When it comes to renewable energy, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is just really concerned about the eagles.
“[Wind power] kills all the birds,” Trump told 2012 Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain on the latter’s radio show Tuesday. “Thousands of birds are lying on the ground. And the eagle. You know, certain parts of California — they’ve killed so many eagles. You know, they put you in jail if you kill an eagle. And yet these windmills [kill] them by the hundreds.”
Trump also told Cain that solar and wind are “very, very expensive” and “not working on a large-scale.” And he criticized the way wind turbines look, calling the windmills in Palm Springs, California a “junkyard.” (This is not the case, as Grist points out in their fact-check of Trump’s claims.)
“Thousands of birds are lying on the ground. And the eagle. You know, certain parts of California — they’ve killed so many eagles.”
“They have all these different companies and each one is made by a different group from, all from China and from Germany, by the way — not from here,” said Trump, who often sells products made in other countries. “And you look at all these windmills. Half of them are broken. They’re rusting and rotting. You know, you’re driving into Palm Springs, California, and it looks like a poor man’s version of Disneyland. It’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen.”
This is not the first time Trump has taken a swing at wind and solar power; he has tweeted about wind more than 100 times, mostly to complain about how ugly the turbines are. Nor is it the first time Trump has blamed wind turbines for killing birds, especially eagles. In August, he told a crowd in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania that “the wind kills all your birds.”
“All your birds, killed,” he said. “ You know, the environmentalists never talk about that.”
And in May, during a speech in Bismarck, North Dakota, Trump again blamed wind turbines for the deaths of hundreds of eagles each year.
“There are places for wind but if you go to various places in California, wind is killing all of the eagles,” Trump said. “You know if you shoot an eagle, if you kill an eagle, they want to put you in jail for five years. And yet the windmills are killing hundreds and hundreds of eagles… They’re killing them by the hundreds.”
It’s true that wind turbines account for the deaths of between 140,000 and 368,000 birds annually. But that figure pales in comparison to the number of birds killed by cell towers (6.8 million) and glass building collisions (up to one billion) each year. And the biggest bird killer of all? Cats, which kill up to 3.7 billion birds annually.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, only two eagles were killed by wind turbines in the Palm Springs area since 1997.
An even bigger threat to birds than wind turbines, glass buildings, or bloodthirsty felines is climate change. According to the Audubon Society’s “Birds and Climate Change” report, climate change threatens more than half of North American bird species, and 126 species face the threat of becoming endangered due to climate change.
Since climate change is driven by carbon emissions from fossil fuels — the coal and oil and natural gas that Trump is so keen to support — Audubon strongly supports the expansion of “properly sited wind power,” which would help drive down carbon emissions and stop the more dire consequences of climate change.
Trump, for his part, has called climate change a “hoax” created by China. He has also accused China of “illegally dumping” wind turbines in the United States — a claim that the American Wind Energy Association debunked to the Daily Beast back in August.
Though Trump often uses birds as a scapegoat to support his distaste for wind power, his personal problems with wind turbines go back years and largely center around a golf course that he was planning to build in Balmedie, Scotland.
In 2012, Trump began fighting plans to install a wind farm off the coast of Aberdeen, close to his golf course. He sent a letter to the head of the Scottish government, first minister Alex Salmond, calling wind turbines “monsters,” called the project “insanity,” and accused Salmond of being “hell-bent on destroying Scotland’s coastline.” Trump’s argument was largely that the wind turbines would ruin the aesthetic appeal of his golf course. Despite his objections, the Scottish government approved construction of the turbines in 2013; Trump lost his challenge to that decision twice in Scottish courts.
Despite his vehement opposition to the Scottish wind farm, Trump has not always drawn such a hard line on wind. While campaigning in Iowa — which ranks second in the country in terms of installed wind capacity — Trump told potential voters he supports subsidies for wind, like the production tax credit.
“It’s an amazing thing when you think — you know, where they can, out of nowhere, out of the wind, they make energy,” Trump said.
The Washington Post, noting his earlier stance on wind, called it “a stunning bit of pandering.”