The Aral Sea and Green Energy; License to Kill


by Steven Neill, ©2015

Comparison of the Aral Sea in 1989 (L) to its state in 2014 (R) (Wikipedia)

(Feb. 11, 2015) — “Wind power is devastating populations of rare birds and bats across the world, driving some to the point of extinction.” Clive Hambler (1)

Laced with lies and fueled by delusional dreams of a return to Shangri-La, modern environmentalists and green energy gurus are creating a crisis of epic proportions with the wholesale slaughter of birds and bats under the guise of fighting global warming. In their war to destroy affordable energy, modern environmentalists sacrifice birds and bats to the tune of tens of millions every year. The slaughter is so bad that in Germany, the yearly butchery of 200,000 bats is depleting the population up to 2,000 miles away.

When did the wholesale slaughter of birds and bats become acceptable to those sworn to save the earth? There is mounting evidence that many of these birds and bats are in danger of becoming extinct. Yet the western governments and the green energy zealots continue to ignore the body count and push for more wind mills and solar farms. Why will they not learn from history that you cannot continue to destroy nature and have it constantly rebound? Just like the central planners did to the Aral Sea in the 1950’s under Nikita Khrushchev, (2) we are creating an ecological disaster of epic proportions through deliberate choices, unintended consequences and just plain bad science.

The Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers flowed down from the mountains, cut northwest through the Kyzylkum Desert and finally pooled together in the lowest part of the basin. The lake they made, the Aral Sea, (3) was once the fourth largest in the world with a surface area of over 25,483 square miles. The name roughly translates as “Sea of Islands”, referring to over 1,100 islands that once dotted its waters. Now, it is a vast wasteland of rusting ships, empty villages, and blowing desert sands that cover the area with dried pesticides, heavy metals and salt leaving a tragic testimony of man’s intention to harness nature for political gains.

Nikita Khrushchev’s Virgin Lands Program:  (4) “to develop a glittering southern showcase of socialism” (5)

The destruction of the Aral Sea – a freshwater ecosystem the size of Ireland (6) – was no accident. In the 1960s, the Soviet Union undertook a major water diversion project under Nikita Khrushchev’s Virgin Lands Program on the arid plains of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The region’s two major rivers, fed by snowmelt and precipitation in faraway mountains, were used to transform the desert into farms for cotton and other crops. They built an enormous irrigation network, including 20,000 miles of canals, (7) 45 dams, and more than 80 reservoirs, all to irrigate sprawling fields of cotton and wheat in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Although irrigation made the desert bloom, it devastated the Aral Sea.

In 1960, the Aral Lake was the home of many small towns that employed some 60,000 (8) people in the commercial fishing industry. By the year 2000, the lake was at 25% of its 1960 extent and by 2007 it had shrunk to 10% with the shores retreating over 125 miles. (9) The Aral Sea has now split into 3 lakes; the Northern Aral Sea (sometimes called the Small Aral Sea) had separated from the Southern (Large) Aral Sea. The Southern Aral Sea had split into eastern and western lobes that remained tenuously connected at both ends. During this time the lake water became so salty it killed all of the fish and fauna.

By 2001, the southern connection had been severed, and the shallower eastern part retreated rapidly over the next several years. Especially large retreats in the eastern lobe of the Southern Sea appear to have occurred between 2005 and 2009, when drought limited and then cut off the flow of the Amu Darya. Water levels then fluctuated annually between 2009 and 2014 in alternately dry and wet years. Dry conditions in 2014 (10) caused the Southern Sea’s eastern lobe to completely dry up for the first time in modern times.
“You can’t see salt in the air, but you feel it on the skin, and you can feel it on a tongue,” Aral Sea Resident (11)

As the lake dried up, fisheries and the communities that depended on them collapsed. The increasingly salty water became polluted with heavy metals, fertilizer and pesticides. (12)  The blowing dust from the exposed lake bed, contaminated with agricultural chemicals, became a public health hazard. The salty dust blew off the lake bed and settled onto fields, degrading the soil. Croplands had to be flushed with larger and larger volumes of river water. The loss of the moderating influence of such a large body of water made winters colder and summers hotter and drier. Also, the quality of drinking water has continued to decline due to increasing salinity, bacteriological contamination, and the presence of pesticides and heavy metals.

