When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt faced a country ravaged by the Great Depression, he said in his 1932 inaugural speech, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” What strikes us as a palpable quality of the current debate about the Northland Power wind turbine project is an irrational fear that comes in various shades and is not helpful.
Many people are afraid of global warming and worry that carbon emissions will not be reduced rapidly enough, because green energy systems are not appearing as fast as they think they should. Others are afraid their property values will drop if this type of industrial green power project goes through. Yet others are afraid of the repercussions that are likely to arise soon, because the First Nations people were not properly consulted about this wind turbine project, and because they also have some serious unsettled land claims. The town councillors appear to be afraid of being sued by Northland Power if support for this project is temporarily halted, possibly with the view to its termination. A few are worried they won’t collect the financial gains they hope to make. Finally, there are those who are afraid of the serious health impacts known to be associated with such industrial wind farms. A rational discussion dismisses fear and examines the evidence.
Global warming will not be solved by rushing into a new system of energy without thinking carefully first. Such a frantic attitude is no better than the childish enthusiasm with which we rushed into the Age of Oil, thinking all our problems were solved and everybody was going to be rich. True, now we know that in another 100 years no car will run on gasoline. That we need to move out of a world economy dependent on fossil fuels is a no-brainer and requires no discussion. What does require our total attention, however, is the way we do this. The end does not-ever-justify the means. Whenever we forget that, we build ourselves a hell on earth.
The proposed Northland Power project is an industrial project that we may or may not want. We all want green energy, but not without examining its consequences, potentially better alternatives, its appropriateness in a given area, and whether negative impacts on human and environmental health are avoidable. We very nearly wrecked our environmental support system once before because everybody was convinced that oil was it and the creation of wealth a social duty. The time has come to think, not wish-to examine, not fret.
The development of green power is going full tilt, as it should. Just because we aim for energy not based on fossil fuels does not automatically make this industry virtuous or safe from scrutiny. It is downright silly to equate “green” with “good.”
In order to move from one disastrous system of energy into a new, hopefully less destructive way of meeting energy needs, we must rely on what is best in our civilization. The fact that the First Nations were not consulted, when our Supreme Court has determined that they must be consulted, is of central relevance to the means-versus-ends imperative. Consultation and the right to say no are a matter of basic and established justice and common decency. If running roughshod over First Nations’ rights and unsettled land claims is what it takes to get green energy, we want no part of that green energy.
Polarizing values, that in actual fact are not at odds with each other, is the stuff of catastrophe-inducing hysteria. The Age of Oil ran roughshod over anybody who got in the way of profits. There is no need to do this again. And if the First Nations argue, according to their recognized ancient values that such an industrial project would wreck their environment, then we had better back off really fast-and with an apology.
The fear of being sued by a corporation, that wants what it wants when it wants it, is nothing more than abdication of one’s better judgment: a corporation that even suggests such a threat is a bully and must be met with a firm response, like any other bully. The laws governing the right to sue are based on the laws of contract and tend not to favour incomplete or inappropriately supported contracts.
Finally, the fact of very serious damage to health stemming from industrial wind farms is indisputable and recorded the world over. Speaking as a medical doctor and a medical science writer, we know these concerns stem from dispassionate science. When placed far enough away from human dwellings or when the turbines are far smaller, such health effects are not observed. Those who did the medical research, those who reported what happened to them, and those who published these reports had nothing to gain-certainly not money!
What is NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard-ism)? Well, we are. We absolutely do not want anything in our or our neighbours’ backyards that was put there by tossing aside human rights affirmed by Supreme Court deliberations or because of the refusal to carefully examine the evidence on negative health effects.
What has the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands got to lose by putting a moratorium on this project in order to examine the objections brought forth in good faith? Some 50 other Ontario municipalities have already done so by asking for a moratorium until all the facts are evaluated publicly. And why should Northland Power’s aims override the concerns of the community in which this project is to be built? If Northland Power’s project might be harmful, why would they insist on it? And why would we let them insist?
To us it seems that the only thing the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands has to lose is its integrity. We expect that integrity, because their mandate is to serve and project the public interest.
Dr. Robert Ferrie and Helke Ferrie, Alton