Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Green Masquerade

[excerpts -- click on title for complete interview at Counterpunch]

Alan Maass: Among a number of politicians, including Democrats, the concerns about global warming seem to have become an excuse for talk about resurrecting nuclear power.

Jeffrey St. Clair: That comes out of the Gore shop. Anyone who has the slightest familiarity with Gore's political biography will know that he's his father's son, and his father was one of the prime movers behind the Tennessee Valley Authority, behind nuclear power in Appalachia, and the Oak Ridge nuclear lab. Gore Junior was their congressional protector as a congressman and as a senator.

If you go back to Gore's book, Earth in the Balance, behind the scenes of that book is a cooling tower. That's Gore's solution to the global warming crisis -- a world that is clotted with nuclear power plants. If you look at his advisers on global warming while he was vice president, that was their message, too.

Those had been lean times for the nuclear power industry. I think that the Clinton administration could have sealed the nuclear power industry's fate in the U.S. if it had wanted to. But of course, it didn't. They sort of kept them on life support, with a lot of research funding and renewing all the protections.

So is there a renewed faith in nuclear power from the Democrats? Yes. And they now have a justification for it. If you scare yourself into believing that we're going to be having a runaway greenhouse effect, and the only way to stop it is to take immediate action in reducing the burning of fossil fuels, then you're going to be confronted with the argument that a proliferation of nuclear power plants is the fastest way to do that.

Alan Maass: Can you talk about the attitude of the environmental movement toward this corporate greenwashing?

Jeffrey St. Clair: The environmental movement made its deal with the devil at least a decade ago, when they essentially became neoliberal lobby shops. The idea was that if we can't defeat capitalism, if we can't change capitalism, then let's just give in and see if we can use some of the mechanics of the free market in order to tweak the damage done to the environment.

These kinds of seeds were sown in green groups in the early 1980s, but really reached an apogee in Clinton Times.

I don't even think the term greenwashing even applies any more. That was the industry response to the great environmental tragedies of the 1970s, and '80s -- Love Canal, Three Mile Island, Bhopal, the Exxon Valdez. But they don't have to do that any more, because essentially, corporations like BP and environmental groups like the World Wildlife Fund and the Environmental Defense Fund share the same basic mindset.

You can't distinguish between, for example, Ikea, one of the world's great predators of rain forests, and the World Wildlife Fund, which is in a joint venture with Ikea -- so Ikea gets a little panda stamp on the lumber cut from primary forests in Indonesia. So greenwashing seems to me to be very passé.

Environmental politics are largely controlled by the foundations -- they control what's discussed and what the major issues are. The foundations are shackled at the hip to the Democratic Party, and the dominant ones are all children of big oil companies. Pew, the Rockefeller Family Fund, W. Alton Jones -- their endowments were the fortunes of big oil.

I was talking to an environmentalist who said that if you want a grant from any of those foundations, you have to have global warming in your agenda.

Now, let's say you're working on fighting chemical companies in Cancer Alley. How do you work global warming into your agenda? Or if you're fighting factory trawlers, which are creating dead zones off the Pacific coast, how do you work global warming into that? But if you can't, then the money dries up.

What it creates is a kind of inchoate state of environmental politics, because I don't think you can build a mass political movement around global warming.

environment, environmentalism, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism, ecoanarchism

Go vegan to help climate, says [U.K.] Government

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor, Telegraph:

It would help tackle the problem of climate change if people ate less meat, according to a Government agency.

A leaked email to a vegetarian campaign group from an Environment Agency official expresses sympathy with the environmental benefits of a vegan diet, which bans dairy products and fish.

The agency also says the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is considering recommending eating less meat as one of the "key environmental behaviour changes" needed to save the planet. ...

The agency's official was responding to an email from the vegan group Viva, which argues that it is more efficient to use land to grow crops for direct consumption by humans rather than feeding them to dairy cows or livestock raised for meat.

The campaign group entered a comment on the Environment Agency's website saying: "Adopting a vegan diet reduces one person's impact on the environment even more than giving up their car or forgoing several plane trips a year! Why aren't you promoting this message as part of your [World Environment Day] campaign?"