Aral Sea “one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters” Ban Ki-Moon (13)

Of course, no epic disaster area would be complete without an abandoned biological and chemical weapons storage facility in it like the Aral Sea happens to have. Vozrozhdeniye Island (14) (translates to Renaissance Island) is located in the middle of the Aral Sea. A secret facility for testing the Soviet Union biological warfare program operated there from 1954 to 1992. The Soviets engaged in open-air bio-weapons testing, placing monkeys in cages in the path of the dispersants.

As the cold war was winding down, they shipped an entire trainload of anthrax for storage on Renaissance Island. The Russian general in charge removed the anthrax from the stainless steel drums it arrived in and simply had huge holes dug in the sand and the anthrax dumped into them. Then they poured some bleach on it in a halfhearted attempt to kill the spores. Twenty-five years later, a team of U.S. military scientists tested the soil and found the lethal anthrax bacteria spores to be still alive. Only today, Renaissance Island is no longer an island in a large sea, but rather simply a large mound in the desert, one on which animals and people can go to and accidentally or purposely pick up anthrax and spread it to area people. There is much talk about what to do with what has been labeled “the closest place to hell” (15) you’ll ever see in this lifetime, but little action as Russia will not pay for the cleanup and the local countries can’t.

In a last-ditch effort to save some of the lake, Kazakhstan built a dam (2) between the northern and southern parts of the Aral Sea in a major collaboration between local countries snd the World Bank known as the North Aral Sea Project. Completed in 2005, the dam was basically a death sentence for the southern Aral Sea, which was judged to be beyond saving. All of the water flowing into the desert basin from the Syr Darya now stays in the Northern Aral Sea. Between 2005 and 2006, the water levels in that part of the lake rebounded significantly and very small increases are visible throughout the rest of the time period. Fish have returned in significant numbers, and the corollary micro-climate changes brought the long-absent rain clouds back to parts of the region. Diseases like anaemia, cancer and tuberculosis, and the presence of allergies, are on the rise. The incidence of typhoid fever, (16) viral hepatitis, tuberculosis and throat cancer is three times the national average in some areas.

The same could not be said for the South Aral, long gone and now a rusting ship graveyard. (2)

“A society is defined not only by what it creates, but by what it refuses to destroy.” John Sawhill (17)

The Amazing thing about what has happened to the Aral Sea is how little man has learned from it. The diversity of the Aral Sea Basin’s former biological life (18) has been compared to Africa’s. Of the region’s 500 species of birds, 200 species of mammals, and 100 species of fish most have perished over the past four decades. Today, in Western Europe and North America there is a massive push to move over to “green energy.” The top two forms of which are considered to be solar and wind, they can be excellent forms of energy in remote locations or on a small scale but when built on the huge scale needed to power small cities the effect on wildlife and the environment can be catastrophic.

The wind/solar industry have achieved remarkable growth largely due to the claim that it will provide major reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. Depending on whose data you use this may (19) or may not (20) be accurate. But the perception is out there that these form an earth-friendly duo that is good for Mother Nature. The carcasses of millions of birds, bats and butterflies along with the displaced tortoises plus kit foxes and overburdened tax/ratepayers would strongly disagree.

For instance the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in southern California’s Mojave Desert which is owned by BrightSource Energy.  The $2.2 billion plant, which launched in February, is at Ivanpah Dry Lake near the California-Nevada border. The operator says it’s the world’s biggest plant to employ so-called power towers. As Carolyn Lochhead wrote (21) on September 7 in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Ivanpah (22) occupies 3,500 previously untouched federal acres. It features 300,000 mirrors that focus sunlight on three 40-story towers of power. Inside, 900-degree temperatures yield steam, propel turbines, and generate electricity for 140,000 (23) homes.”

But the environmental cost is staggering. Instead of reusing the millions (24) of acres of already degraded land available, BrightSource Energy, the project’s owner, developed 5.7 square miles (25) of virgin desert. According to Dr. Michael Allen, (26) “Many of the areas that are proposed to be developed for the solar development include Microphyll woodlands. When desert plants grow, they absorb carbon dioxide. This is how our desert sequesters large amounts of C and thus functions to reduce atmospheric CO2. The magnitude of this carbon storage process is still a crucial research question and remains unknown for our California deserts. After vegetation is removed to make way for solar arrays, carbon dioxide will be left to return to the atmosphere that ordinarily would have been used to form soil organic matter. Our deserts store enough CO2, that when accounted globally, may be equal to the entire C as CO2 in the atmosphere.”

Ivanpah has even put a new word into the American lexicon called “Streamers” (27) which is the nickname given to birds which fly through the plant’s concentrated sun rays, for the smoke plume they emit as they ignite in midair.

