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Thursday, November 9, 2023

Do they REALLY care about whales?

Gadflies Swarm Around Whale Carcasses

By Frank Carini / ecoRI News colunmist 

The anti-wind mob chums the waters with red herring. The conspiracy theorists continue to hide behind critically endangered North Atlantic right whales to spin tales about offshore wind. Their faux concern is nauseating.

When it comes to the real threats to the 350 or so right whales left on the planet — entanglements with fishing gear and strikes with ships — the mob’s ranting and raving goes largely silent, and my stomach turns.

These self-proclaimed pro-whale warriors only care about the lives of these majestic marine mammals when they fit into their manufactured hysteria about offshore wind.

Among those spreading the mob’s propaganda are southern New England firebrand Lisa Quattrocki Knight, president of Green Oceans, and Constance Gee, a Westport, Mass., resident and Green Oceans member; Lisa Linowes, executive director of the Industrial Wind Action Group Corp, also known as The WindAction Group; Protect Our Coast New Jersey; and blogger Frank Haggerty, a blowhole of offshore wind misinformation.

Their bluster is either funded by the fossil fuel industry and/or they are wealthy coastal property owners more concerned that their ocean views will be ruined by a different type of energy infrastructure. Either way, the lives of whales, dolphins, birds, and humans living near polluting fossil fuel operations don’t matter.

Green Oceans has filed a civil lawsuit against the Coastal Resources Management Council, claiming the Rhode Island agency violated the state’s Constitution, state regulations, and its own responsibilities when it approved the Revolution Wind project in May.

In September, Knight put on an anti-wind show for a Westport audience. She touched on popular anti-wind talking points, including potential harms of offshore wind to the ocean environment and animals; dangers to fishermen; costs of electricity created by wind power; and the fossil fuel industry origins of some wind developers.

I find the last one especially amusing. She doesn’t trust the industry (no one should) when it comes to offshore wind development, but yet neither her nor her organization protest ocean drilling for fossil fuels, hydraulic fracturing, or tar sands mining.

In fact, Knight and the Green Oceans website barely, if ever, mention the harms associated with the exploration, extraction, and burning of fossil fuels. In February, Green Oceans published a white paper that espoused the idea of converting U.S. coal-fired power plants to natural gas ones as a solution to the climate crisis.

Gee has authored several opinion pieces in local publications about the real and fabricated dangers of offshore wind. In a piece published in early October, she attacks those who question her anti-wind beliefs.

“Those of us shouldering this David and Goliath fight against massive industrialization of the Outer Continental Shelf from Maine to the Carolinas don’t have the energy to counter every deceitful word written about us,” Gee wrote.

Both Linowes, the New Hampshire-based founder of The WindAction Group, and Protect Our Coast New Jersey have been tied to fossil fuel funding.

There are seven turbines spinning off the U.S. coast — five in Rhode Island waters (Block Island Wind Farm) and two off Virginia. They generate 42 megawatts of energy. The frenzied anti-wind crowd blames them — and the various offshore projects in the planning, exploration, and early development stages — for any death of a whale or dolphin reported along the East Coast. To them, offshore wind is to blame for the decline in cod populations, the warming of marine waters, and the dearth of mermaids.

The mob sees evil wind turbines everywhere. They portray them as stationary ocean bogeymen. They like to jam the machines’ alleged evildoing into any story that mentions the sea, renewable energy, or fossil fuels.

For instance, a column I wrote last month about human activity diminishing biodiversity elicited this comment from someone apparently addicted to black gold and ignorant to the myriad problems caused by burning it:

“Yup. Let’s end fossil fuels and fill someone else’s pocketbooks by killing the oceans with windmills and leveling even more forestland for solar farms and Amazon warehouses. Simply ending fossil fuels is not the answer.”

Personally, I don’t know how a structure used to mill grain or pump water would even survive in the ocean, never mind kill it. I do agree, however, that all renewable energy projects, from offshore wind to ground-mounted solar, need to be sited intelligently and our land-use management needs drastic improvement. 

I’m just glad no forestland has been leveled, mountaintops removed, open space bulldozed, or marine waters damaged by fossil fuel infrastructure.

Ending fossil fuels isn’t the exclusive answer, but it is the highest priority.

I received the following email a day after writing a column about the many human-caused pressures facing the marine environment:

“Frank, do yourself and the RI fishing communities a favor. Please try doing some research outside of the Pew, U of BC, EDF, Ocean Conservancy bubble. Your article is loaded with the anti-fishing propaganda that these corporate style eco-organizations have been spewing for decades. Look up some of you misconceptions about RI fishing in this website by the U. of  Washington Ocean Scientists to get a more balanced view of “overfishing” and “bottom clearing dragging gear”, and the “scarcity of large predators” etc., etc. The real threat to the ocean ecosystem is the widespread energy binge. Too many e-gizmos and 1,000 hp EVs and the bogus eco-response of thousands of 900 foot ocean wind turbines between NY Harbor and Nantuckett right on the world’s most productive fish habitat and spawning grounds.”

For the record, not one 900-foot-high wind turbine stands off the East Coast. The five turbines off Block Island are 593 feet tall. The two off Virginia are 600 feet tall. There are plans to install more and bigger turbines off the Atlantic Coast, but “thousands” in an area from New York City to Nantucket, Mass., is an exaggeration.

There are, however, thousands of oil and natural gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

No energy source is benign. From installation to operation, they all come with consequences — environmental, societal, and cultural. We should always be skeptical. 

There are legitimate concerns about the development of offshore wind — like there are for any power source — such as not infringing upon whale migration corridors that must be discussed, studied, mitigated, and/or avoided. Renewable energy shouldn’t be called clean, but it is significantly cleaner than fossil fuels, especially when it is sited responsibly.

