Green Up or be Greened

The Choice and Necessary Sacrifice are Obvious

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Garth Manning recently wrote an Op-Ed piece for the Financial Post on the destructive solar and wind farms that are apparently the newest and largest infiltrators of what was once the untouched, sacrosanct landscape of rural Ontario. “Make Ontario Great Again,” his supporters rejoin. These invading, energy-relevent “farms” – since farms are places for production, the term is apt – leave nothing but bird carcasses and valueless properties in their collective wake. The author certainly paints a bleak and sombre reality that is befalling sleepy, quaint rural Ontario.

Manning has valiantly attempted to breathe new, cogent and meritorious arguments into this issue by telling tales of government bullying; Ottawa’s powerful, omnipotent wind and solar lobby; the new, fast-paced, reality-television-wannabes that comprise the Ontario legislature; and the poor, downtrodden farmer and vineyard owner that are “progressively devastated” by wind and solar farms. He’s provided the barebones for an international best-seller; unfortunately, the structure upon which Manning has built his house of cards is nothing more than a Not-In-My-BackYard (NIMBY) matter of opinion.

Those that would subscribe to Manning’s argument likely share similar frustrations with the new wave of technologies for harvesting green energy: they are unacceptable because the reality of what it takes to produce the same amount of energy in a piece of coal (from Cleveland, OH) or a barrel of oil (from Fort McMurray, AB) is both uncomfortable and glaringly brought to the fore.

What were once out-of-the-way mines and their associated sundries, whose products were moved on covered trucks or in hidden pipelines, are now magnificent, gleaming structures that dominate rural Ontario, alongside the mass-production farms that Manning would have unsuspecting readers believe to be ruled by independent, single-family farms with one red barn and a little, sputtering red tractor, just like the idyllic picture on the loaf of bread, the jug of milk, the carton of eggs, or the butter and cheese packaging (spoiler alert: it’s not like that, at all). Now, there are daily reminders dotting (and apparently ruining) picturesque sunsets – sunsets that are actually made more magnificent due to the burning of fossil fuels – that energy production takes sacrifice and it isn’t always pretty.

And let’s do away with the absurdly deductive argument that wind turbines are nothing more than Cuisinarts turned avian serial murderers. Yes, creatures of flight are killed by wind turbines and solar panels, as though traditional means of energy extraction have been cost-neutral to the animal kingdom: birds suffocating and drowning in tailings ponds and rerouted, migratory Alaskan caribou would suggest otherwise. More importantly, human lives are also consumed by the energy production sector – no matter which particular sector we prefer to meet our energy needs. That is to say, wherever humans derive energy to meet the necessities of a modern lifestyle, there will always be an associated cost to the animal kingdom – one that “distinguished economists and professional engineers” are always working to mitigate, thanks in large part, to government intervention; Manning’s would-be “bullies” of rural Ontario.

Obviously, wind and solar farms are built in rural areas: buildings, like the Royal York Hotel or the Peace Tower, have an irritating tendency to get in the way of the sun’s mighty rays and the earth’s strong winds. Manning does not suggest an alternative to rural areas, even though they exist in the deserts of California, Nevada, and East Germany(!) or on the shores of the English Channel and the North Sea in the United Kingdom and The Netherlands, because the argument immediately collapses into an obvious NIMBY issue. The production of the necessary energy to run local businesses and agri-businesses is acceptable in rural Ontario provided it has a perceived zero-impact on the end-user or the beautiful, unhindered, not-based-in-reality, postcard landscapes Manning wants his readers to picture.

Furthermore, the article does not outline the other sources of energy that rural Ontario will rely upon once these green energy monstrosities are slayed. That’s because the only other source of green energy in the area – Niagara Falls – is considered a beautiful, enduring, iconic national symbol of clean energy production; the dirty, inconspicuous oil sands, coal mines, and vital pipeline infrastructure are nowhere to be seen or, more importantly, someone else’s problem. So, if not from your own backyard, Mr. Manning, from where will you, the vineyards and traditional farms of rural Ontario, derive the true engine of business and agriculture – power?

Many people that would decry the destructive forces of renewable wind and solar energy are also proponents of the argument that the ‘dirty’ oil sands, coal-fired generators, and Canada’s pipelines carry nothing less than wanton destruction – they are all hyperbolic harbingers of earth’s doom. These folks want all of the luxuries that come from an energy-dependent, energy-dominated lifestyle, but none of the associated aesthetic, ecological, economical, and ethical costs that accompany actual energy production.

The real problem with Manning’s argument is that he is grappling with a far bigger issue than the superficial one he presents. Similar to the mighty sausage that North Americans consume en masse, no one wants to know how it’s made: the end product meets and obliterates a human need, but the realities of its manufacturing process will turn even the most girded of stomachs. It’s not the energy production question we should be struggling with or the economic impact a wind or solar farm might have on a proposed area, but the social and economic consequences of a society accustomed to a lifestyle that is slowly killing us and our planet. (Now I understand why authors subscribe to hyperbolic arguments – they are fun to write and really wrap up an argument!)

I assume that those who would believe Manning to have a cogent argument would continue to burn fossil fuels and decry the madness and destruction of Canada’s boreal forest – a grandiosely tripe argument – and shake their collective fist from their warm and softly-lit home, with negative media reports on the oil sands consuming the air from an unwatched, energy-drawing television, while thumbing through the same reports on a recently-charged smartphone, ready to leave the true game-changing protest for social change to the world’s true heroes. Celebrities. They fly in and out on private aviation-fuel-burning jets for their brief, incoherent, self-righteous, plastic-water-bottle-in-hand appearances to voice their bombastic idioms on climatic change of apocryphal proportions. And what do all of these folks have in common? They make – or allow others to make – their lofty, heady, idealistic arguments from an ivory (and gold-gilded) tower built upon coal, oil and pipelines.

No doubt, they want change, but not at any cost. In fact, at no cost because they want the lifestyle we now enjoy, and energy production to remain someone else’s problem. The reality is too painful to bare should we look out our SUV’s windows as we hastily make our way through abandoned rural Ontario and be affronted with the conspicuous solar panel and wind turbine that are ushering in a hopefully cleaner, brighter energy-production future. What we really want are more hidden, out-of-the-way mines, oil sands pits, tailings ponds, and pipelines. Oh, wait a minute…

 

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