Showing posts sorted by relevance for query environmentalism. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query environmentalism. Sort by date Show all posts

December 28, 2011

Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist

From Orion Magazine, Jan/Feb 2012, by Paul Kingsnorth [excerpt]:

... I became an “environmentalist” because of a strong emotional reaction to wild places and the other-than-human world: to beech trees and hedgerows and pounding waterfalls, to songbirds and sunsets, to the flying fish in the Java Sea and the canopy of the rainforest at dusk when the gibbons come to the waterside to feed. From that reaction came a feeling, which became a series of thoughts: that such things are precious for their own sake, that they are food for the human soul, and that they need people to speak for them to, and defend them from, other people, because they cannot speak our language and we have forgotten how to speak theirs. And because we are killing them to feed ourselves and we know it and we care about it, sometimes, but we do it anyway because we are hungry, or we have persuaded ourselves that we are.

But these are not, I think, very common views today. Today’s environmentalism is as much a victim of the contemporary cult of utility as every other aspect of our lives, from science to education. We are not environmentalists now because we have an emotional reaction to the wild world. Most of us wouldn’t even know where to find it. We are environmentalists now in order to promote something called “sustainability.” What does this curious, plastic word mean? It does not mean defending the nonhuman world from the ever-expanding empire of Homo sapiens sapiens, though some of its adherents like to pretend it does, even to themselves. It means sustaining human civilization at the comfort level that the world’s rich people—us—feel is their right, without destroying the “natural capital” or the “resource base” that is needed to do so.

It is, in other words, an entirely human-centered piece of politicking, disguised as concern for “the planet.” In a very short time—just over a decade—this worldview has become all-pervasive. It is voiced by the president of the USA and the president of Anglo-Dutch Shell and many people in between. The success of environmentalism has been total—at the price of its soul.

Let me offer up just one example of how this pact has worked. If “sustainability” is about anything, it is about carbon. Carbon and climate change. To listen to most environmentalists today, you would think that these were the only things in the world worth talking about. The business of “sustainability” is the business of preventing carbon emissions. Carbon emissions threaten a potentially massive downgrading of our prospects for material advancement as a species. They threaten to unacceptably erode our resource base and put at risk our vital hoards of natural capital. If we cannot sort this out quickly, we are going to end up darning our socks again and growing our own carrots and other such unthinkable things. All of the horrors our grandparents left behind will return like deathless legends. Carbon emissions must be “tackled” like a drunk with a broken bottle—quickly, and with maximum force.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t doubt the potency of climate change to undermine the human machine. It looks to me as if it is already beginning to do so, and that it is too late to do anything but attempt to mitigate the worst effects. But what I am also convinced of is that the fear of losing both the comfort and the meaning that our civilization gifts us has gone to the heads of environmentalists to such a degree that they have forgotten everything else. The carbon must be stopped, like the Umayyad at Tours, or all will be lost.

This reductive approach to the human-environmental challenge leads to an obvious conclusion: if carbon is the problem, then “zero-carbon” is the solution. Society needs to go about its business without spewing the stuff out. It needs to do this quickly, and by any means necessary. Build enough of the right kind of energy technologies, quickly enough, to generate the power we “need” without producing greenhouse gases, and there will be no need to ever turn the lights off; no need to ever slow down.

To do this will require the large-scale harvesting of the planet’s ambient energy: sunlight, wind, water power. This means that vast new conglomerations of human industry are going to appear in places where this energy is most abundant. Unfortunately, these places coincide with some of the world’s wildest, most beautiful, and most untouched landscapes. The sort of places that environmentalism came into being to protect.

And so the deserts, perhaps the landscape always most resistant to permanent human conquest, are to be colonized by vast “solar arrays,” glass and steel and aluminum, the size of small countries. The mountains and moors, the wild uplands, are to be staked out like vampires in the sun, their chests pierced with rows of five-hundred-foot wind turbines and associated access roads, masts, pylons, and wires. The open oceans, already swimming in our plastic refuse and emptying of marine life, will be home to enormous offshore turbine ranges and hundreds of wave machines strung around the coastlines like Victorian necklaces. The rivers are to see their estuaries severed and silted by industrial barrages. The croplands and even the rainforests, the richest habitats on this terrestrial Earth, are already highly profitable sites for biofuel plantations designed to provide guilt-free car fuel to the motion-hungry masses of Europe and America.

What this adds up to should be clear enough, yet many people who should know better choose not to see it. This is business-as-usual: the expansive, colonizing, progressive human narrative, shorn only of the carbon. It is the latest phase of our careless, self-absorbed, ambition-addled destruction of the wild, the unpolluted, and the nonhuman. It is the mass destruction of the world’s remaining wild places in order to feed the human economy. And without any sense of irony, people are calling this “environmentalism.”

A while back I wrote an article in a newspaper highlighting the impact of industrial wind power stations (which are usually referred to, in a nice Orwellian touch, as wind “farms”) on the uplands of Britain. I was e-mailed the next day by an environmentalist friend who told me he hoped I was feeling ashamed of myself. I was wrong; worse, I was dangerous. What was I doing giving succor to the fossil fuel industry? Didn’t I know that climate change would do far more damage to upland landscapes than turbines? Didn’t I know that this was the only way to meet our urgent carbon targets? Didn’t I see how beautiful turbines were? So much more beautiful than nuclear power stations. I might think that a “view” was more important than the future of the entire world, but this was because I was a middle-class escapist who needed to get real.

It became apparent at that point that what I saw as the next phase of the human attack on the nonhuman world a lot of my environmentalist friends saw as “progressive,” “sustainable,” and “green.” What I called destruction they called “large-scale solutions.” This stuff was realistic, necessarily urgent. It went with the grain of human nature and the market, which as we now know are the same thing. We didn’t have time to “romanticize” the woods and the hills. There were emissions to reduce, and the end justified the means.

It took me a while to realize where this kind of talk took me back to: the maze and the moonlit hilltop. This desperate scrabble for “sustainable development” was in reality the same old same old. People I had thought were on my side were arguing aggressively for the industrializing of wild places in the name of human desire. This was the same rootless, distant destruction that had led me to the top of Twyford Down. Only now there seemed to be some kind of crude equation at work that allowed them to believe this was something entirely different. Motorway through downland: bad. Wind power station on downland: good. Container port wiping out estuary mudflats: bad. Renewable hydropower barrage wiping out estuary mudflats: good. Destruction minus carbon equals sustainability.

So here I was again: a Luddite, a NIMBY, a reactionary, a romantic; standing in the way of progress. I realized that I was dealing with environmentalists with no attachment to any actual environment. Their talk was of parts-per-million of carbon, peer-reviewed papers, sustainable technologies, renewable supergrids, green growth, and the fifteenth conference of the parties. There were campaigns about “the planet” and “the Earth,” but there was no specificity: no sign of any real, felt attachment to any small part of that Earth. ...

Jan. 19:  Paul Kingsnorth & friends discuss this essay:

See also:  A Wind Farm Is Not the Answer, by Paul Kingsnorth.
See also:  Dark Ecology, by Paul Kingsnorth.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, ecoanarchism

May 18, 2014

Betraying the Environment

Suzanna Jones writes at Vt. Digger:

There is a painful rift among self-described environmentalists in Vermont, a divide that is particularly evident in the debate on industrial wind. In the past, battle lines were usually drawn between business interests wanting to “develop” the land, and environmentalists seeking to protect it. Today, however, the most ardent advocates of industrial buildout in Vermont’s most fragile ecosystems are environmental organizations. So what is happening?

According to former New York Times foreign correspondent Chris Hedges, this change is symptomatic of a broader shift that has taken shape over many years. In his book “Death of the Liberal Class,” Hedges looks at the failure of the Left to defend the values it espouses – a fundamental disconnect between belief and action that has been corrupting to the Left and disastrous for society as a whole. Among other things, he argues, it has turned liberal establishments into mouthpieces for the power elite.

Historically, the liberal class acted as watchdog against the abuses of capitalism and its elites. But over the last century, Hedges claims, it has traded that role for a comfortable “seat at the table” and inclusion in “the club.” This Faustian bargain has created a power vacuum – one that has often been filled by right-wing totalitarian elements (think Nazi Germany and fascist Italy) that rise to prominence by ridiculing and betraying the values that liberals claim to champion.