Federal wildlife investigators who visited Ivanpah plant in 2013 watched as birds burned and fell from the sky, reporting an average of one “streamer” every two minutes, (28) are urging California officials to halt the operator’s application to build a still-bigger version.

Estimates of bird deaths per year range from about a thousand provided by BrightSource Energy to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group. (29) The investigators want to halt further development until the full extent of the deaths can be assessed. The deaths are “alarming. It’s hard to say whether that’s the location or the technology,” said Garry George, (30) renewable-energy director for the California chapter of the Audubon Society. “There needs to be some caution.”

“We take this issue very seriously,” said Jeff Holland, (31) a spokesman for NRG Solar of Carlsbad, California, the second of the three companies behind the plant. The third, Google, deferred comment to its partners.

More than 300,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door, reflect solar rays onto three boiler towers each looming up to 40 stories high. Sun rays sent up by the field of mirrors are bright enough to dazzle pilots flying in and out of Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Federal wildlife officials said Ivanpah might act as a “mega-trap” for wildlife, with the bright light of the plant attracting insects, which in turn attract insect-eating birds that fly to their death in the intensely focused light rays. They also call the number of deaths significant, based on sightings of birds getting singed and falling along with the retrieval of carcasses of birds with feathers charred too severely for flight.

Ivanpah officials dispute the source of the so-called streamers, saying at least some of the puffs of smoke mark insects and bits of airborne trash being ignited by the solar rays. But Wildlife officials who witnessed the phenomena were quick to point out that many of the clouds of smoke were too big to come from anything but a bird, and they add that they saw “birds entering the solar flux (32) and igniting, consequently become a streamer.”

Garry George of the Audubon Society states; “Given the apparent scale of bird deaths at Ivanpah, authorities should thoroughly track bird kills there for a year before granting any more permits for that kind of solar technology.”

The toll on birds has been surprising, said Robert Weisenmiller, chairman of the California Energy Commission. “We didn’t see a lot of impact” on birds at the first, smaller power towers in the U.S. and Europe, Weisenmiller said.

The commission is now considering the application from Oakland-based BrightSource to build a mirror field and a 75-story power tower that would reach above the sand dunes and creek washes between Joshua Tree National Park and the California-Arizona border.

The proposed plant is on a flight path for birds between the Colorado River and California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea — an area, experts say, is richer in avian life than the Ivanpah plant, with protected golden eagles and peregrine falcons and more than 100 other species of birds recorded there.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials warned California this month that the power-tower style of solar technology holds “the highest lethality potential” of the many solar projects burgeoning in the deserts of California. The proposed new tower would be almost four times as dangerous to birds as the Ivanpah plant. The agency was expected to decide on the proposal this autumn.

While biologists say there is no known feasible way to curb the number of birds killed, the companies behind the projects say they are hoping to find one — studying whether lights, sounds or some other technology would scare them away, said Joseph Desmond, senior vice president at BrightSource Energy. BrightSource also is offering $1.8 million to programs that spay and neuter domestic cats in compensation for anticipated bird deaths at Palen, Desmond said. Opponents say that would do nothing to help the desert birds at the proposed site.

The Yuma clapper rail (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

The discovery of the corpse of a federally protected and ultra-endangered Yuma clapper rail (33) at one of the solar energy plants has created a maelstrom for the solar industry. With fewer than 1,000 (34) Yumas left in the world, several groups have banded together to put a stop to   at least a half dozen additional solar plants planned in California and Arizona. Conservationists say they’re also worried about yellow-billed cuckoos, (35) which might be added to the federal government’s list of threatened species, and endangered southwestern willow flycatchers, (36) though none of those birds have been found dead at any of the solar sites. Monarch butterflies are another offering on the altar of green energy as they often ignite (37) in the highly concentrated sunbeams.

The endangered desert tortoises (38) native to that area have also become casualties (39) to this development as animals have been crushed under vehicle tires, army ants attacked the hatchlings in a makeshift nursery and one small tortoise was carried off to an eagle nest, its embedded microchip pinging faintly as it receded.

Another victim of the green energy monster is the extremely rare desert kit Fox. In an effort to drive away the resident foxes on another previously undisturbed site a few miles away from Ivanpah, company employees used coyote urine (40) to frighten the foxes into leaving. This had the affect of introducing canine distemper into a species that had never had it before with extremely lethal results.

