February 26, 2005

"The menaced landscape"

Here is an excerpt from Robert Macfarlane's essay in today's Guardian about the "wind rush," in which he asks, "Wind farms? You may as well take a knife to a Constable":

'Wild and open spaces, for obvious reasons, are proving most attractive to candy-grab developers, and some of the most extraordinary mountain, moor and coastal landscapes in the British Isles - unique as a Turner or a Spencer - are currently menaced with ill-thought-out development proposals.

'The debate over wind power in Britain suffers, as do so many "countryside" issues, from a crippling polarity. Both sides are guilty of this, but let me take as a relevant example Polly Toynbee, who has voiced in these pages the standard leftwing, pro-wind position.

'Those who resist the spread of wind farms, wrote Toynbee, are Tory-minded "rural nimbyists", worried about the depreciation of their properties, or peddling "sob stories" about the visual pollution of their precious views. As climate change accelerates, these people are fiddling while the world heats up. They are, she ringingly concluded, "small, selfish and short-sighted".

'Toynbee should take a trip to Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. There, the energy giant Amec is pushing to establish the world's biggest wind farm. The local community is resisting as best it can. The farm is to be built on the northern part of Mòinteach riabhach Leòdhais, the Brindled Moor of Lewis - a wind-swept, hyena-coloured expanse of bog, waterfall, cliff and scarp. The moor is one of the world's last great peat-bogs, whose ecological significance has been compared to that of the Serengeti. It is under protected status as a UN Ramsar Site, a Special Protection Area, and a Berne Convention Important Bird Area: designations that Amec would steamroll. Its biodiversity and appearance make it the centrepiece of the Hebrides' £60m-a-year tourism industry.

'The moor, in its strange, wild beauty, is also at the core of Lewis's embattled Gaelic self-identity. For centuries, the people of Lewis have worked the moor. As Finlay McLeod of the Lewis protest group has put it: "Language and even a people may go - but the land was immutable, a last and lasting bastion for human sanity and belonging. Now, this itself is seen to be under threat."

'Amec has not, of course, come to Lewis out of the greenness of its conscience. It is there for the money. It hopes, with the help of government subsidies, to make about £68m a year if the farm is built. "Farm", though, is far too homesteadish a word for what will happen if Amec gets the go-ahead. It will erect 234 turbines, each nearly 140 metres high with a blade-span of more than 80 metres. (Imagine 234 structures, each more than twice the height of Nelson's Column, and carrying a propeller with a diameter greater than the length of a Boeing 747.) The energy will be carried off the island by 210 pylons, each 26 metres high, and their adjoining overhead lines. To service the turbines, 104 miles of roads will be built, as well as nine electrical substations. Lewis, it is clear even from these bald statistics, is to be turned not into a wind farm but a wind factory.

'The Lewis development will be irreversible. Wind turbines, it is often forgotten in the organicist rhetoric of the pro-wind farmists, require anchorage. One does not simply plant them like outsize seedlings. Each turbine will be counter-sunk into 726 cubic metres of concrete. In total, 5m cubic metres of rock and 2.5m cubic metres of peat-bog will be excavated. Such statistics render ridiculous Toynbee's claim that if another renewable energy source is found "the wind-turbines can be dismantled and taken away, no harm done".

'The Lewis project is a salutary case study. It reveals that an American-Puritan error - that wild land is waste land, there to be put to industrial use - is rearing its head. Wild places, it has come to be understood, are the "uplands" of civilisation: landscapes that can renew, console, and lift us in unique ways.

'Lewis's situation also reminds us of the spiritual, aesthetic, historical and ecological values that are put at risk when extraordinary landscapes are industrially menaced. These values are harder to measure, and harder to articulate than the hard numerical wattage of the turbines. But they are, unlike the wattage, non-transferable.

'A new study by the German energy agency, the world's leading producer of wind energy, has concluded that wind farms are an inefficient tool in our desperate battle against climate change. But even if this were not the case, certain types of landscape are too valuable to be turned into outdoor power-stations. The Lewis development is only the biggest instance: one grimly thinks of the 150-turbine development in Eisken on Harris, the planned development on the Sleat peninsula on Skye, and the "interconnector" - the 50m-high pylon-line required to carry the power from the wind farms of the Scottish west coast to the southern demand centres: a knife-slash through some of Britain's wildest vistas.'

February 25, 2005

"Report doubts future of wind power"

The Guardian today (Saturday) reports the release yesterday of the "re-edited" German Energy Agency (DENA) study of integrating wind energy on the grid.

Despite having been utterly biased in favor of industrial wind power, the Guardian straighforwardly describes the implications of the study. They even quote Angela Kelly of Country Guardian without deprecation. And they print a commentary against the industrial depredation of the landscape that wind power represents. They also cite the U.K.'s own National Audit Office finding that wind power is the most expensive way of pursuing carbon emissions reduction.

