March 31, 2006

"Oil is for heat and transportation"

Since switching many plants to cleaner-burning natural gas, the U.S. uses hardly any oil for generating electricity (about 3%), so wind-generated power really has nothing to do with oil, foreign or domestic.

As for global warming, the primary culprit again is heat and transportation. In electricity generation, it's coal. But coal provides the unfluctuating base load of our system, which wind power would never touch. At best, wind power may occasionally allow some peak load plants to ramp down, but since they then have to ramp back up again when the wind slows (or gusts above 60 mph), they may burn more fuel than if kept on line more steadily.

By any real-world analysis -- at least in the industrialized world where we expect a steady supply of energy at our fingertips -- large-scale wind power on the grid is a nonstarter.

In addition to its lack of benefits (except for tax avoidance by big investors -- Enron developed the industry, after all), it has serious negative impacts, particularly as such a huge number of the giant machines is required to pretend it's making any significant contribution.

And that is what is truly disturbing about this article. Lester Brown would have us think differently, but everywhere that wind power facilities are proposed, there is widespread opposition. Aboriginal Australians have fought (and lost) to save their dreaming. Zapotecas are fighting the plans for massive wind power "development" in the Tehuantapec peninsula, one of the world's most important bird migration passageways. To call a small pay-off to farmers in New York a boon is insulting as the wind companies pocket millions from tax subsidies and artificial renewable energy certificates (Enron's most inspired invention). The leases -- written by the company -- essentially make the farmer a tenant on his own land. He even signs away his right to speak to anyone about problems such as noise or stray voltage. Many neighbors of wind facilities have had to flee their homes because of serious health effects.

And so on. The point is that there's another side of this typical story of exploitation and chicanery than Lester Brown's corporate boosterism, one I would have expected a writer for OneWorld to instinctively seek out.

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

March 28, 2006

Michael Pollan: The Pathology of Desire

In a long essay in Sunday's New York Times Magazine about a quest to kill "his own" wild pig, Michael Pollan briefly envies the "moral clarity" of vegetarianism. He immediately comforts himself by declaring them "pitiable" because vegetarians "deny reality."

Yet at every step of his quest to "own" his meat, Pollan struggles with moral ambivalence and even disgust, requiring hundreds of words of twisted rationalizations. He does not deny his appetite for exotic meat, true, nor the violence necessary to transform an animal from a living individual in a vital social circle into a mouth-watering roast. Neither do vegetarians. Nor do vegetarians deny the natural repulsion we feel from the slaughter, as Pollan struggles to. But he must have his boar, so anything can be justified, any reality denied that does not fit the preordained outcome, the consumerist goal.

This is moral decadence. Most of us do not need to kill to survive. We hunt or eat meat only because we want to. It is a moral choice to continue or not. It is the same choice whether you kill your meal yourself or not, the same whether you write thousands of words about it or not, the same whether it's grass-fed and free-range or factory-farmed.

Pollan denies that reality and chooses to kill. He is proud that he is a "conscious carnivore," which only makes his choice especially chilling. The only reality indeed is his appetite.

animal rights, vegetarianism

March 25, 2006

French Academy of Medicine warns of wind turbine noise

Ventdubocage has posted a report from the National Academy of Medicine in France, "Le retentissement du fonctionnement des éoliennes sur la santé de l'homme" ("Repercussions of wind turbine operations on human health"). Click here for the 192-KB PDF.

Following is a translation of a notice of the report by Dr. Chantal Gueniot in "Panorama du Médecin," 20 March 2006:

Wind turbines: The Academy cautious

The harmful effects of sound related to wind turbines are insufficiently assessed, warns the Academy.

Wind turbines, which are multiplying throughout the French countryside, will have to be considered as industrial installations and to comply, by that fact, to specific regulations that take account of the harmful effects of sound as particularly produced by these structures, determined a working group assembled by the National Academy of Medicine and presided over by professor Claude-Henri Chouard (Paris).

People living near the towers, the heights of which vary from 10 to 100 meters, sometimes complain of functional disturbances similar to those observed in syndromes of chronic sound trauma. Studies conducted in the neighborhoods of airports have clearly demonstrated that chronic invasive sound involves neurobiological reactions associated with an increased frequency of hypertension and cardiovascular illness. Unfortunately, no such study has been done near wind turbines. But, the sounds emitted by the blades being low frequency, which therefore travel easily and vary according to the wind, they constitute a permanent risk for the people exposed to them.

Since 2 July 2003, the law has required a construction permit for wind turbines over 12 meters, including an impact study if their [combined] power is over 2.5 megawatts. An investigation conducted by the Ddass [Direction Départementale des Affaires Sanitaires et Sociales] in Saint-Crépin (Charent-Maritime) revealed that sound levels 1 km from an installation occasionally exceeded allowable limits. While waiting for precise studies of the risks connected with these installations, the Academy recommend halting wind turbine construction closer than 1.5 km from residences.

