Tilting at Windmills

My mother had trash compacting and recycling down to a science before the words were part of our lexicon.  cans of food in cupboardAfter she opened a can, she removed the label, rinsed it, then removed the other end of it.  Then she put it on the floor and stomped it flat before putting it in the garbage.  The label was kept with other scrap paper and used as tinder for campfires.  No bottle or jar was put in the garbage unrinsed.  Few were put in the garbage at all.  They were used for storing things or kept in the back shed for future use as storage containers.  I don’t know what she did with food scraps.  She didn’t grow a garden so wouldn’t have composted them.  But she hated smelly garbage so I can’t imagine she put them directly in the bin.  Years later, I’ve seen her back stiffen when she’s seen someone scraping leftovers into the garbage container.  Our output for the garbage man would be one partial can or a small bag.  She looked with horror at the huge bags and bins full outside other houses.

full recycling binThis is to explain why I was amazed at her reaction when recycling blue boxes came to her town.  I thought she’d be all over that programme since she’d been doing it her whole life.  But, no.  She was furious.  “I’ll throw out anything I want, any way I want.  Who are they to tell me I have to take a label off?”  She got irate when I laughed at her.  I said “Mom, you’ve taken labels off as long as I’ve known you.”  “Well, what I do with my garbage is my own business.”  Eventually, she and my dad got to enjoy the recycling routine of sorting and bagging every week.  But she still said no town council had any business telling her what she could and couldn’t do with her garbage.

Windmills in AmsterdamI thought of this when I read a recent column by Sun Media’s Christina Blizzard on the hazards of wind turbines.  What is the big deal about windmills?  It’s not like it’s a brand new, untested idea.  The premise of harnessing wind to make power has been around a very long time.  It’s not like nuclear power generation, for instance – something that is comparatively new with unknown risks.

There are risks to windmills – to birds certainly, to human psychic rhythms perhaps.  Some find a sea of offshore windmills aesthetically unpleasing. Perhaps, but I can’t imagine a sea of offshore drilling rigs would be a whole lot prettier.  We know for sure they’re not safe for birds either.

So why the big furor over windmills? Also from QMI, in our paper on modern wind turbinesthe same day, was an article from the solar power people asking farmers with solar grids not make their complaints public.  The spokeswoman basically said the industry has enough problems with government (especially the Conservative members) and the public, and they don’t need the farmers fueling those fears.

Is it because these forms of energy production are tagged with the environmentalist label?  Although both sun and wind are perhaps the oldest forms of energy known to humanity, somehow they’re seen as “new” and “lefty” and part of some conspiracy to “tell us what to do.”  It seems to me similar to the American fears about government provision of health care; some weird attitude of “I’d rather pay huge premiums or go without health insurance because then I’m free!”

Christina Blizzard talks about the people of China who must live near the tailing lakes of the mining of the rare earth minerals used in the computers for windmills.  They can’t eat food from the nearby contaminated land or rivers.  Adults and children have developed strange illnesses and cancers.  Yes, this is a real and tragic problem that needs addressing.

However, she lost me at; “Every time I see a new turbine I’ll think of those children dying horrific deaths.  And I’ll hang my head in shame at the environmental disaster we’ve created.”   And so should we all.  However, I Man with electronic waste at recycling depot in Chinahope she isn’t so busy tweeting and emailing that message that she wears her smart phone out.  The market for rare earths is in all computer production, not just wind turbines.  And rare earths are an important component in cell phones.  So every time she uses her Blackberry, iPad, laptop or desk top, I hope she’s also thinking of those children in China.  I also hopes she thinks about the ones in China, Ghana and elsewhere in the Third World where our cell phones and computers Kids recycling electronics in Ghana dump, from PBSare dumped when we want to upgrade to the new version.  People there are getting sick and dying from recycling our electronic garbage.  That’s also a really big problem, and one that just has to do with us wanting the newest bestest toys.  Work is needed to improve safety for the environment and people affected by wind turbines, but at least they are meant to lessen reliance on non-renewable and ozone-layer depleting fuel sources.

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