Caving in to the seduction of careerism, prestige and comforts, the liberal class curtailed its critique of unfettered capitalism, globalization and educational institutions, and silenced the radicals and iconoclasts that gave it moral guidance – “the roots of creative and bold thought that would keep it from being subsumed completely by the power elite.” In other words, “the liberal class sold its soul.”

From education to labor to agriculture and environmentalism, this moral vacuum continues to grow because the public sphere has been abandoned by those who fear being labeled pariahs. Among the consequences, Hedges says, is an inability to take effective action on climate change. This is because few environmentalists are willing to step out of the mainstream to challenge its root causes – economic growth, the profit system, and the market-driven treadmill of consumption.

Hedges’ perspective clarifies a lot. It explains why so many environmental organizations push for “renewable” additions to the nation’s energy supply, rather than a reduction of energy use. It explains why they rant and rail against fossil fuel companies, while studiously averting their eyes from the corporate growth machine as a whole. In their thrall to wealthy donors and “green” developers (some of whom sit on their boards), they’ve traded their concern about the natural world for something called “sustainability” – which means keeping the current exploitive system going.

It also makes clear why Vermont environmental organizations like the Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Vermont Natural Resources Council – as well as the state’s political leadership – have lobbied so aggressively to prevent residents from having a say regarding energy development in their towns. By denying citizens the ability to defend the ecosystems in which they live, these groups are betraying not only the public, but the natural world they claim to represent. Meanwhile, these purported champions of social justice turn their backs as corporations like Green Mountain Power make Vermonters’ homes unlivable for the sake of “green” energy.

Hedges’ perspective also explains why environmental celebrity Bill McKibben advocates the buildout of industrial wind in our last natural spaces – energy development that would feed the very economy he once exposed as the source of our environmental problems. Behind the green curtain are what McKibben calls his “friends on Wall Street,” whom he consults for advice on largely empty PR stunts designed to convince the public that something is being accomplished, while leaving the engines of economic “progress” intact. Lauded as the world’s “Most Important Environmental Writer” by Time magazine, McKibben’s seat at the table of the elites is secured.

In this way the “watchdogs” have been effectively muzzled: now they actually help the powerful maintain control, by blocking the possibility for systemic solutions to emerge.

Environmentalism has suffered dearly at the hand of this disabled Left. It is no longer about the protection of our wild places from the voracious appetite of industrial capitalism: it is instead about maintaining the comfort levels that Americans feel entitled to without completely devouring the resources needed (at least for now). Based on image, fakery and betrayal, it supports the profit system while allowing those in power to appear “green.” This myopic, empty endeavor may be profitable for a few, but its consequences for the planet as a whole are fatal.

Despite the platitudes of its corporate and government backers, industrial wind has not reduced Vermont’s carbon emissions. Its intermittent nature makes it dependent on gas-fired power plants that inefficiently ramp up and down with the vicissitudes of the wind. Worse, it has been exposed as a Renewable Energy Credit shell game that disguises and enables the burning of fossil fuels elsewhere. It also destroys the healthy natural places we need as carbon “sinks,” degrades wildlife habitat, kills bats and eagles, pollutes headwaters, fills valuable wetlands, polarizes communities, and makes people sick­ – all so we can continue the meaningless acts of consumption that feed our economic system.

Advocates for industrial wind say we need to make sacrifices. True enough. But where those sacrifices come from is at the heart of our dilemma. The sacrifices need to come from the bloated human economy and those that profit from it, not from the land base.

We are often told that we must be “realistic.” In other words, we should accept that the artificial construct of industrial capitalism – with its cars, gadgets, mobility and financial imperatives – is reality. But this, too, is a Faustian bargain: in exchange we lose our ability to experience the sacred in the natural world, and put ourselves on the path to extinction.

[See also: 
Exploitation and destruction: some things to know about industrial wind power” (2006)
Thought for the day: left vs. right

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, Vermont, anarchism, ecoanarchism

November 22, 2013

Questions and Answers: What's wrong with wind energy?

1. The National Wind Watch home page says, “because of the wind’s low density, intermittency, and high variability, [large-scale wind turbines] do next to nothing for reducing carbon and other emissions or dependence on other fuels”. Could you go into a bit more detail about this and present any links you have for evidence?

The power of the wind is 1/2 of area (turbine rotor diameter) × air density × wind speed cubed. There is a theoretical physical limit (Betz’ law) that no more than 16/27, or 59.3%, of the wind’s energy (power × time) can be captured. Modern wind turbines may reach 50% efficiency, but only within a certain range of wind speeds, which appear to be the average speeds for which the turbines are designed, but at which speeds they generate at only a fraction (around 1/3) of their maximum rate. As the wind speed increases, the rotors are increasingly feathered and efficiency plummets.

The brochure for Enercon turbines includes graphs showing the efficiency vs. wind speed.

In addition to being limited by Betz’ law, wind turbines must not interfere with each other, so they must be spaced quite far apart. The minimum distance is generally considered to be 3 rotor diameters perpendicular to the wind (possible only where wind is unidirectional) and 10 rotor diameters parallel to the wind. See, eg, Thus in an array of, say, 90-meter-diameter turbines (the blades of each machine sweeping a vertical airspace of 1.57 acres), each machine would require 810,000 square meters around it, or 200 acres. From that 200 acres, assuming a 2-MW turbine and an average rate of generation 25% of capacity (see for U.S. averages; they are generally quite a bit less in Europe), the average power density is only 2.5 kW/acre.

Furthermore, that wind energy is intermittent, meaning other sources of electricity must be available, and variable, meaning other sources must be kept running to be ramped up and down as needed to keep the electricity supply exactly matched to demand. This means that wind is only adding to the grid and then causing other generators to run less efficiently, including burning fuel while not generating electricity. See and

2. Pertaining to health — I’ve heard very mixed messages about whether the health effects are of legitimate concern and I would like to hear your take on it. ... Any scientific information would be great!

21 published (peer-reviewed) studies:
10 non-industry, non-government reviews:

One hitch has been the term “annoyance” as used in these studies. In epidemiology it means to a degree that can cause health problems. The wind industry has instead used its colloquial meaning to characterize the problem as something people just need to get used to.

Even that flies in the face of the evidence that infrasound (frequencies below the threshold of conscious hearing) and low-frequency noise (ILFN) is probably responsible for much of the problem, because research suggests that people who are sensitive to ILFN become more sensitized with continued exposure.

The research showing that people complain more about wind turbine noise than other artificial sources at similar decibel levels is probably explained by the facts that it is unpredictable (depending on wind speed and direction), that it often occurs at night, and that it is a pulsating noise.

Basically, the wind industry is trying to stop research as it has just begun. Because, as the reviews conclude, the preliminary research clearly justifies concern and is already leading to revisions of noise regulations to consider lower frequencies and pulsating patterns. And if such regulations are justified for humans, they would also have to be considered for wildlife ...

3. For my own sanity, I’m wondering why on earth there is so much controversy! How can there be such polar opposite opinions and what is the truth ... in your opinion?

There is a lot of desperation and urgency to remedy the consequences of our high level of energy consumption, and big wind has exploited that, ever since Enron first realized that it could sell wind to environmentalists as an alternative to coal. Since concern about climate change came to dominate mainstream environmentalism after Al Gore’s movie, wind energy has been sold as our salvation. It became a “with us or against us” marker of one’s concern for the environment or sociopolitical team loyalty. Its own adverse impacts (mining, birds and bats, wild habitat) are then dismissed simply as being much less than those of fossil fuels (the other team), ignoring the fact the the reduction of fossil fuel burning because of wind energy is effectively nil, making wind’s impacts — many of them unique, such as the threats to raptors and bats, and the need to build over hundreds of acres at a time in rural and wild places — an addition, not an alternative. Even the American Wind Energy Association once admitted that the most ambitious wind program would only slow the increase of carbon emissions. And for greenhouse gases, there are still the problems of transport and heating. And animal agriculture. And hydrofluorocarbons.

The truth is that there is no free lunch. By approaching the problem with building more instead of using less, wind energy is only perpetuating it. And while people look to wind energy to save the planet, they are more likely to avoid doing things that would make a real difference. They are able to buy Enron-invented “green tags” (carbon credits) to “offset” their impact rather than actually reduce it.