An agency official replied: "Whilst potential benefit of a vegan diet in terms of climate impact could be very significant, encouraging the public to take a lifestyle decision as substantial as becoming vegan would be a request few are likely to take up.

"You will be interested to hear that the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is working on a set of key environmental behaviour changes to mitigate climate change. Consumption of animal protein has been highlighted within that work. As a result the issue may start to figure in climate change communications in the future. It will be a case of introducing this gently as there is a risk of alienating the public majority.

"Future Environment Agency communications are unlikely to ever suggest adopting a fully vegan lifestyle, but certainly encouraging people to examine their consumption of animal protein could be a key message."

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism

Monday, May 28, 2007

Wind: corporate "environmentalism" at its worst

To Don Fitz, editor of Synthesis/Regeneration: A Magazine of Green Social Thought and writer of "Consume Like There's No Tomorrow":

The corporate enviro embrace of industrial-scale wind energy is not an exception but fits perfectly in your critique.

As the first section of the essay "A Problem With Wind" concludes, 'wind farms constitute an increase in energy supply, not a replacement. They do not reduce the costs -- environmental, economic, and political -- of other means of energy production. If wind towers do not reduce conventional power use, then their manufacture, transport, and construction only increases the use of dirty energy. The presence of "free and green" wind power may even give people license to use more energy.'

Wind is an intermittent, highly variable, and unpredictable source, so it either requires the building of new quick-response conventionally powered plants for back-up (such as the natural gas plant that would be built to support Delaware's planned off-shore wind facility and the diesel plant that Cape Wind's parent company would build to support that facility) or elaborate and manufacturing-intense storage systems, whose added inefficiencies would seriously cut into wind's already low output.

Since Enron set up the modern wind industry in the 1990s, its only success has been a massive transfer of public funds into private bank accounts.

Wind energy also requires huge amounts of space (60 acres per megawatt, according to the American Wind Energy Association) or clearing and road building on forested mountaintops.

With very rare exceptions, it also represents NIMBY predatory capitalism at its worst. In the U.S. and similar countries, the usual targets for sprawling industrial wind facilities are poor rural communities. Wind has become part of the current strife in Oaxaca, as the governor and president assist the Spanish energy giant Iberdrola in taking the lands of ejidatarios without consent and with very poor compensation. Their interest in erecting hundreds of giant wind turbines in the western hemisphere's most important migratory bird flyway is not to provide energy (which will be all but lost by the time it gets to where it might be needed) but to generate carbon "credits" for Spain.

Not only should big wind not be a focus at the expense of conservation, it should be rejected as a destructive boondoggle.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, anarchism, ecoanarchism

Consume Like There's No Tomorrow

by Don Fitz
April 22, 2007

Would someone please tell the Sierra Club Exec Board that the idea of an "environmentally friendly car" makes as much sense as a "non-violent death penalty?" While the vast majority of those concerned with global warming consider reduction of unneeded production to be at the core of a sane policy, the Sierra Club has endorsed a plan that includes virtually no role for conservation.

In January 2007, the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) released the 180-page document Tackling Climate Change in the U.S. Typical of big enviro analyses, it assumes a corporate-dominated growth economy. Its novelty is its highly technical studies which claim to compute how much CO2 emissions can be offset by energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy.

Teaming up with ASES to present the study to Congress, the Sierra Club enthusiastically wrote that "energy efficiency and renewables alone can achieve a 60-80% reduction in global warming emissions by 2050." Adding the key word "alone" in the first paragraph of its release indicated that the Sierra Club wanted to be sure that politicians and corporate donors understood that it has no intention of criticizing the large quantity of unnecessary junk created by corporate America.

What ain't there

Solar power, wind power and EE play vital roles in reducing CO2. The rub is the role of conservation, or reduction of total production. For "deep greens," the most basic goal is social change that would foster the reduction of energy. For "shallow greens," conservation is, at best, something to give lip service to while tunnel visioning on eco-gadgets.

