Do It For the Birds

In May, a flock of migrating birds crashed into a 23-story building in Galveston, killing approximately four hundred birds. Claiming that the birds were confused by floodlights that illuminated the building, an online petition is demanding that the city of Galveston require building owners to turn their lights off at night.

The petition states:

Experts believe strong winds could have blown the birds of their normal migratory course and the bright lights of the tall building were mistaken for moonlight or the sun, luring them to a tragic end.

The easiest and most responsible way to ensure tragedies like these don’t happen again are to require office buildings to turn off their lights at night especially during migration season. This method is both effective and saves energy.

No rational person celebrates the demise of the birds. But no rational person puts the well-being of birds above the freedom and rights of human beings. And the latter is precisely what the author of the petition is seeking to do.

Birds do not have rights; individual human beings do. And among the rights that individuals possess is the right to property–the freedom to use one’s property as one chooses, so long as one does not violate the rights of others. This petition seeks to violate the property rights of building owners by forcing them to use their property contrary to their own judgment.

Turning off the lights may not seem like a big deal. But the principle involved is a big deal. If it is acceptable to force property owners to turn off their lights, in principle it is acceptable to force them to do any number of other things. All it takes is a noisy mob to apply pressure to city hall.

Rather than use reason and persuasion to convince building owners to turn off the lights, the backers of this plan want to use force. Apparently, they don’t believe that they can achieve their goal through voluntary means. They want to save some birds, even if that means beating property owners into submission.

3 comments to Do It For the Birds

  • George

    Fair enough Pete but I think that Mr Phillips is making a far simpler point here: the bird lovers should show a modicum of respect for the building owners and actually discuss the problem with them. The “..there oughta be a law..” attitude in American politics used to be ridiculed, and deservedly so. Now its become the first response to the slightest provocation. Pathetic. Texans should know better.

    • Brian Phillips

      Since writing the post, I have learned that the man behind the petition is an American living in Argentina. I guess meddling in other people’s affairs knows no boundaries.

  • Pete Jamison

    Presumably the protesters are not demanding that the FAA-mandated warning lights on the tops of buildings be turned off. That would be illegal and would constitute a danger to aviation. Ornithologists could be consulted further to determine if the sun theory is plausible, a minority opinion, etc. Aviation authorities could be consulted to get their views on the darkening of cities and how THAT could endanger air traffic. And the onus should be upon the protesters (those who assert) to engage in all this extra research.