Earth First! Maine Anti-Wind Power Protest Keeps Green Movement Honest
When Earth First! recently protested a large scale wind farm in northern Maine it raised a few eyebrows around the TreeHugger virtual office. John Laumer worryingly wondered if "the protesters and their supporters thought seriously about climate change before they embarked on the protest. The lynx there are anxious to protect from wind power development need more than wilderness; they need a climate suitable for the ecosystem they live within."
John certainly has a valid point: Unchecked climate change could well make things much more difficult for the lynx in the Maine woods and more wind power is certainly part of the solution to slowing global warming. However, It's Getting Hot In Here has just posted the perspective of one of the protestors which is equally worth considering:Don't Let Tar Sands Company Greenwash Itself
Saying that he hoped the action at the Kibby Mountain wind project (66 MW of which are currently operational, with more under construction to bring it to 132 MW) would "spark respectful debate in our movement about the role industrial wind should play in combatting climate change," Matt Wilkerson went on to list some of his reasons for joining in the protest.
- It is important to make clear that this action was not against ALL wind. It was against corporate run industrial wind projects that impact rural communities and sensitive ecosystems. We are in full support of small scale, community run wind projects.
- The wind power being built in Maine is not replacing any fossil fuel plants. It is all additional capacity, so in reality no emissions are being reduced. We would be far better off reducing consumption and improving efficiency rather than producing more electricity
- These wind farms are being built in sensitive wild areas that are home to the endangered lynx and migratory birds as well as rare alpine ecosystems. We can't ignore the impacts that industrial wind has on an ecosystem. We cannot write these impacts off as collateral damage.
- The wind farms are being built by Transcanada, a major player in the Alberta tar sands. These wind farms are not producing electricity for Maine. It is all being sold to other states. Maine residents shouldn't have to have their wildlands carved up so that an oil company can greenwash its image while turning a profit selling electricity to the grid.
What we have here is two different paths towards the same goal of raising awareness about climate change and renewable energy, and helping to create a culture that works within ecological limits.
Idealist v. Realist Environmentalism
One (the Earth First! perspective as expressed here) is more visionary and far thinking, holistic in perspective, recognizing that the current corporatist industrial approach to development assumes a scale that inherently has a heavy environmental footprint.
It also clearly points out one of the big blind spots that clouds many efforts to green energy and industry: The assumption that simply changing production method is sufficient for sustainability. It is a perspective rooted in what might be, regardless of what is right now--fully idealistic.
The other (as expressed by John here) is dominated by the importance of making small progress towards the goal of combatting climate change, even if that progress isn't entirely perfect. It is firmly based on working within the system and, to painfully use an overused phrase, not making the perfect the enemy of the good. It's a realist viewpoint through and through.
Differing Perspectives Need Not Oppose One Another
We see the same split in discussions of climate legislation, carbon emission reductions and the best policies to make those happen. It's the same distinction that meant some people took to the streets in Copenhagen during COP15 and some worked inside the Bella Center.
This isn't just an exercise in defining our differences within the environmental movement. The big thing I think both sides need to remember is that we need one another. The different methodologies need not be in opposition. As much as we need incremental progress and bringing current polluting industries into the fold and changing their ways, we need activists keeping our ideals honest and presenting the 'what could be' position.
Which Contradictions Do We Choose to Ignore?
After all, both viewpoints are united in one thing: Choosing to oppose some contradictions while accepting others.
The idealist position, eyes to the sky, ignores the fact that change more often than not doesn't happen in revolution, but in evolution (even if revolution kicks off that evolution). The realist/incrementalist position, eyes to the ground, ignores the fact that the small change being made doesn't always mean it's fully in the right direction.
More on Wind Power:
Earth First! Activists Arrested Protesting Maine Wind Farm - 'It's Too Big'
Cape Wind Opponents Compare It To Boston's Big Dig - Claiming Power Twice as Expensive as Planned
Concern Over Birds Could Shoot Down 540 MW Shetland Islands Wind Farm