So the polarity is indeed justified and inevitable. Once somebody realizes that wind is a nonsolution, and harmful itself without meaningfully mitigating other harms, it is clear that there is hardly a “middle ground”. And once someone who believes in wind starts to admit that it has drawbacks or that claims for its benefits are overblown, a cornerstone of mainstream environmentalism starts to crumble — and retrenchment becomes all the more fierce to avoid complicating “the message”.

4. One more question: What are viable solutions instead of wind energy, and if wind energy is here to stay what kind of regulations or changes are needed for it to be successful?

Frankly, there probably isn’t a viable solution right now to 8 billion humans consuming ever more resources, particular in a world economic model of “growth”, which even with the modifier “sustainable” is still growth — growth of consumption, growth of waste, and less for the rest of life on the planet. Thursday's Democracy Now had a couple of climate scientists on calling for radical change from that model:

As for the potential success of wind energy, it would require not only massive building of wind turbines (and all the resources they require) but also an even more massive battery backup system (and all the more resources) and a massive expansion of continent-wide high-capacity transmission lines. In other words, it’s ridiculous. Virtually everything would have to be turned over to wind energy. We would have instead of a war economy a wind economy, where wind energy powers primarily the maintenance of wind power. And we’d still need backup generators!

H.G. Wells wrote, in 1897, “A Story of the Days to Come”:

And all over the countryside, he knew, on every crest and hill, where once the hedges had interlaced, and cottages, churches, inns, and farmhouses had nestled among their trees, wind wheels similar to those he saw and bearing like vast advertisements, gaunt and distinctive symbols of the new age, cast their whirling shadows and stored incessantly the energy that flowed away incessantly through all the arteries of the city. ... The great circular shapes of complaining wind-wheels blotted out the heavens ...
In that story, it is indeed the power company that is in power.

That said, it is a fact that wind turbines are being and will continue to be built, so like National Wind Watch I strongly support effective setbacks (at least 2 km, perhaps 5 km) from homes and noise regulations (that limit nighttime indoor noise to 30 dBA, as the WHO recommends, and limit ILFN and pulsating noise as well). And we oppose opening up otherwise protected land to the construction of the giant machines. Of course, such regulation would not contribute to, but instead would threaten, the “success” of wind energy. It would remain rare and unprofitable, as such an absurd source of energy for the modern world should be, used only in the most desperate of circumstances when nothing else is possible and the cost and harm and low benefit might be justifiable.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism

January 1, 2011

How Green Became the Color of Money

Jeffrey St. Clair writes at Counterpunch ... click here for the entire first part, excerpted from the upcoming book with Joshua Frank, "Green Scare: The New War on Environmentalism" ...
  • here for Part 2 [the H.W. Bush years]
  • Part 3 [Clinton]
  • Part 4 [more Clinton: ‘One of the strange pathologies afflicting contemporary environmentalism is that a conservation group without a law firm behind it suffers extreme pangs of institutional impotence. “The problem was that the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund’s arguments stemmed from political, not legal, judgments,” recalls Oregon environmentalist Larry Tuttle. “And those arguments were shaped in large measure by their own economic self-interest, that is, their right to sue and reap heft attorneys’ fees from the government, and not the future of the forests or the spotted owls.”’]
  • Part 5 [Bruce Babbitt: ‘Enter the Environmental Defense Fund, a fanatical espouser of free trade as the salve for more or less everything. EDF was vociferously pro-NAFTA and had positioned itself as a long-time foe of dolphin protection laws as “ideologically unsound.”’]
  • Part 6 [Carol Browner]
  • Part 7 [Al Gore]
  • Part 8 [more Al Gore: ‘It is a hallmark of the Gore style that he knows how deftly to exploit public interest groups even as he betrays their constituents. ... He knew that what the big green groups based in DC craved most was access.’]
  • Part 9 [more senators]
  • Part 10 [The Wilderness Society: ‘A quarter century after the first Earth Day, the corporate counter-attacked launched in the 1970s was nearly complete.’]
  • Part 11 [George W. Bush, Gale Norton, et al.]
  • Part 12 [‘Back in the good old days, a corporation with an unappetizing relationship to the natural world would often try to burnish their image by luring an executive or top staffer from an environmental group onto their board or into their public relations department, where they could offer testimonials to the toxic firm's newfound reverence for Mother Earth. But times have changed. Now it's the environmental groups who seem to be on a shopping spree for corporate executives. For a ripe example of this repellent trend let us turn to the World Wildlife Fund.’]
  • Part 13 [‘From Greenpeace to Greenwash’]
  • Part 14 [‘All for Oil, Oil for One’]
  • Part 15 [Ken Salazar et al.]
In the early summer of 1995, Jay Hair quietly resigned as head of the National Wildlife Federation. This Napoleonic figure had transformed a once scruffy, apolitical collection of local hunting and gun clubs into the cautious colossus of the environmental movement with more than four million members and an annual budget of nearly $100 million. By the time Hair left, the Federation enjoyed more political clout in Washington than the rest of the environmental groups combined.

Hair, a former biology profession who also served as a special assistant to Secretary of the Interior Cecil Andrus during the Carter Administration, was the architect of this astounding transformation. Under the firm hand of Hair’s leadership the Federation’s membership doubled and it’s budget tripled. His strategy was simple: market the Wildlife Federation as a non-confrontational corporate-friendly outfit. Hair created the Corporate Conservation Council and forged relationships with some of the world’s most toxic corporations: ARCO, Ciba-Geigy, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Exxon, General Electric, General Motors, IBM, Mobil Oil, Monsanto, Pennzoil, USX, Waste Management and Weyerhauser. The corporations received the impri,atur of the nation’s largest environmental group, while the National Wildlife Federation raked in millions in corporation grants.

The conservation giant showed less deference to its members. In 1975, Dr. Claude Moore, a long-time member, donated a 367-acre tract of forest land in Loudon County, Virginia to the Federation to be managed as a wildlife sanctuary. The land provided rich habitat for an extraordinary number of birds. A Smithsonian guidebook called the area a natural gem.

Then in 1986 the National Wildlife Federation decided to sell the sanctuary to a developer for $8.5 million and use the money to help pay for the construction of the Federation’s new seven-story office building on 16th Street in DC. Outraged, Dr. Moore and other members sued the Federation, alleging it had violated a contract to manage the land as a nature preserve. Moore lost. The land was sold and 1,300 houses constructed on the site.

While Hair was turning the National Wildlife Federation into a corporate-friendly operation, the Wilderness Society was being run by a millionaire from Montana named Jon Roush. Roush had formerly been the chairman of the Nature Conservancy, the most unapologetically pro-corporate of all environmental groups.

In the winter of 1995, Roush was caught selling off $150,000 worth of timber from environmentally-sensitive lands on his own 800-acre ranch in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. The trees went to Plum Creek Timber Company, the corporate giant which a conservative congressman from Washington, Rod Chandler, labeled the “Darth Vader of the timber industry.”

Roush’s first gallant reaction to a probing call was to blame it on his wife, whom he was in the process of divorcing. He later claimed that he need to sell of the timber to pay his property taxes. However, local tax records revealed that Roush owed less than $1,000 a year in taxes on property valued at nearly $3 million.

At the same time, the National Audubon Society was being run by a lawyer named Peter Berle, who commanded an annual salary of $200,000. After he savagely trimmed away the muscle from the Society’s conservation staff, Berle gloated, “Unlike Greenpeace, Audubon doesn’t have a reputation as a confrontational organization.” ...

May 3, 2010

Paul Krugman and the straw man

In his New York Times column today (click the title of this post), Paul Krugman explains that disasters like the BP oil well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico are necessary to keep environmentalism alive. Which is exactly what Rush Limbaugh said in his paranoid speculation that environmentalists themselves blew up the drilling platform.

Krugman further allies himself with Limbaugh:
But there was also an attempt to construct a narrative in which advocates of strong environmental protection were either extremists — “eco-Nazis,” according to Rush Limbaugh — or effete liberal snobs trying to impose their aesthetic preferences on ordinary Americans. (I’m sorry to say that the long effort to block construction of a wind farm off Cape Cod — which may finally be over thanks to the Obama administration — played right into that [latter] caricature.)
Krugman is the one playing right into that caricature. He has joined Limbaugh in deflecting any debate about Cape Wind by mocking its opponents. This is a sure sign of weakness in any case, but the fact is that a very broad coalition of Cape Codders and others are fighting Cape Wind, and their arguments are about preserving a treasured natural resource and noting the minuscule potential benefit of even such a huge facility. If rich beachfront property owners spearheaded the fight against offshore oil drilling, would Krugman join Limbaugh in supporting it?

