Friday, September 28, 2007

The wilderness is a place we go to tell ourselves lies.

One thing I couldn't fail to notice at last week's hearings for the Black Nubble wind power project was the fact that I was the the only person under 40 to testify, and that the people who were opposed to the project were almost universally over 60 years old.

In other words, the people who don't want wind turbines on Black Nubble are generally people who aren't going to have to live with the worst consequences of climate change: the disappearance of spruce-fir forests, the extirpation of alpine fauna here in Maine, and the famines and flooding worldwide. They will, however, have to deal with seeing wind turbines near their second ski resort homes in Carrabassett Valley. Is this really so bad, given the alternative? For some people, it is.

When I worked in the AMC huts, I frequently met the type of person who would spout environmentalist pablums in clear ignorance of environmental history and their own impacts on the natural world. I recall one middle-aged woman at Zealand Falls Hut (which is in a valley recovering from extensive logging and fires 100 years ago) righteously condemning the loggers who harvested the forest outside of her newly-built vacation home in the Sierran foothills of California.

Clearly, this woman's indignation at logging was serving as a blind for her to avoid thinking about the much worse impacts of that newly-built second house, or of the transcontinental flights that she and her husband take to get there.

People like this come to the wilderness in order to lie to themselves: to see a "pristine" wilderness, whether or not it's actually pristine, assures them that their extravagant lifestyles aren't really inflicting irreversible harm on the world. Show them a clearcut, though, and they might have to think about all the timber in their McMansions. Show them a wind turbine, and they might have to think about their generation's long, destructive incineration of ancient carboniferous geology. To illuminate how our natural resources actually get used in the global economy that serves them so well would transform their wilderness fantasyland into a landscape of condemnation.

The environmental impacts of the Black Nubble project are really quite modest - certainly they are no worse than those of the major ski areas in the area (one of which, located on the Appalachian Trail, recently received approval for expansion without any organized opposition. Ski resorts, apparently, are another good place to lie to yourself).

The psychological effects that these wind turbines will inflict on a generation suffering extreme environmental schizophrenia, on the other hand, are more severe. Still, I'm inclined to believe that global warming is a more pressing issue. Let the old, sold-out hippies wallow in their guilt: they've earned every bit of it.

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