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Nooooo, not Rudolph

08 Mar 2023 | OP ED Watch

It would be easy to make fun of Greta Thunberg for joining a protest against a wind farm that might threaten reindeer and aboriginal lifestyles. Does nothing satisfy this scold? To be fair, she’s right that wind farms have an appallingly huge environmental “footprint” (which we add is only rendered worse by their ineffectiveness at meeting basic power needs) and deserves points for consistency in objecting to it. The problem is, she’s very wrong to believe that all problems can be solved with attitude rather than thinking through tradeoffs, and far too many people in authority also embrace the illusion that “all utilities can be maximized simultaneously” (to quote the late John M. Robson about the left-wing mentality), so they demand endless green power without hurting the environment, disturbing traditional ways of life, sacrificing modern conveniences, taking time out from pursuing cosmic social justice, and so on and so forth.

On the first point, it’s one thing to admire a quaint, historic windmill and dream perhaps of retiring to the country with a view of the ocean and those gracefully turning “sails” atop a stone tower. But it’s quite another to gaze out on massive ranks of bird- and bat-blending metal-and-plastic giants like something from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. (Even if the MSM cover for them with “fact checks”.) Just as there’s nothing bucolic about massive solar farms that disrupt ecology and disfigure the landscape on an industrial scale while displacing actual farms of the sort that grow that food stuff traditionalists consider an important part of a healthy lifestyle, along with fields and trees.

Climate alarmists apparently feel differently. “Afraid of high-tech food? Get over it” Canary Media chirps, adding “Too many Americans are squeamish about cultivated meat, alt-protein processed foods and GMOs, but we’ll need to get used to them to avert a climate catastrophe.”

Plus the old crop-grow-from-dirt approach does tend to get pushed aside by “green” energy. The wind farm Thunberg was protesting has a mere 151 turbines, but the world’s largest, in China, aims to have 7,000. And the world’s fifth-biggest, in Oregon, “covers more than 30 square miles in the Morrow and Gilliam Counties,” boasts 335 “turbines” and yet can power a mere 235,000 homes (when the wind is blowing).

As Michael Shellenberger explains:

“The underlying problem with renewables is their low power density, which is why it takes wind/solar projects 300-800x more land to generate the same amount of electricity as from conventional sources”.

He also posted what appears to be a Chinese propaganda video showing massive solar farms that ought to give any real environmentalist nightmares. And then he pointedly added a comment “If only there were a way to generate electricity for billions of people without air or water pollution and on tiny amounts of land” next to a genuinely bucolic photo of a whale breaching beside a nuclear reactor.

It’s also worth noting that wind and solar farms don’t even save you the much smaller “footprint” of the fossil fuel or nuclear generation they supposedly replace because, as Andrew Montford recently wrote for Net Zero Watch, you have to keep one of them or both around anyway as backup because of the “intermittency problem”.

The Atlantic’s “Weekly Planet” recently chortled that “The World Is Finally Cracking Down on ‘Greenwashing’” and warned against “listening to what the companies themselves say about their sustainability.” Well, we know a good place “the world” could start if it really wanted to get things right.

On the second, to those who consider habitat loss a crucial ecological problem, especially with a growing global population, the massive footprint of wind and solar is not a detail. It’s a central issue and one Greta Thunberg is right to protest. Unless of course you hold the pure Thunberg view that somewhere, somehow, you can build endless hideous ecosystem-wrecking facilities and transmission systems and never harm a reindeer, aboriginal custom or butterfly including in extracting the raw materials needed for this wasteful form of electricity generation and in disposing of the vast quantity of clapped-out panels and blades that will soon confront us.

So naturally some academics at Yale tell us used solar panels are actually a huge economic opportunity in the new, improved, “circular economy” that will replace the old one obsessed about rubbish like efficiency with one that does not waste things, while the Washington Post, in a news feature advocating Thunberg’s actions, explains that:

“the two wind farms at stake are built on land in central Norway that is traditionally used by the Sami people to herd reindeer, a prized animal that has long provided them with food, clothing and labor. While the turbines bolster Norway’s green ambitions by powering thousands of homes, they do so at a cost activists say is too high: by disrupting the daily life of the Sami people and frightening the animals they rely on for their livelihood.”

The story did not say whether it was OK to build wind farms that disrupt the daily lives of other people or frighten animals not connected with traditional lifestyles, just with that boring old nature thing we’re trying to protect.

While we’re being crabby, we want to note that the theatrical “arresting“ of Thunberg at protests strikes us as the police being coopted into the revolt of the elites. Nobody thinks she’s going to be punished, so they’re helping her maintain the charade of an Establishment that just won’t listen to her. And it matters because the problem isn’t that politicians are reactionaries in the pocket of the Oil Trust or some such late 19th-century progressive fantasy. It’s that the remedies they believe in as sincerely as she does simply don’t work the way either expects them to.

P.S. While we’re not being crabby we should remind you that from time to time Thunberg has shown some openness to nuclear power. Whatever she’s doing, she doesn’t hedge and obfuscate like far too many politicians and not a few activists and we do appreciate her clarity and consistency if not her common sense.

2 comments on “Nooooo, not Rudolph”

  1. There is in fact a genuinely eco-friendly place for solar panels and it's .... rooftops. With decent storage and not being too close to the (ant)arctic this can in fact reduce load on the grid and benefit the home owner. The point is the local storage, which is an absolute necessity for this thing to work reliably. But covering entire cities will still not produce enough energy. Especially for heavy industry and transport you will need fossil fuel based energy for a long time to come.

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