September 17, 2006

"Why do you hate America?"

Mickey Z. writes in Counterpunch, "Why I Hate America; and Why I'm Not Leaving":

When pressed, I sometimes reply: "I don't hate America. In fact, think it's one of the best countries anyone ever stole." But, after the laughter dies down, I have a confession to make: If by "America" they mean the elected/appointed officials and the corporations that own them, well, I guess I do hate that America -- with justification.

Among many reasons, I hate America for the near-extermination and subsequent oppression of its indigenous population. I hate it for its role in the African slave trade and for dropping atomic bombs on civilians. I hate its control of institutions like the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization. I hate it for propping up brutal dictators like Suharto, Pinochet, Duvalier, Hussein, Marcos, and the Shah of Iran. I hate America for its unconditional support for Israel. I hate its bogus two-party system, its one-size-fits-all culture, and its income gap. I could go on for pages but I'll sum up with this: I hate America for being a hypocritical white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

After a paragraph like that, you know what comes next: If you hate America so much, why don't you leave? Leave America? That would potentially put me on the other end of U.S. foreign policy. No thanks.

I like how Paul Robeson answered that question before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1956: "My father was a slave and my people died to build this country, and I'm going to stay right here and have a part of it, just like you. And no fascist-minded people like you will drive me from it. Is that clear?"

Since none of my people died to build anything, I rely instead on William Blum, who declares, "I'm committed to fighting U.S. foreign policy, the greatest threat to peace and happiness in the world, and being in the United States is the best place for carrying out the battle. This is the belly of the beast, and I try to be an ulcer inside of it."

Needless to say, none of the above does a damn thing to placate the yellow ribbon crowd. It seems what offends flag-wavers most is when someone like me makes use of the freedom they claim to adore. According to their twisted logic, I am ungrateful for my liberty if I have the audacity to exercise it. If I make the choice to not salute the flag during the seventh inning stretch at Yankee Stadium, somehow I'm not worthy of having the freedom to make the choice to not salute the flag during the seventh inning stretch at Yankee Stadium. These so-called patriots not only claim to celebrate freedom while refusing my right to exploit it, they also ignore the social movements that fought for and won such freedoms.

There's plenty of tolerated public outcry against the Bush administration and the occupation of Iraq, but it's neither fashionable nor acceptable to go as far as saying, no, I do not support the troops and yes, I hate what America does. Fear of recrimination allows the status quo to control the terms of debate. Until we voice what is in our hearts and have the nerve to admit what we hate . . . we will never create something that can be loved.

September 15, 2006

The Persians

From The Persians, by Aeschylus (472 BC), translation by Seth G. Benardete:

For these my son, exacting as requital
Punishment (or so he thought)
Called on himself so numerous
A train of woes.


They, invading Greece, felt no awe,
They did not hesitate to plunder images
Of gods, and put temples to the torch;
Altars were no more, and statues, like trees,
Were uprooted, torn from their bases
In all confusion. Thus their wickedness
Shall no less make them suffer:
Other woes the future holds in store,
And still the fount of evils is not quenched,
It wells up, and overflows: so great will be
The sacrificial cake of clotted gore
Made at Plataea by Dorian spear.
And corpses, piled up like sand, shall witness,
Mute, even to the century to come,
Before the eyes of men, that never, being
Mortal, ought we cast our thoughts too high.
Insolence, once blossoming, bears
Its fruit, a tasseled field of doom, from which
A weeping harvest's reaped, all tears.


September 13, 2006

An unseemly campaign

"VPIRG faces a good old-fashioned conflict of interest, just the sort of thing it was organized to protect us from."

Editorial by C.B. of the Barton (Vt.) Chronicle:

As its name implies, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) is founded on the principle that, beyond the competing interests that run our society and control our lives, there is a public interest that is all too often neglected.

... Using weapons no more powerful than a knack for publicity and an ability to bring vocal citizens into the halls of government and, more rarely, onto the streets, VPIRG has brought the public to the table on a long series of important issues.

And then there's wind power. ...

Late last month VPIRG announced that, in a "report card" on the efforts of northeastern states and provinces to combat global warming, Vermont's grade has slipped from a C to a C-minus.

The reason, VPIRG Field Director Drew Hudson said in a press release, was clear:

Governor Jim Douglas has failed to keep his promises on energy, and "as a result Vermont lags behind our neighbors in permitting commercial wind power and developing a comprehensive climate change action plan." ...

According to the report [the product of 18 environmental organizations in the Northeast], Vermont's "grader" was the Vermont Public Interest Research and Education Fund. The phone number it lists is VPIRG's number in Montpelier.

Two years ago, VPIRG said that 15 percent of Vermont's electricity should be generated in-state by windmills.

