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The Chimera of Wind and Solar

b2ap3_thumbnail_Windturbine_sm.jpgMom raised me to be an environmentalist. That meant we took our newspapers to be recycled long before there was any curbside pickup, and she donated money to the Sierra Club and Greenpeace. The dream of the future was one where people got power from sun, wind and tides, and lived in clever, energy-efficient homes and drove electric cars. Paganism fit beautifully with this vision. I loved it that when I moved to California, that I could drive down I5 and see miles of wind turbines. I thought they were lovely. Still do.

But somehow, this form of power continues to be out of reach for many Pagans. It’s a dream, but not one our pocketbooks will allow. Now with the government subsidies going to green energy projects, and Europe fielding more wind and solar power, there is renewed hope among the Pagans I know that the dream will become a reality. I wish it were true. I don’t personally know any Pagans who have solar panels on their roofs or wind turbines in their back yards. And that is because it is expensive, and can demand technical know-how.

Please understand that I grew up believing that renewable energy could save the planet, and I've held that belief right up to this last year. But the numbers just don't add up. Germany is paying a high price for its use of solar power, as are the Dutch for their wind power. And these two countries have some of the most expensive electricity in the European union.

The first problem is that solar and wind have barely a fraction of the energy density of hydrocarbons. In order for us to produce the same amount of energy we would have to cover vast tracts of land with solar arrays or wind farms. The foot print is just ridiculously large. Of course none of these arrays would be anywhere near where the power was actually needed, so we would also have to build hundreds of miles of power lines. To which environmental groups have objected.

Wind power generating plants do not actually cut carbon emissions. That is because they MUST have some form of backup. And those backups are generators that are less efficient than your average coal fired power plant. There is a long list of other problems, well documented in the documentary Windfall. Solar does seem to be suited to residential applications, especially solar hot water, and under these circumstances, the back generators are not needed. But it is not a simple, or inexpensive proposition. If we are going to subsidize green power, giving tax incentives to people who set up solar hot water would be money well spent.

Wind power is so bad that it's not even worth pursuing unless civilization collapses. It kills bats and birds, including raptors, by the thousands, and if you live nearby a wind tower, they cause headaches and disrupt sleep. (incidentally, if the oil industry causes the death of a raptor, they have to pay a fine as per the endangered species act. Somehow wind farms - which cause far more raptor deaths - are exempt from such fines) There is much talk of putting them offshore, but if the sub-sonics are that bad, what about ocean creatures that depend on sonar to navigate? If we are upset by the Navy disrupting whale sonar, how much worse would a permanent installation be for these intelligent mammals?

So what happens to my desire to Honor the Earth when the myth of how best to generate energy gets exploded? I believe that religion needs to respond to the tough questions, and Paganism is no stranger to having its myths blown away by facts. Utopias are idealized situations that ignore the actual costs of a given path of action. (I have my own little utopian vision where all food is produced using permaculture methods. Which incidentally would cut carbon emissions.) It is those costs that demand we take a good hard look at our ethics and how the facts inform them.

Paganism has been influenced by Western Feminism and Environmentalism. But if we are going to be a viable religion past the 21st century, we need to figure out which values matter the most in these movements, and then continue forward, letting go of the myths.

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Selina Rifkin, L.M.T., M.S. is a graduate of Temple University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. In 1998 she graduated from the Downeast School of Massage in Maine. She has published articles in Massage Therapy Journal, been a health columnist, and published The Referral Guide for Complementary Care, a book that describes 25 different healing modalities. In 2006 she completed her Masters program in Nutrition with a focus on traditional foods, and the work of Weston A. Price.
Currently she is the Executive Assistant to the Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, the first Pagan seminary to offer Master’s degrees.


  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Tuesday, 02 April 2013

    Oh, heck, I don't care if I'm off-grid or on-grid. I'd just like to do my part. Solar hot water is probably the easiest place to start, so we'll be looking at that, along with solar roof tiles (if one is replacing a roof, why not replace it with a solar version?)

    However, as the website editor, what strikes me about this discussion (I'm tempted to call it a debate) is whether, if at all, this actually is a *Pagan* issue, and, hence, really a debate for this specific forum. How, for example, would this discussion differ if it was taking place on a Christian or Buddhist or Muslim forum? Or a secular one? If the answer is "not at all" then it's probably time to move on. (That's a suggestion, not a directive.)