Eight of the cat sized foxes have died (41) since State biologists diagnosed the disease in 10/12 at the at the $1-billion Genesis (42) Solar Energy Project site, about 25 miles west of Blythe. Since then, distemper has been detected in living kit foxes and two dead ones up to 11 miles south of Genesis, said Deana Clifford, wildlife veterinarian for the California Department of Fish and Game. Although 11 miles isn’t far in the Mojave Desert, spread of the disease even a few miles shows that efforts to stop it failed and it is now free to spread among the region’s large population of kit foxes causing biologists to almost give up hope of containing the deadly virus.

“I am hopeful that a certain number of kit foxes will survive and develop a resistance,” Clifford said. “We are trying to figure out if the disease will calm down or trigger a new cycle among the next vulnerable group of animals: newborn pups that will wean in May or June.” In a worst-case scenario, kit foxes could suffer an epidemic similar to one that nearly wiped out the island fox population on Santa Catalina Island in 1999. Who needs Kit Foxes (43) anyway as long as we get green energy?

Meanwhile, green energy promoters call wind power as benign as a summer breeze. In fact, wind farms have become avian killing fields. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reports (44) that “wind turbines may kill a half a million birds a year.” The urgent political quest for clean energy brings with it environmental harm including bird and bat deaths from solar and wind power that federal regulators seem to ignore.

USF&WS explains also that “eagles appear to be particularly susceptible. Large numbers of golden eagles have been killed by wind turbines in the western states,” as have smaller numbers of bald eagles. Bob Johns, (45) director of public relations at the American Bird Conservancy, says, “The numbers don’t lie — and those numbers say that the wind- and the solar-energy industries have not been held to the same standards that other industries have.”

Johns noted that the Altamont Energy wind farms in California, for example, kill between 70 and 80 golden eagles a year — and have never been prosecuted. He adds that he’s not aware (46) of any prosecutions against solar companies.

Team Obama, almost never prosecutes (47) wind companies for violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Even worse, Obama is granting wind-farm operators 30-year federal (48) eagle-killing permits, to continue their mayhem — all in the name of “clean” energy.

The development and expansion of wind energy facilities is a key threat to bat populations in North America,” Mark Hayes, PhD (49)

Wind farms also blow away another 600,000 (50) bats annually, primarily through lung hemorrhaging. (51) While many people may be scared of these “flying vampires,” these little flying mammals value to humans is astonishing. In 2011, Gary McCracken, head of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, analyzed the economic impact of the loss of bats in North America in agriculture and found it to be around $22.9 billion a year. According to the researchers, a single colony of 150 big brown bats (52) in Indiana eats nearly 1.3 million insects a year — insects that could potentially be damaging to crops. (53) Bats also prey upon mosquitoes and one study showed a Florida colony of 30,000 southeastern myotis (Myotis austroriparius) bats eats 50 tons of insects annually, including more than 15 tons of mosquitoes which are the most effective host for numerous diseases including malaria, (54) yellow fever and dog heartworm.  Bats are also incredibly important pollinators (55) with over 500 species of plants requiring bats to pollinate them including the world’s most important food: chocolate.

But between the wholesale slaughter of bats by wind mills and Pseudogymnoascus destructans, more commonly called white-nose syndrome, (56) bats are a vanishing animal in the world today which will be devastating for food production and even worse for the prevention of spreading diseases. While white-nose syndrome is the main culprit for the decline in bat population, windmills are a close second and the results of this rush for green energy may be the final nail in their coffin.

Long before windmills are installed — which itself consumes open fields — they abuse the Earth.

To evaluate any energy technology, “we must remember that it’s a process, starting with mining the materials necessary for the machines,” Alex Epstein notes in his Penguin book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. (57) Epstein observes that manufacturing wind turbines requires “hazardous substances like hydrofluoric acid in order to get usable rare earth elements.”

The Daily Mail’s Simon Parry toured Baotou, China, (58) a source of neodymium, the main ingredient in wind turbines’ electromagnets. He discovered (59) “a five-mile wide ‘tailing’ lake. It has killed farmland for miles around, made thousands of people ill, and put one of China’s key waterways in jeopardy.”

Parry added:

“This vast, hissing cauldron of chemicals is the dumping ground for seven million tons a year of mined rare earth (60) after it has been doused in acid and chemicals and processed through red-hot furnaces to extract its components.

The lake instantly assaults your senses. Stand on the black crust for just seconds and your eyes water and a powerful, acrid stench fills your lungs.

For hours after our visit, my stomach lurched and my head throbbed. We were there for only one hour, but those who live in Mr. Yan’s village of Dalahai, and other villages around, breathe in the same poison every day.”