Earlier last month in its "Vision for Vermont's Energy Future" VPIRG increased that to 20 percent. ...

In a chapter called "Profile of a Vermont Windfarm" it gives a glowing account of UPC Vermont's plans to erect 26 wind turbines in Sheffield and Sutton.

It notes that "voters in Sheffield, where 20 of the 26 turbines will be located, voted by a strong majority in favor of the project (120-93)."

It fails to note that Sutton residents voted six to one against the proposal at their Town Meeting in March. ...

The problem lies on VPIRG's board of directors. Two members, Matt Rubin and David Rapaport, are the principals in East Haven Windfarm, the company that wants to put four demonstration wind towers on East Mountain and, ultimately, erect 50 windmills on the ridge lines of Essex County.

Mr. Rubin, president of East Haven Windfarm, is former chairman of the VPIRG board. Mr. Rapaport, Windfarm's vice president, is VPIRG's former executive director. ...

So it's not about the public interest, after all. VPIRG faces a good old-fashioned conflict of interest, just the sort of thing it was organized to protect us from. ...

In positioning itself as the chief cheerleader for wind power in Vermont, VPIRG has tarnished its own reputation. It may even, in the long run, harm the cause of wind power.

... VPIRG needs to do what it can to fix the problem, but it's pretty late in the game. Rather than purge its board, maybe it should just withdraw from the wind power debate, and leave the field to those whose arguments won't carry even a whiff of conflicted interests.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, Vermont, ecoanarchism

September 12, 2006

Larger picture does not include industrial wind power

To the editor, Burlington (Vt.) Free Press:

Jan Blittersdorf, whose company counts on expanding development of industrial wind power, reminds us that we need a thoughtful and productive discussion of the issue ("Wind discussion must see larger picture," September 11). She then proceeds to shamelessly misrepresent the impacts of wind energy on the electricity generation of Denmark, Germany, and Spain.

It is one thing to say that wind turbines generate a certain percentage of a country's total. It is quite another to say that wind turbines displace that percentage of generation from or fuel use by other sources. Apparently, the latter can not be said about Denmark, Germany, and Spain, the world's leaders in wind energy. Those countries have lots of wind turbines, but none have been able to point to any actual benefits from them (except, of course, to those in the business).

The wind industry thus boasts of achieving a goal that means nothing to the larger picture that Blittersdorf reminds us to keep in mind. The turbines are built, but -- because of the intermittent, variable, and unpredictable nature of their production -- other fuels are still used as much as before. The wind turbines therefore do not reduce carbon dioxide or any other emissions.

There are other renewables that have actual promise. We shouldn't waste our time and money -- let alone sacrifice our mountaintops and rural communities -- on the boondoggle of big wind.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, Vermont

September 5, 2006

Spain ends support of wind power

Abstract of article (available only in print) in the September Windpower Monthly:

Twin pillars of Spanish wind market axed -- decree removes wind subsidy and price guarantee

The legal basis of the production incentives driving Spain's wind market is now time bombed to disappear in the new year thanks to a new energy law, put together behind the industry's back and passed by government emergency decree. The law will remove the twin pillars supporting the market—a production incentive payment and the safety net of a guaranteed minimum purchase price. Confidence in the Spanish wind market, one of the world's top three, is "shattered" says an industry spokesman. "Projects that should have closed in the past few weeks have been paralysed and others annulled."

Emergency decree -- looks like the government is seeing wind power for the fiasco it is.

wind power, wind energy

September 4, 2006

Charles Komanoff is two with nature

Charles Komanoff rhapsodizes again on "the increasing viability of commercial-scale wind power" and the beauty and need that this unproven belief inspires him to see. His long article, meant to look reasoned, thorough, and balanced, in the September-October issue of Orion has been getting a lot of notice. But it's just more of the same misguided and misinformed pablum he has already foisted on readers many times elsewhere.

First, to make defense of a single ridgeline from industrial wind development look puny, he proposes replacing three-fourths of the electricity in the U.S. (the portion generated from fossil fuels, mostly coal and natural gas) with wind-generated energy. He pretends to admit that his figure of 400,000 2.5-megawatt turbines to achieve this goal is hypothetical. In fact, it totally ignores reality. Without large-scale storage, wind cannot -- even in theory -- provide three-fourths of our electricity. It can only provide as much power as there is excess capacity on the system from other sources to cover for it when the wind drops. One-third of the time, a wind turbine is typically idle. Forty percent of the time, it produces at well below its average rate. By its nature, it can't replace other sources on the grid, which must work all the harder to balance the fluctuations of the wind.