  • Selina Rifkin
    Selina Rifkin Tuesday, 02 April 2013

    On grid will be easier. My husband is an electrician so I get to hear about this stuff. Managing the battery packs that come with off grid is tough and apparently very easy to mess up. Replacing them is expensive.

    I'm happy check out of this debate. I am home sick right now, so its been something to do.

    That being said, I do indeed think it would be a different debate if the conversation were being held in a different religious forum. With environmental concerns being part of many Pagans religious practice and belief, I even think Gus would agree with me about that!

  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega Tuesday, 02 April 2013

    The thread ran out with you making statements that cannot be supported by facts, so I am continuing the discussion. The issues are too important to me.

    You accuse me of looking for a fight. I stayed 100% focused on issues of science and technology until you started on about the” environmentalist agenda,” and what Pagans were in “lock step” with. Then when I wrote for clarification you wrote about what all or most “liberals” believe including a deep suspicion human beings are a “plague.” I think you need to be more self-aware of who started and continues to throw rocks.

    Your comment about vegans is just what I am getting. Environmentalism is an attitude towards respecting the other than human world. Some support nuclear energy (without much enthusiasm), some do not, some support living very simply, some like cities and technology, some seek elements of both, some hunt and fish, some do not, some focus on good farming, some on preserving wildlands, and on and on and on. Before his death Barry Goldwater was more than sympathetic to environmental issues.

    Most environmentalists are NOT vegans. I certainly am not. And to imply that veganism is a trait of “environmentalism” is proof you do not know much about it. Much of "A Sand County Almanac," arguably the most important environmental book ever written by an American, involves accounts of Aldo Leopold's hunting and fishing. The conference I recently attended on his thought had as speakers or fellow attendees many of the most active people in northern California concerned with environmental issues as well as statewide leaders. The chicken sandwiches were very good.

    You make too many charges to deal with in this format so I will start and stop with your first. Environmentalists have not “made sure” of anything about DDT and Africa. The charge is a complete lie. And I mean that word literally.

    Consider the following facts. In 1959-1960, during peak DDT use, half a billion people got malaria each year, and 4 million died. In 2012, WHO’s estimates are 250 million infections, and fewer than 800,000 dead. Most of the decrease comes without DDT. See these links to WHO reports:

    Second, the “ban” on DDT in the U.S. applied ONLY to the U.S. In its usual effort to minimize damage to corporations the EPA allowed DDT manufacturers to export DDT so they wouldn’t lose money. There never was a ban on selling DDT to Africa.

    Third, without time machines that right wing charge is impossible. The WHO discovered DDT overuse had bred DDT-resistant and DDT-immune mosquitoes in Africa by 1965. It then suspended its widespread program to eradicate malaria because resistance made the program impossible. The U.S. didn’t ban DDT on crops until 1972, SEVEN YEARS LATER.

    Fourth, stopping spraying in the U.S. doesn’t increase mosquitoes in Africa — the insects do not migrate far, and certainly not thousands of miles (except for a few cases of accidental transport).

    Fifth, neither Carson nor any significant environmentalists ever argued against using pesticides to protect human beings from malaria. They argued against the over use of pesticides such that the losses outweighed the gains, especially over time. DDT on mosquito nets in dwellings target insects most likely to transmit malaria while not encouraging development or retention of resistance to the chemical as would widespread spraying.

    Here are two recent over views of this issue.

    Please Google something other than the right wing hacks and fanatics at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Heartland Institute. (I have talked and corresponded with the CEI’s director and visited Heartland, so I speak from extensive personal experience.) If you write on such contentious issues and want to be taken seriously take the time to investigate the other point of view, present it fairly, and then rebut it.

    I leave it to readers to decide whether your comments about my Patheos piece indicate you understood my argument. I think you did not.

    But you have convinced me to examine the relationship between libertarianism and Paganism. Having just published a chapter in a collection of essays on libertarianism (“Uncivil Liberties,” Georgia Kelly, ed.) and having long been a libertarian and now even longer a Pagan, I think it will be a worthwhile endeavor.

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