Or would he look at the facts and agree with their findings that the environmental harm, immediate and potential, could not be justified by the insignificant benefits? That offshore drilling is merely a symbolic bone thrown to the so-called right? Then he would also have to agree with the clear evidence that large-scale wind power is merely a symbolic bone thrown to to the so-called left and false environmentalists ("invertomentalists"?).

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

September 7, 2010

Let them eat meat

Speaking of Affiliation, a correspondent writes about yesterday's column in The Guardian by George Monbiot (click the title of this post):

I always felt that there was something quite peculiar about Monbiot and how he never quite "gets" things that should seem so obvious, as in his dogged touting of industrial wind and his dumb war on Agas etc etc -- in this case in his bizarre, chillingly analytical defense of meat-eating (undoubtedly this is very convenient to his own tastes), he seems almost as if he suffers from Asbergers or autism in his precise, desperate totting up of percentages, ratios, and economics of "efficient" corpse production. Talk about missing the point of veganism, all the while he ignores the elephant sitting in the corner of this very tiny windowless room -- the abject horror, routine abuse, suffering and medieval cruelty that these living sentient beings are subjected to, on factory "farms" and little "happy farms" alike, and the fact that all of this nightmarish cruelty is utterly unnecessary, and that we have no right to take another creature's life and even their sense of well being. Monbiot would have made a very good accountant for Hitler -- what a truly dreadful little man he is, a very useful idiot for one destructive industry after another. And this is why I have so little hope for this planet and any evolution to a higher way of thinking about our fellow creatures -- because people like Monbiot, draped in the lurid polyester green flag of what passes these days for "environmentalism" or "sustainable light footprint" living, are listened to by people who used to see this kind of thing as blatant corporate brainwashing of the masses. But alas, no more; now they have joined the rest of the brainwashed greedy conformists -- we live in a real life world of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where everyone really does increasingly seem like drooling idiot zombies.

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism

April 18, 2011

The Nature Conservancy calls for killing 1 million birds, innumerable bats

A paper in PloS One by Nature Conservancy researchers describes how almost half of the more than 12,000,000 acres (19,305 square miles; 50,000 square kilometers) estimated by the Department of Energy to be required for 241 gigawatts of wind power as part of its plan of 20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030 can be erected on "disturbed" land. Disturbed land includes croplands, hay and pasture lands, surface mines, and urban development.

Unfortunately, although the paper provides estimates of the total acreage of each of these, it does not provide how much wind development on each that they recommend, only the total. Since strip mining and mountaintop removal do not to a large extent exist in the high-wind states that the paper recommends focusing on, and urban/suburban areas are off-limits to giant wind turbines owing to health and safety concerns, The Nature Conservancy is apparently recommending that sprawling wind turbine facilities be primarily erected in the plains states on crop and pasture land. Which is already where development is focused.

That still leaves more than half, almost 7,000,000 acres (10,425 square miles; 27,000 square kilometers) to be developed on undisturbed land, i.e., in wild areas. How The Nature Conservancy can dare to call this scenario a "win-win for wind and wildlife" beggars belief.

These estimates are based on capacity factor assumptions ranging from 38% to 53%, the latter figure being exactly twice the actual average figure for wind turbines in the U.S. So the actual land area (before the adjustments described below) would be a total of 20,400,000 acres (31,875 square miles; 82,556 square kilometers): more than 8,500,000 acres (13,281 square miles; 34,398 square kilometers) on farms and ranches and almost 11,900,000 acres (18,594 square miles; 48,158 square kilometers) in wilderness.

Their discussion of the study's limitations acknowledges the need for new (high-voltage) transmission lines (but they ignore the impact of heavy-duty roads, as well as the need for new thermal generation to balance and back up the wind energy) and their ignoring of the aerial impact on birds, bats, and insects: "In particular, birds require migratory stopover sites, and these may occur along rivers, wetlands, or playa lakes that are embedded within heavily disturbed agricultural landscapes. Second, even terrestrial species may require migratory corridors through disturbed areas to access undisturbed habitat."

The authors note that "mitigation measures, such as feathering blades (which stops their rotation) or reducing operations during lower winds speeds when bat mortality is known to be high ... could reduce bat mortality independent of where wind energy is sited; micrositing of turbines can reduce bird mortality". These measures, of course, would require even more wind turbines to be erected to make up for the loss.

So ultimately they must resort to the craven comparison to other causes of bird deaths by human activity, as if adding 1,000,000 more (ignoring wind power's unique and devastating toll on bats and the larger proportion of raptor deaths) is thus absolved. In addition, they appeal to the imperative of combating climate change, that we have to kill more birds and bats to save them, without examining the premise that wind energy contributes to that battle to any meaningful degree.

This is only a "win-win" for developers and The Nature Conservancy's donations from them.

See also:
"Environmentalism Against the Gods"
"How Green Became the Color of Money"

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

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

February 13, 2011

The nimbyism debate

Maria McCaffery, Chief executive of Renewableuk, wrote in The Guardian:
Last week, Alexander Chancellor declared himself in favour of nimbyism. In the debate on windfarms, this acronym, derived from "not in my back yard", signifies a state of mind of those who protest against windfarms in their residential area, almost entirely on aesthetic grounds.

Which is the crux of the problem. An aesthetic objector will start with a sense that a windfarm will in some way devalue the landscape and his property. Sensing that this is not a sufficient reason to object against renewable energy, he will then drag into the debate all sorts of cod-scientific evidence on why wind turbines don't work, often with a tilt at Brussels eurocrats and perceived environmental "political correctness".
In these two opening paragraphs, McCaffery exhibits a barrage of logical fallacies that are typical of wind proponents:
  1. She narrowly defines nimbyism as subjectively based ("aesthetics").
  2. She denigrates that aesthetic judgement as materially fearful and selfish.
  3. She broadens the questioning of large-scale wind to an attack on all renewable energy.
  4. She mocks arguments of fact as "cod-scientific" window dressing and questionable politics.
In fact, that is precisely the nature of pro-wind rhetoric:
  1. Wind energy is presented as a saviour of industrial society.
  2. It is highly profitable to it investors, who benefit from public subsidy.
  3. Sensing that this is not a sufficient reason to defend large-scale wind power development, it is linked to the ideals of renewable energy in general.
  4. Projections and sales hype are presented as scientific fact, without any follow-up with actual data about wind's impacts on other fuel sources.
In short, the argument against nimbyism, i.e., the reasoned defense of one's home, is a bullying "greater good" that has yet to be shown and seems only to benefit a few developers.

Updates, Feb. 14: What is environmentalism if not a matter of aesthetics? What is environmental degradation if not a matter of aesthetics? What is the very life we seek for ourselves if not a matter of aesthetics? Of course, life is a dance of compromise, but that does not negate what we know to be aesthetically good. It does not mean that we should not fight against the further senseless degradation of that good. Aesthetics is the distillation of what we believe and value, of who each of us is. You need a lot more than mere monied arrogance to convince me to look the other way.

And in Ontario, Sierra Club Canada has mounted a campaign to convince the Wainfleet Town Council to ignore the concerns of their citizens and listen to the reassurances of industrial wind developers only: "Health and other impacts of wind turbines have been studied in conditions similar to Ontario and have been shown NOT to be significant. Please look beyond the rumours and unsubstantiated claims being circulated. Those behind the rumours and misinformation have a vested interest in killing wind energy – don’t be fooled by them." Dare such a person who could write that to actually meet a victim of wind turbine noise. See the poster presentation, "Consequences: Truth is treason in an empire of lies" (click here to view on line).

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

April 4, 2015

Conservation vs. Climate Change

As long as mitigating climate change trumps all other environmental concerns, no landscape on earth is safe. … Only an appreciation of nature as a collection of specific threatened habitats, rather than as an abstract thing that is “dying,” can avert the complete denaturing of the world.

