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Social Cost: A Few New Spins on Wind

Much has already been said on the future of wind turbines in the County.
I probably don’t need to retrace the steps which have already been covered, but I would like to offer a few new insights into Big Wind in the County.
As you probably already know, I love the concept of wind turbines as a ‘green energy’ resource. I found it puzzling that someone like me ­ who would love to have a hand in changing our world for the better ­ can’t come to grips with Wind Farms here. I’m sure you’re suffering the same anxiety, in one form or another.
For me, the Big Stumbling Block is the politicizing of wind power in Ontario. I consider it a very bad thing when provincial politicians declare their undying love for global corporations at the altar of Eternal Green Legacy. (Green being the colour of both Alternative Energy and Money.)
When this unholy couple starts calling the shots, they can turn even the best intentions into a fascist regime.
We are told we have no choice … the government has legislated our choices away. But a law which is based on who the government chooses to deal with, is not a proper law.
In 1776, the Americans fought this principle and won. Surely we can do it in 2011. We can fight ill-conceived government edicts with far less bloodshed, and without dumping a boatload of tea into Soup Harbour.
So I packed my kit bag again, and went looking for new answers. Not pertaining to whether or not wind turbines are the saviour of mankind, or the death of rural Ontario. Not to dig out Absolutely Really True Statistics
Which No-One Can Dispute. But to try to find out why ­ with all the information on the table ­ this is not an easy decision to make for County people.
I found one answer, oddly enough, in the field of Sociology.
I stumbled across a sociological principle called ‘Social Cost’.
It describes, in short, that people in a society are willing to pay a price in return for the benefits they can gain.
This is simple, yet brilliant.
We’re willing to pay taxes, in return for the services supplied by the people who collect them.
Canada ­ or any industrialized nation for that matter ­ is built on this concept. For over a century, we have been willing to endorse (or at least tolerate) large factories which pollute our air and our water, and basically suck the life out of Planet Earth.
Why? Because we need the paper, rubber, oil, synthetic compounds, diesel, gasoline, etc. in order to live the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed.
This is a Social Cost which all of the Western World accepts without blinking.
Well, almost all. Times are indeed changing, and the costs are rising, and it may be time for all of us to stagger over to the bartender and pay our tab.
All of this lines up to back wind power as a reasonable alternative to conventional production of electricity.
So why doesn’t it fit?
Why do I write columns like this, and others write columns loving wind, and others write letters loving and hating wind?
That’s because we’re all different and, to me Social Cost (acceptable by society) goes up against Social Risk (what individuals are not willing to risk to get what they want). Sure, I just made that term up, so I can be quoted in a sociology textbook some day, but I think it’s a valid point.
Here’s a couple of my crazy analogies.
If you live five minutes from work, do you drive to work, or walk, or ride a bike? Most conscientious people would choose one of the latter two, and save gas and perhaps parking fees to boot.
But if you live in Ajax, and work on Bay Street, between your work and your bicycling, you would not have enough time left to eat or sleep. And you would die.
So your acceptance of social risk changes. Now you’re willing to pollute the air with your car, and feed endless dollars into the Gasoline Con Game, in exchange for quick transport to work, accounting for three extra hours in
stalled traffic on the Don Valley.
This question defines Social Risk:  Would you sit in a chair behind a sheet of glass, while people fire gravelstones at you at 100 kph? And, at the same time, fire endless tons of raw steel past you at a combined speed of 160 kph?
Of course not. Yet we do it every day we drive. This is everyone’s acceptable risk.
Turning to the Wind issue, this partly explains why none of us can find common ground to stand on.
The Dons Chisholm and Ross in County Weekly News are intelligent, well-spoken, well-researched people, and motivated by a truly humanitarian need to help us save the world.
So why can’t I stand beside them and help wave the flag?
To Don Ross, I say that I honestly, deeply, believe that McGuinty’s government-driven, corporation-run concept of wind power is nothing but a future disaster. And we will pay the price.
To Don Chisholm, I invoke the principles of Social Cost and Social Risk. In his column (and I don’t doubt his stats), he says wind is responsible for 1.6 million bird deaths worldwide. He then cites larger numbers of bird
deaths from other causes, like cars, your household cats, and other human activities. Also very true.
It’s a little like defending yourself in court for murder by pointing out you know a guy who killed six people, so you’re not so bad. But that’s not my point.
His Social Cost in bird deaths, though admittedly not horrifying in numbers, is way different from the people who run the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory. Their Social Risk has a different slant, which questions
the number of deaths, along with the kinds of species affected.
Their snapshot of Social Risk says ‘No’ to establishing wind turbines in or near a designated Important Bird Area.
To me, birds are okay, but I really, really like bats. I have been in love with them ever since I found out they eat their body weight in mosquitoes every day.
So it’s really because I hate mosquitoes, which are largely unaffected by wind turbines, unless the turbines are three inches tall.
Next: I will explain why we know everything, but don’t know anything.

Filed Under: Steve Campbell

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  1. Mandy says:

    Great insight into what is driving this controversy. Have you ever attended a “public consultation”? This is a little hoop the developers have to jump through to prove they “consulted” the public. Having security guards watching your every move while being video-taped and having to give your name and phone number is a slap in the face to any citizen.

    All the while, the developer giving you the industry speil and talking to you like your are an ignorant child. They KNOW this will harm you. They don’t care. Akin to a rapist priming his bait.

    Then having your own government call you names for objecting to this. It is truly eye-opening.

  2. Andre Den Tandt says:

    Steve, I agree with nearly everything you wrote, but must ad that all the cost we accept to bear to get what we want and need have to also be fairly distributed. In the case of wind-turbine projects, that concept is totally lacking: City needs energy, countryside pay the price. That applies to health, real estate value loss, destruction of habitat( both human and wildlife), social bonds in the rural community. We have a feeling of being flushed down the drain with nary a sound being heard in the wider society. There is also something fiendishly disturbing about being stiff-armed by people who can lie while looking you straight in the eye, both sides knowing fully well that it’s a rigged game and the other side holds all the trump cards. I too liked renewable energy, until I discovered that, as practiced in Ontario, it’s a shell game. Loved your article.

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