In the growing battle over wind turbines it would be wise to consider man-made events over the past 100 years that have caused significant, if not permanent scars to our natural environment. Some of these were unintentional and involved ignorance or negligence. Others were intentional, and sadly greed played a role in their occurrence.
In 2010 we had the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico where a British Petroleum contracted rig had a well head blowout. About 210 million gallons of oil under high pressure was released into the Gulf. As a former U.S. Coast Guard officer, to me this was a scary event. No one knew how to cap the well against such high pressure and flow rates, and the quantity that could have been discharged was potentially unlimited. It took three months to seal the well. There was significant loss of human life. Of course that much oil in the ocean resulted in catastrophic mortality to animals and organisms in the marine environment, and now there is a significant dead zone in that sea. BP was found guilty in 2014 of gross negligence and reckless conduct.
And let us not forget the Exxon Valdez tanker spill in Alaska. In 1989 the ship grounded in Prince William Sound and spilled 11 million gallons of oil into the environment. This event shaped the mission of the Coast Guard, and consequently my career for over ten years until the next catastrophe on 9/11. As always the eagles, sea birds, seals and fishes died and suffered in great quantities. Contributory causes included officer incompetence, negligence, alcoholism, a dead tired crew, all topped with an unhealthy dose of professional hubris.
The Great Dust Bowl of the 1930s was a period of severe dust storms that caused catastrophic damage to the ecology and agriculture of the North American Great Plains. Ignorance of farming methods with greatly increased mechanization laid bare the virgin topsoil. Drought contributed to this condition which lifted the unanchored topsoil in great black clouds as far as New York City.
It is estimated that 75% of the topsoil was blown away. In addition to the environmental damage the impact was a collapse of farming, and the displacement of whole populations with all the associated heart ache that comes with that. Although the catastrophe was based in ignorance, regardless, the importance of that part of our country as the “bread basket” for our country and the world cannot be understated and we almost lost it..
A recent trip to the high Sierra Mountains in California struck me as an example of how shortsighted and arrogant man can be with the natural resources we have been given. At the Grant Grove entrance to the Kings Canyon Park one catches their first glimpse of a giant sequoia tree. And then a mile or so down the road there is the General Grant Tree and several dozen other giant sequoias. The General Grant Tree is 267 feet tall (think football field), 29 feet in diameter, and 1,700 years old. It is the second largest living thing in the word. The General Sherman tree in the Sequoia National Park is the biggest and oldest sequoia at 2,700 years old. The closest analogy I can give in describing these trees is the fictional Hometree in the movie Avatar. I couldn’t help but wonder how here high in the Sierras, in small limited groves, grow the largest and oldest living things in our world. Its like a vortex of life and spirituality. One is literally overcome here with a closeness to God.
Nonetheless, in the late 1800s thousands of giant sequoia trees were felled by two California lumber companies. These companies eventually went bankrupt because the wood was found to be too brittle for construction. When the trees were felled the wood would often shatter into useless pieces on the forest floor. Today, we can see the effects of this in an area near the General Grant Tree. Dozens of massive stumps remain as monuments to greed and stupidity. When I saw these my mind immediately went to what has been occurring in western New York, and what has been proposed on Lake Erie.
Arguably, greed has brought us giant turbines. These monstrosities kill bats, eagles and birds. These turbines affect the health of human beings. They have uprooted and destroyed habitat, and their scars on the land and lake will remain long after the blades have stopped spinning when the economics and tax benefits are gone. The net negative economic benefit to communities of turbines is a well proven fact.
Judeo-Christian faith teaches us that man has been granted domain over the animals, plants and fishes in our world. Faith also teaches us to be good stewards of what we have been given. There is something is inherently disordered about man, who is on this plant for 80 years, if lucky, cutting down a living tree that was a seedling 500 years before Jesus Christ was even born!
The opposition to wind turbines unites all political spectrums, particularly at the local level, where over time ordinary people will be left with the remains of some company’s and politicians greed. These examples illustrated here should be considered by those contemplating and formulating their position on wind turbines.
George H. Burns III is Commander of U.S. Coast Guard, retired, and a Fredonia resident.
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