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Wind power (pro)

11/18/03 12:00AM By Bill McKibben
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(Host) The debate about developing wind power in Vermont has blown hot and heavy this year. Today VPR offers two views on the subject. The first is from commentator Bill McKibben, who believes that wind power is necessary as part of the solution to global warming. A second view from Sam Lloyd will be heard this afternoon during All Things Considered. Here's Bill McKibben.

(McKibben) Now that windpower is actually a real life possibility in Vermont, opponents in the Kingdom, in Manchester, and in pretty much every spot with steady winds insist that the windfarms are the work of greedy developers; that they will damage the state's scenic vistas and hence its tourist business; the lights atop the turbines will give the night sky an industrial cast; that the spinning blades will Cuisinart migrating birds.

Such claims may or may not be correct - in much of Europe, for instance, windfarms draw tourists instead of repel them, and most of the new facilities kill no more birds than any other tall structure. But grant for the moment that these claims are absolutely true. Even so, they are small truths.

The big truth, the one that really matters, is this: Americans pump vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the world's atmosphere every day. This CO2 is heating up the planet-every glacial system on earth is retreating, Arctic ice is melting fast, sea levels are beginning to rise. So far we've managed to raise the earth's temperature about one degree Fahrenheit, but the scientific consensus is that, barring a dramatic conversion away from coal and gas and oil, we will raise the temperature five degrees more in the course of this century. Which would make it warmer on this planet than it's been for, oh, a couple of hundred million years. And when I say "we" will raise the temperature, I mean we. America, with four percent of the world's population, spews 25 percent of its carbon. This is not some theoretical threat - earlier this summer, 10,000 Frenchmen died in the withering heat.

Current computer modeling shows that five degrees warmth would turn the climate of Boston into the climate of Atlanta - which would make us the Georgia hills. No more birch and beech and maple turning fiery in the fall - instead, at best, the drab brown of oak and hickory. No more winter - a UNH study predicts both cross country skiing and snowmobiling will go "extinct" sometime this century. No more sugar season - try tapping an oak and see what happens.

If we're to ward off that future, we need to do everything: hybrid-electric cars and electricity from wood; biodiesel and solar power; insulation and conservation and efficiency. We can't afford more sprawl and we can't stand extra highways. And we need wind, which around the world is the fastest growing source of electric power.

It would be nice if we could generate sufficient juice in some utterly benign way - shuffling across the carpet in our socks, say, till we'd built up massive static charge. But we can't. We need to make choices - and those choices would be easier if, when we looked out the window and saw a windmill, we recognized it as something lovely: the breeze made visible. And something else too: the beginnings of a new kind of human responsibility.

I'm Bill McKibben in Ripton.

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