It is safe to say that all or at least most of us believe that Vermont is a very special place, and we all want to do what’s necessary to preserve and pass on this unique treasure that both draws and keeps us here – majestic mountains, pristine waters, and wild, open spaces. The question is, what is the best policy for doing so.
On April 14, the state Senate passed a resolution declaring:
That the Senate of the State of Vermont recognizes that climate change is real, that human activities make a substantive contribution to climate change, and that it is imperative Vermont take steps now to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels in order to promote energy independence and meet the State’s statutory goals for reduced greenhouse gas emissions. …
These statutory goals mean putting Vermont on a path toward getting 90 percent of our energy, including that for home heating and transportation, from renewable, preferably local sources by 2050. This sounds all well and good until one considers the cost, and we’re not talking about money. The policy of generating so much electricity from wind and solar plants will require developing thousands of acres of Vermont’s pristine landscape for industrial energy production. This will have profoundly negative effects on both the aesthetics and the ecology of the Green Mountain State.
It’s time to bring the climate change debate beyond whether or not the phenomenon exists (the useless quibbling between “deniers” and “alarmists”), and to start seriously discussing in concrete, realistic terms the costs and benefits of specific proposed policies. In other words, if we embark on transitioning to a largely renewable, locally produced energy portfolio, what will the net impact be on our ecosystem both in the short and long term.
Let’s assume for the moment that the most dire climate change predictions are true: human activity is a big factor, and temperatures could rise as much as 4 degrees by the end of the century.
It’s time to bring the climate change debate beyond whether or not the phenomenon exists (the useless quibbling between “deniers” and “alarmists”), and to start seriously discussing in concrete, realistic terms the costs and benefits of specific proposed policies.
So, if we develop all of Vermont’s usable ridge lines with industrial wind turbines, and develop thousands of acres of pasture land with industrial solar plants, will that have any impact on global climate trends either directly or indirectly? Will this effort and expense be relevant in preserving our own ski or maple sugaring industries, for example, over the next eight decades? Will it prevent the next Irene from happening? The honest answer to all these questions is no.
So, why are we doing this?
Some will argue that while Vermont’s efforts are by themselves futile, we should serve as an example to others. OK. But, then we have to ask how much of an influence would Vermont’s example have to impact global climate trends? If a couple of New England states follow us, would that make a difference? What about the East Coast? Or the entire United States? The honest answer is, even if the entire world did its best to follow Vermont, the impact by 2100 would be negligible to the point of unnoticeable. And, realistically, what are the odds China and India or even Texas are going to take a cue from Vermont any time soon?
We do know, however, that developing the kind of land intensive energy sources our current policy path calls for will negatively impact our ridgeline ecosystems through the construction of industrial wind turbines. Birds and bats will be killed, including endangered species. Thousands of acres of solar panels will disrupt animal habitats, ironically, making it harder for some species to adapt to climate change. And, of course, we will be sacrificing to a great extent the singular beauty of Vermont.
Is this really what we want to do?
A recent article in the New Yorker by environmental conservationist Jonathan Franzen, Carbon Capture: Has climate change made it harder for people to care about conservation, makes several interesting points on this topic, but this one sums it up neatly:
We can dam every river and blight every landscape with biofuel agriculture, solar farms, and wind turbines, to buy some extra years of moderated warming. Or we can settle for a shorter life of higher quality, protecting the areas where wild animals and plants are hanging on, at the cost of slightly hastening the human catastrophe.
Is it worth wiping out wildlife species, habitats, and landscapes today if the end result is an earth that is 3.9 degrees warmer a hundred years from now instead of four?
We can use our resources to make genuine progress in preserving our mountain tops, cleaning our lakes and waterways, maintaining open spaces, and saving our wildlife, or we can sacrifice all this to no real effect whatsoever. Plan A makes more sense.
This guest post is by Rob Roper, President of the Ethan Allen Institute. Meredith Angwin heads the Energy Education Project of the Institute.
This post appeared in Vermont Digger on April 26, 2015, where it has a lively comment stream.