More blatant than the typical corporate enviromental analysis, the ASES/Sierra report trivializes conservation as "doing without" or "deprivation." It presents a vast array of technological playthings, some of which are quite good and some of which are less than environmental. What is most revealing is what it does not include. It discusses transportation without using the word "bicycle" or "walking."

It looks at efficient building design with no discussion of using empty buildings or designing buildings to last longer than 50 years. The report that Carl Pope boasts is "now the official Sierra Club global warming strategy" has an extended discussion of home heating and cooling without mentioning the word "tree." George Monbiot's recently published Heat concludes that manufacturing a ton of cement creates a ton of CO2, a fact not emphasized by proponents of EE buildings.

In the analysis of EE, the phrase "organic agriculture" never appears and there is no mention of the massive use of petrochemicals or factory farms and there is zero concern with the fact that the average American food item travels 1300 miles from farm to plate. The strange approach to EE does not question the cancerous growth of household appliances, planned obsolescence, or corporate creation of artificial desires for unneeded products.

The authors have no comment on enormous waste in medical care or huge insurance buildings which drain energy while creating nothing of value. The chapters on transportation, such as plug-in hybrid electric cars, ignore the fact that air traffic in the United Kingdom will double by 2030, at which time it will have more effect on global warming than automobiles. The call for a 10-fold increase in biomass says nothing about effects of monocultures, deforestation, genetic engineering or pesticide usage.

Those approaches left out of the big enviro plan for EE share something: they are common sense low tech or no tech solutions which involve reducing the quantity of production and energy use with no decrease in the quality of life. They have something else in common: they do not involve the swelling of corporate profits via increased manufacture.

When is energy efficiency not efficient?

Almost as much as solar and wind power, EE is becoming the unquestioned mantra of solutions to global warming. Refrigerators that use 75% less energy are a plus. Even better would be the German-designed Passivhaus, which is so well insulated that it has zero heating and cooling systems.

Energy efficiency is good. But projections about what it can offer sometimes border on hallucinations. This is the case with the ASES/Sierra claim that EE can offset global warming by 57%.

The first limitation on EE is the old maxim that the more parts there are to a system, the more parts there are to break. The ASES/Sierra report reads like an encyclopedia of techno-fix gadgets for buildings, cars and holes in the earth. Each item involves increased industrial interdependence. As resources come to be in short supply from exhaustion or wars or hoarding, the future is likely to see a decline in the ability to patch up interconnected systems. Becoming more dependent on them more begs for industrial breakdown.

Another factor that works against EE is the law of diminishing returns. Joseph Tainter explained that societies begin to collapse when resources are drained to meet the needs of increasing complexity. Similarly, the biggest impact of discoveries come when they are first introduced. That's when there is the greatest energy returned on energy invested. Additional refinements tend to cost more and yield less. Oil was cheap and easy to obtain when it oozed to the surface. As time goes on, oil becomes more expensive to pump, the available quantity decreases and the quality worsens. The biggest impact of drugs came with antibiotics. Now we are bombarded with ads for new drugs that cost more to research but have fewer advantages over the previous generation of drugs.

Technocrats tend to have faith in unlimited potential for EE. The truth is that we have probably seen most of the largest efficiency impacts and future changes will mainly be refinements that offer less and less improvement.

The most important difficulty for EE is the market economy, which corporate environmentalists love so much and understand so little. Corporations do not compete to make less money. They compete to increase their profits. Market forces compel each corporation to expand production as rapidly as possible. When more efficient heating is available, corporations selling it will encourage customers to turn up their thermostats and run around in their underwear in the middle of winter.

People live commuting distances from work. The automobile has lengthened that distance. Fuel-efficient cars will do nothing to affect that distance or the expanding miles of road, the loss of habitat that accompanies road construction, space for parking or energy used in manufacturing cars.

It is not hard to visualize yuppies feeling so smug about their EE apartment in New York that they buy an EE home in Phoenix, an EE condo in Chicago, a hybrid car for each city, and a helicopter modified to run on biofuels for shuttling between cities. Energy efficiency is not efficient when some individual items are more efficient but the overall quantity of items increases so much that the total mass of energy used goes up instead of down. Like it or not, that is the irredeemable compulsion of market economics.

