The Star Tribune’s Oct. 18 editorial (“Keep bird deaths in perspective”) provides a fantastic opening to discuss the larger scheme of things, along with a winning solution for both sides in the debate over the use of glass in the new Minnesota Vikings stadium. For if we make this a contest between humans and nature, we are all going to lose.
The editorial asserts that bird collisions don’t amount to much compared with all the other ways birds die from human activities and that one building will not single-handedly increase the mortality rate of North American birds. While this may be true, to conclude that this is justification to needlessly kill birds — when a desirable and affordable option is available — is alarming. To separate one action from its additive impact is shortsighted. If we follow this logic, every wetland can be drained, every tree cut down and every river dammed as long as we do it one at a time.
As stewards, we are responsible for our impact on the Earth’s well-being, and it is precisely the logic presented in this editorial that is putting our vital ecosystems in trouble. We know that it is not a single deforestation event, a single oil spill or a single storm that leads to significant decline of bird species, but rather the effect of multiple factors over time. The good news is that the same way our cumulative actions can stress and degrade the environment, our individual actions can lead to its protection and recovery. Take the bald eagle, for example, or bluebirds.
Only some of us are “late to the game” (as the editorial asserts) on this issue. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Audubon urged designers to use bird-safe glass from the very beginning, two years ago. So many citizens are raising their voices now because they want a shift in awareness and an understanding that what we do individually has a larger impact. The current glass choice simply does not reflect Minnesota values, as evidenced by the 95,000 people who signed their names to a bird-safe glass petition to the governor and the unanimous resolution passed by the Minneapolis City Council (an act that is likely to soon follow in St. Paul).
Migratory birds are legally protected because they play a pivotal role, pollinating plants and controlling insect populations. One bird can eat 500 pests per day, reducing the need for toxic pesticides. Disarmingly, their populations are not constant; they are decreasing because of human activities, including glass buildings. Research shows that many once-common species have had a 50 percent reduction in just the last 50 years.
Comparing this stadium’s design against bird-safe standards adopted by San Francisco and other cities around the country is startling. Our stadium is a mid-rise building (where most collisions occur), surrounded by a park (birds see the reflection of green space or sky and think it’s open air), near the river (the Mississippi is the largest flyway in the continent). With an extraordinary amount of glass engineered with highly reflective qualities, this makes our stadium the poster child for how not to design a bird-safe, energy-efficient building. Nobody can put an exact number on bird kills from the current glass choice, but substantive data tell us with confidence that birds will die — a lot of them.
Fortunately, an alternative, bird-safe glass exists that can provide that transparent look and help us all forget the dreary Metrodome. To top it off, this glass is made by the same Minnesota company hired to produce the current glass choice. An impressive use of this glass is the Javits Center in New York City. Recently retrofitted with 400,000 square feet of bird-safe, fritted glass, the building is a brilliant crystal showpiece and one of the city’s most iconic structures (see http://tinyurl.com/Javits-glass).
The Star Tribune declares that we should keep bird deaths in perspective. The perspective we hear sounds like “Design wins, birds lose.” How about a “win-win” approach? Protect birds and have a great-looking stadium. This does not have to come down to competing values of aesthetics vs. bird loss, because luckily for both sides, a product is available that can create the look and feel fans want. A win for all.
With a high-profile building of this caliber, we have the opportunity to set a precedent and raise the bar for sustainable design as a 2012 law now requires of publicly bonded facilities. Therefore, we urge the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to call it a “tie” and build a stadium of which we can all be proud. Let’s change the glass now!
Lisa Venable is co-founder of Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds. Jerry Bahls is president of the Audubon Chapter-Minneapolis.