Environmental protests seem to be on the rise these days. On Monday, six people were arrested at a protest of the Lowell Mountain wind power project. There's active opposition to a wind project on Grandpa's Knob in Pittsford. Concern over smart meters prompted the Legislature to allow people to opt out without paying a fee. A pair of artists who live (part-time) in the Northeast Kingdom are planning a protest over wind power, smart meters, and the state Public Service Board. Heck, there's even a handful of folks in East Charlotte trying to block a proposed solar-power array.
Well, all right then. Defenders of the Earth, taking a stand to keep Vermont pure. They are to be commended, right?
Nope, nope, nope, nope, and nope.
The protests against wind, solar, and smart meters are misguided at best, selfish at worst. They impede measures that would mitigate climate change. Indeed, they -- consciously or otherwise -- give aid and comfort to the fossil fuel industry's drive to maximize profit at the expense of the planet.
I've been thinking about this for quite a while. But two recent articles prompted me to turn those thoughts into words: "The Reckoning," Bill McKibben's concise, excellent, and profoundly scary piece on climate change in Rolling Stone; and "Clean Energy Under Siege," in which the Sierra Club exposes the fossil fuel industry's bankrolling of opposition to wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.
McKibben. In just a few pages, he lays out the reality of climate change with stark clarity: We've already pumped enough carbon into the atmosphere to cause serious damage. If carbon emissions continue apace, we will soon pass the point where the environment will undergo radical change. If we fully exploit all the known reserves of fossil fuels, the earth will become "a planet straight out of science fiction." And the fossil fuel industry, while belatedly acknowledging the reality of climate change, is hellbent on exploiting all those reserves and discovering even more.
Sierra Club. Its new report documents how the fossil fuel industry, fearful of the growing competitive threat from renewable energy, is pouring millions into fake "grassroots" organizations that try to provoke local opposition to wind and other energy, and bogus "institutes" that churn out biased "studies" claiming to uncover environmental problems with renewables. It's the ultimate in greenwashing: creating a faux-environmental movement that's actually supporting the destruction of the planet.
And some of our fellow Vermonters have been sucked into this.
Think I'm being unfair? Here's one small example. In May, opponents of the Lowell Mountain wind project invited Lisa Linowes to speak. She was billed as "a nationally renowned consultant on the impacts of wind energy generation." Not mentioned: she's head of a staunch anti-wind organization, the Industrial Wind Action Group, which has ties to the Koch Brothers. Her husband is an influential figure in the corporate-funded Tea Party. She's a featured player in the Sierra Club's report on Big Oil's astroturf movement. She is, in short, a fake environmentalist out to kill renewable energy.
And our anti-wind activists gave her a platform. Thanks, folks.
As for smart meters, they are valuable tools in lowering peak electricity demand -- a major driver in the growth of our power system and its continued reliance on fossil fuels. The arguments against smart meters are bogus, almost nonsensical. Radio waves? You get far more of them in an average household than you'd get if you parked yourself right next to a smart meter 24/7. Privacy? A periodic snapshot of your total power consumption will not provide any useful information about your personal life.
The Sierra Club's report acknowledges that there is no way to generate energy without some measure of environmental impact. There is no absolutely green power source. But wind and solar are two of the very cleanest, and they are vital if we are to limit the impact of climate change. There may be good reasons for opposing a specific project, and renewable development must be thoroughly regulated; but to oppose any and all renewable projects in Vermont is shortsighted and irresponsible.
The anti-wind protesters say they are trying to preserve Vermont's pristine environment. But as the earth continues to heat up and our pristine environment is radically transformed, what will the protests have accomplished? The earth is changing, and the installation of wind turbines on some of our ridgelines is the least of our environmental challenges. Climate change won't stop at the state line because we steadfastly objected to wind energy.
But, say the protesters, wind turbines on Lowell Mountain "won't contribute significantly to combating climate change." True enough. The problem is so huge that no single project or power source will "contribute significantly." That's why we need to do a lot of things -- wind, solar, smart meters, energy efficiency, electric cars, carbon taxes, etc.
Put it this way: If you came upon a house fire and you had a bucket of water, would you refuse to pour it on the flames because it wouldn't contribute significantly to putting out the fire? I sure hope not.
But that's exactly what our shortsighted protesters are doing. Pardon me if I don't applaud.