By Jonathan Franzen, “The Other Cost of Climate Change”, The New Yorker, April 6, 2015

Last September, as someone who cares more about birds than the next man, I was following the story of the new stadium that the Twin Cities are building for their football Vikings. The stadium’s glass walls were expected to kill thousands of birds every year, and local bird-lovers had asked its sponsors to use a specially patterned glass to reduce collisions; the glass would have raised the stadium’s cost by one tenth of one per cent, and the sponsors had balked. Around the same time, the National Audubon Society issued a press release declaring climate change “the greatest threat” to American birds and warning that “nearly half ” of North America’s bird species were at risk of losing their habitats by 2080. Audubon’s announcement was credulously retransmitted by national and local media, including the Minneapolis Star Tribune, whose blogger on bird-related subjects, Jim Williams, drew the inevitable inference: Why argue about stadium glass when the real threat to birds was climate change? In comparison, Williams said, a few thousand bird deaths would be “nothing.”

I was in Santa Cruz, California, and already not in a good mood. The day I saw the Williams quote was the two hundred and fifty-fourth of a year in which, so far, sixteen had qualified as rainy. To the injury of a brutal drought came the daily insult of radio forecasters describing the weather as beautiful. It wasn’t that I didn’t share Williams’s anxiety about the future. What upset me was how a dire prophecy like Audubon’s could lead to indifference toward birds in the present.

Maybe it’s because I was raised as a Protestant and became an environmentalist, but I’ve long been struck by the spiritual kinship of environmentalism and New England Puritanism. Both belief systems are haunted by the feeling that simply to be human is to be guilty. In the case of environmentalism, the feeling is grounded in scientific fact. Whether it’s prehistoric North Americans hunting the mastodon to extinction, Maori wiping out the megafauna of New Zealand, or modern civilization deforesting the planet and emptying the oceans, human beings are universal killers of the natural world. And now climate change has given us an eschatology for reckoning with our guilt: coming soon, some hellishly overheated tomorrow, is Judgment Day. Unless we repent and mend our ways, we’ll all be sinners in the hands of an angry Earth.

I’m still susceptible to this sort of puritanism. Rarely do I board an airplane or drive to the grocery store without considering my carbon footprint and feeling guilty about it. But when I started watching birds, and worrying about their welfare, I became attracted to a countervailing strain of Christianity, inspired by St. Francis of Assisi’s example of loving what’s concrete and vulnerable and right in front of us. I gave my support to the focussed work of the American Bird Conservancy and local Audubon societies. Even the most ominously degraded landscape could make me happy if it had birds in it.

And so I came to feel miserably conflicted about climate change. I accepted its supremacy as the environmental issue of our time, but I felt bullied by its dominance. Not only did it make every grocery-store run a guilt trip; it made me feel selfish for caring more about birds in the present than about people in the future. What were the eagles and the condors killed by wind turbines compared with the impact of rising sea levels on poor nations? What were the endemic cloud-forest birds of the Andes compared with the atmospheric benefits of Andean hydroelectric projects?

A hundred years ago, the National Audubon Society was an activist organization, campaigning against wanton bird slaughter and the harvesting of herons for their feathers, but its spirit has since become gentler. In recent decades, it’s been better known for its holiday cards and its plush-toy cardinals and bluebirds, which sing when you squeeze them. When the organization shifted into Jonathan Edwards mode, last September, I wondered what was going on.

In rolling out its climate-change initiative, Audubon alluded to the “citizen science data” it had mobilized, and to a “report,” prepared by its own scientists, that justified its dire predictions. Visitors to its updated Web site were treated to images of climate-imperilled species, such as the bald eagle, and asked to “take the pledge” to help save them. The actions that Audubon suggested to pledge-takers were gentle stuff—tell your stories, create a bird-friendly yard—but the Web site also offered a “Climate Action Pledge,” which was long and detailed and included things like replacing your incandescent light bulbs with lower-wattage alternatives.

The climate-change report was not immediately available, but from the Web site’s graphics, which included range maps of various bird species, it was possible to deduce that the report’s method involved a comparison of a species’ present range with its predicted range in a climate-altered future. When there was broad overlap between the two ranges, it was assumed that the species would survive. When there was little or no overlap, it was assumed that the species would be caught between an old range that had grown inhospitable to it and a new range in which the habitat was wrong, and would be at risk of disappearing.

This kind of modelling can be useful, but it’s fraught with uncertainties. A species may currently breed in a habitat with a particular average temperature, but this doesn’t mean that it couldn’t tolerate a higher temperature, or that it couldn’t adapt to a slightly different habitat farther north, or that the more northerly habitat won’t change as temperatures rise. North American species in general, having contended with blazing July days and frosty September nights as they evolved, are much more tolerant of temperature fluctuations than tropical species are. Although, in any given place, some familiar back-yard birds may have disappeared by 2080, species from farther south are likely to have moved in to take their place. North America’s avifauna may well become more diverse.

The bald eagle was an especially odd choice of poster bird for Audubon’s initiative. The species nearly became extinct fifty years ago, before DDT was banned. The only reason we can worry about its future today is that the public—led by the then energetic Audubon—rallied around an immediate threat to it. The eagle’s plight was a primary impetus for the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the eagle is one of the act’s great success stories. Once its eggs were no longer weakened by DDT, its population and range expanded so dramatically that it was removed from the endangered-species list in 2007. The eagle rebounded because it’s a resilient and resourceful bird, a generalist hunter and scavenger, capable of travelling large distances to colonize new territory. It’s hard to think of a species less liable to be trapped by geography. Even if global warming squeezes it entirely out of its current summer and winter ranges, the melting of ice in Alaska and Canada may actually result in a larger new range.

But climate change is seductive to organizations that want to be taken seriously. Besides being a ready-made meme, it’s usefully imponderable: while peer-reviewed scientific estimates put the annual American death toll of birds from collisions and from outdoor cats at more than three billion, no individual bird death can be definitively attributed to climate change (since local and short-term weather patterns have nonlinear causes). Although you could demonstrably save the lives of the birds now colliding with your windows or being killed by your cats, reducing your carbon footprint even to zero saves nothing. Declaring climate change bad for birds is therefore the opposite of controversial. To demand a ban on lead ammunition (lead poisoning is the foremost cause of California condor deaths) would alienate hunters. To take an aggressive stand against the overharvesting of horseshoe crabs (the real reason that the red knot, a shorebird, had to be put on the list of threatened U.S. species this winter) might embarrass the Obama Administration, whose director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, in announcing the listing, laid the blame for the red knot’s decline primarily on “climate change,” a politically more palatable culprit. Climate change is everyone’s fault—in other words, no one’s. We can all feel good about deploring it.

There’s no doubt that the coming century will be a tough one for wild animals. But, for countless species, including almost all of North America’s birds, the threat is not direct. The responses of birds to acute climatic stress are not well studied, but birds have been adapting to such stresses for tens of millions of years, and they’re surprising us all the time—emperor penguins relocating their breeding grounds as the Antarctic ice melts, tundra swans leaving the water and learning to glean grains from agricultural fields. Not every species will manage to adapt. But the larger and healthier and more diverse our bird populations are, the greater the chances that many species will survive, even thrive. To prevent extinctions in the future, it’s not enough to curb our carbon emissions. We also have to keep a whole lot of wild birds alive right now. We need to combat the extinctions that are threatened in the present, work to reduce the many hazards that are decimating North American bird populations, and invest in large-scale, intelligently conceived conservation efforts, particularly those designed to allow for climate change. These aren’t the only things that people who care about birds should be doing. But it only makes sense not to do them if the problem of global warming demands the full resources of every single nature-loving group.

A little tragicomedy of climate activism is its shifting of goalposts. Ten years ago, we were told that we had ten years to take the kind of drastic actions needed to prevent global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius in this century. Today we hear, from some of the very same activists, that we still have ten years. In reality, our actions now would need to be even more drastic than they would have ten years ago, because further gigatons of carbon have accumulated in the atmosphere. At the rate we’re going, we’ll use up our entire emissions allowance for the century before we’re even halfway through it. Meanwhile, the actions that many governments now propose are less drastic than what they proposed ten years ago.

A book that does justice to the full tragedy and weird comedy of climate change is “Reason in a Dark Time,” by the philosopher Dale Jamieson. Ordinarily, I avoid books on the subject, but a friend recommended it to me last summer, and I was intrigued by its subtitle, “Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed—And What It Means for Our Future”; by the word “failed” in particular, the past tense of it. I started reading and couldn’t stop.

