Saturday, February 17, 2007

Tricky Tradeoffs

Here's a tough issue to consider. Harvesting energy from wind turbines has proven successful and this technology is one of the fastest growing approaches to alternative energy. But, as the popularity grows, local objections to the aesthetics of wind turbines on ridgelines and even the noise generated by the turbines in some spots has prompted negative responses from residents. As reported in this Boston Globe article, people who have moved to small towns to escape the noise and constant thrumming of industry in cities sometimes object to even the relatively quiet swoosh of turbine blades cutting through air.
Residents say that town officials and company representatives repeatedly assured them that the wind farm would be silent. Instead, they say, the windmills have disrupted their mountainside idyll. On days with low cloud cover, when the pulsing, rushing noise is loudest, wind farm neighbors say it can disrupt their sleep and drown out the rushing brook that was once the only sound here.

"It changes your whole feeling about being in the woods," said Tammie Fletcher, whose mountainside house boasts floor-to-ceiling views of the ridge where the windmills now stand.

We're clearly at a crossroads where dramatic action is needed to curtail the gases that precipitate global warming. Do individual concerns over solitude and silence take precedence? After all, building a 28-turbine wind farm in a rural area probably doesn't feel that much different to the residents than routing a four-lane freeway directly past their homes and businesses. Is it conscionable to steamroll the rights of the individual in favor of a collective initiative that theoretically could affect the lives of every living creature on the planet? It's certainly closer in magnitude to an annoyance when compared to the potentially catastrophic risk of living next to a nuclear power plant, which contains enough fissile material to contaminate an entire state in the event of a meltdown.

Even benign technology, however, when forced upon an individual or upon a community bears serious consideration. This crossroads will be the apex of many debates as we (the collective "we" of humankind) grapple with the monumental transitions that will be necessary to ensure survival in coming years.