“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Wind farms as environmental art

To save carbon, my family and I decided not to fly. Instead, we drove to our relatives in Colorado, through Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

As we entered Wyoming, we saw some giant wind farms. Some British environmentalists have objected to wind farms—not because of the risk to birds, but because they “spoil the view.” Quite recently, a plan to put a wind farm near a remote Scottish island was, well, scotched, because residents of the island complained that their view would be destroyed.

This is truly a case of the aesthetics of Nature impeding ecology, and a very good argument for why ecology must be without Nature.

So just for a minute, let's talk aesthetics.

How come a wind turbine is less beautiful than an oil pipe? How come it “spoils the view” any more than pipes and roads?

You could see turbines as environmental art. Wind chimes play in the wind; some environmental sculptures sway and rock in the breeze.

The wind farms had a slightly frightening size and magnificence. One could easily read them as fitting the aesthetics of the sublime (rather than the beautiful). But it's an ethical sublime, that says “We humans choose not to use carbon”—a choice embodied in gigantic forms on the high bluffs of southern Wyoming. A visible choice. Perhaps it's this very visibility of choice that makes the wind farms disturbing.

A visible choice, rather than secret pipes, running under an apparently undisturbed “landscape” (a word for a painting, not actual trees and water).

As a poster in the office of Mulder in The X-Files used to say, “The Truth is Out There.” Ideology is not just in your head. It's in the shape of a Coke bottle. It's in the way some things appear “natural”—rolling hills and greenery, as if the Industrial Revolution had never occurred.

These fake landscapes are the original greenwashing.

What the Brits are saying, in their objection to wind farms, is not “Save the environment!” but “Leave our dreams undisturbed!”

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