Giving environmentalism a bad name; the death of good sense
An acquaintance of mine set me a link to a webpage berating a plan in Santa Monica, California to build the nation's first sustainable parking garage. The project includes photovoltaic roof panels, a storm drain water treatment system, recycled construction materials, and energy efficient mechanical systems. It will also feature ground floor retail shops.
So what was the writer's complaint? Their complaint was that "motoring" is not a sustainable activity and that the parking garage was ugly. They also claimed that the automobile age was going to be over in 17 years. Southern California giving up the automobile within 17 years would be like residents of northern Siberia giving up parkas; it is not going to happen. While better mass transit may be a noble objective, the reality is that new parking garages are still going to have to be built in cities like Santa Monica. Building parking garages to be as sustainable as possible and to make the best possible use of the space (e.g. retail space on the ground floor and roof top solar collectors) is a laudable effort.
We have seen a similar disconnect with some "environmentalists" (obstructionists would be a better term) up here in New England. In our case it deals with various wind farm proposals. Wind farms would seem to be the very picture of environmental sustainability, yet several recent wind farm proposals were blocked on "environmental" grounds. One proposal that has been fought using every method possible was a plan to put wind turbines on platforms out to sea off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The plan was to put them far enough out to sea that they would appear very small or would be obscured by the curvature of the Earth, yet residents fought against this plan primarily because it would spoil the scenic ocean views of their multimillion dollar waterfront homes. Wind farm proposals here in Maine have run up against the same "environmental" claim of spoiling the scenic view because they would be placed on mountain tops.
Another claim often used to obstruct wind farm proposals is the claim that they will result in high bird mortality rates, which just is not true. In fact, one recent study by the National Academy of Sciences on the environmental impact of wind turbines I was reading and had planned to blog on but didn't, found that the bird mortality rate of modern slow revolving wind mills was lower than with other man made structures like tall buildings, power lines, etc. In fact, feral cats are much more devastating to bird populations than anything else and there is an up cry every time there is any effort to exterminate or otherwise remove feral house cats from the wild. Even the National Audubon Society supports wind farms and collaborates with wind farm developers "to best determine how to maximize the benefits of wind power while reducing the potential for harm to birds, wildlife and the environment."
Would the "environmentalists" fighting against wind farms and/or sustainable parking garages prefer that we build more coal fired power plants that spew mercury and greenhouse gases or build new nuclear reactors instead of wind turbines? The reality is that everything human civilization does has an impact on the environment. Cities like Santa Monica, California will continue to grow in population and thus will need more parking garages, and all of society will continue to need more energy. Not everyone can use mass transit from their home, but they could drive to well situated parking garages to pick up mass transit to complete their trip. Building sustainable parking garages that make use of the wasted space on top of the structure by adding solar panels and constructing them out of recycled materials is the right thing to do. So is building mountain top wind projects here in Maine or sea based wind projects off the coast of Cape Cod.
Yes, the true environmental impact of renewable energy projects like wind farms needs to be evaluated and minimized, however, it must also be recognized that all energy sources have environmental impacts, and we can not do without energy. The question we must ask when evaluating the environmental impact of renewable energies like wind farms is what are their net environmental impact compared to the traditional alternatives?
The simple fact of the matter is that many people try to wrap their arguments and obstructionism against projects like the sustainable parking garage in Santa Monica, California and wind farms in environmental terms when the real reason for their opposition is NIMBY (not in my back yard). They simply don't want their aesthetic sensibilities offended by the infrastructure required to sustain our civilization. This NIMBY attitude wrapped in a cloak of environmental concern is giving environmentalism a bad reputation and is wrong headed. From a big picture perspective, being environmentally responsible requires occasionally offending our aesthetic sensibilities. Personally, I would be thrilled if the next parking garage project here in Portland, Maine followed the sustainable parking garage model and would love to see some local mountain tops dotted with wind mills. For me, these things would mean we were taking local responsibility for the environmental impact of our energy needs.
Related Articles on EnvironmentalChemistry.com
- Environmental Justice and the NIMBY principleNot in my backyard! In whose backyard does our hazardous waste end up?
- Increased Mercury Levels Attributed to Industrial ActivitiesOutdated coal fired power plants are contributing to increased mercury levels in lakes and streams.
Further Reading Elsewhere on the Web
- Audubon Society "Strongly Supports Wind Power", TreeHugger.com, 12/26/2006
- Cats More Lethal Than Wind Turbines, TreeHugger.com, 5/23/2007
- Putting Wind Power's Impact on Birds in Perspective, American Wind Energy Association, 2003