Students of history may recall Leon Trotsky, the founder of the Russian Red Army. Because of his importance, he had an inconvenient habit of appearing close to Vladimir Lenin in photographs. When Joseph Stalin became dictator of the Soviet Union, he was irritated that his rival, Trotsky (later assassinated by Stalin’s helpers), was shown so close to Lenin. A simple solution: Trotsky’s face was simply erased from pictures in which he appeared with Lenin. He wasn’t mentioned in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, the fount of what passed for wisdom in that country. Voila! Problem solved.
I was reminded about all this after I wrote an article for TCS on the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA). The BWEA had encountered considerable opposition to their plans to build massive – 30 to 40 story high – wind towers in British scenic areas. They had tracked down some of the more prolific complainers, who had written letters to British newspapers.
In a BWEA slide show, posted on the Internet, they had listed the names of the seven greatest offenders (in their view). At the top of the slide showing the names of the letter writers, the organization had written, in big letters, “We Know Where You Live.” At the bottom of the list, the BWEA said, “you gave your address at the bottom of your letters” (apparently a requirement in British newspapers).
In the article I pointed out that this was an implied threat, and that someday the British Seven might be reduced to the British Six or even Five through some mysterious action of the BWEA, perhaps a windmill “accidentally” falling on them.
I rarely follow up on an article, preferring that it speak for itself. However, shortly after it was published I got an e-mail from Bob Lent of Toronto, Canada, saying, “Since you posted the story the slides have changed. The slide you identify as ’25 of 38′ is now ’23 of 34′, but, most interesting, the title ‘We Know Where You Live’ has been removed. Isn’t a dynamic web fun?”
I checked the slide in question, now found here. Mr. Lent was right. The title “We Know Where You Live” had disappeared, along with the note that their addresses had been found from newspapers. The names of the seven wind enemies still lingered there, like smoke after a long party. But who were they? Were they the recipients of awards from the BWEA for furthering the cause, or cranky old curmudgeons? From the slide, no one can tell.
Joseph Stalin would have been proud of his successors. The offending phrase had been wiped out without a trace, except for the few nosey folks, like myself and readers of TCS, who had copies of the original slide.
I thought I had to get some comments, so I phoned Kathy Belyeu, head of public relations for the American Wind Energy Association, the U.S. counterpart. She professed ignorance of the entire matter. “It’s not the kind of thing we would put on our website,” she told me.
Striking out on the U.S. side. I then phoned Alison Hill, the originator of the slides, a lady with a delightful Scottish accent. She described the affair as “an unfortunate incident.” She said that some of the British Seven “thought it implied a threat.” It was more than thinking; it was a threat. She said that the BWEA has apologized to the Seven, although no trace of this is found in the series of slides.
All of this could be regarded as a tempest in a British teacup, except for the fact that wind, and assorted other renewable technologies, are held up as the brave new world of energy. When wind and solar displace the bad old fossil fuels and nuclear, each man and woman will tend his vineyard, as described in the Bible, and all will be well with the world. That is, except for those who object and snoops like myself, who point out the threats to the objectors.
Contrast all of this with the nuclear industry, which has certainly made its share of mistakes. It has debated and defended itself against critics in courts, public platforms, articles and a host of other forums. However, to my knowledge it has never personally threatened any of its vociferous critics, although the thought probably occurred to some nuclear executives. The British Wind Energy Association and other green groups could certainly take a lesson from the nuclear industry, although I doubt they will.
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