This is not to say that EE plays no role in preventing the planet from frying. It is to say that EE must be accompanied with an intense program of conservation, economic redesign and governmental regulation. Without these, EE in a market economy is not merely worthless, but will likely result in expanded production and increased global warming.

Invasion of the techno-babblers

Anyone who has ever fought an incinerator, cement kiln or coal plant knows that you've lost the struggle if you ever let industry suck you into an argument about which pollution control device should be tacked on after toxins have been created. The only genuine solution is the easy one -- to prevent the creation of the poisons in the first place.

If someone tries to sell an incinerator or an EE system that's too complicated to understand, that could indicate it's a bad idea. Making things simple is typically the route of greatest efficiency.

A narrow focus on technology seeks to replace a gee-gaw with a doo-dad, and when that doesn't work come up with a gizmo. Techno-babble sputters forth from the belief that social problems can be solved in a quest for the ultimate gadget. Oblivious to social reasons for global warming, the ASES/Sierra report claims that whatever greenhouse gas problems remain after EE can be solved with six renewable technologies: "concentrating solar power, photovoltaics, wind power, biomass, biofuels and geothermal power." The last three [or four -- Ed.] of these are techno-babble.

"Biomass" is largely an effort to turn whatever wildlands remain on this planet to energy crop monocultures. Not surprisingly, the word "ecology" does not appear in the biomass chapter. What is surprising is the subsection on "Urban residues" which discusses the use of municipal solid waste as feedstock for heat conversion to electricity. This is a polite way of saying that environmentalists should endorse spewing incinerator poisons into city air and abandon the notion of not generating waste.

"Geothermal power" does not have such offensive associations. But less than 0.1% of geothermal energy is within three kilometers of the surface, which makes it currently recoverable. Suggesting that yet-to-be-perfected techniques of recovery might allow geothermal to provide 20% of US energy is pure speculation. It cannot be part of a serious energy strategy.

One of the more shameful chapters of the report concerns "Biofuels." It has nothing against corn ethanol. It only rejects using corn grain to produce ethanol on the basis that the 10 million gallons of ethanol which could be manufactured from U.S. corn would represent only 5% of this country's gasoline demand. It pays no attention to issues brought up the same month in a Scientific American article that (1) refining ethanol uses more energy than it produces and (2) ethanol requires "robbing food crops to make fuel." The lack of concern with either ethanol efficiency or world hunger renders the Sierra Club-endorsed report as less ecologically minded than Scientific American, the prototype of techno-hype publications.

The chapter clings to the hope that ethanol could be produced if, instead of using corn grain, "residues from corn and wheat crops" made up the feedstock. There are several problems with this "cellulose" strategy. First, as with geothermal, making ethanol from cornstalks is so highly speculative that it has no place in long-term projections. If it could be done, it would be from genetically engineering corn to make it more amenable to separating sugars from lignin. There has already been plenty of genetic contamination of foodstocks. Additional genetic engineering is exactly what agriculture does not need.

The biggest problem with cellulosic ethanol is that it assumes that soil should be nothing more than a sterile medium for growing crops and that "residue" has no part in replenishing soil. Just as the Forest Service under Bill Clinton brought us "salvage logging" based on the belief that decaying wood has no significance for forest ecosystems, Hillary Clinton might usher in the concept that decaying cornstalks have no contribution to soil ecosystems.

Those who fixate on biofuels don't seem to grasp that keeping natural fertilizers out of the soil means relying more on petrochemical fertilizers. With a straight face they are proposing to reduce oil use in cars by increasing use of oil-based fertilizers.

Hard questions/tough reality

Perpetual motion machines, biomass and biofuels will not halt species extinction caused by climate change. Again, efficiency and solar and wind power [? -- Ed.] are critical components of a sustainable society. But focusing on them diverts attention from the real issues that need to be addressed -- how to dramatically reduce energy production while improving the quality of life. This is the basis for the hard questions that corporate environmentalists avoid.

