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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 9, 2007

Field notes on averting catastrophe

Change is in the wind.

Last summer, we wrote about John Pratt’s plans to build the first windmill in Berne. We also ran an editorial, "Stop our self-destruction, one windmill at a time," that reflected our sense of urgency about global warming.

We had just read Elizabeth Kolbert’s book, Field Notes From a Catastrophe, and shared her concerns as she detailed the buildup of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere that threatens to melt the polar ice sheets and irreversibly change our climate.

"A disruption in monsoon patterns, a shift in ocean currents, a major drought — any one of these could easily produce streams of refugees numbering in the millions," Kolbert wrote. "As the effects of global warming become more and more difficult to ignore, will we react by finally fashioning a global response"

"Or will we retreat into ever narrower and more destructive forms of self-interest" It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing."

As Kolbert made the case for a global response to a global problem — she is right, but that doesn’t ensure it will happen — we embraced the value of local initiative.

We’re pleased that progress has been made. Pratt has erected his windmill and more Americans than not are at last finally convinced global warming is a problem.

In the give-and-take we so value on our opinion pages, we heard last summer from two East Berne residents, Robert Jarvenpa and Hetty Jo Brumbach, about problems with large-scale windmill facilities — visual blight, auditory stress, depreciating land values — and the need for long-range planning and development in the Hilltowns.

Progress is being made there as well.

This summer, our Hilltown reporter, Tyler Schuling, visited the handful of pioneering individuals who have erected or are erecting windmills on their land for their own home use. His field notes tell the story of individuals willing to shoulder a short-term financial burden for long-term rewards.

Schuling’s story also provides a guide, exploring a range of options, for individuals who may want to follow suit. We they others do.

At the same time, Schuling has detailed concerns about windmills raised by residents and he has written about zoning regulations that the towns of Berne and Knox are putting in place to protect residents. Knox’s ordinance, for example, requires towers to be built away from neighbors’ properties by a distance of one-and-a-half times the height of the tower, so it would not fall onto others’ land.

Dan Driscoll, a long-time planning board member in Knox who worked as a noise-control engineer, calculated the sound level for an about-to-be installed wind tower in Knox, and concluded it would not exceed 35 decibels at the nearest house, a level he considers appropriate in a quiet rural community. He also walked the trails of Thacher State Park to see if a tower nearby would mar the views.

We urge other towns to develop sensible ordinances for wind towers so individuals who want to build them will not be delayed and so other residents will be protected.

It’s important to distinguish between the relatively small and quiet towers erected for household use and the large wind-farm facilities. Both should be accounted for in zoning regulations.

At the same time that individuals are erecting towers in the windswept Hilltowns, the Helderberg Wind Project proceeds, with state funding, with groundbreaking research on a community-owned wind project.

We continue to admire not just the creativity but the care with which this group is proceeding and will continue to cover its progress. We hope the Helderberg Wind Project will one day serve as a model to other communities across the state.

As a society, we need to shift to renewable energy sources. These are small steps being taken in the Hilltowns, but small steps can start a movement.

Wind energy is both renewable and clean. Nuclear power, while cleaner than fossil fuels, produces dangerous radioactive waste. At this point, United States companies that produce clean, renewable energies like solar and wind power don’t receive the billions of dollars in federal subsidies given to the fossil fuel and nuclear industries.

When Congress, in 2004, failed to renew the production tax credit for wind power, the fledgling industry slumped. The credit has since been renewed, giving us hope more projects may follow.

If we can meet our needs close to home, using clean and renewable energy, we’ll leave a lighter footprint on the earth.

"There’s been a lot of people stopping by," said Pratt, who built the first windmill in Berne. "They listen. They look"Somebody’s got to break the ice."

We, as human beings, are capable of understanding the harm we are doing and we are capable of changing our ways before we have doomed our civilization.

— Melissa Hale Spencer, editor

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