Jamieson, an observer and participant at climate conferences since the early nineties, begins with an overview of humanity’s response to the largest collective-action problem it has ever faced. In the twenty-three years since the Rio Earth Summit, at which hopes for a global agreement ran high, not only have carbon emissions not decreased; they’ve increased steeply. In Copenhagen, in 2009, President Obama was merely ratifying a fait accompli when he declined to commit the United States to binding targets for reductions. Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama was frank about how much action the American political system could deliver on climate change: none. Without the United States, which is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, a global agreement isn’t global, and other countries have little incentive to sign it. Basically, America has veto power, and we’ve exercised it again and again.

The reason the American political system can’t deliver action isn’t simply that fossil-fuel corporations sponsor denialists and buy elections, as many progressives suppose. Even for people who accept the fact of global warming, the problem can be framed in many different ways—a crisis in global governance, a market failure, a technological challenge, a matter of social justice, and so on—each of which argues for a different expensive solution. A problem like this (a “wicked problem” is the technical term) will frustrate almost any country, and particularly the United States, where government is designed to be both weak and responsive to its citizens. Unlike the progressives who see a democracy perverted by moneyed interests, Jamieson suggests that America’s inaction on climate change is the result of democracy. A good democracy, after all, acts in the interests of its citizens, and it’s precisely the citizens of the major carbon-emitting democracies who benefit from cheap gasoline and global trade, while the main costs of our polluting are borne by those who have no vote: poorer countries, future generations, other species. The American electorate, in other words, is rationally self-interested. According to a survey cited by Jamieson, more than sixty per cent of Americans believe that climate change will harm other species and future generations, while only thirty-two per cent believe that it will harm them personally.

Shouldn’t our responsibility to other people, both living and not yet born, compel us to take radical action on climate change? The problem here is that it makes no difference to the climate whether any individual, myself included, drives to work or rides a bike. The scale of greenhouse-gas emissions is so vast, the mechanisms by which these emissions affect the climate so nonlinear, and the effects so widely dispersed in time and space that no specific instance of harm could ever be traced back to my 0.0000001-per-cent contribution to emissions. I may abstractly fault myself for emitting way more than the global per-capita average. But if I calculate the average annual quota required to limit global warming to two degrees this century I find that simply maintaining a typical American single-family home exceeds it in two weeks. Absent any indication of direct harm, what makes intuitive moral sense is to live the life I was given, be a good citizen, be kind to the people near me, and conserve as well as I reasonably can.

Jamieson’s larger contention is that climate change is different in category from any other problem the world has ever faced. For one thing, it deeply confuses the human brain, which evolved to focus on the present, not the far future, and on readily perceivable movements, not slow and probabilistic developments. (When Jamieson notes that “against the background of a warming world, a winter that would not have been seen as anomalous in the past is viewed as unusually cold, thus as evidence that a warming is not occurring,” you don’t know whether to laugh or to cry for our brains.) The great hope of the Enlightenment—that human rationality would enable us to transcend our evolutionary limitations—has taken a beating from wars and genocides, but only now, on the problem of climate change, has it foundered altogether.

I’d expected to be depressed by “Reason in a Dark Time,” but I wasn’t. Part of what’s mesmerizing about climate change is its vastness across both space and time. Jamieson, by elucidating our past failures and casting doubt on whether we’ll ever do any better, situates it within a humanely scaled context. “We are constantly told that we stand at a unique moment in human history and that this is the last chance to make a difference,” he writes in his introduction. “But every point in human history is unique, and it is always the last chance to make some particular difference.”

This was the context in which the word “nothing,” applied to the difference that some Minnesotan bird-lovers were trying to make, so upset me. It’s not that we shouldn’t care whether global temperatures rise two degrees or four this century, or whether the oceans rise twenty inches or twenty feet; the differences matter immensely. Nor should we fault any promising effort, by foundations or N.G.O.s or governments, to mitigate global warming or adapt to it. The question is whether everyone who cares about the environment is obliged to make climate the overriding priority. Does it make any practical or moral sense, when the lives and the livelihoods of millions of people are at risk, to care about a few thousand warblers colliding with a stadium?

To answer the question, it’s important to acknowledge that drastic planetary overheating is a done deal. Even in the nations most threatened by flooding or drought, even in the countries most virtuously committed to alternative energy sources, no head of state has ever made a commitment to leaving any carbon in the ground. Without such a commitment, “alternative” merely means “additional”—postponement of human catastrophe, not prevention. The Earth as we now know it resembles a patient whose terminal cancer we can choose to treat either with disfiguring aggression or with palliation and sympathy. We can dam every river and blight every landscape with biofuel agriculture, solar farms, and wind turbines, to buy some extra years of moderated warming. Or we can settle for a shorter life of higher quality, protecting the areas where wild animals and plants are hanging on, at the cost of slightly hastening the human catastrophe. One advantage of the latter approach is that, if a miracle cure like fusion energy should come along, there might still be some intact ecosystems for it to save.

Choosing to preserve nature at potential human expense would be morally more unsettling if nature still had the upper hand. But we live in the Anthropocene now—in a world ever more of our own making. Near the end of Jamieson’s chapter on ethics, he poses the question of whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that the arcadian Manhattan of 1630, lushly forested and teeming with fish and birds, became the modern Manhattan of the High Line and the Metropolitan Museum. People will give different answers. The point is that the change occurred and can’t be undone, as global warming can’t be undone. We were bequeathed a world of goods and bads by our forebears, and we’ll bequeath a world of different goods and bads to our descendants. We’ve always been not only universal despoilers but brilliant adapters; climate change is just the same old story writ larger. The only self-inflicted existential threat to our species is nuclear war.

The story that is genuinely new is that we’re causing mass extinctions. Not everyone cares about wild animals, but the people who consider them an irreplaceable, non-monetizable good have a positive ethical argument to make on their behalf. It’s the same argument that Rachel Carson made in “Silent Spring,” the book that ignited the modern environmental movement. Carson did warn of the dangers of pollution to human beings, but the moral center of her book was implicit in its title: Are we really O.K. with eliminating birds from the world? The dangers of carbon pollution today are far greater than those of DDT, and climate change may indeed be, as the National Audubon Society says, the foremost long-term threat to birds. But I already know that we can’t prevent global warming by changing our light bulbs. I still want to do something.

In “Annie Hall,” when the young Alvy Singer stopped doing his homework, his mother took him to a psychiatrist. It turned out that Alvy had read that the universe is expanding, which would surely lead to its breaking apart some day, and to him this was an argument for not doing his homework: “What’s the point?” Under the shadow of vast global problems and vast global remedies, smaller-scale actions on behalf of nature can seem similarly meaningless. But Alvy’s mother was having none of it. “You’re here in Brooklyn!” she said. “Brooklyn is not expanding!” It all depends on what we mean by meaning.

Climate change shares many attributes of the economic system that’s accelerating it. Like capitalism, it is transnational, unpredictably disruptive, self-compounding, and inescapable. It defies individual resistance, creates big winners and big losers, and tends toward global monoculture—the extinction of difference at the species level, a monoculture of agenda at the institutional level. It also meshes nicely with the tech industry, by fostering the idea that only tech, whether through the efficiencies of Uber or some masterstroke of geoengineering, can solve the problem of greenhouse-gas emissions. As a narrative, climate change is almost as simple as “Markets are efficient.” The story can be told in fewer than a hundred and forty characters: We’re taking carbon that used to be sequestered and putting it in the atmosphere, and unless we stop we’re fucked.

Conservation work, in contrast, is novelistic. No two places are alike, and no narrative is simple. When I travelled to Peru last November to see the work of a Peruvian-American partnership, the Amazon Conservation Association, my first stop was at a small indigenous community in the highlands east of Cuzco. With Amazon Conservation’s help, the community is reforesting Andean slopes, suppressing forest fires, and developing a business in a local legume called tarwi, which can thrive on degraded land and is popular enough in Cuzco to be profitable. In an old and dusty and dirt-floored building, women from the community served me a lunch of tarwi stew and dense, sweet tarwi bread. After lunch, in a neighboring courtyard, I toured a nursery of native tree saplings that the community will hand-plant on steep slopes, to fight erosion and improve local water quality. I then visited a nearby community that has pledged to leave its forested land intact and is operating an experimental organic farm. The scale of the farm is small, but to the community it means clear streams and self-sustenance, and to Amazon Conservation it represents a model for other communities. The regional and municipal governments have money from petroleum and mining royalties, and could spend it revitalizing the highlands according to the model. “We’re not jealous,” Amazon Conservation’s Peruvian director, Daniela Pogliani, told me. “If the government wants to take our ideas and take the credit, we have no problem with it.”

