17 October 2009

Blowin' In The Wind

Back in the 60s, whilst holidaying in the Greek islands, I was bowled over by the sight of a cluster of windmills on the Lasithi plateau on Crete. How ingenious, I thought, to use the natural energy of the earth to deliver our basic needs. On subsequent visits to Athens, I was also impressed by the growing array of solar panels on rooftops quietly heating water for the populace.

Forty years on, despite the warnings of James Lovelock, Gwynne Dyer, et al, our emulation of the Greek example has been less than spectacular.

Today, wind power accounts for just 1.5% of global electricity usage according to the World Wind Energy Association. But it’s growing rapidly, particularly in Europe, with tiny Denmark now meeting almost 20% of its needs from wind. In Canada, where this photo was taken, only about 1% of electricity needs are generated from wind.

Despite the challenges that the massive wind turbines present to birds and bats, and the constant and nauseating humming noise they produce, the negative aspects of power generation from this source are relatively minor. But power generated from wind is expensive.

Wind farms can co-exist with agriculture, and concerns about aesthetics can be allayed if enlightened and enforceable planning mechanisms ensure that giant turbines do not become the dominant feature of the landscape, or our seascape. Britain seems to have opted to site as many as possible of its wind turbines off-shore, which can’t endear it to the sailing community. Despoiling our wild places with machines must be a last resort. Much more energy and resources should be devoted to curbing the size of the planet’s population, which is the cause of the problem in the first place.

Wind energy is slated to become more important as our supply of oil runs out. Although the values of ancient Greece have long since been swallowed up in the laissez faire of the free market system, it is only we that stand between the corporatization of the countryside and the rapidly disappearing wilderness.

But we need to get organized. The Copenhagen climate change conference that could determine on our very survival is almost upon us. Right now we look rather like a befuddled Don Quixote lunging around erratically at Sancho Panza’s windmills.

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