Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Now, Tilting at Windmills

Here’s a storyline that’s familiar, to the point of cliché. A big energy company “eager to plunder nature’s bounty in pursuit of profit” talks a gullible community into allowing a power plant that damages the environment , threatens public health and divides neighbor against neighbor.
We’ve seen this film before, literally. Just plug in the words “nuclear,” “coal,” or “big oil,” and you’ll be able to come up with dozens of variations. But here’s a new twist. In a movie released this week, to rave reviews, the evil energy is . . . wind power.

When I read the review in the New York Times, I almost laughed out loud, until I thought about the seriousness of the problem that it represents. Here we are, facing the great threats of dependence on unpredictable foreign countries for our energy supply and the impact of our fossil-fuel use on climate change, and we start opposing wind power.

It’s all too predictable, of course. As a country, we want the benefits of industrialization and high technology with none of their side effects – especially, none of the industrial facilities in our back yards. Wind power seemed a great solution when it consisted of small windmills on farms and sleek paper sketches of industrial-grade wind turbines. But as they were deployed, their side effects became apparent – including noise and flickering light that “can tarnish a sunset’s glow on a landscape.”

Every energy facility will run into NIMBY – and, it seems, into Hollywood documentary makers. And it may be that the wind turbines installed in the community of Meredith in upstate New York were not sited as sensitively as they should have been. But our goals of energy security and control of climate-change emissions will be all the harder if we all say Not In My Back Yard to every energy source.

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