For example, the U.S. needs to reduce the number of cars on the road by at least 95% and make sure the few that are manufactured are hybrids. How can the U.S. economy be reorganized so that auto workers and refinery workers have jobs comparable to jobs that they now have?

Many poor countries depend on destructive industries such as oil. How can the world economy be reorganized so they increase their standard of living while altering what they produce?

It is well known that greenhouse gas reduction requires population reduction, which can best be accomplished by reducing the gap between rich and poor and achieving equality for women. How do we reverse the right-wing pattern of increasing disparity?

The global economy is increasing production of high-energy goods such as roads, cars, airplanes, fast food, meat and endless mountains of consumer crap. How do we change this to production of low-energy goods that people actually need, such as locally grown organic food, preventive health care and clothes and homes that endure?

The creation of artificial wants for new objects is exploding like genetically engineered diseases in a bio-defense lab. How do we convince big enviro that it is not "sacrifice" or "deprivation" to focus on manufacturing items that people actually need and will last?

We all want to believe that our checks to the Sierra Club or the Nature Conservancy do some good in the long run and that they are just a little slow to do the right thing. The tough reality is that big enviro is doing bad things that lead in the wrong direction.

The most basic task for stopping global warming is having a moral, ethical and spiritual revolution based on the belief that excessive crap is bad. Reduction of unnecessary production is the antithesis of what corporations are all about. However destructive it is for the planet, corporations must seek to convince people to consume more and more.

Enter big enviro telling people that excessive consumption is not bad at all because it gives the consumer the ability to affect change with purchasing power. The erudite techno-magician waves his wand, uttering "Don't look at the mounds of discarded junk that go into landfills. Look over here at the fabulous eco-gadgets of our corporate friends."

Big enviro may be doing more to preserve the ethos of self-devouring consumerism than big corporations could ever do. What a surprise to learn that the Sierra Club has a history of obtaining funds from Chemical Bank, ARCO and British Petroleum. Big enviro just may deliver to big oil what it most needs -- faith that a market economy can protect the planet.

Karl Marx once said something to the effect that if there were only two capitalists left, they would compete to see which would sell the rope to hang the other one. A modern version might be that if the planet was so roasted that only two big enviro groups remained, they would compete to see which could get a grant from big oil to show that what was left of the world could be saved by consumer choices.

Don Fitz is editor of Synthesis/Regeneration: A Magazine of Green Social Thought, which is sent to members of The Greens/Green Party USA. He can be reached at


Heinberg, R. The party's over. New Society Publishers, 2003.

Kutscher, C.F. (Ed.) Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.: Potential Carbon Emissions Reduction from Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by 2030. American Solar Energy Society, 2007.

Monbiot, G. Heat: How to stop the planet from burning. South End Press, 2007.

Sierra Club, Renewable energy experts unveil report. Sierra club press release, January 31, 2007. Contact Josh Dorner,

Tainter, J. The collapse of complex societies. Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Tokar, B., Earth for Sale. South End Press, 1997.

Wald, M.L. Is ethanol for the long haul? Scientific American. January 2007.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, anarchism, ecoanarchism

Saturday, May 26, 2007

"Shadow flicker home 'G'"

This opinion piece (click on the title of this post) chillingly conveys the bureaucratic disregard of people's lives for political convenience and self-regard. It also reminds people that if they stand by as homes 'A' through 'G' are made unlivable, their neighborhood may well be next.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, wind turbines, human rights

Friday, May 25, 2007

Bernie and the snowmobilers

As Vermont Public Radio reported this morning, "Independent" Bernie Sanders and the U.S. Senate Environmental Committee is looking into the impact of global warming on skiing and snowmobiling in Vermont.

What they did not look into is the impact of skiing and snowmobiling on global warming.

One snowmobile, for example, spews as much greenhouse gases in a few hours as an average automobile does over 100,000 miles.

Sanders said (predictably) that "global warming is the challenge of the time" and that if it's not addressed quickly, future generations will not have the same outside beauty to enjoy [as if that's possible with snowmobiles around].

