Wind turbines have been getting a bum rap in certain circles of late, for grinding up birds and such. Do the critics have a point, asks a concerned reader, or are they just NIMBY whiners who should be grateful for the spread of a clean, green form of energy? The ever-sagacious Umbra Fisk weighs in -- today on the Grist Magazine website.
I have been reading lots in the media lately about wind farms. As a supporter of green energy, I would obviously like to see a lot more of them and have long believed that people who oppose them are just another example of the "not in my backyard" mentality: they want a constant electricity supply, but not if it spoils the lovely sea view they paid so much for.
Permission was given recently by the British government to construct a large wind farm on some moorland near my family home. The plan was all set to go ahead until local residents launched a huge appeal and the whole thing was scrapped! Are the environmentalists who oppose wind farms guilty of the same NIMBYism as everyone else, or do they have a point?
I'll tell you this much: Environmentalists opposed to wind farms haven't done the reading I've done, because I'm about to go rent a blow torch, cut up my car, and use the pieces to build a wind turbine.
I suppose it's possible that folks could get their pants into a twist about the land-use impacts of wind farms. Placing a wind array on a ridge line does risk causing some erosion, does mean a road must lead to the ridge, does mean some wild habitat may be disturbed. However, the same is true for ski lift lines, radio and television towers, and giant crosses, none of which produce a clean, renewable source of energy.
Rumors about bird kills may also sway the uninformed bird lover. Concerned scientists have studied bird kill on wind turbines compared to bird kill from other human structures, and it turns out birds are having a rough time in general, what with running into large buildings, high tension wires, communications towers, cars, etc. Wind towers have added modestly to the annual avian death toll, and engineers are working hard to make the number modester. More than you can say for the Sears Tower.
Wind power creates virtually zero air, water, or soil pollution. Meanwhile, emissions from other sources of energy are changing our physical environment for the creatures who share it with us in ways we don't understand. The number of animals inconvenienced by worldwide climate change will be exponentially higher than the number killed by wind farms, and for that reason, everyone who pauses to consider the big picture should be supporting wind farms in their community. And they should be proud if their area can support clean, attractive energy generation. Wind farms are hip and cool, and your neighbors are squares.
I suspect that part of the problem is that people just hate change. They'll resist sewage plants, garbage dumps, nuclear plants -- in short, they don't know how to differentiate between necessary infrastructure and bad infrastructure, or how to stop saying no once they start. It's sad. The American Wind Energy Association has a fabulous comprehensive tutorial on wind power that will, uh, put the wind in your sails.
I'll see you at the blowtorch rental shop.
Yours is to wonder why, hers is to answer (or try). Please send Umbra any nagging question pertaining to the environment.
The claims made in this column may not reflect the views of Grist Magazine or ENN. Neither the magazine nor the author guarantees that any advice contained in this column is wise or safe. Please use this column at your own risk.
Umbra Fisk is Grist Research Associate II, Hardcover and Periodicals Unit, floors 2B-4B.
Source: Grist Magazine