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.