I am beginning to think Jane Fonda is going to reincarnate (sorry, is she still with us?) and create a sequel to The China Syndrome called The Cape Windrome or something. Today the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation recommended that Cape Wind not be approved. Because what, the waves of yesteryear are going to be different? Come on, let’s get a little real, please?
The single most infuriating example of how the United States is sometimes able to undermine even the simplest, most obvious options is being played out in the great saga of Cape Wind. A small array of wind turbines is planned for Cape Cod Bay, generating a substantial amount of power, efficiently, locally and cleanly. But it represents change, and change is bad. Right?
Herman Melville wrote about whaling in Nantucket, so it’s historical, right? I live in Massachusetts, the closest one can get to history here in the US of A, and am happy to visit Old North Church, and other great landmarks of our country’s history. I am thrilled by the vistas I can see from my beloved White Mountains in New Hampshire. I generally support the idea that there are buildings, landmarks and places that should be preserved.
It occurs to me, however, that if we take this dictum too far, we may find ourselves simply obstructing progress. I think this is the case with the Cape Wind project. Several environmental groups I support even equivocated and tried to prevent Cape Wind from happening. It’s simply absurd. (Fortunately, they have all come around).
As a boy, I spent time sailing in that neck of the woods … or should I say waves. I’m a big fan of natural beauty, but look, open sea is pretty much open sea. Really, go a few miles out on a boat and trust me, you’ll be glad to see anything other than the next wave on the horizon. There’s no “there” there. It’s water.
And now, I will lose a few of my beloved readers. For now, I am going to make an analogy to nuclear power.
In the 70’s and 80’s we got hysterical about nuclear power. Our fear of change turned out to be irrational … or so would the lengthy history of nuclear power in the US and the world suggest. Yes, I am including the non-event at Three Mile Island, as well as the very real events at Chernobyl. I am also considering large masses of spent fuel that we haven’t quite figured out what to do with. As it turns out, nuclear power is a comparatively good way to generate electricity. Instead, we built more “safe” coal burning plants.
As it turns out far more people die as a result of burning coal than from nuclear power plants. And that’s just because of the many toxins emitted from the burning, as well as all of the nasty stuff that happens as mountaintops are stripped to reveal and destroy huge seams of coal. Actually, some of the most egregious issues with coal have been mitigated … mainly by not burning so much of it.
But no matter how much you scrub the detritus of burnt coal, you cannot escape what will turn out to be the far, far more damaging element of coal burning: CO2 and other GHG’s. Climate change will make our little distraction with cancer and mercury poisoning look quaint. Unchecked, climate change has begun to rock our world. So burning coal seems like a particularly bad thing to do. Can you think of any ways to stop it?
Yet when we shut down, delay or otherwise prevent projects like a nuclear plan from proceeding, for whatever noble reason, we are simply failing to be sensible.
And remember, I’m just making a comparison here, since I actually am not talking about nuclear power. What we fail to realize, in our discourses is that failure to act on any given new option is simply an endorsement (yes, endorsement) of the way we do things now. Do we think burning coal, or even … anything we burn … is even remotely sustainable? Nope.
Compared to wind, nuclear power sucks. Compared to coal, nuclear power is a godsend. We have a rather huge and growing problem with climate change — perhaps you have heard about it. While nuclear is a pointless avenue to follow now (just as is drilling for more oil), if it’s an alternative to coal, by all means.
But when we obstruct the building of simple, quiet, effective, safe and some would say beautiful technologies like wind in order to “preserve”, I think we have failed to understand the larger and longer context of preservation. My business partner, Peter, is struggling to preserve a house in Maine whose fate is decrepitude (it’s going to fall down) and facing the challenges of preservation forces. In both cases, we’re facing pure dogma: thou shalt not change.
I support preservation of our great places and resources. But please, let’s not forget that one way of preserving something is to prevent its eventual demise by other forces.