Thursday, August 03, 2006

Al Gore's shell game

This summer’s heat has certainly added anecdotal ammunition to the dire predictions of a global warm-up of the planet. While there are those who continue to posit that these “doom and gloomers” are fraudulent and make their claims to promote an ideological agenda, the naysayers could also be accused of the same. Regardless of one’s thoughts about the future of the planet, there is some merit in investigating the science and developing alternatives to our consumptive way of life.

I’m not a scientist, or even scientifically inclined, so I sometimes get lost in the miasma of reports and newspaper accounts of conferences devoted to climatological change. Fortunately for me, I'm a reader and I'll plow through material long after many have jumped ship for their favorite reality program. For the majority to get on board, any theory cloaked in scientific garb requires simplification. If done well, then the masses will put aside their anti-scientific biases and line up to embrace it.

Al Gore isn’t the first person who has come down the primrose path to warn us of our impending doom. Others, like Rachel Carson, Paul Ehrlich, hell, even the "late, great" Hal Lindsey, have popularized the apocalypse for the masses. Amazingly, despite these warnings and prophetic calls to, “turn back,” like the lemmings we are, we gaily sprint towards the precipice, ready to take the plunge off the cliff.

Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, is this summer’s Fahrenheit 911 for the liberals among us. Preaching primarily to the “converted,” this unconventional blockbuster, breaking down the hard stuff for the scientifically-challenged among us, has opened all over America to rave reviews. [For the purpose of full disclosure, I have not seen Gore's movie]

For those of you living in a cave, or at least ensconced in your McMansion, replete with your multiple air conditioners (just an aside-real Mainuh’s don’t have air conditioners in their home—we install windows, strategically placed), Gore’s film makes some of the following points.

*The earth’s glaciers are melting
*This is bad news for the polar bears among us
*Each year, we set new records for heat (just this summer, the U.S. has broken many records for high temperatures, across our nation)
*Al Gore’s just a regular guy

I know I’m being a bit facetious here at Al Gore’s expense and actually, I’m using poor Al as a cheap ploy to draw readers in. I’m ambivalent, actually, about Al. As politicians go, he’s certainly not the worst of the lot. Too cerebral and someone who apparently struggles to project the “real” Al Gore to the masses, the film, if nothing else, is a relatively inexpensive pre-2008 commercial for Gore, if he decides to toss his hat into the upcoming horse race for president.

It’s the Automobile, stupid!

Despite the best of intentions by Al Gore and his acolytes, North Americans are addicted to their cars. Regardless how many books, lectures, or even movies we see about the melting ice cap, rising sea level, or dangerous levels of CO2, we just keep driving to our hearts content. Even a true believer like Al Gore, god bless him, can’t wean himself from his SUV’s, limousines, or private jet. Not to indict only Mr. Gore, many card-carrying members of the environmental set talk the talk, but rarely, walk the walk. Some of this is structural. In rural states like Maine, if one is going to maintain any measure of meaningful employment, it most certainly will require some automobile travel to get there. Public transportation is a dirty word in these parts.

Despite talk of commuter rail and other methods of mass transport, Mainers (and most other Americans) prefer the privacy model inherent in one person/one automobile. With modern automobiles providing the latest in gadgets, comfort items (like A/C), why the hell would anyone want to pile into a crowded bus, with smelly, strange fellow commuters (if that’s even an option, where you live)?

If we can’t, or won’t wean ourselves from the internal combustion engine, then we sure as hell better find a way to power the suckers with something other than gasoline (or ethanol, for that matter). Better yet, to reduce the level of CO2 we are dumping into the atmosphere, we need to find alternative methods to generate our electricity, especially when we continue to exceed previous models of usage. Which leads me to my next point—why won’t the environmentalists help save the environment?

NIMBY-ism and wind power—conjoined at the hip

Wind power is clean, quiet and economical. Rather than generating electricity via coal, or nuclear, wind offers a clear alternative to other forms of power generation that environmentalists would seem likely to enthusiastically embrace. Unless, of course, it means putting up windmills in your backyard, or on a mountain with a picturesque view. Then, they are anti-enviromentalists that rival the most right-wing, anti-scientific Americans that we know.

Like the opposition generated on Martha’s Vineyard, coming from high-profile “environmental advocates” such as Robert and Ted Kennedy, Walter Cronkite and others, a proposed wind farm in northern Maine is attracting opposition from the very people that should be supporting it. Probably the very demographic that Al Gore’s movie is targeting—but I digress.

In today’s Portland Press Herald, several opponents of Maine Mountain Power’s proposed wind farm offered a variety of reasons why this project shouldn’t be built, at least in its current location. The 30-turbine project, which could generate enough clean electricity to power 40,000 homes, drew over 300 people to yesterday’s Land Use Regulation Commission’s meeting in Carrabasset Valley.

Opponents, like Sally Iverson, who lives on Eustis Ridge, located near the proposed site, had the following concerns about the project.