I also recommend my Earth Day post at the Northwest Clean Energy blog, which addresses similar concerns.
I do remember a trip to Greece, many years ago. The most obvious thing about the countryside, at least around the cities, was the absence of trees, except where they had been deliberately planted. Of course, Greece had been civilised for thousands of years, and wood and charcoal were the only fuels. If people are impoverished and require fuel, they'll scavenge anything they can. It's only rich countries with plenty of cheap and easily accessible energy that can afford to fuss about scenery or ecosystems.
"We can dam every river and blight every landscape with biofuel agriculture, solar farms, and wind turbines, to buy some extra years of moderated warming. Or we can settle for a shorter life of higher quality, protecting the areas where wild animals and plants are hanging on, at the cost of slightly hastening the human catastrophe."
Am I the only one disgusted by the lack of imagination shown by so-called environmentalists as they engage in such woefully foolish false dichotomies as the above?
The third option is to protect our wild areas and wildlife while having a wonderfully prosperous future by embracing the benefits that a nuclear powered economy brings.
This woe or woe mind set is disgusting and criminally damaging to society.
Put the panels on the roof tops not in a field. I am pro solar power, but anti industrial scale. I am pro home owner being responsible for his or her power sources. And I am pro energy independence for our state. The concept of energy production happening on private property, and the idea that a home owner can own their energy source, are extremely liberating regardless of the climate change debate. I am currently paying for a solar array on my property. It has wiped out our power bill, and the fixed financing payment is approximately what I use to pay to GMP. If I can take personal repsonsibility for my energy use, everyone can.
Excellent post! Only wish mainstream VT media carried it!!
I have 3 questions to bring up. First of all, are parts "walking away" from VY? In a way, I can understand if they are if Entergy can use them in their other same-brand reactors. Might some other parts, such as the cooling units, be demolished and maybe the land resold? Or does everything have to be intact for 60 years?
How can anyone talk about being "green" and caring about the environment and not mention the "elephant in the room" - population control and family planning. Having too many kids can undo anything else you do to save the planet and large families do use more energy. Although I do believe Vermont tends to be older and families are smaller compared to places like Texas.
SafeStore Matters looks like something you see on SNL. Mainstream media probably thinks it is a parody.
Thank you all for your comments.
Anonymous, I agree. Ever since I read the book "Deserts on the March" (an old book), I began to understand that overgrazing and poverty ruin ecosystems. Prosperity and abundant energy protect the land.
Trag: Yes. Of course. He makes a false choice because he leaves nuclear out of the equation. Many pundits make similar choices. A recent New York Times multi-page analysis of energy--left nuclear out of the equation.
Symphonyfarm: if you can supply your electricity with rooftop solar and some backup batteries, that is great! However, if you have wiped out your GMP bill but are still taking power from GMP at night, you are able to do this because GMP is paying you more per kilowatt when they buy from you than they are paying for other kilowatts that they buy on the regular market. This is good for you, but not good for the GMP overall rate structure. GMP is paying over-market rates for your power, and rolling that extra cost into the bills for the rest of us.
I don't say you are doing anything wrong. You are adding low-carbon power to local energy mix. Which is GOOD! But the economics are not really they look like.
James: Thank you.
Some parts of VY are being used elsewhere. I don't think they can sell any of the land until the plant is decommissioned. I'm not sure, but I think that is how it goes. Right now, the whole place is still under an NRC license, and it would be hard to break up the property. Also, the more they spend early, the slower the decomm fund grows, and the more the complete decomm gets delayed. There's no requirement that everything be intact until complete decomm, but it would be hard to do part-decomm early.
I suspect my beliefs about family planning are similar to yours. Within the context of this blog, however, I only speak about energy. I am not trying to alienate people who have different views on family planning, GMOs or whatever. I try to deal with one battle at a time.
I haven't looked at SafeStore Matters very much. Do you mean the web site or the community TV show? I've seen the website but not the show. I mostly follow the FB page, which is very helpful.
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