Then he pretends a concern for birds, evoking the disgrace of Altamont Pass only to dismiss it as an aberration rather than a warning. He raises the myth that "the longer blades on newer turbines rotate more slowly and thus kill far fewer birds." But as he himself notes, it isn't the faster-rpm smaller turbines that are the reason for Altamont's toll on raptors -- it's the fact that it is in a major flyway. The fact is that the longer blades on newer turbines are just as deadly. They rotate at a lower rate, but because the blades are so long they are moving just as fast (150-200 mph). And those giant blades sweep a vertical air space of 1 to 2 acres.

As he has done before, Komanoff tries to minimize the undeniable noise of the giant rotating machines with gearboxes the size of a van. But first, describing his visit to the Fenner facility in New York, he again betrays his ignorance of the technology:
It was windy that day, though not unusually so, according to the locals. All twenty-seven turbines were spinning, presumably at their full 1.5-megawatt ratings.
Wind turbines are designed to spin even before they start producing electricity as the wind speed approaches around 7 mph. This is done by drawing power from the grid until there's enough wind to do it. Although the rotational rate of the blades remains constant, the turbine does not produce at its full capacity until the wind speed reaches around 30 mph.

Ignoring the fact that the machines were obviously far from their noisiest state, Komanoff, used to the unceasing roar of Manhattan, not surprisingly finds them "relatively quiet." At distances between 100 and 2,000 feet from a tower, he takes noise readings ranging from 64 down to 45 decibels. Remember that the turbines were not as loud as they are with a full wind and that the noise continues -- and is carried farther -- at night.

Noise is the most common complaint wherever giant wind turbines are erected. It is indeed relative. In rural places, a noise level of 25 decibels is normal at night. A level of 45 decibels is perceived as four times as loud, 65 decibels as 16 times louder. And the additional noise is not natural but a rhythmic mechanical noise. There is also a low-frequency aspect to the noise that seriously affects a significant proportion of people. As pointed out elsewhere, Charles Komanoff doesn't know the sounds of nature, let alone the quiet of a rural night.

Komanoff also resumes his attacks on Green Berkshires, the environmental group in Massachusetts suing the state to protect the undeveloped Hoosac Range from French and Scottish energy companies. He pretends to acknowledge the group's contention that "wind turbines are enormously destructive to the environment" but accuses them of not making "the obvious comparison to the destructiveness of fossil fuel–based power."

A tired trick, Mr. K, but the issue is industrial-scale wind power. The obvious response you need -- and are unable to muster -- is the evidence that it provides actual substantial benefits that make development of wild mountaintops necessary. The destructiveness of fossil fuels does not in itself justify the destructiveness of industrial wind power.

Thus unable to disprove the arguments from Green Berkshires that wind energy is ineffective as well as unenvironmental, he changes the subject again to that of climate change, claiming to find "no mention at all of the climate crisis, let alone wind power's potential to help avert it" on anti-wind websites. Yet he notes that many opponents argue that wind power displaces little, if any, fossil fuel burning. He even quotes Green Berkshires concerning the climate crisis, that "global warming [and] dependence on fossil fuels ... will not be ameliorated one whit by the construction of these turbines on our mountains." Similarly, National Wind Watch, a network of groups throughout the country and the world, says in one of its FAQs:
Do you deny global warming?

Not at all. We recognize, however, that wind power has and will ever have only the most minimal ability to mitigate the human causes of global warming.
Komanoff calls such "notions" "mistaken," despite their being backed by solid evidence (see the "Key Documents" page on National Wind Watch's website). His own "notions" of wind power's benefits have not beeen shown to actually occur anywhere. Despite substantial wind power installation on the grids of several countries (i.e., Denmark, Germany, and Spain), there is no corresponding record of reduced use of other fuels. That's the simple fact. Ladling on patronizing indulgence while insisting that "the greater good" requires local sacrifice can not hide the fact that the benefits remain only a fantasy.

And again, our K evokes real environmentalist David Brower (who is dead and can't protest this abuse), twisting the defense of wilderness to justify trammeling it because of the threat of global warming. This is just like George Bush trashing the Constitution to protect it from "Islamic fascist terror." It is not just wrong, it is truly frightening. Unable to show any effect of industrial wind on global warming, Komanoff finally throws off the shackles of reason.

He closes with reference to Yuriko Saito and the aesthetic chic of industrial wind turbines and to David Orr and the necessary ugliness that is in fact beauty on a "higher order." The destruction of nature and communities for an idea -- a "notion" that is easily shown to be wrong -- Komanoff calls an act of love.

He wants it to be so. The strength of his belief justifies it. Reality be damned. The natural world doesn't stand a chance with "friends" like Charles Komanoff.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism


From Ironic Times:

Last week we mistakenly reported that President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, a tyrannical ruler who has banned opposition parties, intimidated the press and been accused by U.S. prosecutors of pocketing millions in bribes from an American businessman, has been invited to visit with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. In fact, he's been invited to the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. We apologize for the error.