Paganism, food and spirituality
The Chimera of Wind and Solar
Mom 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.