In an era of globalism of every sort, a good conservation project has to meet new criteria. The project has to be large, because biodiversity won’t survive in a habitat fragmented by palm-oil plantations or gas drilling. The project has to respect and accommodate the people already living in and around it. (Carbon emissions have rendered meaningless the ideal of a wilderness untouched by man; the new ideal is “wildness,” which is measured not by isolation from disturbance but by the diversity of organisms that can complete their life cycles.) And the project needs to be resilient with respect to climate change, either by virtue of its size or by incorporating altitudinal gradients or multiple microclimates.

The highlands are important to the Amazon because they’re a source of its water and because, as the planet heats up, lower-elevation species will shift their ranges upslope. The focal point for Amazon Conservation is Peru’s Manú National Park, a swath of lower-elevation rain forest larger than Connecticut. The park, which is home to indigenous groups that shun contact with the outside world, has full legal protection from encroachment, but illegal encroachment is endemic in the parks of tropical countries. What Amazon Conservation is attempting to do for Manú, besides expanding its upslope potential and protecting its watershed, is to strengthen the buffer on the flanks of the park, which are threatened by logging, slash-and-burn farming, and a boom in wildcat gold mining in the region of Madre de Dios. The project aspires to be a protective belt of small reserves, self-sustaining community lands, and larger conservation “concessions” on state-owned land.

On the fifty-five-mile road down from the highlands, it’s possible to see nearly six hundred species of bird. The road follows an ancient track once used to transport coca leaves from the lowlands to pre-Columbian highland civilizations. On trails near the road, Amazon Conservation researchers peaceably coexist with modern-day coca traffickers. The road bottoms out near Villa Carmen, a former hacienda that now has an educational center, a lodge for ecotourists, and an experimental farm where a substance called biochar is being tested. Biochar, which is manufactured by kiln-burning woody refuse and pulverizing the charred result, allows carbon to be sequestered in farm fields and is a low-cost way to enrich poor soil. It offers local farmers an alternative to slash-and-burn agriculture, wherein forest is destroyed for cropland, the soil is quickly exhausted, and more forest has to be destroyed. Even a wealthy country like Norway, seeking to offset its carbon emissions and to assuage its guilt, can’t save a rain forest simply by buying up land and putting a fence around it, because no fence is strong enough to resist social forces. The way to save a forest is to give the people who live in it alternatives to cutting it down.

At the indigenous village of Santa Rosa de Huacaria, near Villa Carmen, the community’s cacique, Don Alberto, gave me a tour of the fish farm and fish hatchery that Amazon Conservation has helped it develop. Large-scale fish farming is ecologically problematic in other parts of the world, but smaller-scale operations in the Amazon, using native fish species, are among the most sustainable and least destructive sources of animal protein. Huacaria’s operation provides meat for its thirty-nine families and surplus fish that it can sell for cash. Over lunch—farmed paco fire-roasted with yucca inside segments of bamboo, with heliconia-leaf plugs at each end—Don Alberto held forth movingly on the effects of climate change that he’d seen in his lifetime. The sun felt hotter now, he said. Some of his people had developed skin cancer, unheard of in the past, and the larvae of a palm-tree parasite, which the community had traditionally eaten to control diabetes and stimulate their immune systems, had vanished. Nevertheless, he was committed to the forest. Amazon Conservation is helping the community expand its land title and develop its own partnership with the national park. Don Alberto told me that a natural-medicine company had offered him a retainer and a jet in which to fly around the world and lecture on traditional healing, and that he’d turned it down.

The most striking thing about Amazon Conservation’s work is the smallness of its constituent parts. There are the eight female paco from which a season’s worth of eggs are taken, the humbleness of the plastic tanks in which the hatchlings live. There are the conical piles of dirt that highland women sit beside and fill short plastic tubes in which to plant tree seedlings. There are the simple wooden sheds that Amazon Conservation builds for indigenous Brazil-nut harvesters to shelter the nuts from rain, and that can make the difference between earning a living income and having to cut or leave the forest. And there is the method for taking a bird census in a lowland forest: you walk a hundred metres, stopping to look and listen, and then walk another hundred metres. At every turn, the smallness contrasts with the vastness of climate-change projects—the mammoth wind turbines, the horizon-reaching solar farms, the globe-encircling clouds of reflective particles that geoengineers envision. The difference in scale creates a difference in the kind of meaning that actions have for the people performing them. The meaning of climate-related actions, because they produce no discernible result, is necessarily eschatological; they refer to a Judgment Day we’re hoping to postpone. The mode of meaning of conservation in the Amazon is Franciscan: you’re helping something you love, something right in front of you, and you can see the results.

In much the way that developed nations, having long contributed disproportionately to carbon emissions, now expect developing nations to share the burden of reducing them, the rich but biotically poor countries of Europe and North America need tropical countries to do the work of safeguarding global biodiversity. Many of these countries are still recovering from colonialism, however, and have more urgent troubles. Very little of the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon, for example, is being done by wealthy people. The deforesters are poor families displaced from more fecund regions where capital-intensive agribusinesses grow soybeans for Chinese tofu and eucalyptus pulp for American disposable diapers. The gold-mining boom in Madre de Dios is not only an ecological catastrophe but a human disaster, with widespread reports of mercury poisoning and human trafficking, but Peruvian state and federal governments have yet to put an end to it, because the miners make much better money than they could in the impoverished regions from which they’ve emigrated. Besides tailoring its work to the needs and capacities of local people, a group like Amazon Conservation has to negotiate an extremely complicated political landscape.

Continue reading …

May 17, 2009

Deep vs. shallow ecology

‘Both historically and in the contemporary movement, [Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer Arne Naess] saw two different forms of environmentalism, not necessarily incompatible with each other. One he called the “long-range deep ecology movement” and the other, the “shallow ecology movement.” The word “deep” in part referred to the level of questioning of our purposes and values when arguing in environmental conflicts. The “deep” movement involves deep questioning, right down to fundamental root causes. The short-term, shallow approach stops before the ultimate level of fundamental change, often promoting technological fixes (e.g. recycling, increased automotive efficiency, export-driven monocultural organic agriculture) based on the same consumption-oriented values and methods of the industrial economy. The long-range deep approach involves redesigning our whole systems based on values and methods that truly preserve the ecological and cultural diversity of natural systems.’ —Alan Drengson, Foundation for Deep Ecology

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, human rights, vegetarianism, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism

February 2, 2006

Capitalism or habitable planet -- can't have both

Robert Newman writes in today's Guardian (U.K.):
There is no meaningful response to climate change without massive social change. A cap on this and a quota on the other won't do it. Tinker at the edges as we may, we cannot sustain earth's life-support systems within the present economic system.

Capitalism is not sustainable by its very nature. It is predicated on infinitely expanding markets, faster consumption and bigger production in a finite planet. And yet this ideological model remains the central organising principle of our lives, and as long as it continues to be so it will automatically undo (with its invisible hand) every single green initiative anybody cares to come up with.

Much discussion of energy, with never a word about power, leads to the fallacy of a low-impact, green capitalism somehow put at the service of environmentalism. In reality, power concentrates around wealth. Private ownership of trade and industry means that the decisive political force in the world is private power. The corporation will outflank every puny law and regulation that seeks to constrain its profitability. It therefore stands in the way of the functioning democracy needed to tackle climate change. Only by breaking up corporate power and bringing it under social control will we be able to overcome the global environmental crisis.

... We have lived in an era of cheap, abundant energy. There never has and never will again be consumption like we have known. The petroleum interval, this one-off historical blip, this freakish bonanza, has led us to believe that the impossible is possible, that people in northern industrial cities can have suntans in winter and eat apples in summer. But much as the petroleum bubble has got us out of the habit of accepting the existence of zero-sum physical realities, it's wise to remember that they never went away. You can either have capitalism or a habitable planet. One or the other, not both.
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July 10, 2009

Sham citizen wind energy activism in Washington state

"Wind Farms Trump Local Land-Use Laws, Washington Governor, Court Decide", by Penny Rodriguez, Heartland Institute, February 1, 2009:
Todd Myers, director of the Washington Policy Center, is skeptical of the promised benefits of wind power but nevertheless applauded the Washington Supreme Court’s decision.

