Progressive politics, ideas & culture


the answer, my friend

This Magazine Staff

(image courtesy Cape Cod Today)
We all know what happens when good and evil collide over issues that affect us all. When developers look to gentrify a run-down community with no plan in place for the displaced former residents, it’s not hard for a committed lefty to pick out the good guys and the bad guys. Sean Condon writes about just such a scenario in the current issue of THIS Magazine.
But what happens when both sides in a fight can make a significant lefty-sounding claim? I wrote a while back about Sarah Harmer’s campaign to block some aggregate mining on the ecologically sensitive Niagara Escarpment, and noted that the company in question was advancing environmental arguments of its own. The mere mention of NIMBYism in the discussion brought out the tried and true accusations of environmental ignorance. “Have you ever heard of a butternut tree?,” I was asked, as if that had any significance in a discussion of whose backyard gets ravaged to build the roads we all use and will continue to use for the foreseeable future. Someone’s backyard will be ravaged, but if NOW Magazine doesn’t aim its awesome hippy-journalism power at it, we won’t have to worry about whose home was ruined while we drive to the cottage in our friend’s new hybrid.
Residents of Wolfe Island (near Kingston, Ontario) are dealing with just this kind of lefty YIYBYism (Yes, In Your Back Yard), as a growing environmentalism and concern for our sustainable and green energy future is pushing a windfarm project at them and tearing the community apart. Check out this article from the Kingston Whig-Standard, which shows longtime neighbours locked in an emotional debate about appropriate land use, natural sightlines and property values. “This is Hatfield and McCoy stuff,” one resident says.
I am excited about the potential for wind energy. My roots are in Schleswig-Holstein in Northern Germany, a gusty farming lowland on the North Sea (used to belong to Denmark before that hyper-ambitious Bismarck came along) that is now home to elegant and picturesque windfarms. These modern developments blend in with the traditional humanscape very appropriately (no shortage of creaky old wooden windmills in northern Europe), and feed an awful lot of power back to the rest of Germany. I love the sight of Toronto’s one wind turbine. It makes a perfect companion to the skyline and acts as a handy landmark for local sailors looking for the eastern edge of Humber Bay.
But just because I think wind power is great, and I happen to like the sight of windfarms in the distance, do I have the right to impose my chosen energy source on someone else? As much as I love my one turbine, would I be as enthusiastic if there were ten in my backyard? Robert Kennedy Jr. has some big lefty-enviro credentials, and he has worked against a windfarm project slated for his beloved Nantucket Sound.
Used to be someone had to live next to the coal-plant so the rest of us could read our books at night. If we were reading Marx & Engels, it all seemed somehow justified.
It’s probably a whole lot nicer living near the turbines. Still, who’s lining up to pick the short straw on this one?

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