“Withholding the information is in the public’s interest, because that will ensure “open communication” between such companies and the government.” PacifiCorp (61) lawsuit to stop the release of eagle mortalities at their wind mill farms

Environmentalists and green energy zealots need to stop hallucinating about “sustainable” power sources that do not damage air, water, habitat, and wildlife. “Clean energy” hurts nature and is on pace to put many animals on the extinct list, From introducing canine distemper in kit foxes to the massive killing of raptors, (62) “green energy” could not be more dangerous to animals. Species extinction is a serious issue: around the world we’re losing up to 40 a day. Yet environmentalists are urging us to adopt technologies that are hastening this process.

On top of the crops bats (63) pollinate, with the massive killing of bats worldwide, it is creating a scenario in which many deadly diseases will flourish as mosquitoes multiply due to the dwindling bat population. We are slowly bringing about an Aral Sea event on a global scale and one has to wonder what we will do when they are gone?

Ever occur to you why some of us can be this much concerned with animals suffering? Because government is not. Why not? Animals don’t vote. Paul Harvey

1)    UK Ecologist: ‘Wind Farms Driving Birds, Bats to Extinction’
2)    The Disappearing Sea
3)    The Aral Sea
4)    The Virgin Lands Program
5)    The Aral Sea
6)    What the Disappearing Aral Sea Tells Us about the Value of Water

7)    Aral Sea’s Eastern Basin Is Dry for First Time in 600 Years
8)    The Aral Sea Catastrophe Timeline
9)    And it’s good night from the Aral Sea
10) The Aral Sea Crisis
11) Aral Sea-Videos
12) The Aral Sea
13) Aral Sea “One of the Planet’s Worst Environmental Disasters”

14) The Aral Sea environmental health crisis

15) The Aral Sea Disaster
16) The Disappearance of the Aral Sea
17) Environmental Quotes
18) Aral Sea
19) Wind Power Cuts CO2 Emissions On Close To 1:1 Basis

20) Analysis: Solar & wind power costs are huge compared to natural gas fired generation

21) California solar projects plan undergoing major overhaul

22) Ivanpah

23) Ivanpah Project Facts

24) Where Tortoises and Solar Power Don’t Mix

25) Biological Assessment for the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System

26) Solar Power in the Desert

27) Emerging solar plants scorch birds in mid-air

28) New Solar Power Plants are Incinerating Birds
29) Does the Ivanpah solar facility toast 642 or 28,000 birds a year?
30) How birds are being scorched to death MID-AIR in the quest for clean energy
31) California weighing bird deaths from concentrated solar plants
32) Avian Mortality at Ivanpah Solar Plant
33) Yuma Clapper Rail
34) Solar Farm Threaten Birds
35) Yellow Billed Cuckoo
36) Southwestern Willow Flycatchers

37) The Environmental Movement Becomes a Bird-Killing Machine

38) Saving desert tortoises is a costly hurdle for solar projects
39) Ivanpah Solar Power is Incinerating Birds
40) Kit Fox Distemper Outbreak: How did the Deadly Disease Reach the Desert?
41) Canine distemper in kit foxes spreads in Mojave Desert
42) Problems Cast Shadow of Doubt on Solar Projects
43) Petition Filed to Protect Desert Kit Fox Under California Endangered Species Act
44) Wildlife Concerns Associated with Wind Energy Development
45) Bye, Bye Birdie
46) Republican: EPA ‘rewards its friends and punishes its opponents’
47) First wind power generation company prosecuted for killing birds
48) Obama Looks the Other Way When Wind & Solar Power Kill Birds & Bats
49) Wind turbines kill 600,000 bats a year in the US
50) Study shows wind turbines killed 600,000 bats last year
51) Why wind turbines endanger bats
52) Economic importance of bats in the ‘billions a year’ range

53) Ecological and Economic Importance of Bats (Order Chiroptera)

54) Mosquito-Borne Diseases
55) Why Bats Matter
56) Disease that killed millions of insect-eating bats has now hit Wisconsin
57) The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

58) Rare-earth mining in China comes at a heavy cost for local villages
59) In China, the true cost of Britain’s clean, green wind power experiment: Pollution on a disastrous scale

60) Big Wind’s Dirty Little Secret: Toxic Lakes and Radioactive Waste
61) Dead Eagle Data: Buffet/Berkshire/PacifiCorp Don’t Want You to Know
62) Wind Farms vs. Wildlife
63) Study shows wind turbines killed 600,000 bats last year
64) Animal Rights Quotes

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