“In many ways this decision can be seen as the opposite of the facts presented in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London,” Myers said. “Here we have state government preserving property rights when local governments are trying to restrict them.

“If farmers want to earn money by putting windmills on their property,” Myers continued, “we should honor their right to do so when reasonable. Local decisions are certainly preferable to those imposed from the state or federal level, but individual property rights should be given the highest priority.

“There are problems with our energy policy, including renewable portfolio standards and preferential renewable subsidies. But denying property rights is not the proper way to deal with those problems. I hope the supreme court will apply the same logic when it comes to other permits and not just wind farms,” Myers said.
"Launched in 2003, ["think tank"] Washington Policy Center’s Center for the Environment focuses on free-market solutions to environmental issues."

Todd Myers is also the executive director of Windworks Northwest, which has just produced a 15-minute video about how crucial it is to get more giant wind turbines into Kittitas County.

As one Fennelle Miller states in the film, wind turbines are a community good that require unfettered property rights to impose them on the community.

This cynical exploitation of climate change fears for such a blatant pro-development agenda, this twisting of environmentalism to mean the very opposite, this opportunistic milking of federal and state subsidies in the name of free enterprise ... well, there's nothing new here. It is just a tiresomely predictable part of human history that nobody should think we are ever free of. And it is not surprising, but saddening nonetheless, that so many otherwise perhaps sane and decent people still fall for it.

The Windworks Northwest film also includes "Dr." James Walker, who is described as "president, american wind energy association". Since last year, though, Walker has been the past president of the AWEA board of directors. What the film also does not note is that he is the vice chairman of the board of Enxco, the company on behalf of whose project the film was made.

And the chairman of Windworks is Robert Kahn, whose company managed the permitting process of the Stateline Wind Project for Florida Power & Light in 2000-2002.

Deceit infuses the film, which is little more than a disjointed intercutting of non sequitur sound bites.

Windworks' "Who Are We": "We believe that the number of wind power plants in the Northwest needs to expand because more wind power means less CO2 emissions and greater U.S. energy security." And anyone who questions those reasons, unless he's executive director Todd Myers himself ("skeptical of the promised benefits of wind power"), is a Nimby aesthete. And anyone who supports industrial expansion heedless of neighbors human and wild is an environmentalist voice for freedom.

If anyone doubted that almost everything about big wind is a sham, Windworks Northwest has helpfully made it extra clear.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, animal rights, human rights, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism

November 25, 2012

For Lou, from Miriam

Miriam Jones of VINE Sanctuary writes:

[Factory “farmers”] are honest enough to own their desires, and so they don’t have to create elaborate mental mazes to contain them. They want a paycheck – they want to grill something out in their backyards and it ain’t tofu – and they don’t give a shit about the environment or global climate change or sustainability.

They want what they want, and they’re honest about it. ...

While some of us recognize this destructive phenomenon for what it is, and seek to correct it, happy meat “farmers” deny they’re human supremacists. They like to say they honor and respect all of life while they trample upon it. Because they can’t bear to give up those tasty little morsels of flesh in their mouths – or because they can’t bear to find another job – these “farmers” talk a good talk about holding to a level of environmentalism that exceeds everyone else’s. They claim to love life on the one hand while they bring it to an end on the other. They profess that there exists such a thing as humane murder.

In short, they’re liars. They lie to themselves and they lie to everyone else. ...

Factory “farmers” tend to be more honest about their motivations for doing the things they do than happy meat “farmers,” even though they all do the same thing: use and murder animals.

Because they are lying to themselves, these small producers need to include you in that same lie. They need you to believe that you’re doing something good. You are righteous, you are smart, you are helping the environment. You are better than those (poor, unethical, working class) people who eat factory farmed flesh. You are actively helping the planet by eating flesh, eggs and milk from small-scale animal “production.”

They tell you these things and they need you to believe them. But they are lies.

Click here to read the complete essay.
Click here to read “For Lou, from pattrice”

Lou, who never knew how it feels to be free
Lou, who never knew how it feels to be free

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism, Vermont, anarchism, ecoanarchism

May 24, 2006

Nordhaus and Shellenberger are not environmentalists (1)

Excerpts, part 1, "The Enemy Within," by Mike Roselle, Lowbagger:

The Death of Environmentalism [by Ted Nordhaus and Steve Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute] was a broadside at the conservation movement disguised as friendly criticism from veteran strategists. Our tactics, which were indeed coercive and confrontational, were ultimately successful. We wanted to forge a new conservation movement that would fight, not roll over, to defend the natural world from industrial development. ...

Breakthrough wants to define a new environmental movement, broader in scope and more willing to come up with solutions and work with businesses to implement them. They suggest we abandon our efforts to get new laws or to use the courts to enforce existing laws, arguing that saving nature is for elitists who don't care for the plight of the poor and the oppressed. ...

According to Breakthrough we need new ones. And so they are going after that well known elitist, demon, plutocrat, Yankee, robber-baron, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. They’re mad because he wrote a widely published op-ed opposing the Cape Wind project, a group of 130 windmills to be built in Nantucket Sound. Kennedy's opposition was for environmental reasons, which he laid out in his article. This large-scale industrial wind farm is being supported by the Breakthrough Institute and, for some unexplained reason, by other environmental organizations like Greenpeace. It is planned for a popular recreation area, an important fishery and wildlife preserve, not to mention near a busy ship channel. We could certainly disagree about whether or not this was the only possible location for a project that would help stop global warming, or about its environmental impacts, but in his response Shellenberger goes further, and suggests any opposition to the project is from rich and famous celebrities on Martha's Vineyard, similar NIMBY's, or environmental extremists.

I had previously read Kennedy's editorial and found it very convincing. It was written in the language of conservation. He mentions the importance of wilderness and wildlife habitat. [H]e described what he thought were the negative impacts of the proposed project. [T]here were no personal attacks and it was a simple appeal to find a better location. It was a passionate argument against an industrial development ...

The response from the Breakthrough Institute and from a Greenpeace "Energy Campaigner” was swift and personal. Not to mention highly technical and legalistic. Some of the arguments in favor of wind derricks are strikingly similar to Ted Stevens's arguments in favor of derricks in the Arctic. They also avoided the central points of Kennedy's arguments by casting aspersions against his integrity. They never mentioned wilderness or wildlife as a value to be cherished. They state flat out that this project won't affect wildlife or the solitude of the area, and would even be an improvement. They accuse Kennedy of "threatening what is arguably the most important clean energy development in the world while encouraging the already substantial public perception that environmentalists are elitists who only care about protecting their own private playgrounds." ...

I don't have as much money as Bobby Kennedy, but I too have been called an elitist and a NIMBY. So now we have something in common other that our rugged good looks and love for running wild rivers. As far as being an elitist goes, if you are a Kennedy living on Martha's Vineyard, you pretty much have to prepare yourself for that one. But was he really a self-interested, vicious liar who couldn't give a rat's ass for the Earth and who doesn't care about global warming at all? ...

If I were going to award points on poise and style, Robert F. Kennedy would win this one hands down. But I will flat out say it is hypocritical of the Breakthrough Institute for criticizing the environmental movement for demonizing our opponents on one day and then to come back and personally attack Robert Kennedy and other environmentalist the next day and accuse them of being elitists, liars and a threat to the movement.

[F]rom an environmentalist's perspective, large-scale industrial development is not the solution, but is the problem itself. Windmills, although better than oil wells, are no panacea for the energy crisis. We are brushing up against the limits of what the natural resources of this planet will support, and a headlong rush into alternative energy production will not affect global warming unless some aggressive steps are also taken soon to address our overall growth and energy consumption in the so-called developed world. Otherwise, we will have wind farms and solar collectors all over the countryside trying to replace energy consumption that in the beginning was subsidized by burning copious amounts of forests and fossil fuel.

... [I]f we are to settle for large-scale industrial wind and solar projects, the threat of global warming should not be used as an excuse to trample the last good places for recreation or wildlife. It is hard to believe that suddenly the only place suitable for wind generators is also a place that has been considered for a wildlife refuge for endangered whales.

[Click here for part 2]

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