Correspondence        

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NOTICE: This section is for comments either on items posted or on relevantsubjects
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Comments by Mart Malakoff (Culture, Natures and Science, Inc.) on "Maryland and Global Warming" posted in our "Campaigns" section.

   Looked at your site, and notice you are endorsing the 'clean energy' bill in Md (similar to ones in DC and Va) which are promoted by Chesapeake Climate Action network (WPFW's Tidwell group).

The so-called 'clean energy bills' proposed or enacted for DC, Md. and Va. are primarily a government hand out to a small number of industrial wind energy companies. They will have zero, or minimal effects on reducing greenhouse gas emissions or in reducing strip mining in appalachia. They will have the effect of reproducing in the mountains what already exists in the valleys in appalachia----having the entire area broken up with networks of roads and other developments (in this case industrial wind farms). (The wind subsidies locally are similar to corn ethanol subsidies-----while non-corn ethanol (eg switchgrass) development is probably a good idea but at present in need of development, corn ethanol subsidies likely largeley benefit agribusiness while doing nothing for either GHG emissions or to reduce oil consumption (see Jan. '06 Science (if I recall) for data). Similarily OFFSHORE wind energy for the east is likely a good source if siting problems can be resolved, as is midwest wind development (where over 70% of US capacity is located, with only 5% east of the mississipi), but again storage transmission problems need to be resolved. )

A short summary of the issues is provided on the web site vawind.org where a document 'potential for wind energy generation in virginia' is posted (this case is similar to maryland as well as the entire appalachian region ) . This study simply repeats what government reports show (eg one from Virginia Tech in 2005) , as well as one on the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) website. (The CCAN document however 'spins' the data differently---'the glass isn't 95% empty, its deep enough to drown in if you think positive'.)

Also on the site is a note which claims that CCAN went against every other environmental group in the area on these clean energy bills, by having them rewritten so that no environmental impact studies would be required for clean energy development; this was after the other groups gave their approval conditional on the requirement that such studies be part of any approval process. (I am assuming this is true; the articles cite the Baltimore paper.)

First, US Government and Virginia Tech studies cited by both PIRG and Chesapeake Climate Action Network do show that wind power has the potential for providing between 50% and 80% of Virginia current and projected needs if built; however, over 90% of this is OFFSHORE (more like 98%). Onshore wind energy, almost all of it located on ridge tops in western virginia (of which there are a finite number) can provide no more than 5% of what is needed currently, and this requires 400 miles of roads and wind turbines on ridges, as well as power lines. At present NO offshore wind projects are planned, only ones in the mountains. A new U. Delaware study also points out offshore wind energy is a potential large source.

While most birds, bats and other wildlife will make it past the roads, powerlines, and turbines, the primary issue is habitat fragmentation. This issue is similar to ANWAR oil development in Alaska, where proponents argue most caribou and bears wont be hit by trucks, etc. and over 95 % of the area will undisturbed, but this also means the whole area is a short distance from a road or oil well. (ANWAR also has by most estimates only enough energy to fuel oil needs of the USA for about 3 years, so developing it for such a reason seems absurd.) Another case is the West Bank in occupied Palestine, where some have argued that Israeli settlements and roads occupy less than 5 or 10% of the area; however the net effect is to fragment the west bank into 'bantustans', with settlements scattered everywhere connected by networks of roads. (It can also be mentioned that the 'seperation/apartheid wall' in Israel apart from its social consequences is projected to heavily impact native wildlife there by suppressing wildlife migration corridors.) Habitat fragmentation is seen as a major contributor to biodiversity loss in the appalachians, because breaking up forests with roads and developments attracts non-indigenous species which displace natives (what could be described as a form of 'gentrification').

This is not 'smart growth'. This is just another form of sprawl. (In general proposing any more road building or development in wild areas in the US or anywhere else really needs to be questioned, as well as in urban areas (eg hotels for convention centers).)

