environment & politics

In The Name Of The Wind

We’re not harnessing the power of the wind:

The current rate of growth of renewable energy in the UK is too slow to meet EU targets for 15 per cent of energy to come from renewable sources like by 2020, the energy secretary Chris Huhne has admitted.

This is the fault of governments, who have only ever looked to the short term. Previously, I’ve linked to this recent piece of research on the potential of offshore wind power in the UK. It is compiled by The Offshore Valuation Group, “an informal collaboration of government and industry organisations”.

Let us be clear about this: it’s an incredibly enlightening study. If Britain was to harness a mere 29% of the practical offshore energy potential we would have – that’s with existing technology and all the possible constraints considered – according to finds of the study:

• the electricity equivalent of 1 billion barrels of oil could be generated annually, matching North Sea oil and gas production and making Britain a net electricity exporter;
• carbon dioxide reductions of 1.1 billion tonnes would be achieved by the UK between 2010 and 2050 – a major contribution towards 2050 climate targets;
• 145,000 new UK jobs could be created by industry.

All of this is based on conservative estimates. There are a whole host of other benefits, such as the turbines acting as artificial reefs. And yesterday I was delighted to see this article in the Guardian:

British, American and Norwegian engineers are in a race to design and build the holy grail of wind turbines – giant, 10MW offshore machines twice the size and power of anything seen before – that could transform the global energy market because of their economies of scale.

So the impetus is clearly there. In the rush to reduce the impact of manmade global warming this can’t be ignored. You may choose to disagree with this and the opinion of the vast majority of the world’s scientists. In the wider picture, given this potential, wind has got to be better than nuclear, right? This has got to be better than drilling for oil, right?

Slightly related: those of you who missed it in the news, or are visiting from abroad, Greenpeace successfully managed to close BP petrol stations across London.


It’s nice to see it winding up right wing bloggers, who have conveniently forgotten this piece of law that allowed, for the first time, climate change to be used as part of a “lawful excuse” defence for activists who end up in court.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

14 replies on “In The Name Of The Wind”

I absolutely ADORE windfarms. Quite apart from the ecological arguments they are things of immense grace and beauty. Offshore may be more palatable than land based for most concerned but I suspect windmills were lambasted by nimbyests in the past as well . . .

Windfarms are beautiful things. One of the things I love about driving to Scotland up the M6 is when you pass over Tebay, and you see the turbines high on the mountain tops in Cumbria.

Roll on them actually building the giant wind farm in the Solway Firth.

Well, thank you for giving me yet another reason not to like Greenpeace. I consider myself pretty liberal (in American terms, which makes me some sort of socialist commie bastard here in the States)…

Windmills? Don Quixote NOT a fan.

Windmills – fan; there’s a joke in there somewhere.

There’s a book called Pandemonium which is a collection of people’s responses to the industrial revolution. Haven’t come across anything that details how people reacted to earlier ‘industrialisation’.

There’s something to be written on their movement. The slow play of the blades is hypnotic, especially as the shape of the blades somehow makes their turning seem off centre, out of kilter. But in a regular way

Mark: Don’t get me wrong. I hate BP even more, but making it lawful for a group of activists to cause property or economic damage to an entity (human, corporation, whatever) if it’s done to “prevent climate change” is, to me, just condoning domestic terrorism. But I also never liked Greenpeace because of all of the members of that organization I’ve had to deal with in the States, who often champion a cause, but, when asked, have no answers for what we should do about all the people who will be affected by their desired end result. They either assume that if you work for a company that has done something bad, then somehow you deserve whatever is coming to you, or they simply haven’t thought of it at all.

That and some of the causes they fight so hard for are, in my mind, just idiotic. I met one fellow who wanted me to sign a petition to stop Canada from cutting down some trees because they were “old.” They weren’t special beyond that. Just…old, and they would have been replanted (or replaced, or whatever it’s called). And another group threw a huge protest where I did my undergrad all because the Uni was going to build a new building and cut down five or six redwoods in the process…which would also be replaced through replanting (though this group might not have been Greenpeace).

And, as you said, BP is pretty much at the bottom of the barrel at this point. They may have ended the reign of offshore oil if Obama has anything to say about it…then again, Republicans will ruin that if they take back control in November.

But I’ll admit that I’m biased against Greenpeace due to some of the folks they’ve supported…some of whom have quite literally committed acts of terrorism (you know, like ramming ships into other ships…on purpose).

SMD – I don’t get it. Companies willingly wreck the environment, pollute the climate which will inevitably lead to the destruction of much more – your lives and the lives of billions, in fact. Activism such as this focuses the debate relentlessly, forcing them to change their activities.