If that's the case, then the demise of recreational snowmobiling can only be helpful. Snowmobilers are not the victims of global warming. They are part of the cause.

environment, environmentalism, Vermont, anarchism

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Climate, Class, and Claptrap

Garret Keizer has written a powerful "Notebook" piece for the June Harper's Magazine. Every sentence is gold. Buy the magazine and read it. Here is but one excerpt.

If I sound bitter it is partly because I have been vouchsafed a glimpse of the new carbon-trading world order in the New England villages where I have lived, taught, and buried the dead for close to thirty years, and where any egress from one's house now risks collision with an eco-fluent carpetbagger. Apparently, this place that has never had much use to the larger world beyond that of hosting a new prison or a solid-waste dump turns out to be an ideal location for an industrial "wind farm," ideal mostly because the people are too few and too poor to offer much in the way of resistance. So far only one of the towns affected has "volunteered" -- in much the same way and for most of the same reasons as our children volunteer for service in Iraq -- to be the site of what might be described as a vast environmentalist grotto of 400-foot-high spinning "crosses" before which the state's green progressives will be able to genuflect and receive absolution before zooming back to their prodigiously wired lives.

[Read more here.]

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, Vermont

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What Can Wind Do About Global Warming?

Tom Gray of the trade group American Wind Energy Association writes:
The following information is from a fact sheet we will be releasing soon.

How much can wind really do to fight global warming?

On average, every additional megawatt-hour produced by wind energy means 1,220 pounds of CO2 are not emitted into our environment.

# A recent study from the National Academies of Science (NAS) reports that adding another 60 gigawatts (GW) of wind energy by 2020, in addition to the 11 GW that we have today, could avoid approximately 130 million tons of CO2 in 2020. This is nearly 30% of expected emission increases by 2020 in the electric sector.

# A National Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) of 20% renewable generation by 2020 could avoid almost 100% of expected emission increases in the electric sector with 180 GW of renewable energy, including 130 GW of wind.
According to data compiled in the International Atomic Energy Association's Energy and Environment Data Reference Bank, The U.S. CO2 emissions from energy = c. 6,000 Mt = c. 6,600 million tons, of which 130 million tons is less than 2%. That's less than 2% of today's emissions, but emissions could be 20% higher by 2020 (according to projections by the Energy Information Agency of the U.S. Department of Energy). The "savings" from wind would then be close to only 1.6% -- accomplished with the sprawling and destructive construction of 71,000 megawatts of giant wind turbines, along with their supporting roads and clearance and transmission lines. And at a cost, three-quarters of which is paid by public subsidies, of 142 billion dollars.

That's simply pathetic. Doubling the amount of wind turbines, as in the second example, only underscores the very small benefit that wind can provide even in theory.

Tom Gray pads the numbers by presenting them as the proportion of new emissions, and even for that lame figure he uses a very low estimate of emissions increase. But global warming is caused by existing emissions -- emissions not only from electricity generation and other energy consumption (e.g., for transport and heat and manufacturing), but also from animal farms and deforestation (responsible for 18% and 25%, respectively, of the human contribution to global warming worldwide). Wind's hope of saving 1.6% becomes even smaller.

Even that slim hope remains theoretical. There is no evidence that wind reduces the use of other fuels on the grid to any degree close to that corresponding to the electricity it generates. Wind is an add-on. The rest of the grid still has to provide power to people when they need it, with the extra burden of balancing the unpredictable and highly variable feed from the wind.