The development of offshore wind, in fact, is the most scrutinized form of renewable energy, which explains why the United States currently only has seven. It’s certainly not ground-mounted solar, especially in Rhode Island.

If the ocean dies, it will be because we can’t stop burning natural gas, propane, oil, and coal.

The mob’s talking points are largely generated by cherry picking data, distorting information, and providing alternative facts. For example, they say wind turbines kill birds. While that is certainly true, they ignore the part about fossil fuel power plants killing many more birds per gigawatt-hour than turbines do.

They conveniently ignore that earlier this year an independent scientific agency that advises the federal government on policies that could impact marine mammals stated there is no evidence linking offshore wind site preparation work with whale deaths along the East Coast. 

In February, the Marine Mammal Commission became the third federal agency to reject a link between whale deaths and offshore wind. The three members must be part of the Deep State.

Experts at both the University of Rhode Island and Rutgers University have come to the same conclusion.

The mob calls offshore wind “overrated.” Even though offshore wind isn’t being touted as the world’s sole energy panacea, mob members like to note it “will never be a solitary source of energy here or anyplace else.”

Like fossil fuels, renewable energy is a mixture of power sources. Offshore wind is but one.

They claim wind turbines are industrializing the ocean. Freighters, cruise ships, oil and gas platforms, trawlers, fish processing vessels, marine diamond mining, deep-sea mining, megayachts, naval fleets, and nuclear submarines would like a word.

Mob members like to note the amount of indirect sources of carbon dioxide that are produced during the building and installation of offshore wind turbines, such as cement production and the use of machinery powered by fossil fuels. They also like to blame other countries.

A recent email explained all of that to me. It read, in part:

“We stamp our feet, impose sometimes foolhardy regulations on our own industrial producers, with the misguided belief that if we do it, the likes of China, India and other smaller industrial nations, will follow. Well, they haven’t, nor do they intend to. We bastardized clean coal energy which is far cleaner than the EPA and DOE are willing to admit. 

"They are too busy pitching ‘green energy’ like the foolish offshore wind farms which will never reach the energy yield promised by the hucksters selling it. Nor are they green. The processes involved in the manufacture of the infrastructure isn’t green. The transport of the components isn’t green, the assembly process isn’t green.”

Indirect sources of greenhouse gases, however, are also emitted when building fossil fuel power plants, nuclear reactors, offshore rigs, and dams. But, here’s the important part: indirect climate emissions will continue to decrease as more and more cleaner energy is added to the power grid.

If the anti-wind mob really cared about North Atlantic right whales, they would at least be equally concerned about the species’ encounters with large vessels and their entanglements in lobster and crab traps.

They would be outraged that the lives of the whales are being put at risk by ships speeding in designated “slow zones,” according to a report released last month.

Collisions with ships are a leading cause of whale injury and death. Right whales are slow, swimming about 6 mph, usually near the water’s surface. They are also dark in color and lack a dorsal fin, making them difficult to spot.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in 2008, implemented a speed rule that all vessels 65 feet or longer must travel at 10 knots (11.5 mph) or slower in specific zones called “seasonal management areas” along the East Coast, to help protect the endangered animals.

These special management areas are drawn around areas at times of the year when right whales are known to be using them for feeding, breeding, giving birth, and migrating. There are 10 slow-speed areas from Massachusetts to Florida.

Unfortunately, vessels, from cargo ships to luxury yachts, have been recorded traveling at more than three times the speed limit, according to the Oceana report.

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit analyzed ship speeds from November 2020 to July 2022 in East Coast slow zones and found 84% of the vessels sped through the areas. (NOAA’s interpretation of the data differs.)

Vessel strikes can cause death or injury from blunt-force trauma or propeller cuts. Since 2017, 18 right whale vessel strikes have been recorded in the United States and Canada, according to NOAA, with 12 killed, although marine scientists believe the real number is higher.

Studies have found that limiting boat speeds to 10 knots reduces risk of death by between 80% and 90%.

Entanglements in fishing gear used to catch lobster, snow crab, and bottom-dwelling fish such as halibut, flounder, and cod is the other leading cause of right whale deaths and injury.

Fishing gear from the United States and Canada entangles an estimated 100 right whales each year, and about 83% of them have been entangled at least once, according to Oceana.

Ropes and fishing gear have been found wrapped around mouths, fins, tails, and bodies of marine mammals, including right whales. These entanglements make it difficult for the animals to swim, reproduce, and feed. They can cause suffering and death, as lines cut into the animals’ flesh can lead to life-threatening infections.

Yet, when ecoRI News reports on these dangers and others, such as ocean acidification, to marine life, the anti-wind mob doesn’t send emails, post comments, or submit letters to the editor expressing outrage and concern.

There are no pleas for fishing gear to be pulled from local waters or the use of ropeless fishing technology be made mandatory. There are no demands that large vessels slow down or be equipped with technology that monitors the presence of whales in shipping lanes. There are no calls to stop the burning of fossil fuels.

It’s because the anti-wind mob doesn’t really care.

Note: During the November 2020 to July 2021 season, about 64% of the 65-foot and longer vessels in NOAA’s Gulf of Maine voluntary slow speed zones surpassed 10 knots. The following season, about 65% of such vessels sped through. The highest recorded speeds for each season were 37 knots (43 mph) and 39 knots (45 mph). Last year NOAA proposed extending the seasonal management areas speed limit to vessels 35 feet and longer. At speeds higher than 10 knots, ships typically can’t maneuver quickly enough to avoid most whales.

Frank Carini can be reached at His opinions don’t reflect those of ecoRI News.