Actually, the old tree thing could be rather critical. Established forests are havens for biodiversity, which requires the stability of a lot of time to establish itself. Decades at least, centuries perhaps, certainly if the old trees happen to be pristine rainforest. Which isn’t to say there isn’t a lot of wasted efforts in the environmental movement (albeit well-intended for the most part).

But to be honest, petroleum companies should at no point be let off the hook, because they will no doubt be funding politicians to enable them to destroy more of our natural environments.

IMHO, of course. 🙂

I think the main gripe a lot of people have (my parents included) is the notion that wind farms as stuck off the coast of Cumbria so that “southerners” are helped out. This could be simply solved by a discount for people whose views are “affected” by said wind farms and i imagine the complaints would drop.

For those who wind turbines eyesores, I always point out how they are no different from Pylons, which litter the countryside.

Mark: My problem isn’t with activism, per se, but with activism that results in violence, whether against person or property. It’s the same exact reason why I cannot stand the Animal Liberation Front. They talk about “peaceful action,” but what they’re actually doing is destroying massive amounts of property (or thieving like mad). I understand that causes are important, but individuals causing damage to other individuals (or groups of individuals) in order to get a point across is not the way I want my democracy to work. What I want is for governments to start taking responsibility and slamming these companies for all the things they have done wrong. The fact is that BP should be bankrupt right now. The same is true of the coal mines in the last twenty years that have violated rules and so on. I want that. I want corporations to have a choice: you can follow our rules about the environment, or you can lose everything when you get caught doing something awful.

But I’m an idealist, I guess.

As for the tree thing: In the case of the Redwoods, it would take decades to grow them back to the same height. In the case of the other trees, I don’t know. I’m not an expert on all trees, so it’s possible that they wouldn’t grow back as quickly or as thick if on a logging cycle. My understanding of the situation, though, was that the company doing the logging wouldn’t have access to fast sections of the forest, just small areas (small by forest standards, obviously). But that might be irrelevant.

And as for petroleum companies: Absolutely they should not be left off the hook. In fact, if what you want is change, you’ve got to go right to the top and start demanding politicians to take action. Governments are supposed to serve the people (at least democratic ones such as ours–UK/US); right now, they’re not doing that job well enough.

But lobbying is, as always, a huge problem…and it should be illegal. But, that’s my opinion. We need a change in leadership…or people could stop buying gas altogether. Most people could get by easily enough without a car, or with a small electric vehicle for city travel. I don’t own a car and probably won’t own one until the electric ones are up to snuff. I take the bus, which does use petrol (for now), but I also walk to a lot of places. I seem get by just fine without a car…

But, eh, I’m rambling. I just have more issue with Greenpeace’s apprehension to deal with its more violent folks and with legal precedences…we don’t seem to disagree with the fact that BP deserves no sympathy. They get none from me. They’ve messed up my backyard…

My issue with protests targeting individual petrol stations is the same as it was twenty years ago when the bad guy was Shell.

Protests against petrol stations hit the wrong people. In general, petrol stations are not directly owned by the oil companies but operated according to a franchise system. Which means that protests like that Greenpeace protest in London do not actually hit BP, i.e. the deserving party, but the independent operators of those stations who are probably being exploited by the franchisers anyway. It’s the same reason why anti-globalization protesters who attack McDonalds restaurants (which also operate according to a franchise principle) do not hurt the great American corporate satan but instead harm a local small businessman.

Protesting in front of BP’s corporate HQ would be a whole lot more effective and actually annoy the right people.

I’m not a fan of Greenpeace anyway, because they go more for the flashy and showy activism than for substance. Plus, I’ve had bad personal experiences with them and their tactics.

I totally agree with you on windmills BTW and I luckily live in a region where wind energy is pretty big business.

SMD – of course, I don’t endorse violence, but when the court of law recognises that the damage to a firm that brazenly pollutes (destroying the climate – which contributes to hurting people and property on an almost incomprehensible scale, and is happening now in the developing world) then it’s clearly a more complex issue. When corporations rule governments, who is responsible for change?

As for trees, with age it’s not about the height of the trees etc, it’s about the systems and habitats that old forests support. They’re invaluable havens of biodiversity, which can’t be easily replicated.

Cora – I think the thing with Greenpeace is that they are very effective at what they do because they tackle corporations where it hurts the most – PR. Let’s be clear, the companies that Greenpeace takes on often don’t care a jot about the environment unless they can spin it for corporate gain, and Greenpeace have had huge success in forcing giants to change their practices: Nestle and HSBC are not small companies, and only someone as showy as Greenpeace can make the change our ways. In an age where corporations control governments, this is a very significant position for them to be in.

Regarding BP – if they protested in front of their corporate HQ, I doubt anyone would care. Hitting them where it hurts the most – where the public can see their brand and PR being affected – that’s what they’ll be worried about.

Though I’d actually be interested to know what your experiences were with them. Were you at the receiving end or on the inside?

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