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Cornell Student on Mount Pleasant  

Initially, I was delighted. But then I began listening to the concerns of residents near the proposed site, hikers, skiers, birdwatchers, astronomers who frequent the nearby observatory and even trainee pilots concerned about 400 foot wind turbines cropping up in the flight path to the Ithaca airport. As a result, I am no longer an unabashed supporter of tapping Mount Pleasant.

Two summers ago I visited the 11 megawatt Madison Wind Project two hours from Ithaca along gusty Route 20 near Colgate University. There, seven awesome turbines stand a few hundred feet above acres of remote farmland. The enthusiastic farmer showed us around and related a touching story about a visiting group of mentally handicapped adults that declared her wind farm both quiet and beautiful. I marveled at renewable energy’s bright future. On campus, I have been continually inspired by the Kyoto Task Team, a group of students, faculty and staff organized to bring Cornell into compliance with the Kyoto Protocol. The Team seeks to reduce the University’s carbon dioxide emissions to seven percent below what they were in 1990 by between 2008 and 2012, in large part by changing how we acquire and use energy.

As a human being hoping for a decent environment for his grandchildren, I am very excited about power that comes from the sun above rather than within the earth. As photovoltaic solar panels that turn light into electricity are not as effective at producing large amounts of energy, I salute the global move to harness the squeaky clean and constantly renewed wind. Cornell does too. After cajoling by students from KyotoNOW – which masterfully took control of Day Hall in 2001 to get the University to agree to adopt the Kyoto Protocol – Cornell conducted a wind study within a 15 mile radius of campus and singled out an agricultural research site on nearby Mount Pleasant as a likely spot for eight turbines that could generate 10 to 15 percent of the electricity we consume and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Initially, I was delighted. But then I began listening to the concerns of residents near the proposed site, hikers, skiers, birdwatchers, astronomers who frequent the nearby observatory and even trainee pilots concerned about 400 foot wind turbines cropping up in the flight path to the Ithaca airport. As a result, I am no longer an unabashed supporter of tapping Mount Pleasant.

Many vocal opponents of the project have emerged from the Mount Pleasant community itself. They fear that eight wind turbines and the accompanying infrastructure would substantially disrupt the relatively bucolic way of life they sought out when they purchased their homes. They also point to the significant noise and light impacts of a wind farm, impacts that, if realized, would present a reduction in quality of life, no matter the immediate surroundings.

Mount Pleasanters are loathe to see their environment markedly transformed. Many ardent environmentalists from the wider community have labeled this position a “Not in My Backyard” attitude. Residents have shot back that they have a “Not in Anybody’s Backyard” stance on wind turbines. While some may elect to live in the slowly rotating shadows of turbine blades, they caution that no one should be compelled to bear the bulk of renewable energy’s brunt so directly.
And they’re right. Some who have expressed hesitation about Cornell’s proposed wind farm have reasoned from the points of view of migrating birds and bats, people out to observe them, amateur and academic stargazers and the WHCU radio station, whose transmitter rises from the adjacent crest. But at root, the people who call Mount Pleasant home deserve the greatest consideration. Our shared goal of environmental protection is impossible without environmental justice.
Given the strength of conviction in opposition to wind turbines on Mount Pleasant, Cornell must tread as carefully as possible. The project was initiated at the behest of rightfully and intensely dissatisfied students. It would be a shame if Cornell used its commitment to Kyoto to arouse the immense ire of its neighbors, who are citizens of the University by virtue of the fact that their lives are so impacted by Cornell.

Both those for and against the nascent Mount Pleasant wind power project see themselves as the true stewards of the planet up against insensitive folks who cannot conceive of the nature of the environmental crisis. Both sides argue that we must become accustomed to changes in our lifestyle if we are to persevere as a species. They differ merely on implementation.
Many of the people who have moved to Mount Pleasant over the years did so precisely because they are environmentalists who appreciate the natural world. They believe that Cornell should green itself either through vigorous energy conservation that may well transform our lives and our institutions or through renewable power sources unaccompanied by such substantial local environmental impacts. Those who favor the turbines now in question minimize potential consequences and believe neighbors should be proud to be in the energy avant garde.

It may well turn out to be true that we need millions of turbines across the nation to save whatever piece of civilization is worth saving. And it is equally likely that huge turbines cause severe and lasting harm to those who live beneath them, such that they ought to be located as far as possible from homes, schools and hospitals.

This April, Campus Sustainability Month at Cornell, is a great time to reflect on the sustainable solution to these kinds of controversies. The most important piece often left out of discussions of ecological sustainability is that such arrangements must be socially sustainable as well. Without democracy, sustainability is out of the question.

Danny Pearlstein, senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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