“We are blessed with panoramic views of the mountains,” she said. According to the newspaper account, this artist is concerned that the mountains, which have served as her inspiration, would be spoiled by wind turbines “that are taller than a 40-story building.”

Jo Craemer, also from Eustis (what’s in the water here, folks?), described the turbines as “visual pollution that will be in our faces 365 days a year, and they won’t produce energy 365 days.” [No, but the project will produce some needed alternative energy that will alleviate some of the air and ozone issues associated with coal-powered electricity, not to mention the effects of acid rain common to Maine.]

Saving the best for last, as well as illustrating the type of interlopers that are overtaking rural areas, like Maine, is this over-the-top comment from Jim Hutzler, a flatlander from Alexandria, Virginia, who owns a camp in Oquossoc, nearby.

“This is a question of right and wrong, good and evil,” he said. “God’s country must not be sacrificed to satisfy man’s lust to consume. (This project) will leave the land wounded and scarred forever.”

[I hate to inform this gentleman, as he doesn’t seem inclined to much reason, but much of our land has already been wounded and scarred. I’d commend his passion if he put this much energy into opposing box store development, as he is this proposed wind farm. But, I must also keep in mind that one man’s lust to consume, is another man’s means of livelihood.]

Fortunately, some voices of reason were apparent, such as Senator Ethan Strimling (D-Portland). Strimling’s family owns land and has a home in the area, with a back porch that looks directly at the mountains where the wind farm is slated to be built.

“The air we breathe is more important than the subjective asthetic,” he said. “If we can give up a little bit of our view to make sure that our children and our children’s children breathe cleaner air, then I say let the turbines rise.”

And what would a public hearing in Maine be without someone representing our former way of life, standing up and offering some good ‘ole Yankee common sense.

Countering Mr. Hutzler, part-time Mainer, was New Sharon farmer, Fred Hardy.

Said Mr. Hardy, “If anyone had been opposed to development 50 years ago, then the scars of clear cuts up and down Sugarloaf Mountain would not be here. Farming’s made me an environmentalist by necessity,” he said.

“Global Warming is not something I have ever been warm and cozy to, but there’s something to it. The wind farm is one way we can produce energy from a renewable resource that won’t contribute to global warming.”

Answering the critics of the project, who claim that Mainers wouldn’t receive the benefits of the power generated, Hardy, as befitting the homespun wisdom common to many of his sort added this.

“No matter where the power gets used, the fact remains that it doesn’t contribute to global warming or the use of coal or oil. If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where? Hardy concluded.

Yes, where indeed?

[Information and quotes for this post were taken from the Portland Press Herald and Lewiston Sun Journal, dated 8/3/06; some information on Al Gore's new movie was gathered from a Washington Post article, dated 1/26/06]

7 comments:

weasel said...

This guy is classic: "“This is a question of right and wrong, good and evil,” he said. “God’s country must not be sacrificed to satisfy man’s lust to consume. (This project) will leave the land wounded and scarred forever.”
Said from his camp at Oquossoc. Which was built from wood. In a clearing made in 'God's Country'. If they weren't all armed to the teeth up there round Rangeley I'd go throw eggs at his house.

The crazy thing about all this arguing from all sides is that none of the hot air stops the science. There is what will occur or what is real (everything from homosexuality, through evolution, to climate change) and there is gum flapping. Maybe its about time we arrogant humans of all stripes took stock of our quite real insignificance as both individuals and a species.

Joe said...

'Course, "man's lust to consume" is going to destroy "God's Country" one way or another. The flora and fauna will change with rising temperatures. New neighbors will move in with rising coastal waters. I think it best to harvest the wind, sun, etc. rather than strip down mountains and burn the coal. Who knows? Maybe there's coal in Bigelow Mountain. Let's tear it apart to keep burning dirty fuel.

Rikki said...

Wow. A lot of directions to be considered here.

For one, I like how you raise the names of others who have succeeded in popularizing their environmental campaigns, i.e. Rachel Carson, in light of Al Gore and "An Inconvenient Truth." It reminded me of this great article by Jim Hansen, NASA's climate chief, in which he posited:

"When I recently met Larry King, he said, "Nobody cares about fifty years from now." Maybe so. But climate change is already evident. And if we stay on the business-as-usual course, disastrous effects are no further from us than we are from the Elvis era. Is it possible for a single book on global warming to convince the public, as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring did for the dangers of DDT? Bill McKibben's excellent book The End of Nature is usually acknowledged as having been the most effective so far, but perhaps what is needed is a range of books dealing with different aspects of the global warming story."

...

"That brings me to Al Gore's book and movie of the same name: An Inconvenient Truth. Both are unconventional, based on a "slide show" that Gore has given more than one thousand times. They are filled with pictures—stunning illustrations, maps, graphs, brief explanations, and stories about people who have important parts in the global warming story or in Al Gore's life. The movie seems to me powerful and the book complements it, adding useful explanations. It is hard to predict how this unusual presentation will be received by the public; but Gore has put together a coherent account of a complex topic that Americans desperately need to understand. The story is scientifically accurate and yet should be understandable to the public, a public that is less and less drawn to science."

