Dark Satanic Turbines

This post was written by Salman Shaheen on March 26, 2009
Posted Under: England,Environment

credit: The Daily Telegraph

I’m a country boy at heart. I grew up in the vast untamed wilderness that is Suffolk. A land of endless green fields and cow shit, of tractors and farmers, where everybody knows your name but no one knows how to speak English. As such, and as much as I’m drawn by the faster pace of city life, the one thing that will always bring me back to the rural idyll of England’s green and pleasant land, is its beauty. It’s easy to get overly emotive about these sorts of things. To fall into violins and watercolour cliché. But, when it comes down to it, a picturesque landscape will always inspire me. One might expect, then, this country boy and lover of landscapes to be horrified at Ed Miliband’s speech urging government to be much tougher in pushing through unsightly windfarm projects on unspoilt areas that have often been delayed or cancelled by fierce local opposition. One might be very wrong.

In his speech at the launch of the film The Age of Stupid, Miliband decried opposition to windfarms as “socially unacceptable” and compared it to “not wearing your seatbelt or driving past a zebra crossing.” My only reaction to that would be: yes, minister. As uncomfortable as it often is to see government describe opposition to its policies as “socially unacceptable”, and as uncomfortable as it is that we have seen an ever increasing centralisation of power under New Labour, I believe Miliband is right. This is not a case of government telling us what is best for us or a paternalistic state taking an overly zealous moral position on our lifestyle choices. As much as we should have a responsibility for the preservation of areas of natural beauty, we also have a duty to the protection of the planet and combating one of the greatest threats to it: global warming. It’s a duty not simply to the eco-warrior ideal of saving polar bears and butterflies, but a duty to our continued existence and to the millions of people living in coastal lowlands and arid climates where a change to their landscape is not measured in a loss of beauty, but in a loss of life.

As I’m sure every good soldier will probably tell you, duty doesn’t come without hardship. Climate change has been well-documented for decades, but it is only comparatively recently that scientists and politicians – perhaps with the dishonourable exception of David Bellamy and George W. Bush – have reached a consensus on its human causes and our urgent need to do something about it. But taking responsibility is the easy part. The hard part comes in the tough choice we must face. We, as citizens of developed nations, can either change our lifestyles and abandon many of the comforts we have come to take for granted through burning fossil fuels; or we can sustain our privileged existences by means of renewable energy. It’s an uncomfortable choice, but it has to be made. And if we decide, as the vast majority of people no doubt will, that a radical lowering of our expectations of modern civilisation is simply unfeasible, we must accept the reality of a countryside spoilt by vast swathes of wind turbines. As much as it pains me to admit this – as much as I might hate to see dark Satanic Mills dotting England’s pleasant pastures – to do otherwise would be nothing short of socially unacceptable.

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Reader Comments

Charlie

I agree with your sentiment, except with the ellision of wind/Dark Satanic, mills- the first being what some consider to be an aesthetically pleasing attempt to counter the destructive effects of the latter (the Satanic implications would lie more in the apocalyptic vision of dramatic climate change than in the bracing sight of cluster of wind turbines).
I don’t think we CAN choose to sustain our privileged existences though renewables, as you suggest. Lifestyles are going to change whether or not we burn fewer fossil fuels. Changes will have to occur at the level of consumption and use of energy, as well as its production. In a context of global population growth and rising expectations for living standards worldwide, it’s only fair. Nor will these changes entail a return to the Dark Ages, just as 4000 new turbines needn’t entail a vision of a countryside ‘spoilt by vast swathes’. The postcard kitsch of the English countryside has always been a perspective-dependent fantasy- where are those dirty great belchers of Blake’s Oop North now?
Good poem to chose, btw- a call to arms and a new society that may serve well for these albeit very different times…

#1 
Written By Charlie on March 26th, 2009 @ 7:12 am

You’ll have to forgive the flowery prose – I do agree that comparing wind turbines to the dark stanic mills of Blake’s industrial nightmare is unfair, it was a satirical metaphor aimed at parodying their demonisation. I also agree that lifestyle changes will be necessary whatever the weather and they will have to be further reaching than screwing in an energy saving lightbulb. The point, however, and this is aimed at countryside campaigners with their hearts in the right place but their minds in the wrong one – you can’t have your cake and eat it. If you’re unwilling to make drastic changes, you will have to accept compromises. We can’t continue this ‘it’s all well and good, but not in my back yard’ mentality.

