Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Green Watch: Tilling at off-shore windmills

Time and time again we hear that the greens are not waging a wholesale war on mankind, but simply want to make the world a better, cleaner place for human habitation. This next story puts yet another monkey wrench in that claim (as reported by the pro-green website Grist Magazine).

A long-simmering disagreement within the environmental community over a plan to build a massive wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass., is now boiling over into a highly public quarrel.

The four-year-old battle started heating up last summer when Greenpeace USA staged a demonstration against well-known eco-activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who's been an outspoken opponent of the proposal for a 130-turbine wind-power project in Horseshoe Shoal, a shallow portion of Nantucket Sound south of Cape Cod. Kennedy -- a senior attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council and a pioneer in the waterway-protection movement -- was on a sailboat for an event with the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which opposes the wind project. A Greenpeace vessel cruised up alongside with a banner that read, "Bobby, you're on the wrong boat" -- a stunt that was part of a larger Greenpeace campaign pressuring Kennedy to change his mind on the development.

In mid-December, Kennedy, wanting to explain his position to critics and the public at large, published an impassioned op-ed in The New York Times in which he argued that the wind farm would mar a precious seascape, privatize a publicly owned commons, and damage the local economy.

That, in turn, prompted about 150 environmental advocates -- including global-warming authors and activists Bill McKibben and Ross Gelbspan, Bluewater Network founder Russell Long, and youth leader Billy Parish -- to circulate a letter asking Kennedy to reconsider his position. "We are, simply put, in a state of ecological emergency," it read. "Constructing windmills six miles from Cape Cod, where they will be visible as half-inch dots on the horizon, is the least that we can do."

Signers of the letter also included "Death of Environmentalism" authors Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, who made the quarrel far more personal -- and nasty -- in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle last month. They called on Kennedy to step down from his position at NRDC, and took a swipe at his famous family by criticizing "the privileged patricians of a generation for whom building mansions by the sea was indistinguishable from advocating for the preservation of national parks or big game hunting in the wilds of Africa."

Kennedy shot back this week with his own opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, calling Shellenberger and Nordhaus's attacks "dishonest vitriol."
Heheh. Yet lest one conclude that the greens opposing Kennedy’s position are a new voice of reason in the green movement, consider this passage from the Shellenberger & Norhaus op-ed:

Environmentalists believe that they are protecting a "thing" called the environment from human intrusion and destruction. Issues such as drilling in the Arctic refuge fit well with these ideas of nature and human intrusion and thus become totemic battles for the environmental movement. The controversy over the Cape Wind project is much harder to fit into the categories either of intrusion or nature and hence leaves many environmentalists paralyzed.

Nantucket Sound is not a pristine wilderness. It is among the busiest shipping channels on the East Coast and is surrounded by heavily populated communities. Cape Wind, at worst, constitutes a relatively minor intrusion upon this already developed landscape. Yet Cape Wind is a project that is vitally important to address arguably the greatest of all human intrusions upon nature, global warming. The crisis results when environmentalists such as Kennedy fail to distinguish between their personal use of the landscape and the ecological issues at stake.
So in reality, all this green “dishonest vitriol” is simply a matter of location. Kennedy is a proponent of “not in my back-yard.” Shellenberger & Norhaus are proponents of “not in any new back-yards.”

Talk about “pick your poison.” Shellenberger & Norhaus fear “human intrusion and destruction” in the environment; that is, they fear human existence, but they’re just more pragmatic about it. Kennedy, on the other hand, simply wants a pretty view from his picture window. Reading though this debate is like watching two killers debate with one another as to how they are going to kill their victim—with a rifle, or a shotgun.

What is remarkable about this fight (beyond its utter contempt for the fact that humans have a right to exist on this earth) is that it is being waged on the op-ed pages of top-ten newspapers. Just imagine the day when Objectivists can conduct their personal squabbles on the op-ed pages of the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle.

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