Second, this will have almost no effect on greenhouse gas emissions. First, energy use is projected to increase locally at between 5 and 10% a year, so wind energy at best will 'offset' increased electricity use which might have been produced by coal (or alternatives to wind, such as solar or biomass.) The report on vawind.org suggests the offset will likely be 2%. (The reason offsets decrease less than energy use is projected to increase is because new energy production will use better technology to reduce emissions).

The web site www.baconsrebellion.com has an article 'voltage hogs' which discusses for virginia using state data how people in the area are extremely wasteful with energy, and how this waste is increasing. Destroying natural areas to permit this to continue seems absurd.

Providing wind energy, as a result, is simply encouraging and feeding a bad habit. (It can be mentioned that the association of projected electricity use increases with social transition to the so-called 'information economy' by consumers and the communications industry seems largely unanalyzed. While some have suggested the information economy might be 'post-materialist' and lead to 'de-materialization', one recent analyses (from a Dartmouth economist) pointed out that neither telecommuting increase nor decrease in paper use is visible in data. So, it seems possible that the 'information highway' may head in the same direction as the 'interstate and other car highway' has lead, into traffic jams, wars, more electricity use etc.)

The potential 5% wind energy contribution to energy, and 2% contribution to GHG reduction, could easily be met by energy conservation, forms of smart growth, changing light bulbs, turning off lights in shopping areas at night, inflating car tires, using mass transit and bicycles, turning down thermometers, cutting down on unnecesary trips (to work and stores), etc. Turning mountain areas into industrial parks so that people can sit on the beltway in a 'clean car' driving out to Loudon County for work (eg at the Howard Hughes Institute on stem cell research) is absurd. No technological development nor industrial development is needed for any of these; simply common sense. In addition there is likely potentially more clean energy avaliable from biomass sources.

It can be pointed out that CCAN's Tidwell who has a show on WPFW has in my listening promoted wind energy many times, but has rarely if ever mentioned either the proposed ICC Sprawl Highway in Md nor use of mass transit; instead he promotes hybrid cars (which are beyond the means of many and also do not do anything to change poor land use policies----instead they make sprawl seem 'ecologically correct'). (The lack of mention of the ICC seems to be a 'quid pro quo'---in exchange for a 'clean energy bill' to benefit those who he apparently serves as a lobbyist, he dares not criticize Md legislators who promote the ICC. CCAN does not reveal its funding sources, it can be noted. ) Tidwell does mention he hopes that one day he'll be able to plug in his car to a 'clean' energy electricity source; nothing about taking a bus. He also has claimed that 'sprawl' is a secondary issue to 'global warming' which seems to be consiously naive, since sprawl both increases energy used in commuting, typically involves promotion of upscale energy intensive forms of housing and consumption, and also replaces natural land areas with pavement further exacerbating the problem of carbon emissions and warming.

It can also be pointed out that a recent article in the Takoma Voice about CCAN's 'chesapeake bay winter dunk' used to promote CCAN's 'clean energy' campaign features George Leventhal, who is a councilmember who consistantly is a supporter of the sprawl highway ICC . His support for clean energy suggests again it is simply a feel good greenwashing measure. As the social philosopher James Brown put it 'talking loud, and saying nothing'.

Finally MaryPIRG which also has promoted wind farms as being clean energy, cites in its promotion standard figures showing Maryland electricity consumption increasing at 5 to 10% a year. Little discussion is made regarding how a small potential contribution from wind farms will have any effect on this, or whether promoting clean energy is even much of an issue unless the demand side is dealt with rather than uncritically accepted. These figures of course come from the same state employees who approve new highways, housing and commercial devlopments so there seems no a priori reason to approve them.

