I was heartened recently by two op-eds I read in area newspapers regarding industrial-sized wind turbines in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The reasoned commentaries were written by individuals with firsthand knowledge of science, the scientific method, Appalachian history, energy emissions and the environment.
The first commentary I saw, in the May 19 Asheville Citizen-Times, was written by John Droz Jr. of Morehead City and Greig, N.Y., and a frequent visitor to Asheville and WNC. He is a physicist and environmental activist. Droz believes critical thinking and common sense have been eschewed with regards to wind power for the sake of being green. He writes:
“As a physicist and long-time environmental advocate, I believe we need aggressive and meaningful changes in our state and federal energy policies. This urgency, though, shouldn’t mean we abandon critical thinking — in fact, it says the opposite. Citizens should be adamantly opposed to the ‘let’s do anything, just for the sake of doing something’ mentality. We simply can’t afford to be wasting time, money and effort on illusionary solutions — like some of the energy alternatives being promoted by lobbyists and others with self-serving agendas.
“In graduate school I learned the scientific method. This says that when a new idea is proposed as a potential solution to a problem, the proponents must prove its efficacy before it is accepted as legitimate. Here we have businessmen, profiteers, politicians, academia and well-intentioned environmentalists proposing wind power as a partial solution to global warming — so they must provide independent, objective, comprehensive proof that wind power is a viable solution. This has not happened.”
The other commentary was from Dave Erb, engineering professor at UNCA and executive committee chair of WENOCA (the local affiliate of the NC Chapter of the Sierra Club.) This op-ed originally appeared in the May 26 Mountain Express. Erb writes:
“At a November forum on wind power at UNCA, a young staffer from a regional activist group puffed that he had dedicated his life to fighting mountaintop-removal coal mining, blustering that he wasn’t about to let ‘these NIMBYs’ who oppose industrializing Western North Carolina’s ridge tops stand in his way. As a child of coal country, I share his anger over mountaintop-removal mining. But as a renewable-energy advocate with significant wind experience, I find his passion for utility-scale wind power in WNC sorely misplaced — and painfully ironic.”
I especially liked Erb’s response to the term NIMBY:
“Let’s be clear about the term NIMBY (‘not in my backyard’): It denotes someone trying to stop moneyed interests from imposing public ‘collateral damage’ while pursuing private profits. Silk-suited spin doctors use it to imply that tough, brave heroes like mountaintop-removal foe Judy Bonds are really just spoiled, selfish airheads. It’s a badge of honor, not a slur.”
I remember when NIMBYs like the ones who spoke out against Three-Mile Island were environmental heroes — after all, isn’t the environmental mantra, “Think globally, act locally?” What could be more local than the mountaintops in our backyard?
I understand that Erb’s commentary was his personal opinion and does not reflect the position of WENOCA. But I am happy to see people with documented, demonstrable pro-environment bias willing to say, “Wait a minute — what are we proposing here?”
As environmentalists, we should not simply be seeking alternatives – we should be seeking “better” alternatives.
The easiest way to see Droz’s commentary (as you have to search the archives at the Asheville Citizen-Times) is to Google John Droz wind power citizen-times. To see Erb’s piece go to www.mountainx.com/opinion/2010/ 052610wind_power_or_hot_air/.