the sun (solar gain) that must be dealt with by the building's cooling system. Glass has a solar factor which tells the architect and mechanical engineer how much heat from the sun will enter.

You can see that the ideal solution would be a glass that lets all the natural light in but with no solar gain. In reality the best the market can do is almost a 2:1 ratio so for example a glass with a light transmission of 49% will have a solar factor of 25. So the more light you let in the more solar gains you have to deal with.

Natural light that enters at the highest portion of the façade, just under the ceiling, is the best as it travels the deepest into the space. Solar heat gain is pretty constant across a façade so the portion closest to the floor is similar to the portion near the ceiling.

From this you can see that it does not make much sense to glaze the portion below the desk height (+/- 90 cm above the finished floor). There are other reasons to avoid this too, such as rules about chair rail supports to avoid that someone on a chair falls through the window.

So from an environmental point of view it only makes sense to glaze half the façade, the zone between 90 cm to 270 cm, which is 50% of the facade. The only reason to glaze the whole facade is for architectual reasons.

Fritting glass is a common practise (especially in the spandrel zone) although I personally don’t like it much as I think it often looks a bit goofy. I don’t at all believe that fritting will do anything about birds hitting the building as the frit is on the inside surface (all facades are at least double-glazed and the frit is typically on the number 2 surface, the inside surface of the outermost lite of glass) and it is not going to reduce the reflectance all that much.

But one way around the conflict between solar gain and natural light is to place an exterior brise-soleil (a horizontal element that blocks the direct rays of the sun but allows reflected light to enter for natural light). These also serve as bird nest magnets, as we are always reminded by our clients. So in theory, even though a building may be killing off a few birds a year (the bird kill numbers quoted in the article should be looked at with the same scepticism that the civilian deaths in Iraq were regarded) it is allowing a few more to live by providing a birds convenient place to nest.

But at the end of the day clients are demanding buildings that use less energy while still giving a high level of thermal comfort. And it is not political correctness or concern for the planet that is usually driving this. No, it is the desire to save Euros off their future energy bills that motivates our clients in this direction.

11/25/2007 07:11:00 AM  
Blogger F said...

Bird offsets? Will this be the next conscience-salve after carbon offsets? Just in time for the holiday season. F

11/25/2007 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

Wind power was touted as a "green" energy source, but in recent years it has been pointed out that giantmoving wind turbine blades were chopping up migrating birds.

Nuclear power, which is a zero-emmission source for electricity (all wastes are contained on-site, with nothing released to the environment) has been attacked and reviled as a "dirty" source by environmentalists, who's claims are never challenged by their willful lackeys in the liberal media.

Banning DDT has resulted in 43,000,000 deaths due to malaria. Rachel Correy has killed more people then Hitler, Mao, and Saddam put together.

Al Gore regularly declares that global warming is a bigger threat to humanity then world terrorism. I would add that out-of-control environmentalists are a bigger threat then either.

11/25/2007 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger F said...

Peter Grynch:

Make that "Rachel Carson." Otherwise, right on. F

11/25/2007 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger DrDucati900 said...

John Campbell predicted the malaria deaths in an editorial in "Analog Science Fiction" in 1963.

11/25/2007 10:00:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

Thanks, F. Rachel Carson it is.

I guess the theme here is the Law of Unintended Consequences, unanticipated results stemming from bad decisions made for what seemed like well intentioned reasons.

There are ALWAYS consequences, but we as a society are incorrectly taught that we no longer need to take any risks. It usually turns out that the biggest risk is not taking any.

Europeans love the Kyoto protocol, which restricts CO2 emmisions, but most Europeans have been taught to be anti-nuclear.

Most of "old" Europe is very anti-nuclear, excepting France. A key plank in Germany's so-called "Green" party as well as political parties in Great Britain, the Netherlands and elsewhere is the shutdown of existing nuclear plants.

