Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Cultures of Energy: Wind Turbines

Richard Hirsh, Virginia Tech

“The Stormy Reception of Wind Turbines: Values, History, and the Poorly Articulated Reasons for Opposition to Wind-Energy Technology,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

wind turbines sociological approach of value for nonacademics as well
Carter era; big improvement in tech
popular support for turbines
often viewed as symbols of modernity
Walmart; industrial sized wind turbines
what’s the problem? the problem of locating somewhere in nature
environmental reasons: avian, bat mortality; need for beefed-up transmission infrastructure, service roads in wilderness
health and safety: low frequency sound, setback needs, shadow flicker
economic: require subsidies, not cost-effective

refutation: cats cause more bird deaths 

counter refutation: pigeons different from rare species

prgoress; exploitation of rural folk by city dwellers (what’s new); big city lawyers and business people taking advantage by swaying policy; building them responds to big city demand; rural folk resent suffering risks etc

many people dislike their appearance; Lewis in Scotland. Robert Righter: winding roads, wooded hills, hedge-rows “render our ideal of an aesthetic landscape” giving the “illusion hat nature does the planning”

belief that’s it’s okay to industrialize already industrial cities

1930s electricity: tech in rural areas viewed as sign of progress

PIMBY: “Please in my back yard” <> midwestern farmers
turbines as sophistication symbols, hi tech

>> decisions based on symbolic meaning, perceptions of “nature” and “harmony,” culture and values

visibility of turbines vs other elements of the electric system
forces people to confront difficult choices

big concentrated power plants outside population centers
put in middle of nowhere
very few people know there is a power plant there

even physically visible things have become naturalized and invisible: cars, roads, municipal water supplies etc. 

we notice them only when they break

Pasqualetti: such invisibility suggests that there are no consequences (out of sight, out of mind)
we hardly know what electricity is (vs coal and wood you have to bring into house)
we don’t know how much each appliance consumes; we have no economic or sensory connection

to duplicate a power plant you need an awful lot of wind turbines
there must be some distance between them

>> social science needs to understand opposition to turbines

infrastructure tends to be hidden and invisible

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