Wind and Earth

Over at Design Observer, Justin Good waxes philosophical about beauty and the Aesthetics of Wind Farms, while over at Subtopia, Bryan Finoki draws our attention to the United States Capitol Bunker Visitors Center now under construction. Seemingly opposites -- the former above ground the latter below, one an object the other a space, the first in nature the second in a city, etc. -- these physical constructions embody two of the biggest issues today: energy and terrorism, respectively.

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Middelgrunden Wind Farm in Denmark

As Dr. Good argues for the objective beauty of wind turbines and wind farms, he links to an article on the battle over a proposed wind farm off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Cape Wind's website contends that, "Miles from the nearest shore, Cape Wind will use the clean, inexhaustible power of wind to provide three-quarters of the Cape and Islands' electricity." The main issues delaying or potentially killing the plan are environmental, like impacting bird migratory routes, and cultural, particularly affecting beachgoers ocean views.

To me, part of the problem is that these residents affected by the wind farm are so rich that they will be able to deal more easily with the soaring energy costs that will afflict everybody in the coming years. But they're potentially squashing a project that could, if successful, be an incubator for other similar projects all over the country that could help people beyond New England.

Ironically, environmentalists are pitted against each other as they try to determine if the farm would have adverse effects on birds. All the usual activists are there, but on both sides of the fence: "On the anti-wind-farm side, you have the Humane Society, Massachusetts Audubon Society, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the International Wildlife Coalition; on the pro-side, Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Conservation Law Foundation."

This wind farm would go a long way to reducing carbon emissions, so I'd rather see the project go ahead than not. Of course, global warming could potentially affect birds as well as humans (and lots and lots of other species), so if we take global warming seriously it points towards a decision that would have the most longterm impact.

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Image from Subtopia post

Further down the coast, "the Capitol building in Washington is getting a 500 million dollar bunker installed at the foot of it's front entrance." I'm amazed that I haven't heard of this project before today, something that's been in the works since 1991. But at the same time, I'm sure that's no accident.

While the official website says the Visitors Center will "provide visitors shelter from the unpredictable D.C. weather," others believe, "ItÂ’s not being done for the visitors. ItÂ’s being done for the members," to shelter them from a terrorist attack.

Terrorism is one of those issues that is more emotional than intellectual for me, so I try not to say much about it here. Bryan does a good job summing things up on his page, quoting from "Survival City", but I would add that the deeper and stronger we build, the further we are from addressing the reality of terrorism, of why it's a problem and why we're a target.

Update 05.26: Just found this well-timed post over at Google Earth Blog, where somebody has modeled the Cape Wind Project and set up views from the shore to see the impact of the project. This sort of thing could be a great tool to getting the project approved as the impact doesn't appear to be nearly as bad as they think.


  1. wind aesthetic is a funny thing. i spent about 9 years in the Tallgrass Prairie in central Kansas and it was a hot topic. after lengthy trips around the prairie and a couple on campus shotgun surveys i found two things:

    1. the horizon is already broken and criss-crossed by so many obtrusions that our eyes are trained to overlook that this argument becomes subjective to more of a perceived threat than to reality. (this might be a hard point to argue on the ocean, however)

    2. the obvious, but people more in tune with the realities of a changing global climate are less opposed to wind turbines. now i'm not saying the king of queens isn't a funny show, just that we're spending an awful lot of time as a society occupying ourselves with things that teach us little about the true state of the union and the rest of the world.

  2. They have a bit of a battle here that I have heard rumblings about. There are wind mills down the St-Lawrence closer to the ocean, but they are on land up on hills. They are talking about adding more.

    They are also talking about adding them to the Madeline Islands. The locals say if they add the windmills, they are leaving thereby eliminating any need for power.

    I find it interested that they are pursuing wind energy since they have more than enough energy produced by relatively clean hyraulic dams. Though I have heard that the forest destroyed by the flooding the dams create have a significant impact on the environment. Makes you wonder what won't have some affect on the environment. Maybe we should just cut down on our energy needs.

  3. Wind energy rocks, especially if you can stick them out in the ocean. But even if you can't, I think they look rather attractive really. I suppose I am an aesthetically brainwashed architect, but they're certainly better than the ubiquitous electricity pylons we already accept without question and don't even see any more. Living on a small island with not a little wind (the UK), they also seem to be a completely appropriate solution to our energy needs and it dismays me that our esteemable leader Mr Bliar wants to build more nuclear power stations. Which is more ugly? Which would ultimately kill more wildlife?

    The juxaposition of these two projects you highlight in this post is for me at least, your most thought provoking post for decades. Nice one.

  4. Then lets present it in terms of a choice: Would you rather have a wind farm on the horizon or a nuclear or coal fired power plant in your back yard?

    Are there any stastics on the actual kill rate of the wind farms? Is it more than cars that kill small furry animals? Without knowing how significant of a threat to the birds the blades are, it is difficult to weigh the environmental cost.

    Has anyone seen the movie "Schultze Gets the Blues?" A nice cinematic use of the wind turbines.

  5. texan - I spent about five years in Kansas for school and I could see the area around the Konza Prairie being a great candidate for wind power. Your second point is interesting, and perhaps as more and more information is broadcast on TV, things will start to sink in.

    Frank - Cutting down our energy needs seems to be one of the most obvious but also most difficult approaches, especially as the global population continues to rise. I do my part by not driving, but it sure is hard to not turn on the furnace or air conditioner on in those times of need.

    Norman - Blair's desire to build more nuclear plants makes me wonder if people in Britain think he's following Bush's agenda. I don't mean to oversimplify things, but Bush's policy of increasing nuclear and coal production to deal with recuctions in natural gas sets a pretty bad example for other nations to follow. I just hope that UK's decision isn't related to what the US is doing. Though maybe France is setting the nuclear precedent?

    KevinS - Haven't seen that movie, or even heard of it, but it certainly looks interesting. I think as the death toll rises from increased mining of coal, people might finally wake up to alternative solutions.


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