European citizens have an extreme NIMBY attitude about building new power plants of any kind. Coal and natural gas plants are routinely attacked for causing Global Warming. Attempts to implement the Kyoto Treaty will force the shutdown of many existing plants.

This has led to extremely bad public policy. Electricity is imported from other countries over long transmission lines. These make very convenient terrorist targets (although that hasn’t happened yet). Support for "alternative" high-cost, highly-inefficient energy sources like solar and wind, are presented by political demagogues as the "answer" to power woes. Massive taxes are imposed on gasoline to encourage conservation and, more importantly, feed the coffers of the European welfare state.

Energy starved Europe is dependent on OPEC imports, so cannot muster the political will to criticize terrorist Mideastern regimes. Russia has found that it can get whatever it wants from the EU just by threatening to cut off the natural gas it supplies.

The solution is obvious. Europe needs to abandon its ill-conceived anti-nuclear bias and build new plants.

11/26/2007 03:55:00 AM  
Blogger Cascajun said...

We can't even agree on a common objective function, whether it is optimizing human welfare or Gaia or whatever.

That is an important fact that is often overlooked. I ask people why they choose to burn corn ethanol or soybean biodiesel. The response is often simply "because it's better for the environment."

Is that true? What about the consequences of increased corn and soybean production and the inflationary pressures biofuel consumption is putting on agricultural commodity market's? Have we considered the costs of increasing food prices, the loss of waterfowl nesting habitat in the prairie pothole region, and the larger, more persistent ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico.

11/26/2007 06:00:00 AM  
Blogger dueler88 said...


You're spot on, and you stole my thunder about the frit . . . although I will add this:

The only way that ceramic frit on glazing *might* - and I emphasize "might" - be effective in deterring birds is to place it on the no. 1 surface (exterior) of the assembly. Anybody who has watched a bird attack its reflection in a window knows that it's more about reflectivity than it is transparency. Problem is, frit is almost always placed on a non-exterior surface of the assembly so as not to be exposed to the elements and lessen its lifespan. Architects simply can't STAND dirty frit.

All of this discussion about glazing and we haven't even broached the subject of building-mounted wind turbines.

11/26/2007 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger Darren Duvall said...

They're freaking about 60 birds in a year?

That's a couple of weeks' work for one particularly aggressive feral (and 100% natural) cat. On a per-pound-of-predator basis, the building's contribution is insignificant.

These people need to get a life. They also need to, as Crichton points out very well, decide which version of Nature(TM) they're trying to preserve, the real natural world where things die and eat each other with regularity, or the Nature(TM) they imagine.

11/28/2007 01:51:00 PM  
Blogger Cascajun said...

Isn't the flip side of evolution extinction?

11/29/2007 07:01:00 PM  
Blogger Michael McNeil said...

Peter Grynch said...
Wind power was touted as a "green" energy source, but in recent years it has been pointed out that giantmoving wind turbine blades were chopping up migrating birds.

A piece in the scientific journal Nature, discussing a report by the National Academy of Sciences (based on fourteen good-quality studies) on the environmental effects of windpower projects [Emma Marris and Daemon Fairless, “Wind farms’ deadly reputation hard to shift,” Nature, Vol. 447, Issue No. 7141 (10 May 2007), p. 126], notes that “the average death toll attributable to a typical wind turbine” is 3% of a bird per year (!) — which is to say, “it takes on average 30-odd turbine windmills to reach a kill rate of one bird a year” (emphasis added).

12/02/2007 07:57:00 AM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

Or each wind turbine amputates 1/3rd of a bird. In any case, you're right, it's silly.

The same people who complain about species going extinct object to dumping mutagenic chemicals in the groundwater, even though mutations create interesting NEW species. Does a two-headed turtle have less right to exist then it's monocephalic bretheren?

Actually, the most dangerous and environmentally damaging way of generating electricity is hydroelectric. The Banquo Dam collapse in China in 1975 killed an estimated 230,000 people.

Don't tell anybody, though, we already have too many dam protestors!

12/03/2007 04:09:00 PM  

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