In a column published last week, Katherine Booth argued that “environmentalism is a great idea, up to a point” (“Extreme environmentalism is impractical,” 10/26). Such a statement is consistent with what I perceive as a nascent shift within the environmental movement towards a centrist, pragmatic approach to environmental policy. In some ways, environmentalism has been integrated into the mainstream. Yet Booth’s piece incorrectly suggests that we have reached that point where environmentalism is no longer a “great idea.” The recent push to develop renewable energy demonstrates exactly why Booth’s notion is so deluded.
As an intern for the Southern California Public Power Authority this summer, I was amazed at the number of people who were excited by renewables — and they were wearing business suits, not Birkenstocks. Engineers know that renewable projects are based on viable technologies, and they expect that future research will make such projects more efficient and less expensive. Policy-makers know that renewable projects strengthen energy portfolios through diversification, and they argue that throwing off the shackles of petroleum dependence makes for a stronger foreign policy. Most importantly, businessmen are aligning themselves behind the renewable push. Small renewable energy outfits are springing up across the country, and investment bankers are lining up for a stake in their projects. This should send a strong signal: Investing in renewables makes economic sense.
Equating the development of renewable energy with environmental extremism fails to reflect the magnitude of this emerging trend. There is nothing particularly “liberal” about supporting renewable energy. Protecting the environment has become, to many people, a subsidiary benefit of renewable technology. Environmental and economic interests are becoming conflated. We no longer have to balance environmental preservation and economic growth as opposing values; we can pursue policies that support both at the same time. For example, a new solar plant doesn’t just reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and particulate matter — it also stimulates economic growth by providing jobs that require technical training.
Booth’s condemnation of wind energy as “ridiculous and impractical” is unsubstantiated by her article and unfounded in reality. Put differently, it is downright wrong. In Los Angeles and elsewhere, there is a particularly vibrant push for wind energy development. Properly sited and scheduled, wind farms are a valuable edition to any energy portfolio. Eighty 1.5 megawatt turbines, for example, could potentially produce enough electricity to power 56,000 homes annually. Wind projects make economic sense, too, especially in a time of rising fuel costs: Last June, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power locked in a 16-year deal to buy wind energy from Wyoming at only $63 per kilowatt-hour. Though Booth claims otherwise, no one is making the fantastical suggestion that we should erect millions of turbines in Yosemite. Instead, wind projects are often developed on land that is simultaneously used for something else — grazing livestock, for example. And they receive permits only after extensive environmental impact reviews and avian studies.
Yale’s recent purchase of 10,000 MWh worth of renewable energy credits from the Oklahoma Wind Energy Center is a step in the right direction toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Firing down a coal plant in Oklahoma is good, even if in a very small way, for the environment in New Haven. Investing in renewable energy now also assures that renewable technology continues to improve in the future.
But while supporting renewable energy through renewable credits is a good way to jump-start Yale’s involvement in the renewable field, we shouldn’t be satisfied with that effort alone. Yale should develop renewable energy projects right here in New Haven. It would, of course, take years of study and planning to erect turbines on Yale’s property. And even though the wind profile probably wouldn’t pan out, why not build a wind farm if it did? We could clean the air, save money on energy and stimulate the economy all at the same time. There’s nothing radical about striving to accomplish that.
Kevin Currey is a sophomore in Saybrook College.