Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fire In The Gulf, Wind Off The Cape

Almost at the same time the Coast Guard was setting fire to the oil sludge erupting from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave the preliminary go-ahead to the giant 130-turbine, 420-megawatt Cape Wind project in Horseshoe Shoal, Nantucket Sound.

Forces aspiring to stop the wind farm, claiming that it will spoil views, upset some sort of tenuous Wampanoag tribal traditions, disrupt marine life, and kill seabirds are already indulging in some big-money grumbling and will no doubt fight the project in courts, perhaps for another decade. A word the right wing ceaselessly bandies about comes to mind. Elitists.

This NIMBY stance by the rich - liberal or conservative - is despicable. It is indicative of a larger, cancerous problem in the body politic, namely the inability of the elite to lead rather than simply control and manipulate public circumstances to suit private appetites. (Goldman Sachs anyone?)

The red herrings being tossed into the slumgullion of this argument are easily refuted: 

Seabirds will suffer in the beginning surely and then they will adjust and adapt to the whirling blades capturing the wind. Is there any hope whatsoever that the same birds will ever adapt to rising planet temperatures, depleted or disrupted fish population, or the effects of oil spills as in the Gulf? Furthermore, according to a research paper by National University of Singapore professor Dr. Benjamin K. Sovacool, “wind farms killed approximately seven thousand birds in the United States in 2006 but nuclear plants killed about 327,000 and fossil-fueled power plants 14.5 million.” The biggest killers of birds in the United States today? House cats and plate glass windows. Weigh it for yourself.

The disruption of marine life argument should be read clearly as "the disruption of commercial and recreational fishing businesses," rather than being allowed to be draped in the clothing of environmental righteousness. (The Duke’s County/Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen Association plans to file suit against the federal Minerals Management Service for violations under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.) Navigation will be made somewhat more difficult certainly, but the men who pilot fishing boats in and around Cape Cod and its islands surely are no strangers to navigational difficulties. Rocky shoals, hard currents, storms and other heavy weather abound. Additionally, the Nantucket harbor entrance itself is already flanked by man-made jetties extending almost a mile into the sea, and the regular dredging of boating lanes has a significant, yet accepted, impact on sea life. There is no outcry over these intrusions. 

The hypocrisy of the Wampanoags is also detestable. The tribe, which numbered about 6,000 people at the dawn of European settlement says that their traditional ways are going to be interrupted. In no way denigrating Native American claims of historical hardship, every single 21st century human has to embrace and correct what is happening to the larger ecosystem. The entire population of Wampanoags now numbers about 2,300 individuals of varying degree of purity of lineage. In spite of past deprivations, surely they have no claim on stopping what amounts to a clean-energy technological revolution. Ironically, while resting their standard upon fighting the Nantucket wind farm, the Wampanoags are simultaneously fighting to establish a state-sanctioned gambling casino. Clean, renewable energy vs. fleecing the desperate or mentally ill of their money? The Wampanoags should stop talking tradition trash.

The view is the real crux of the conflict. Are the enormous turbines really eyesores? Some with a grander sensibility might say the wind farms make the landscape more beautiful given the underlying assumption they are providing super-clean energy. The turbines are all over Scandinavia, Great Britain, Germany and Brazil, countries scarcely without tender sensibilities. And just because members of the political elite can't see them, it doesn't mean that large, unsightly generating plants with chimneys belching foul-smelling brown smoke into the sky don't exist.

Agitation against such progressive developments tells us just how self-absorbed and small-minded elites of any stripe can be. The liberal elite should be leading this charge, not hamstringing the efforts at establishing a new energy regimen.

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