Industrial-scale wind has proved only to be a successful tax-avoidance division for big energy companies and a lucrative means of moving massive amounts of public monies into private bank accounts. Through the selling of fragments of its green mantle (i.e., "renewable energy credits"), it lets other companies and individuals join the self-serving charade. Not surprisingly, however, it has not been shown to reduce carbon emissions. In the fight against global warming, it is a boondoggle, distracting us from real solutions while destroying landscapes, communities, wildlife habitat, and people's lives -- for nothing.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Debate about wind energy breaks into the main stream

World News Tonight (ABC), May 6, 2007: "Blow Back from Neighbors Over Wind Farms"

Living On Earth (NPR), week of May 11, 2007: "Wind vs. Wildlife": Wind energy is clean, but is it green if windmills chop up birds and bats? The country's top science panel says government agencies should take the environmental impacts of wind power more seriously.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, wind turbines, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

National Wind Watch comments on National Academies report on impacts of wind energy

Press release:

Rowe, Mass., May 9, 2007 -- On May 3, 2007, the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies of Science released its report on the "Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects". The report states:

Because the use of wind energy has some adverse impacts, the conclusion that a wind-energy installation has net environmental benefits requires the conclusion that all of its adverse effects are less than the adverse effects of the generation that it displaces.

Such official analysis is exactly what has been missing in the careless push for wind energy, according to National Wind Watch (NWW), a coalition of individuals and action groups fighting inappropriate wind energy development in the U.S. and around the world.

Although commending the recognition of negative impacts, which neighbors and many observers have long been attesting to, NWW notes the report includes nine references from the main American industry trade group, three from the British, and three from the Danish. These are not cited as examples of how the industry self-protectively spins information but rather as reliable information about impacts. That not only calls into question some of the report's assessment of the extent of adverse impacts, it also illustrates the hurdles that people who defend wildlife, the landscape, and their homes still have to overcome.

The usual line from wind promoters is that the problems that wind energy solves are much worse than any that wind energy itself causes, e.g., more birds would die if wind turbines were not built (because of climate change caused by fossil fuels). But the argument is stacked. Neither part of it has been rigorously examined -- neither the premise that wind energy on the grid brings significant benefits, nor the assumption that its negative impacts on the environment, communities, and individual lives are anything but minimal. Only citizens' groups such as those associated with National Wind Watch have dared to demand accountability in the heedless industry and government push to develop wind.

It is welcome that the NRC report, although it glosses over the many adverse impacts of industrial wind development, nonetheless recognizes the need for studying them. NWW hopes that this quasi-official report will start to turn around the studious dismissal of increasingly obvious and significant problems.

Examination of wind's claims of benefit also need a hard look. With more than a decade of experience in Denmark and Germany, it is absurd to still cite carbon reductions according to industry theory instead of actual experience. We need to know the documented effect of wind (a highly variable and intermittent nondispatchable energy source) on emissions on the grid.

The report unquestioningly repeats the sales claim that the average annual output from wind is 30% of its capacity, even though the reality is quite different. According to figures from the 2007 Annual Energy Outlook of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Energy Information Agency (IEA), the output in 2005 was only 21% of capacity.

As to effects on wildlife, although it acknowledges that impacts are poorly studied the report repeats the cant that the slaughter of raptors at Altamont Pass in California is an aberration and mostly due to older turbines -- an obviously dubious claim. Deaths are mounting with every new facility. The first-year study (by a company-picked firm) of the 120-turbine "Maple Ridge" facility in northern New York estimated that 3,000 to 6,000 birds and bats were killed there last year.

The report also determines that the toll on bats is only a problem in the mid-Atlantic, which is the only place where it's been well documented. But just two days before the NRC report was released, Michael Daulton of the National Audubon Society testified before the U.S. House Natural Resources Wildlife Subcommittee that bats in Missouri are attracted to wind turbines. Merlin Tuttle, president of Bat Conservation International, has stated, "We're finding kills even [by] the most remote turbines out in the middle of prairies, where bats don't feed."

Donald Fry, director of the Pesticides and Birds Program, American Bird Conservancy, testified also on May 1, 2007, to the U.S. House Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans Subcommittee:

The wind energy industry has been constructing and operating wind projects for almost 25 years with little state and federal oversight. They have rejected as either too costly or unproven techniques recommended by [the National Wind Coordinating Committee] to reduce bird deaths. The wind industry ignores the expertise of state energy staff and the knowledgeable advice of Fish and Wildlife Service employees on ways to reduce or avoid bird and wildlife impacts. ... The mortality at wind farms is significant, because many of the species most impacted are already in decline, and all sources of mortality contribute to the continuing decline.

