Save the Planet at All Costs

Sierra, the magazine of the Sierra Club, has a big spread in the current issue on wind power. In a sidebar titled “Wind Rush: Three Wind Myths,” James Walker tells us that although “naysayers” claim wind power damages health, scientists and health officials “have found no scientific evidence to support such claims.”

Many things are wrong here.

First, it’s not a myth. Growing numbers of people are reporting health effects and actively opposing wind turbine installations. Some have even been forced from their homes. Mr. Walker is simply being selective about what counts as evidence. And I’m not talking here about comparing so-called anecdotal evidence to science. I’m talking about comparing science to science. So Mr. Walker is a liar—there’s evidence, he just doesn’t like it.

This is a common rhetorical move. This is, after all, not about truth but about power.

The forces of the established order and progress (not to mention advocates of the next great thing to save us from certain doom) often cite science selectively in order to dismiss as unfounded the suffering of people caused by that advocated progress: nuclear energy, wireless technologies, chemical agriculture, genetically modified organisms, and the list goes on.

Mr. Walker’s advocacy illustrates something else that’s wrong. His pedigree includes working on energy issues under Presidents Nixon and Ford. “He argues, hard data paint a very clear picture: The United States can achieve affordable energy independence with big investments in wind, solar, and efficiency, backed up by modern gas-generation facilities.”

Big investments come from big money because there are big profits to be made. No less than Barack Obama tells us that this is the genius of the American economy: markets inspire innovation that creates the best of all possible worlds—that’s the one where climate change boils us.

Before I complete that thought, I feel compelled to say that it’s unfortunate that the Sierra Club has implicitly endorsed Mr. Walker’s dismissal of the people who suffer from wind turbines by failing at balanced journalism—that is, by failing to give voice to what Walker disparagingly calls “naysayers”—unfortunate, but telling.

Although not as bad as other big environmental organizations, the Sierra Club does want  to make a difference, to have influence, to be a player, to have a place at the table. So does Mr. Walker.

The game that’s being dealt at this particular table is not just about stopping climate change, it’s about stopping climate change so that it doesn’t bring the market economy Mr. Obama loves so well to its knees or even, unthinkable as it might seem, to its end.

How else do you explain the rush to boldly go where everyone else is going on climate change? For example, why are we talking about pursuing an all-of-the-above strategy when the list includes nothing but, in Mr. Walker’s words, “big investments”—which, as I mentioned before, means big money motivated by big profits.

What if instead we pursued radically decentralized energy systems, energy production as described by William McDonough and William Braungart: cities like forests, buildings like trees. Such things would be ideal for small investments, small money, and no profit.

The reason is that no one has the courage to give up their seat at the table or give up their hope of getting a seat at the table. No one has the courage to stand up and say, “None of the above.” No one has the courage to say, “This is the system that made this mess. What makes you think it’s going to make things better? Do you think we’re stupid?”

Of course, many people have that courage. And they work tirelessly. And they are the people who actually make the world a better place, not the players. But I digress. Slightly.

The reason people stay at the table? They want to make a difference. But the first rule of the game is that climate change must be stopped within the existing political economy. I’m confident that in the private deliberations of the ruling class, the case is being made for reducing greenhouse gas emissions using wind energy by appealing to the need to preserve big money and the market economy.

This is the energy equivalent of the financial sector’s “too big to fail.”

The thinking is clear: greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced at all costs, including your health—so long as the system remains the same.