Wednesday, August 15, 2007

It's not easy being green

Flagstaff, Arizona, is one of those communities dotted across the country where the city politicos and much of the population pride themselves on buying into the whole slate of right-thinking college-town beliefs. You know what those are: recycling is good, President Bush is bad, taxes are never too high, property rights are archaic and, above all else, the environment is an Important Issue.

So it's with some interest that I note this story in the Arizona Daily Sun pointing out how difficult--nearly impossible--it is for the residents of Flagstaff and the nearby unincorporated areas to get city or county approval to install wind generators.

In a city that has vowed to reduce its carbon emissions and a county that has made generating environmentally sustainable jobs a priority, generating wind energy in your backyard is nearly impossible now.

A few people stop in each week at Architectural & Environmental Associates of Flagstaff to ask about installing a backyard wind turbine.

Once Vice President Jason Campbell lays out the months-long paperwork delays, the $14,000 in total costs and the uncertainties about whether a homeowner is even allowed to install a wind turbine inside the county or city limits, most people decide against buying them, he said.

The wind turbines stand 6 feet too tall to be allowed under current city and county land use rules.

"With the height restrictions, it's just a struggle to get it permitted. It’s not impossible. But it’s almost impossible," Campbell said.

The problem is that, in this case, the environmental Holy Grail of renewable energy comes linked to an unorthodox exercise of property rights. It's one thing entirely for Flagstaff's trendy tree-huggers to pat themselves on the back for forcing everybody to sort their paper and plastic; donning the hair shirt (and forcing the neighbor into one too) automatically conveys a reassuring sense of collective moral superiority. But letting people actually take a positive step by spending their own money to harness the power of the wind to generate electricity? Well, no--then they'd have to look at the resulting windmill.

Mayor Joe Donaldson compared backyard wind turbines to old television antennas.

"It can be a real mess, real unsightly in the city of Flagstaff to see these things popping up all over the place," he said.

There certainly are real environmentalists in the world--people interested in developing new technologies and reducing humans' negative impact on the planet without calling for a return to the stone age. The sort of people who personally assume the expense of installing wind generators and solar panels are a good example of the type, as are those who build homes with composting toilets and hook up gray-water systems. Those are the sorts of personal commitments that might not be appropriate for everybody, but can make a lot of sense in the appropriate setting (desert regions, like Arizona, come to mind).

But too many self-described environmentalists are more interested in making very visible sacrifices--and forcing others to do the same. They either enjoy the frisson they get from marching whole communities in lock-step self-denial, or they just don't like people very much. Very often the two motives are intertwined.

Actually, it's a lot like a puritanical religious cult with a long list of "thou shall nots" and very little interest in any innovation--no matter how compatible with core precepts--that makes life easier instead of harder.

To them, building a wind generator is like trying to grease the road to salvation.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home