A shift in opinion, perhaps? The "useful links" after the on-line article, however, are to the two most avid "green" supporters (Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth) and the industry trade group British Wind Energy Association. Fair and balanced, that isn't.

"Gale-force winds snap wind turbine propellers"

Strong winds in the Iwate prefecture, Japan, snapped the blades of three large wind turbines yesterday. One was in the city of Tono and two in the town of Otsuchi. In nearby Morioka the wind reached 31.7 meters/second (71 mph). The turbines automatically lock down when the wind speed exceeds 25 m/s (56 mph), and the blades are supposed to withstand winds up to 60 m/s (134 mph). The power company suspects that lightning strikes (at the bases of each of the blades of each of the three turbines!) had already caused cracks. The picture with the Mainichi Daily News report (click the title of this post), however, shows a completely withered, not snapped off, blade.

February 24, 2005

"Shocking the Donkey ... Again"

"It's time to abandon our delusions, once and for all. And I am more than happy to abandon the delusion that somehow the Democratic Party can be refashioned into a reliable progressive force. I have no intention of getting fooled again. Instead, my energy now goes to building a true party of the people -- a Labor Party by that name in particular."

-- Chris Townsend

"No German Flowers for Bush"

The title of this post links to an article describing the excessive security measures required by our president's heroic paranoia:
'But Bush and his backers, American and German, want to play it very safe, and this has become a nightmare for the people of Mainz. All air traffic to the nearby Frankfurt airport is being suspended for part of the day (today, Wednesday). Boat traffic on the Rhine will be suspended despite all economic losses involved. The autobahns surrounding the city and connecting it with the airport will all be closed to traffic.

'That is still just not safe enough for this popular statesman and his giant entourage. Every manhole lid along the route has been soldered down tight. No terrorist rats will be tolerated this time. All mail boxes along the route have been carted away. Cars must not only be removed from along the route but also from garages of people living along the route. Windows must be shut and no one is allowed to stand on the balcony to wave. There won’t be much waving anyway, it seems, and the police have issued severe warnings: Anti-Bush banners or slogans must not be visible anywhere along the route, and no "insulting" banners will be allowed anywhere. There’s a law to take care of that matter. All traffic, vehicles or pedestrians, will be restricted in the areas George Bush is planning to visit.'
Even the New York Times today ran an article about the empty stage set that Mainz was made into for Bush's transit. There was supposed to be a "town meeting" with a carefully vetted group of Germans (it would have been too obvious if he only met with the U.S. troops in the base there, as Laura Bush had done), but it was cancelled. Too likely one or more of those Germans would not keep to the script.

Even so, and although Bush himself would never see them, and probably never be told of their existence (just as he was never troubled -- and neither were the media -- by nonsupporters during his self-regarding campaign for a second term), 10,000 or so Germans gathered the day for a lively demonstration of disgust.

February 23, 2005

U.K., Inc.

The British government, just as it aggressively promotes its "neutral" support of the wind-power industry against local opposition, is now beginning a propaganda campaign for mad scientists torturing animals. In the interest of "informed" debate, they will argue the side of the animal abusers.

They have also made all protest of corporate and academic activities, even letters and leaflets, essentially illegal. A police state in thrall to business interests -- that's fascism, folks. Fascism is bad.

February 21, 2005

"Raising children as vegans 'unethical', says professor"

After studying impoverished children in Kenya, and finding that supplementing their very poor diet with meat or milk made the children healthier, this dope concludes that vegetarianism is evil.

I dare say she would have seen the same (or better) improvement had she provided the children with seitan and soy milk and a wide range of greens, for instance, along with vitamin B12 supplements (which most vegans know they need). It is obviously more difficult to maintain a comparable diet without changing the economic desperation of the people she studied, but that underscores the relative ease with which we in the "developed" world can avoid resorting to eating dead animals.

Besides B12 (available as a cheap supplement), calcium and iron are noted as concerns. Many greens have calcium, and many products, such as rice and soy milks and even orange juice, are fortified with it. Significantly, the metabolism of animal protein leaches calcium out of the body, which is why government nutritionists recommend so much. Vegans require quite a bit less to maintain their calcium. Iron (and other minerals) is available in many greens and other vegetables. Cooking in iron pots is an easy way to add it as well.

To characterize vegetarians as unethical implies that it is ethical to kill animals for food (let alone for "sport") when we no longer have to. Yet vegetarians are well documented as a much healthier group in general than animal-eaters. Not only for the sake of our fellow creatures but also for our own health, vegetarianism is without doubt the ethical choice at every stage of life.

Even if you have no problem eating dead animals, to call vegetarianism unethical is the sign of a troubled psyche.

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