Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Wind turbine farms and our natural heritage

Seemingly lost in the debate about wind energy and where to locate (and not locate) generating turbine farms is this: Anytime the natural countryside is disturbed (especially forest), whether it be for a wind farm, or a mountaintop removal coal mine, a collection of sprawl McMansions, or even a new road, there is a negative impact to the country’s natural heritage – our natural heritage and the biological diversity that keeps our planet humming.
Yes, there is an impact on the “viewscape,” as when a ridgetop forest is cleared to make way for a wing turbine farm and its ancillary infrastructure (such as the maintenance access roads). But the flora and fauna native to that same place are pushed aside and likely turned to vapor.
There is little wonder why the populations of forest-interior, migratory songbirds like the wood thrush are undergoing declines, declines that are picking up momentum as more of its nesting habitat is fragmented and ultimately destroyed. I saw this happen in Pennsylvania when wind farms magically rose like trees-turned-to-utility poles where complete forests once stood.
A good place for Americans to start when it comes to energy is, first and foremost, conservation; conservation as “in turn the lights off” when they’re not needed.
I routinely see, in my corner of Williston, Vt., residential porch lights burning away in the light of day. There are many other case studies of how wasteful we are when it comes to electricity. And gasoline, too. I stopped counting more than a decade before moving to Vermont the times many of my neighbors got in their motor vehicles and drove the half-mile or so the local post office.
Yes, the electricity generated by wind turbines is “clean” and amounts to “alternative energy” not cooked (literally) by the burning of coal. In the Marcellus shale region of the mid-Atlantic, the same losing of wildlife habitat also occurs when natural gas well sites are prepared and operated. All that steel and rubber and plastic and what-not that goes into building a well doesn’t just show up, as if dropped by a helicopter. It’s trucked there – and that means building another road and that means fragmenting and losing more flora and fauna.
Except for certain politicians whose campaign accounts are swelled by gimmees from Big Oil and Big Coal and who have chosen to join the ranks of climate-change deniers, most regular folks understand what greenhouse gases are and what they’re doing to our planet’s atmosphere.
More than 600 Vermonters went to Montpelier High School in the state’s capital city a few weeks ago to learn about the threat. The global warming conference was hosted by Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders, an independent.
Sanders, in a post-event e-mail to constituents, said: “What I fear is that 70 years from now when our planet is in disarray, people will look back and say, ‘What happened? Why didn’t you people do something? Why did you allow these catastrophes to take place when you could have prevented that?’ That is the challenge that we face today.”
You can read what some Vermonters said after the conference at www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/news/?id=a1d117aa-4d67-4712-bcd1-2376129c1f60
The National Park Service (the federal agency that looks after places like Grand Canyon National Park, Everglades National Park and the historic Gettysburg battlefield, among hundreds of other key historic and natural places) offers this sobering note: “The climate change story is more than dire predictions of the future. There are compelling reasons for federal agencies, as well as individuals, to act quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The future is not written yet. The actions we take today will determine the future Earth we leave our children and grandchildren. Will they be proud that we embraced the challenges of climate change? Or will they be dismayed at our excuses to avoid controversy and challenge? We find hope in the fact that we still have time to create a better, more livable planet.”
You Can learn more about the Park Service’s “climate change response plan” at www.nps.gov/climatechange/myths.cfm
In closing, don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave a room. Remember what “conservation” is all about.

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