Jul 172009

A comment elsewhere on this blog drew my attention to an article in the Daily Telegraph by James Delingpole; Wind Farms: the death of Britain. This is truly a cri de coeur in response to the government’s Low Carbon Transition Plan, from someone who obviously still values our countryside. The new white paper on energy sets out plans to build up to 10,000 more wind turbines, 6000 of them onshore, in order to ‘save the environment’, thus setting the scene industrialising most of our countryside and large parts of the coasts.

I just hope that someone is listening to James Delingpole.

On the very day when the Low Carbon Transition Plan was published I had to go to Birmingham, and drove back over Wenlock Edge in late afternoon sushine with the whole of the Shropshire plane and the Welsh Marches laid out in one glorious vista before me. I wondered and rejoiced that there could still be so much unblemished rural landscape left in the heart of our small and overpopulated island. It was a sight of stunning beauty and a reminder to anyone who cares to look at it that humans once lived in sympathy with the natural world rather than pretending that the natural world is something that they have control over. And all this within easy reach of a vast urban population living in the West Midlands.

Delingpole suggests that such places are beyond price, ‘… apart from anything else, because the British landscape is our greatest asset, the thing that makes us so proud to have been born here and to live here.’ There is a tinge of chauvinism in that proclamation that I would not subscribe to, but the underlying sentiment is sound enough. In spite of the ever increasing urbanisation that has taken place since the Industrial Revolution, our culture has essentially remained a rural one, until recently at least. It is the village green, with its cottages, a pub and church the nucleus of a farming community that has symbolised our homeland in the national consciousness, not a city centre. The ideal landscape that we love is one of woods and fields, free of the squalor of industrialisation, not a suburban shopping mall or an enterprise park.

Ed Miliband, the Secretary of State at the Department for Energy and Climate Change, who is responsible for the new road map to a carbon free nirvana, is now eager that all this should change. We are to be taught to love vast industrial structures with whirling blades that dominate their surroundings and are visible over radii of a score of miles. So massive and visually intrusive are these so-called wind farms that they can even dominate, and become the most conspicuous feature in, a landscape on the scale of the one that I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Here is what Mr Miliband had to say about the impact that his new plans will have on our heritage:

“We want to do more and go further and faster,” said Mr Miliband. “That’s why we are reforming the planning system.

“We need to change the default position so that people will come to understand the dangers of climate change to our beautiful countryside.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/5837561/People-in-the-countryside-told-to-accept-many-thousands-of-new-wind-turbines.html

The  ‘reform’ of the planning system that he mentions is not, of course, a reform at all, but the subversion of measures that ensure that there is some kind of fairness in the way that our surroundings change, as change they must. The whole idea of a planning system is that those who will be most affected by intrusive developments have a fair say in whether they are permitted. This does not suit Mr Miliband’s plans at all.

He said ministers would be sensitive to residents’ concerns about turbines, but insisted: “They have to go somewhere.”

The Government created a new body, the Office for Renewable Energy Deployment (ORED) which would help draw up “wind maps” of Britain to identify the areas where farms would be most successful and those areas where construction should not be considered. Mr Miliband said the new “evidence-based” approach would give residents ‘views’ proper weight.

However, ministers were also revising national guidance to local planning authorities “to set a clear and challenging framework for delivering energy infrastructure and cutting carbon emissions”.

Councils would be encouraged to use Local Development Orders, which allowed planning authorities the freedom to allow developments without the need for individual planning applications.

Planners and development agencies in each English region would have to devise strategies to influence planning decisions. They would include “ambitious regional targets for renewables”.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/5837561/People-in-the-countryside-told-to-accept-many-thousands-of-new-wind-turbines.html

So what is Mr Miliband’s rationale for discarding safeguards which people who want to see our country side protected from industrialisation have seen as a hallmark of a free and fair society for generations? He claims that climate change is a greater threat to our landscape, presumably at some time in the future, than the certainty that it will be disfigured if his plans become reality. But the vista that I enjoyed on my way back from Birmingham has hardly changed in the last two hundred years, and even someone admiring it from my vantage point a thousand years ago would have seen much the same scene as I did. There is no evidence whatsoever that global warming is altering the countryside. Only in the dubious virtual world of computer models does such a threat exist.

If thousands more wind turbines are to be built, then their intrusive presence will be the only symptom of climate change that impairs our landscape. What Mr Miliband is saying on this occasion is as facile, cynical and sanctimonious as his suggestion, a few weeks ago, that it is as antisocial to object to wind generation schemes as to drive a car without wearing a seat belt. He is relying on people listening without thinking about what he is saying.

But we do face a very real threat that is even more serious than seeing the areas of great natural beauty that are still left to us industrialised and spoiled by so-called wind farms.  These can, in time, be removed and the landscape will heal. The real danger lies in the process by which our links with the countryside, and the world of nature, have become so tenuous that we no longer care whether such places are preserved or not.

G.K.Chesterton is supposed to have said, ‘When people cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing; they will believe anything’. In the same way, when we cease to value our countryside we do not just become capable of perpetrating gross acts of vandalism on it, we are exhibiting the extent to which we no longer understand the world that we live in, or that we are just a part of a system that was old before our species even appeared on the scene, and which will continue long after it has departed. That makes us vulnerable to whatever scientists, politicians and extreme environmentalists choose to tell us about the influence that we can have on the massive, complex, and still mysterious environment that we inhabit.

I think that the term ‘hubris’ is appropriate here, and that is a very dangerous state of mind indeed.

(HT to Robin Guenier who spotted Delingpole’s article)

2 Responses to “Ed Miliband and the windmills of the mind. Part 1”

  1. To put up thousands of these behemoths in vast arrays across the countryside would be madness in my opinion – inefficient, expensive, intrusive, and the huge quantities of concrete for the bases would cause CO2 emissions anyway.

    Would time soften their impact? Your article got me thinking about past structures that might have been thought of as ugly or intrusive at the time but are now part of our heritage and are protected. The Norfolk Broads (close to Norwich, which is where I’m from) started out as peat diggings to provide fuel for the locals (who had depleted the nearby oak forests and needed a replacement for firewood.) They would have been an eyesore at the time, but slowly rising sea levels over the centuries filled them in and we now have a system of small lakes and waterways which are treasured by conservationists.

    In a few centuries time, maybe conservationists will struggle to preserve the last few ivy-festooned wind turbines, or “Milliband’s monsters”, the historical remnant of a massive, quixotic early 21st-century campaign to harness the winds in order to combat the phantom of global warming? Hundreds of them might be dynamited eventually, but could a few survive to become listed structures, or National Trust properties (like the Horsey windpump in Norfolk)?

    I doubt it myself, but then we’re looking at this from an early 21st century viewpoint.

    I would agree with you generally about the dangers of rushing pell-mell into gigantic projects like this without safeguards (to use Ed Miliband’s own metaphor in a different way, like being in such a hurry to drive away that one neglects to fasten one’s seatbelt.) And we know that technology is constantly evolving and becoming more compact, efficient, quiet and clean. I think it likely that these machines will become obsolete quickly, and the ineffectual turbine arrays will become a sort of Maginot Line, constructed in haste and at great expense to defeat an imaginary enemy.

  2. TonyN:

    I think you may be interested to see this article (Wind Energy’s Ghosts) in American Thinker today. Here’s the final sentence:

    … the wind-subsidy proposals being floated in Congress suggest that American political leaders have yet to understand that “green power” means generating electricity by burning dollars.

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