#2 
Written By Salman Shaheen on March 26th, 2009 @ 7:27 am

An excellent post indeed Salman. As you know I am sick of villagers expecting to exercise unilateral sovereignty over great swathes of land surrounding them even, expecting to exercise their ‘right’ to live amongst roving fields, even at the expense of living standards in Britain at large. Now maybe, as well as wind turbines, we could try and build a few houses, and maybe a few less ordinary londoners would be packed in like sardines.

#3 
Written By Reuben on March 26th, 2009 @ 12:03 pm
Jacob

I too agree with Salman, but I think in some cases he misses the point (or at least doesn’t engage with it properly.) However stupid this notion of the pastoral may be, however conservative it is, however much I turn my radio off when The Archers comes on, we still have to deal with the fact that it happens to be the case that people do value it. Now, if the government decided to build something next to my house that massively devalued it compared to the one a mile down the road that doesn’t have a windfarm next to it, then I’d be pissed off and rightfully so. Of course it’s for the greater good, but so often it is an arbitrarily selected minority having to pay an economic cost for it. The problem comes when these people can’t complain about this hardship because to do so would be “socially unacceptable”. On the contrary, I can’t see a problem with someone asking for a level of compensation.

#4 
Written By Jacob on March 27th, 2009 @ 12:28 am

Of course a level of compensation for those affected would be fair, just as people are compensated when a motorway is built through their back gardens – that goes without saying. The notion of the pastoral, however, is not stupid anymore than art is stupid or classical music is stupid or literature is stupid or any form of valued aesthetics is stupid. That’s the point. These things should be valued, but they shouldn’t cost us the Earth. I’m sure you know that, however, and are just playing up an overblown sense of Londo-imperialism.

#5 
Written By Salman Shaheen on March 27th, 2009 @ 4:24 am
Charlie

Recognising diversity of views is not imperialism, it’s questioning the god-like stifling of opposition by statements like Milliband’s, which paints black and white an issue that is actually a lot more complex (I’m sure the libertarians would question the self-explanatory goodness of stopping at zebra crossings in a legal society where behaviour is regulated, health is obessessed over, movements are recorded). Being Green should not obscure the fact that powerful people stand to make a lot of money behind the ideological smokescreen of saving the world.
The issue is hot, almost farcically so, in my town of Presteigne, where 4 proposed windmills have prompted passionate debates around the wallet-hunger of an ideologically green benighted bigwig, whether it’s windy enough, the right to protest and what is beauty..good grief. But it has revealed interesting tussles over middle-class appropriation of the moral high-ground. I am putting my personal opinions about climate change aside right now- M-band is scary…

#6 
Written By Charlie on March 30th, 2009 @ 7:20 am

My Londo-imperialism comment was referring to Jacob’s statement ‘However stupid this notion of the pastoral may be…’ It was slightly tongue-in-cheek, Jacob’s a Londoner who’s sometimes irrationally country-phobic.

Powerful people will make a lot of money saving the world they made a lot of money helping destroy. The eco nomos has long been valued far higher than the eco logos. Sadly, I think that might be the only way the job’s going to get done.

#7 
Written By Salman Shaheen on March 30th, 2009 @ 8:31 am
Mike

A very good article addressing an important point – given how hard it is to get people to accept a lower standard living, the only way to co-exist with the environment is massive investment in green energy – and on-shore wind is the most proven renewable technology so far.

#8 
Written By Mike on September 23rd, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

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