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Don't sacrifice our mountains to save the planet

Today, we are confronted by the crisis of climate change. Descriptions are so fearful, confusing, and occasionally contradictory that it's hard to know what to think. We each try to do what we can to reduce our personal impact on the earth, and ponder how to preserve the planet from a catastrophic fate that could be imminent and irreversible. For many people, renewable energy has become the panacea: producing power from wind, trees, grasses, and the sun.

On May 9, 1960, just days after Gary Powers in his U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union and America was seized by fears of Cold War escalation and nuclear annihilation, a committee of three men in southwestern Massachusetts convened an emergency meeting.

They were the Mount Everett Reservation Commission, and they had received an urgent letter from Western Union.

At the request of the president, for national security, Western Union was rapidly erecting communications towers, coast to coast, and a tower on Mount Everett was critical to complete the network. A decision was needed immediately.

The three men deliberated carefully, and returned a letter politely declining to allow the tower. Some places should be preserved from development, they explained, no matter the reason, and it was their duty to protect the mountain.

Fifty years later, the Cold War has faded into history. Mount Everett, though, remains intact. Its summit looks today as it did then, as it did three hundred years ago, its dwarf pitch-pine community recognized now as globally rare.

There have always been, and always will be, apocalyptic threats to our nation. We look back at the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War with curiosity, at the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II with embarrassment, at the abuse of basic human and civil rights... [truncated due to possible copyright]  

On May 9, 1960, just days after Gary Powers in his U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union and America was seized by fears of Cold War escalation and nuclear annihilation, a committee of three men in southwestern Massachusetts convened an emergency meeting.

They were the Mount Everett Reservation Commission, and they had received an urgent letter from Western Union.

At the request of the president, for national security, Western Union was rapidly erecting communications towers, coast to coast, and a tower on Mount Everett was critical to complete the network. A decision was needed immediately.

The three men deliberated carefully, and returned a letter politely declining to allow the tower. Some places should be preserved from development, they explained, no matter the reason, and it was their duty to protect the mountain.

Fifty years later, the Cold War has faded into history. Mount Everett, though, remains intact. Its summit looks today as it did then, as it did three hundred years ago, its dwarf pitch-pine community recognized now as globally rare.

There have always been, and always will be, apocalyptic threats to our nation. We look back at the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War with curiosity, at the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II with embarrassment, at the abuse of basic human and civil rights at Guantanamo, still being revealed, with deep shock.

Our country has ever had a willingness to set aside its principles when the threats loom large. It is only later that we shake our heads at all that was sacrificed for ends that seem like old news.

Today, we are confronted by the crisis of climate change. Descriptions are so fearful, confusing, and occasionally contradictory that it's hard to know what to think. We each try to do what we can to reduce our personal impact on the earth, and ponder how to preserve the planet from a catastrophic fate that could be imminent and irreversible.

For many people, renewable energy has become the panacea: producing power from wind, trees, grasses, and the sun.

But the turbines used to capture wind energy are massive and inefficient, and thousands are needed to make a dent in electricity consumption. Germany, twice the size of New England, has more than 20,000 wind turbines producing 7.5 percent of its electricity, and has plans to build as many as 26 coal-fired power plants.

China doubled its wind-turbine capacity last year, but is building coal-fired power plants to back up the turbines. In the past decade, it has more than doubled its coal consumption, and is on schedule to build two to three coal plants a week for the next decade. It's now buying coal mines around the world to ensure its supply, and pollution from its coal plants is blowing over the United States.

Newspaper headlines like "India's Roaring Economy Is Hitched to a Galloping Addiction to Coal" and "India Shopping for Coal Mines in Appalachia" are a sobering reminder that, as one study noted recently: "While others are worrying about global warming, India's energy elite fret mainly about how to secure enough coal."

Denmark, roughly the size of Massachusetts and Vermont combined, has about 5,100 wind turbines that have met less than 10 percent of its electricity consumption over the past five years. Seventy percent of those turbines are in the western part of the country, where, a renewable energy consultant to the Danish government said, "we have destroyed that landscape." Denmark's turbines often produce electricity when it can't be used; that energy must then be exported, frequently at a loss, to neighboring countries.

Here in the United States, Texas has the dual distinction of having more developed wind-power capacity and more carbon emissions than any other state. On Feb. 26, 2008, a sudden drop in wind production took the equivalent of four natural gas plants offline in about ten minutes, triggering a system-wide emergency. Texas is now planning to spend billions of dollars for new transmission lines to move wind-generated electricity. It is also building coal plants.

Today's mantra is to think globally and act locally. Looking at the experience of other places with huge numbers of wind turbines, and the realities of energy use around the world, one might be forgiven for asking if renewable energy advocates are thinking too parochially. We could cover every ridgeline in our region with wind turbines, clear our forests for the roads and transmission lines to service them, and have no impact on the increasing carbon emissions from coal-burning worldwide.

Studies and examples abound of better ways to achieve dramatic and less costly reductions in electricity consumption and pollution. Simple energy-efficiency measures have the added benefit of aiding small businesses, creating local jobs, and reducing household electricity bills.

So why the rush to industrialize our mountains and forests for energy extraction? Because there is so much money in it for global corporations.

Now the federal stimulus package is augmenting our already lavish state and federal subsidies for wind power. Last fall, it was reported that 84 percent of the clean-energy stimulus funds had gone to foreign wind corporations. A Spanish company, Iberdrola, expects to obtain as much as $2 billion in federal stimulus funds for wind projects in the U.S.

Environmentalists are profiting, too. If the policies he has been promoting are enacted, former Vice President Al Gore may benefit handsomely from all his investments and become the first "carbon billionaire." Robert Kennedy Jr. strongly opposes offshore wind turbines near his family compound on Cape Cod, but he's a partner in a venture capital firm that has invested in a company seeking to build vast solar arrays in the Mojave Desert.

The money made by hedge funds and private equity firms from renewable energy, mostly from subsidies supported by all of us, is funding lobbyists, lawyers, and media experts - all working to convince us through the promise of "green" solutions to perpetuate their financial rewards.

What will happen when the subsidies end? In 50 years, will anyone remember today's crisis? Will we still have mountains and forests whose beauty catches our breath?


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FEB 1 2010
http://www.windaction.org/posts/24688-don-t-sacrifice-our-mountains-to-save-the-planet
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