Onshore wind projects will primarily serve to line the pockets of owners of a few wind energy companies and a few landowners, some of whom are cash poor but land rich (similar to some homeowners and tenants in DC, and in the countryside, who sell out to developers) and hence can be bought off for cheap, while others are actually large landowners such as WestVaco, which having taken a quick profit from timbering, see another chance for a quick profit. (While timbering creates logging roads, these dissapear after a few decades so previously timbered areas (such as Shendandoah park) in many ways are recovering wilderness. Wind farms will have permanent development and roads.) (It can be mentioned some of the southern mountains which have been strip mined (mountain removal) are now being proposed for wind farms; this seems more reasonable since they are already heavily impacted. Unfortunately, the best wind farms are often in areas which are the highest and most untouched, which are also not in the main mining areas.)

In sum, at present proposing onshore wind energy developments as a solution to global warming or non-ecological 'mountaintop removal' is disengenuous 'greenwashing'. Masking such proposals as 'clean energy bills' is similar to the beautifully named 'congressional earmarks' in federal legislation for pet projects. So, Science of the People may want to look at whether it posts such proposals on its web site (unless 'Science for the People' refers to only 'some' people).

It seems very unlikely, simply looking at the National and Virginia Tech reports that there is any question about the facts. The national assessments show on-shore wind potential is over 70% west of the Mississippi; the issue there is transmission to urban centers. In the east, the potential is 90% or more OFFSHORE but the technology for this is less developed. (It can be pointed out that Germany, a small and dense country, seems to be putting its wind turbines offshore, and still generates only about 6% of its energy from wind. Also a new report from the U Delaware suggests again that a large fraction of electricity generation can come from offshore in Virginia; again effects on wildlife must be considered, but it seems likely these will be less and even possibly positive. Wind also has the problem that because its variable, often more installations are required for low peak times. Personally, forms of biomass seem to be a much better way to go, along with conservation and reduction in unnecesary use. Redefining progress among others have suggested that there would be no decrease in quality of life if GDP went down by 1/3 or more. )

Building a hydropower project at Great Falls, in fact, might be much more reasonable if one is worried about GHG. (Or, one could build a big dam at the Wilson bridge and campaign for DC Lake-hood, and get rid of a whole lot of hot air.) In general, there seems no reason to propose any 'silver bullet' without some analyses of inputs, outputs, and utility.

[received March 11, 2007  ( media_40@hotmail.com)]

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Comments by David Schwartzman on the review How Close to Catastrophe?

Here are comments I already made to the Committees of Correspondence listserve on Bill McKibben's book review that was published in the November 16 issue of the NY Review of Books.

McKibben makes a strong argument for the viability of a renewable energy transition, critiquing Lovelock's pessimism and support for nuclear power. But McKibben neglects to critique Lovelock's neo-Malthusian views. Lovelock says "The root of our problems with the environment comes from a lack of constraint on the growth of population...the number...has grown to over six billion, which is wholly unsustainable in the present state of Gaia, even if we had the will and the ability to cut back. (p140, Revenge of Gaia)

Lovelock elaborates on this theme in a recent interview (Revkin, 2006):

Q. You say in the book that sustainable development is a fantasy, essentially, and you have a different notion for what needs to happen, of "sustainable retreat."

A. At six-going-on-eight-billion people, the idea of any further development is almost obscene. We've got to learn how to retreat from the world that we're in. Planning a good retreat is always a good measure of generalship.

   I have high regard for Lovelock for his seminal contribution to Gaia theory, a research focus of mine since the 1980s. I discuss this in my book, Life, Temperature and the Earth (see the updated paperback edition, 2002, Columbian University Press). My long term collaborator Tyler Volk also had a critical review of Lovelock's new book in Nature 440, 869 - 870 (13 Apr 2006). If anyone wants to read this review and doesn't have ready access I can send you a pdf. But Lovelock's views on politics and economics are often very reactionary. The real gaian reactionaries welcome the extinction of the human race because Gaia is getting its revenge on human's destruction of nature.

Reference cited:

Revkin, Andrew C. 2006. A Conversation With James E. Lovelock, Updating Prescriptions for Avoiding Worldwide Catastrophe. September 12, New York Times, D2.

received 11/15/06]

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