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The Dark Side of the Debate

Every idea must confront its critics. Some downsides to wind and solar include:

Hazardous to Health — Workers and bystanders have been injured at land-based wind turbines or by working atop high-rise solar facilities, and some killed either by electrocution or falls. The wind and solar industries employ 175,000 technicians, some ill-trained in safety procedures, charge opponents.

Dangerous to Wildlife — Birds, bats and even golden eagles have fallen prey to the spinning fans of death.

Prone to Rust — Salt in seawater means rust for some seaborne generators.

Hard on the Ears — Nuisances and noisy, yes. A world-class whine. We’re talking 200-foot-long blades, huge propellers swinging on a giant Popsicle stick. Would you want one in your backyard?

Hard on the Eyes — Massive solar arrays and wind turbines are not only annoying, they can be coyote ugly.

THE JESUIT RESPONSE

*** “As a steward and co-creator of the planet, do I express gratitude for the beauty of God’s creation and work responsibly with others to preserve it? I pause and reflect.”

—Prayer for Finding God in All Things: The Daily Examen of St. Ignatius of Loyola (from the Xavier Mission & Identity home page)

*** “To have dominion over all creation does not imply unrestrained exploitation. We are to treat creation as the Creator would, not from our own selfish consumption but for the good of all creation.”

—Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., to General Congregation of the Jesuits

*** “Wind energy is the fastest growing alternative energy across the globe.”

—Jesuits in Communication magazine viewpoint, in the wake of the BP Gulf of Mexico pipeline spill, unleashing an oil slick the size of Delaware

*** “To minimize GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions from the purchase and use of electricity and natural gas/stationary fuel sources to the fullest extent possible. … Invest in alternative technologies such as solar, geothermal, co-generation and fuel cells to achieve at least a 7 percent reduction … by 2012, and use the cost avoidance savings to fund other carbon reduction initiatives. Further reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 50 percent reduction, an additional 43 percent, by 2030.”

—Campus benchmarks created after University President Michael J. Graham, S.J., signed the “American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment,” creating a Xavier sustainability panel to draft energy plans and achieve “climate neutrality.”

*** “The cry of the earth and the cry of the poor are one.”

—From the Ecology Secretariat of the Society of Jesus newsletter

*** “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and what fills it resound; let the plains be joyful and all that is in them;

Then let all the trees of the forest rejoice before the Lord who comes, who governs the earth;

To govern the world with justice and the peoples with faithfulness;

In Wonder of One Mother Earth, we pray, Amen!”

—Adaptation of Psalm 96 for use during environmental trauma, by the Jesuit Social Research Institute

 

MOMENTS IN THE SUN

Some key milestones, and a few unfortunate trip-falls, mark the clean-energy epoch. A tempestuous timeline:

5,000 B.C. First use of wind energy to propel watercraft along Egypt’s Nile River. You go, Cleo!

200 B.C. First use of waterwheels to power grain mills in China, Rome and Persia.

1590 A.D. First use of windmills in Holland to pump surging seawaters that threaten flood dikes and levees.

1850 A.D. First use of windmills to grind wheat and corn in the American west.

1861 A.D. First use of the sun to power a motor (using mirrors to amplify solar heat and create steam).

1882 A.D. First use of a hydroelectric station to turn moving water into voltage, powering two Wisconsin paper mills.

1888 A.D. First use of a giant windmill to generate mass consumer electricity, in Ohio.

1892 A.D. First use of geothermal (hot springs) to power district-wide heating system, in Idaho.

1899 A.D. First passenger blimp set aloft by Ferdinand von Zeppelin, ushering in dirigible balloon era.

1905 A.D. First on-paper proposal (courtesy of one Al Einstein) for how “photovoltaic effects and light quanta” could, in theory, make a solar panel work.

1927 A.D. First factory to produce wind-turbine generators for farm use. Jacob’s Wind, Inc., opens in Minnesota and manufactures portable units for the next 30 years, some of which still run in remote locations worldwide.

1941 A.D. First large wind turbine erected at Grandpa’s Knob, Vermont, to feed the local utility network during WWII.

1942 A.D. First use of controlled nuclear chain reaction, at the University of Chicago.

1953 A.D. First silicon solar cell capable of generating electricity developed at Bell Labs.

1967 A.D. First Arab oil embargo of the United States, as penalty for supporting Israel during the Six-Day War.

1973 A.D. Another OPEC ban on exported barrels, this time for American support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. This one inspires widespread panic and waiting lines at the gas pumps.

1975 A.D. First utility-scale wind turbine, the 100 kW Mod-0, unveiled at NASA’s Lewis Research Center in Sandusky, Ohio.

1978 A.D. First use of solar to power an entire town, in Schuchuli, Ariz.

1979 A.D. First Iran crisis. Ayatollah Khomeini cuts exports, driving tank prices sky-high.

1979 A.D. Three Mile Island reactor mishap.

1980 A.D. First commercial wind farm built in America, a fleet of 20 turbines perched atop Cratched Mountain in New Hampshire.

1986 A.D. Chernobyl nuclear vessel rupture.

1989 A.D. Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster.

1994 A.D. First time in history that United States imports more than 50 percent of petroleum it consumes. Mideast oil cartel dances a jig.

2004 A.D. American electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors begins development on the Tesla Roadster. Others soon follow: the Ford Focus, Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi MiEV, Volkswagen Golf Blue e-motion, Honda Fit, Toyota/Telsa RAV4EV, Mercedes-Benz E-Cell, and more.

2009 A.D. First Xavier solar array/electric vehicles driven by University Physical Plant operators. No gas, zero emissions (on the part of the golf carts).

2010 A.D. BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig catastrophe.

2011 A.D. Fukushima Daiichi core meltdown and plutonium fallout.

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