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

March 23, 2006

More about Searsburg turbines

Tom Shea has shared more about his experience as neighbor of the small wind power facility in Searsburg, Vermont (see earlier post, "industrial droning"):

"No one I know has gotten accustomed to these monstrosities. ... I unfortunately have a clear view of these things and can hear them quite learly from inside my house. ... They have destroyed the peace and quiet that my family had enjoyed for over 40 years in this wilderness. They make noise when turning, and make really loud bangs when the turning mechanisms require work, which is just short of constantly."

Regarding the recent tearing off of half a blade on one of the machines:

"I am a chemical engineer, MIT '86. My unprofessional opinion is that there is not a chance that lightning was the cause of this failure."

Despite the company's report that lightning tore off the blade during a storm, some people have questioned that claim. For example:
I expect that the Searsburg blade was broken by a sudden gust from the side, perpendicular to the axis of rotation. In high winds the blades are stopped and turned so that their leading edges face into the wind to minimize stress. This works fine if the wind stays in line with the axis of the windmill. In the event of a sudden sideways gust, at least one of the three blades will be sufficiently vertical to be broadside to the wind and subject to severe stress. Since the blades are not turning there is little centrifugal stress on the blades to keep them straight. This means the blades can be bent to the point of cracking the inelastic fiber reinforcing, causing failure. In mountainous terrain the wind gusts are so variable in direction that this kind of blade failure is likely.
The company would rather claim lightning damage (1) because they probably have insurance against damage by lightning but not by wind and (2) because it doesn't look so good if it's the wind that damages the machines. This is at least the third blade failure at Searsburg.

And remember, these models are relatively small to those being proposed today.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines Vermont

"Running from the wind"

Yesterday, CBC Radio reported the story of the d'Entremont family of Pubnico, Nova Scotia (see earlier post, "Wind Turbine Syndrome"), who were forced to leave their home because of health problems caused by nearby giant wind turbines. The 9-minute broadcast is available at CBC in a Real-Media stream. The CBC also broadcast stories on the problem on February 27 (8 minutes) and February 28 (7 minutes)

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

March 21, 2006

Can someone say "My Lai"?

Julian Borger reports in today's Guardian (U.K.) an Iraqi police report:
After listing other incidents in the area, the report for March 15 states: "American forces used helicopters to drop troops on the house of Faiz Harat Khalaf situated in the Abu Sifa village of the Ishaqi district. The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 people, including five children, four women and two men, then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed their animals." Among victims the report lists two five-year-old children, two three-year-olds and a six-month-old baby.

The US military say that the deaths occurred when US troops raided a house in pursuit of an al-Qaida suspect and that only four people were killed. Major Tim Keefe, a US military spokesman in Baghdad said: "A battle damage assessment, the initial reports, said that what they saw were four people killed - a woman and two children and an enemy - and they detained an enemy."

Brigadier General Issa al-Juboori, who runs the joint coordination centre in Tikrit, stood by the report and said he knew the police officer running the investigation. "He's a dedicated policeman, and a good cop," Gen Juboori told Knight Ridder. "I trust him."

Both accounts of the incident agree there was a firefight in the early hours of the morning when US troops raided a house which an al-Qaida suspect was suspected to be visiting. The American account said the house collapsed as a result of the firefight, killing two women, a child, and a man believed to have al-Qaida links. The suspect survived and was captured. But the Iraqi police report suggests that the killings took place when the house was still standing. A local police commander, Lieutenant Colonel Farooq Hussain, said hospital autopsies "revealed that all the victims had bullet shots in the head and all bodies were handcuffed".
Borger also notes the current investigation of another massacre last year:
In last year's Haditha incident, US troops are accused of killing civilians after a bomb attack. An initial marine report on the incident said a roadside bomb on November 19 last year killed a lance corporal and 15 Iraqi civilians. But further investigation revealed that the civilians had been shot with marine weapons after the blast.

A nine-year-old survivor, Eman Waleed, who lived in a house 150 metres from the roadside bomb attack told Time magazine that after the explosion her father began reading the Qur'an. "First, they went into my father's room, where he was reading the Qur'an, and we heard shots," she said. "I couldn't see their faces very well, only their guns sticking into the doorway. I watched them shoot my grandfather first in the chest and then in the head. Then they killed my granny."
anarchism, anarchosyndicalism

When do we call it fascism?

From Paul Craig Roberts in Counterpunch, responding to Bush's insane speech yesterday in Cleveland:

The security of Americans has nothing whatsoever to do with Iraq. Iraq cannot overthrow the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the separation of powers, and American civil liberties. Iraq cannot illegally spy on American citizens, declare them to be "suspects" and detain them forever without warrant or charges. Iraq cannot put American critics of the Bush regime on "no-fly" lists. ...

The Bush regime cannot lead the world to democracy by tearing democracy down at home. Not since Abraham Lincoln have American civil liberties been so threatened as by the Bush regime. America even has an Attorney General, a Vice President, and a Secretary of Defense who believe in torture. How do they differ from officials in the Third Reich or Stalin's KGB? Anyone who believes in torture is not an American. That person is outside our tradition. Yet, it is people who believe in torture who occupy our highest offices.

tags:  anarchism, anarchosyndicalism