April 26, 2005

"An ugly face of ecology"

George Monbiot has written an incisive critique of industrial wind power and its "green" supporters. It is in the Guardian (click the title of this post) as well as on his own site, where it includes notes.
The people fighting the new wind farm in Cumbria have cheated and exaggerated. They appear to possess little understanding of the dangers of global warming. They are supported by an unsavoury coalition of nuclear-power lobbyists and climate-change deniers. But it would still be wrong to dismiss them. ...

Wind farms, while necessary, are a classic example of what environmentalists call an "end-of-the-pipe solution". Instead of tackling the problem - our massive demand for energy - at source, they provide less damaging means of accommodating it. Or part of it. The Whinash project, by replacing energy generation from power stations burning fossil fuel, will reduce carbon dioxide emission by 178,000 tonnes a year. This is impressive, until you discover that a single jumbo jet, flying from London to Miami and back every day, releases the climate-change equivalent of 520,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. One daily connection between Britain and Florida costs three giant wind farms.

Alternative technology permits us to imagine that we can build our way out of trouble. By responding to one form of overdevelopment with another, we can, we believe, continue to expand our total energy demands without destroying the planetary systems required to sustain human life. This might, for a while, be true. But it would soon require the use of the entire land surface of the UK. ...

I believe the Whinash wind farm should be built. But I also believe that those who defend it should be a good deal more sensitive towards local objectors. Why? Because in any other circumstances they would find themselves fighting on the same side.
Monbiot is right to express discomfort with the pro-nuclear and climate-change-denying tendencies of many wind energy opponents. Yet ultimately they are defending the landscape against needless industrialization. Many opponents are indeed conservationists and defenders of wildlife without the baggage Monbiot decries. Even Greenpeace, adamantly pro-wind, has balked at the extent of the proposed facilities on the island of Lewis, as has almost every wildlife and natural heritage group. Many opponents recognize the problem exactly as Monbiot describes it and agree with his assessment of the futility of building ever more giant wind farms. How he concludes from this forthright analysis that industrial wind facilities are "necessary" is a mystery.

Monbiot argues from the need to reduce carbon emissions, pointing out that wind turbines currently provide only 0.32% of the U.K.'s electricity. That represents the output from 888.8 MW of wind power, according to the British Wind Energy Association. The addition of the 67.5-MW Whinash Wind Farm would increase that to 0.34%. To get to the target of 10% would require the addition of 26,576 MW after Whinash (using the less-rounded figures from Monbiot's notes). No wonder capital is so excited. No wonder sensible people resist.

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