What Do You Want To Save The Planet For?
The news on climate change is grim: dire and immediate consequences face all of us as the planet heats. Numerous reports and an extensive gathering of news articles documents the issue; see, for example, the New York Times summary “2018 The Year in Climate Change.”
Right up front let’s stipulate that the facts of climate change and the human-caused cause of it compelling and convincing.
That does not require unquestioning support for all currently proposed solutions. Deployment of alternatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions have an apparent simplicity. However, answers rarely are correct just because they are simple. Our environment, our cultures, our global ecological and economic complexes and how we deal with global climate change are not answerable via a multiple-guess pop quiz. Yet, here in Monroe County we’re faced with a seeming up-or-down vote by county decision-makers on an alternative energy “solution,” a massive Wind Energy Conversion System that would place 50 turbines of 600-foot heights along a 15,000-acre swath of land.
On climate change solutions the basic question is this: What are we saving the planet for?
If your answer is the simplistic “More juice to run more gadgets,” then don’t read further. Rather, go on a binge watch of dystopian future-worlds. Start with the “Terminator” films, delve into “The Matrix,” and either the original or 2017 remake of “Blade Runner,” or take a look at a personal favorite, any of the many Star Trek-universes’ depictions of the Borg.
But if your answer trends to the more complicated “A planet that sustains habitable ecosystems for all of creation,” then, please, stay with us. Let’s look at more complex issues.
In general terms, wind energy isn’t particularly helpful and isn’t particularly green. Wind energy conversion systems do produce electricity, but do so on an intermittent basis, and the peak production time of a turbine most often does not match peak demand for electric use. As a result, electric plants powered by conventional fuels (coal, natural gas, nuclear) must fill in and must stay on-line to power up and down as electric consumption varies.
Wind energy generation systems actually increase global temperatures, and will require vast expanses of land to operate, as noted by recent research at Harvard University. This head-scratching conclusion is based on researchers’ projections of transitions to wind or solar power that find five to 20 times more land in the U.S. would be needed that had been previously estimated. And, if “such large-scale wind farms were built, (that) would warm average surface temperatures over the continental U.S. by 0.24 degrees Celsius." Turbines stir the air, particularly at night when turbines operate at higher efficiencies; more than 10 research studies have observed warming at U.S. wind energy generation facilities.
As our article on The Grid and Turbines shows, wind energy takes a lot of energy and many tons of coal – read carbon and emissions – for parts manufacturing and installation.
The Dark Side of Wind Energy in a Resource-Rich Area
There also is a much darker side – especially in our area -- to the faux-green non-solution of wind energy as climate change change-agent. The environmental effects, particularly on our natural areas and wildlife are simply too much to bear.
Ours is an area rich in natural resources and extensive, relatively intact wildlife habitat (there is no perfectly intact habitat left on earth). The 15,000-acre swath of land Mr. Koppeis proposes transforming into an industrial wind factory is within and adjacent to numerous Nature Preserves, Land and Water Reserves, Illinois Natural Areas Inventory sites, and sizable Class III Groundwater areas. Mortality of wildlife, particularly birds and bats, will be very high, as Monroe County is a major stopover site for migratory species as well as summer breeding grounds for many species.
Our area and the greater geographic area of Southwestern Illinois already is a refuge for numerous state and federally listed species of wildlife. Our relatively un-fragmented forests, hill prairies, and the underground ecosystems of the karst-sinkhole plain are premier wildlife habitats. We must not reduce these systems to wastelands and must not permit the destruction of wildlife.
Killing thousands of creatures is not a solution. Ruining natural areas is not making the environment greener. The transformation of natural and recreational areas into factory sites does not save the planet, but diminishes and degrades the environment and our relationship with and dependence upon it. If the goal of alternative energy is to save the planet and we want that saving to encompass more than “juice for more gadgets” we need better alternatives. Romans once garlanded the Appian Way with the crucified bodies of those who would not bend – who would not comply, to use the Borg phrase – with the empire’s edicts. We cannot plot our roadway to a globe that sustains habitable ecosystems for all of creation if we decorate our path forward with the slaughtered bodies of wildlife.