...

"Indeed, Gore was prescient. For decades he has maintained that the Earth was teetering in the balance, even when doing so subjected him to ridicule from other politicians and cost him votes. By telling the story of climate change with striking clarity in both his book and movie, Al Gore may have done for global warming what Silent Spring did for pesticides. He will be attacked, but the public will have the information needed to distinguish our long-term well-being from short-term special interests.

An Inconvenient Truth is about Gore himself as well as global warming. It shows the man that I met in the 1980s at scientific roundtable discussions, passionate and knowledgeable, true to the message he has delivered for years. It makes one wonder whether the American public has not been deceived by the distorted images of him that have been presented by the press and television. Perhaps the country came close to having the leadership it needed to deal with a grave threat to the planet, but did not realize it."

I know you said you haven't seen the movie (I urge you to do so ... if it isn't evident, I think the movie could successfully cross over, as it were). But it's worth noting that the author, Jim Hansen, is the guy who Gore was grilling in the Senate hearing after it was revealed that his testimony had been altered by the political types within the Bush I administration.

Yikes. This was a long post ... and I didn't get past Rachel Carson. Jeesh! We'll leave it there.

Jim said...

Hi, Jim. Jim the Flatlander here. Actually, Jim the American. Volunteer trail maintainer and regular Appalachian Trail hiker. The A.T. is our national 2170 mile long piece of wilderness, administered under the National Park Service and protected under the 1968 National Scenic Trails Act. Just like everything these days, we have to fight to protect adjacent wilderness from inappropriate development. I would suggest that you consider taking a hike on the A.T. between Rt. 27 (Stratton) and Rt. 4 (Madrid). It will take you a few days, but then you may get an idea of what we are fighting for. To Weasel (sic.), sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not armed. Over the top? Maybe a little dramatic, but a lot less dramatic than an invasion of dynamite, bulldozers and pans. The myriad of arguments against the placement of this paricular wind farm are solid.

Jim said...

Jim (the flatlander),

I appreciate your take. You obviously bring a perspective that I wasn't necessarily making reference to.

My concern is with Nimby-ism, which is particularly apparent in many of the comments I was referring to.

If not in this particular location, then where would you suggest as an alternative? I'm willing to wager that wherever wind farms (or other alternative sources of power) are located, some special interest group is going to rise up oppose them (while continuing to live a life that's totally dependent on fossil fuels).

While I'm for scaling back our consumption and ravenous diet of petroleum, I know it isn't going to happen overnight. When gas lines form, people are without oil and kerosene to heat with and people begin having to choose between food and keeping the family warm, no pristine wilderness will be safe from the drill, open pit, or other older models of energy production.

Another "daring" prediction, based on recent reports of coal being pushed as an "alternative" (isn't that how we heated 100 years ago for f*cksake?)--nuclear power, coming to a town near you!

Anonymous said...

"the fact remains that it doesn’t contribute to global warming or the use of coal or oil."

This is just patently false. one does not just wave a wand and have the infrastructure appear. The raw materials for a wind farm and its transmission lines have to mined with machines; machines that invariably run on oil. The insulation that wraps the transmission lines is derived from petroleum. The cement required to seat the windmills on requires oil to manufacture and deliver. Ultimately all current and proposed components of alternatives to oil consumption are dependent upon oil for their manufacture to begin with.

It all begs the question: just because we can, should we? My own feeling is that the children of the future might actually be better served by just weaning off the industrial mammary altogether. Who actually proved that life is more fulfilling as a post industrial inhabitant compared to pre industrial standards? I've lived off the grid and in a less than permanent structure. It was the most difficult period of my existence. It was also the most rewarding. The drive to preserve as much of our current form of existence may actually end up obliterating the very set of conditions that allowed life to arise in the first place. I think it would be wiser to act to live on fundamentally less, rather than trying to preserve every fraction possible. For that, I say no to wind....

Anonymous said...

"the fact remains that it doesn’t contribute to global warming or the use of coal or oil."

This is just patently false. one does not just wave a wand and have the infrastructure appear. The raw materials for a wind farm and its transmission lines have to mined with machines; machines that invariably run on oil. The insulation that wraps the transmission lines is derived from petroleum. The cement required to seat the windmills on requires oil to manufacture and deliver. Ultimately all current and proposed components of alternatives to oil consumption are dependent upon oil for their manufacture to begin with.

It all begs the question: just because we can, should we? My own feeling is that the children of the future might actually be better served by just weaning off the industrial mammary altogether. Who actually proved that life is more fulfilling as a post industrial inhabitant compared to pre industrial standards? I've lived off the grid and in a less than permanent structure. It was the most difficult period of my existence. It was also the most rewarding. The drive to preserve as much of our current form of existence may actually end up obliterating the very set of conditions that allowed life to arise in the first place. I think it would be wiser to act to live on fundamentally less, rather than trying to preserve every fraction possible. For that, I say no to wind....