Finally, concerning human impacts the report is regrettably vague in both its findings and its recommendations. Wind turbines are giant industrial installations, and here again, just as with birds and bats, the assumption is backwards. Of course there are adverse impacts. As Wendy Todd, who lives 2,600 feet from the new wind energy facility on Mars Hill, Maine, testified to her state legislature on April 30, 2007: "Noise is the largest problem but shadow flicker and strobe effect are close behind. ... Some find that it makes them dizzy and disoriented; others find that it can cause headaches and nausea." Although this report is perhaps the first quasi-official study to acknowledge that fact, it still puts the burden of proof on the wrong people.

Before we destroy another landscape, natural habitat, community, or individual human life, governments at every level, conservation groups, and environmentalists need to seriously assess the claims made to promote and defend industrial wind energy development.

National Wind Watch information and contacts are available at

Friday, May 04, 2007

Fools or Liars: the sham of "100% wind"

They are either fooling themselves or lying to their customers. Hardly a week goes by without another prominent company announcing that it is suddenly "100% wind powered." Some of the companies that make the transparently ridiculous claim are Frontier Co-op and its divisions Simply Organic and Aura Cacia ("we're 100% green powered"), Tom's of Maine ("100% of our electricity consumption is powered by wind energy"), Aveda ("manufacturing with 100% certified windpower"), and Co-op America.

Like every otherwise socially conscious event, politician, and rock band that is also playing this game, all of these companies are getting the same electricity -- and paying for it -- as before. They are not buying wind energy. They are buying "renewable energy credits" (RECs), or "green tags," in addition to their regular electricity.

RECs are only the environmental packaging of the desired power. They were invented by Enron so they could sell the same energy twice. Just as they helped enrich that famously corrupt company, RECs still provide substantial gravy on a scheme for moving public funds into private bank accounts that rivals Halliburton's purchase of the U.S. presidency to start its own wars.

The fact is that RECs are free money for the likes of General Electric (the purchaser of Enron Wind), Florida Power & Light, Babcock & Brown, J.P. Morgan Chase, British Petroleum, Shell Oil, and other energy and investment giants. Not only is three-quarters of the capital costs of a wind energy facility paid for by taxpayers, not only do governments force utilities to by it, but otherwise socially and environmentally conscious people willingly give the companies even more to offset their guilt for using electricity.

They still use all that electricity, of course, but somehow they convince themselves and their customers that buying certificates for their walls is the same as not using all that electricity, or as using someone else's electricity (which that someone else pays for and uses, too).

Like the whole idea of "offsets" that allow consumers to continue consuming the same as ever -- like medieval indulgences to allow sin and enrich the church -- RECs are an obvious fraud. But when they support wind energy, they are also irresponsible.

Not only is wind energy of doubtful value in reducing the use of other fuels, it represents a massive industrialization of rural and wild places -- a heedless destruction of landscapes, the environment, and animals' (including peoples') lives. All for very little, if any, measurable benefit.

Not only are they wrong to claim they are "wind powered," industrial wind energy is incompatible with the social and environmental values that these companies claim and otherwise commendably put into practice. Let them know:
Frontier Co-op (Simply Organic, Aura Cacia), 1-800-669-3275

Tom's of Maine
Susan Dewhirst, Media & Public Relations Leader, 1-800-367-8667

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Impacts of industrial wind

The National Research Council of the National Academies of Science today released an examination of industrial wind energy in the U.S. They want $66 for it, but PDFs are available from Endangered Species and Wetland Report and the appendices along with lower-resolution PDFs (smaller downloads) of the rest of the report from Virginia Wind.

The report is important in acknowledging the serious negative impacts of industrial wind energy development and recognizing that a proper weighing of the benefits against those adverse effects must be done. On the other hand, it perpetuates the assumption that the benefits are exactly as the industry presents them to be.

The report calls for greater study of the impacts on wildlife, the environment, and people, but unfortunately it does not call for greater study of the actual rather than the theoretical effects of wind on carbon emissions from other fuels.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights