Trump’s recent rambling about birds, windows, and windmills might seem funny at first—but they highlight the president’s climate change denial and dismissal of science.
President Donald Trump has a laundry list of things he hates: the media, paying taxes, and “losers” (which, for the president, has included veterans of America’s wars, like John McCain).
What else is on that list? Windmills.
During the final presidential debate on Oct. 22, moderator Kristen Welker introduced a segment on climate change and renewable energy.
Democrat Joe Biden has spoken at length about his green jobs initiative, which forms the cornerstone of the candidate’s climate change strategy. President Trump’s reelection campaign has said nothing about climate change, aside from a few bullet points about clean water and clean air on his campaign website (which were also parroted in debates and during the Republican National Convention).
The Trump administration has done its best to prevent clean air and water supplies by rolling back dozens of environmental protections, many of which directly relate to air and water quality.
From Bird Death to Cancer, Trump Has Made Plenty of False Statements on Wind Power
During the debate, the president embarked on an extended rant that touched on everything from tiny windows to windmills. The latter, for Trump, was linked to the health of birds, though as Biden pointed out, Trump’s scientifically unfounded complaints about windmills go deeper.
“He thinks wind causes cancer…windmills,” Biden said.
“I know more about wind than you do,” Trump replied. “It’s extremely expensive…kills all the birds. It’s very intermittent. It’s got a lot of problems.”
Among the problems that Trump has cited, without evidence, include the impacts of windmills on housing prices, as well as cancer.
“If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75% in value,” Trump claimed at the National Republican Congressional Committee dinner in April 2019. This claim is not supported by the results of any studies to date.
“And they say the noise causes cancer. You tell me that one, okay?” Trump continued, imitating the blades of a wind turbine. “It’s like a graveyard for birds,” he added. “If you love birds, you’d never want to walk under a windmill.”
The American Cancer Society told FactCheck.org it was “unaware of any credible evidence linking the noise from windmills to cancer.”
The President Claims to Both Understand Wind Power and Not Understand Wind
But Trump’s war on renewable energy resources—like wind and solar—hasn’t been limited to a few isolated incidents or speeches to his base. In August 2019, Trump dismissed concerns about climate change at the G7 summit in France, after skipping a session on the topic during the conference.
“The United States has tremendous wealth. The wealth is under its feet. I’ve made that wealth come alive,” Trump declared. “I’m not going to lose that wealth on dreams…on windmills. Which, frankly, aren’t working too well.”
In December of the same year, the president delivered a series of nonsensical remarks about windmills to a group of young conservatives in West Palm Beach, Fla., at Turning Point USA’s Student Action Summit.
“I never understood wind. You know, I know windmills very much. I’ve studied it better than anyone I know,” Trump said, contradicting himself in the span of three sentences, before pivoting to the toll of windmills on birds.
“If you shoot a bald eagle, they want to put you in jail for 10 years. A windmill will kill many bald eagles,” Trump proclaimed. “It’s true and, you know what, after a certain number, they make you turn the windmill off.”
Shawn Smallwood, California’s leading ornithologist for the study of raptors and wind turbines told Politifact that Trump exaggerated the numbers of eagles killed by windmills.
“Mr. Trump could not have arrived at his number from any reliable source, unless he is referring to all eagles killed by industrial-scale wind turbines since they were installed in the early 1980s,” Smallwood said. “Cumulatively over time, there have been hundreds of eagles killed, probably about 2,000.”
Trump’s Past Legal Battles Against Windmills May Have Something to Do With His Feelings
Trump’s public hatred of windmills dates back to the mid-00s, when he bought 1,800-acres of land on the coast of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, to build a luxury golf course and resort.
He became aware of—and strongly opposed—a proposal to build an offshore windfarm near the coast because “it would spoil the view” from his golf course.
“I want to see the ocean,” Trump told the BBC in 2006. “I do not want to see windmills.”
In a desperate plea to stop 11 wind turbines from being erected, Trump testified before Scottish Parliament in 2012, claiming that Scotland’s windmills would jeopardize the country’s tourism industry.
“Wind turbines, made in China are going to be the destruction…almost a total destruction of your tourism industry,” Trump said.
“It’s a very inefficient form of energy. It’s an energy, that, when you need it most you don’t get it because the wind isn’t blowing,” Trump continued in his opening statement. “From the standpoint of Scotland, I think, almost most importantly—they are so unattractive, so ugly, so noisy, and so dangerous, that if Scotland does this, Scotland will be in serious trouble.”
But the Scottish government was having none of Trump’s argument. “The energy policy of this country is so important for our future. That will be set by the people and the Parliament of the country. Not by anybody else,” Scottish First Prime Minister Alex Salmond told reporters after Trump’s hearing.
Trump unsuccessfully sued to block the windmills’ construction and shelled out 250,000 euros ($260K) to pay for the Scottish government’s legal fees.
The Biggest Killers of Birds? Cats and Large Glass Windows—and Trump Loves the Latter
Trump’s comments on windmills—his insistence that he understands them more than anyone, while also not understanding wind (by his own admission)—is an extension of the president’s thinking on climate issues in general. While his challenger in the 2020 election has consulted with scientists and experts on climate change, President Trump has made baseless claims about the climate and taken steps to undermine everything from air quality to selling protected public lands for fossil fuel exploration.
While studies do show that birds can be adversely affected by wind farms, there are scientific methods that can help diminish the harm—including locating wind farms away from the paths of migratory birds and constructing modified turbines.
It’s also worth noting that windmills have a far less detrimental effect on bird populations that domestic cats, the greatest killer of birds.
What is the second-most common cause of bird deaths? An architectural feature that the president lauded in the final debate and suggested that Democrats would do away with: Buildings made of large glass windows.