January 2, 2007

Sierra Club flacks for big energy

The January/February edition of the Sierra Club magazine explores the energy issue, starting off with an essay by the tireless Bill McKibben.

He sets the tone of mockery (of logic, mostly) right away, causing one to wonder just how seriously the Sierra Club wants to be taken in these articles:
Much of what passes for discussion about our energy woes is spent imagining some magic fuel that will save us. Solar power! Fusion power! Hydrogen power!
But not wInd power, Bill?! No -- much of the rest of his article is a paean to wind industry insider Jerome Guillet, a developer of wind energy who boldly envisions more government subsidies to protect his investors.

McKibben is equally courageous, gratuitously attacking most defenders of New England's (and mid-Atlantic) ridgelines as "semi-ridiculous NIVMVDs, or not in view of my deck." He also threatens them, asserting wind "will continue to grow."

This fine nature writing serves only to ignore the many other reasons for opposition, most notably preservation of much needed forest habitat. It is pathetic indeed to see the Sierra Club -- along with many other now mainstream environmental groups -- shutting out environmental concerns and instead acting as peons of big energy.

Another article, by Frances Cerra Whittelsey, looks at the impact of wind turbines on birds and continues the mockery of not only reason but also passion.

Whittelsey first establishes that the decimation of raptors and other birds in Altamont Pass, California, is an exception. (In fact, what is exceptional is that bird deaths have routinely been counted there.) She admits that "at least 22,000 birds, including some 400 golden eagles, have collided with wind turbines (or been electrocuted by power lines) there." Per turbine, however, that's 4.1 birds -- total since the 1980s! That's a lot less than her later-cited study of turbines outside California showing "only" 2.3 birds killed each year per turbine. So if Altamont is a recognized problem, other turbines appear to be even more dangerous to birds ...

Never mind, though, because she then allows the industry trade group American Wind Energy Association assure us that new turbines are safer. Laurie Jodziewicz sez, "today's turbines are taller and more efficient." Yep, they are now "above the flight paths of many birds" -- and now in the flight paths of more birds. And the giant new models are not "more efficient." They are just bigger. More energy per turbine, yes, but not more energy per wind resource, acreage, or area swept by the blades (which are moving 150-200 mph at the tips).

Not reassured? "Some residents remain opposed on aesthetic grounds," writes Whittelsey in an effort to corral anyone left standing after Jodziewicz's not quite incisive analysis. No, Frances. A lot of people remain opposed for other environmental and wildlife concerns as well. You have convinced only a straw doll of your own imagining.

Most people are also not reassured that the industry is now working "to find a means to warn bats away from the spinning blades."

But ultimately, Whittelsey writes, why should we care? Millions of birds are already killed by domestic cats, radio towers, windows, and cars.

With friends like these, wildness ("the preservation of the world," in the words of Henry David Thoreau) clearly doesn't stand a chance.

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