Tuesday, July 3, 2012


One of the things I didn't expect to see on the drive were the giant windfarms, one right outside Springville, Utah, and another outside Twin Falls, Idaho.

When I look at giant wind turbines I think they look majestic, awe-inspiring, even.  And, of course, there is everything they symbolize:  "clean" energy, progressive politics, moving out of fossil fuel gridlock, technological sweetness.  But I understand that for some people who live near the turbines, they are instead loud monstrosities.  Life cycle assessors argue that they are not 100% clean or "green."  For others, whose politics I generally don't agree with, they represent waste and fickleness.  One billboard we saw in Utah proclaimed that coal keeps the lights on (it does); another in Idaho argued that wind was "not cheap, not clean, and not good for Idaho."  They maybe have a point with the first, in the simplest sense, and as long as we don't consider how much coal-fired pollution costs.  But I'm not sure I totally understand the second two, unless they are making a point about mining of rare earth materials needed to build the turbines.  And given the boring flatness of Southeastern Idaho, I think having some windmills--a whole lot of them--is definitely good for Idaho, although that represents my limited viewpoint of that part of the United States, which is only as a bored and stiff driver trying to speed through it as fast as I can.

And those coal trains popped up everywhere again, too.  They were as constant a companion as the smoke from the tremendous fires in Utah and Colorado, which obscured our view of the mountains, escorted flames all the way down to the highway, and turned the sunlight an eerie orange.  Our car's thermostat finally gave out on the last mountain pass, and though it allowed me to push it the final few miles to coast into the driveway before finally overheating for good, it was hard not to see everything around us as burning up, on fire, overheated.

It is tempting to link all of this together...our dependence on coal, our refusal to transition to cleaner energy sources like wind, higher temperatures as a result of global warming (from burning fossil fuels), more pine beetles as a result of higher temperatures, more fuel for the fires, our car dying, the car as we know it dying.  All of that is true.

And then there's also the fact that so many more of us choose to live in or near the forests now.  That some of our "environmental" forest management policies in the past were ill-advised.  That "clean" energies are complex in their own ways, and that technological fixes are rarely the panacea we seek.  That I'm thinking all of this in my car, fueled by an internal combustion engine.  I can only see this part of the West because I choose to burn fossil fuels to get through it.

Still, I want to see more turbines, would be glad to see whole landscapes filled with them, anyway, prefer them to the ubiquitous coal trains.  I recognize the hypocrisies and contradictions and decide some contradictions are easier to accept than others, and that I personally choose to see turbines as progress, and the trains as leading us to darkness, not light.

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