Science Energy The Beauty of Wind Turbines By Lloyd Alter Design Editor University of Toronto Lloyd Alter is Design Editor for Treehugger and teaches Sustainable Design at Ryerson University in Toronto. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Lloyd Alter Updated August 13, 2020 Photographie Joan Sullivan Share Twitter Pinterest Email Energy Renewable Energy Fossil Fuels Back in 2005, when many were being NIMBY about wind turbines, environmentalist David Suzuki wrote and article for the New Scientist titled The beauty of wind farms. In our brief coverage I noted "He has one of the most beautiful backyards on the face of the planet and is welcoming windfarms to it" in the fight against climate change. If one day I look from my cabin’s porch and see a row of windmills spinning in the distance, I won’t curse them. I will praise them. It will mean we are finally getting somewhere. It was hugely controversial at the time, and to this day, people who call themselves environmentalists complain that they don't want to look at turbines. I have always found wind turbines to be magnificent works of design and engineering, and never tire of looking at them. Neither does photographer Joan Sullivan. credit: photographie Joan Sullivan What makes Sullivan's photographs different is that she doesn't concentrate on the "beauty shots," but on the drama of building these behemoths. She tells TreeHugger: My speciality is wind energy construction photography - I just love being there with the workers, documenting how these men and women are building, with their own hands, our post-carbon future. All my work at the moment is focused on documenting these workers, as they transition from the oil/gas industry to the renewables sector. I am giving them voice; they inspire me. credit: photographie Joan Sullivan In her bio, Sullivan writes: My current focus is renewable energy. I've been documenting the construction of both wind and solar farms since 2009. I am currently the only female photographer/videographer in Canada shooting the construction and rapid expansion of renewable energy in the context of climate change. credit: Photographie Joan Sullivan Here in eastern Quebec, along the banks of the Saint Lawrence River, the locals talk about climate change as a fait accompli: increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, little-to-no sea ice, significantly less snow cover, earlier springs, longer growing seasons (which no one is complaining about), coastal flooding, storm surges and erosion. After moving to this rural region in 2008, I have been looking for different ways to document climate change beyond the typical natural or man-made disaster photos. credit: photographie Joan Sullivan I take inspiration from Peter-Matthias Gaede, Editor-In-Chief of GEO magazine, who noted way back in 2007 that people will turn away from environmental issues if bombarded only with images of disasters. He advocates for a "different way of raising awareness" about climate change and biodiversity loss, one that focuses on the more "silent" issues and aims at rendering the complexity of the issues at stake (World Environment Day Bulletin, 140(1):5, 12 June 2007). credit: photographie Joan Sullivan This has become my new mantra: find a different way of raising awareness about climate change, since the status quo does not seem to be working quickly enough, given the urgency of biodiversity loss, persistent drought in bread-basket regions of many countries, acidifying oceans, increasingly unpredictable and violent weather patterns. credit: Photographie Joan Sullivan I have consciously chosen, therefore, to focus on something positive -- renewable energy. The transition to a low-carbon economy has already begun; there is no turning back. I can only hope that some of my photographs of the current renewable energy construction boom in North America will facilitate a quicker transition, something that I will be able to witness in my own lifetime. credit: Photographie Joan Sullivan Joan Sullivan clearly has no fear of heights. I do not know how she does this. credit: photographie Joan Sullivan She clearly doesn't suffer from claustrophobia, either; imagine being inside a turbine tower as another section drops down on top. credit: photographie Joan Sullivan Wind turbines have always been a difficult topic for TreeHugger. Sami Grover has written that "there is plenty of opposition to wind turbines out there. But then, there's plenty of support too. The trouble is, the supporters don't tend to shout as loud." credit: photographie Joan Sullivan Even TreeHugger often split on this issue. John Laumer wrote about a protest against a new wind farm in Maine, where Earth First! claimed, among other things, that it would damage lynx habitat, I wonder, had the protesters and their supporters thought seriously about climate change before they embarked on this protest? The lynx they are anxious to protect from wind power development need more than wilderness: they need a climate suitable for the ecosystem they live within. Mat McDermott tried to look for a compromise. 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. credit: Photographie Joan Sullivan The contradictions are everywhere. Last year, after visiting Prince Edward County in Ontario, I asked How can people demand a "naturally green" environment and hate wind turbines? There was a big protest against a new wind farm there and I wondered: Turbines work best where it is windy, which the County is. They produce lots of carbon-free power. Some people may not think they are pretty (I find them inspiring and exciting) but the contradictions in that sign at top [of the post] are blatant: how are you going to keep the County green if the whole province is burning up? How are you going to enjoy your second home when it gets too hot to go outside? What are you proposing as an alternative? Meanwhile, the man elected to run the Province says this: credit: Photographie Joan Sullivan This is why the work of Joan Sullivan is so important. She is showing another side of the wind story. The people behind it. The beauty of wind farms up close and personal. The magnificent engineering. I smile every time I see a wind turbine. Now that I see the story behind them, I may smile a bit more. See more of Joan Sullivan's photos on her website here, and learn more about the story behind Joan Sullivan in this video from Google's Women in Cleantech and Sustainability conference.