Clean Energy Benefits Bypass Climate Debate

June 4, 2021

The great thing about clean energy is that you don’t have to even go into the climate debate to explain the overwhelming advantages communities gain from wind and, increasingly, solar energy.

One of my newest good friends is a hard-core conservative Republican farmer whose farm has been in the family for more than a century. He has a “Trump – Pence” bumper sticker in his kitchen where we recently shared a welcome, in-person post-covid conversation over coffee.
He loves his new wind turbines, doesn’t give a rip about climate. I’m fine with it.

Terrific long piece in Christian Science Monitor is worth a read to understand. Excerpts here.

Christian Science Monitor:

For five generations, Andrew Bowman’s family has worked the land in Oneida, population 700-ish – a flat and fertile swath of Illinois his father always said was good for growing crops and kids. Today, he farms soybeans and corn, as well as specialty popcorn, which he sells under the label Pilot Knob Comforts.

Mr. Bowman hopes to have a new resource to harvest soon, as well: wind.

This past year, Mr. Bowman took a lead representing local landowners in negotiating with Orion Renewable Energy Group, one of the many companies installing wind farms across Illinois, to build a new 100-turbine project in his part of Knox County. Clean energy would not only help keep the local school open and support the fire department and library, he says, but would also offer a new income stream to farmers who agree to lease some of their land for the project – some $30 million over 25 years, according to the proposal.

“It’s going to be life-changing for people who sign up,” Mr. Bowman says.

For Mr. Bowman, embracing wind power is part of stewarding the land for the next generation – and one of many steps he and his brother-in-law, Matt Hulsizer, have taken to ensure resiliency on their 1,800 acres. They are acutely focused on soil health, low tillage, and reducing fuel consumption; they have tried organic practices and are investigating cover crops to retain nutrients and prevent erosion.

But none of this is because they are trying to fight climate change.

They care deeply about the environment, they say; after all, they live and work in it. But they cringe at the cries for climate action, and they bristle when city people suggest their outdoor, low-consumption life is problematic. (“The difference between growing up on dirt and growing up on asphalt,” Mr. Hulsizer says.) If human-made climate change is happening, they say – something they find dubious – they doubt there’s much anyone can do to stop it.

For them, tending soil and harvesting wind for clean energy – two initiatives climate scholars say are crucial for reducing carbon emissions – is simply about taking the best steps economically.

And that, scholars point out, is a tremendous shift.

For years, the dominant narrative of climate action was one of trade-offs and costs – that saving the world as we know it meant taking hard steps to reduce carbon emissions, and likely sacrificing jobs and lifestyle in the process.

Over the past months, the Biden administration has worked to change this storyline, explicitly connecting “climate” with “good-paying union jobs,” and tying climate action to massive government investment and redevelopment. But travel across Illinois – a state that reflects the country’s political profile, with solidly red rural areas and a few blue cities – and one sees something more. Economic shifts, whether around clean energy or electric vehicles, regenerative agriculture or green construction, may be starting to defuse much of the debate over climate change.

Instead, climate action has merged with economic progress – particularly when it comes to clean energy. And although climate activists say this awakening won’t by itself put the nation on track to meet the Paris Agreement goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, some suggest it is making that path less arduous, while creating new opportunities and connections for those across the ideological spectrum.

“There’s an argument that’s been around for a long time, that somehow the economy and the environment are at odds and we can’t do two things at once,” says Bob Keefe, executive director of E2, an organization of business groups focused on environmental action. “What we’re seeing today is that there’s never been more clarity about the economic costs of climate change, or the economic potential of climate action.”

Drive across central Illinois and one can see how this is the fastest-growing wind energy state in the Midwest. Wind farms, with turbines towering over cornfields, have become big business here. Companies such as Orion Energy, which worked with Mr. Bowman, the Knox County farmer, have invested $13 billion in the state, according to Power Up Illinois, an advocacy group for clean energy. Wind and solar property taxes totaled $41.4 million in 2019 and now support 13,400 jobs in the state, the group says.

These companies also pay $41.8 million in annual lease payments to farmers.

“They’re a blessing, they really are,” says David Senn, a farmer in Tazewell County, southeast of Peoria, who now grows his crops around five turbines. “I can’t say enough about what the windmills are doing.”

Mr. Senn says that when the wind farm in his area was first proposed, some residents pushed back against it. But those criticisms have stopped, he says, now that people have seen not only the financial benefit to farmers, but also the tax revenue for roads and schools.

Indeed, northeast of Peoria in the city of Wenona, with a population of about 1,000, construction workers are starting a full, energy-efficient renovation of the middle school. Kari Rockwell, superintendent of the Fieldcrest Community School District, says the work was only possible because of new wind farm projects that are slated to add nearly $2 million to her budget in their first year.

“Our school district has decades’ worth of work that is very, very necessary on our buildings,” she says. “What we’ve seen is that the influx of money from wind farms gives local communities peace of mind in funding these projects.”

Indeed, perhaps more than in any other industry, progress within the clean energy sector may be pushing the debate about climate change toward irrelevance.

8 Responses to “Clean Energy Benefits Bypass Climate Debate”

  1. J4Zonian Says:

    The problem with trying to island-hop over and around the denying delayalists and just build wind and solar, is that there is no way in hell we’ll do it fast enough. We won’t be able to implement the solutions—all the solutions needed—to the climate and larger ecological crisis without the political will to declare an emergency and then act on it.

    Without nearly universal awareness that climate catastrophe is rushing down on us like a meteor, we will never cut energy use enough or build enough clean safe renewable energy fast enough to replace all the fossil fuels we’re using. In 10 years we’ll be facing exponentially rising risk of complete implosion of global civilization, and catastrophic collapse of ecosystems everywhere on Earth.

    To avoid it, we need to build not just local and regional systems of mass transit, but a national system of rail and high speed rail. When that came up for a vote in California, it was narrowly approved, with large votes in favor in the metropolitan areas and large votes against in every single rural county. They’re against it because they’ve been emotionally bludgeoned into disbelieving the science of climate climate catastrophe, and even if they recovered from that, they would never understand the importance of mass transit and HSR as ways to avoid destruction. They’re typical of ignorant people in that they fear and hate things they don’t understand.

    We also need to reverse deforestation and begin to sequester carbon by transforming the chemical industrial agriculture embraced by those in the piece above, into small-scale low-meat organic permaculture. It’s unlikely civilization will survive without the US rejecting the destructive food and fiber production methods it’s spread all over the world. If we either get men like those interviewed here to see the truth (bloody unlikely, in time; we’ll probably have to wait for them to die off) or we have to reverse the SlowCoup that’s nearly driven the US into fascism, and capture enough political power for progressives that we can implement all the solutions.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      …they would never understand the importance of mass transit and HSR as ways to avoid destruction. They’re typical of ignorant people in that they fear and hate things they don’t understand.

      Bear in mind that HSR is a largely urban benefit, and is just an expensive waste of tax money (as the airlines are eager to point out). You might as well try to sell Springfield a monorail!

      And, of course, the HSR right-of-way would have to take land via eminent domain, and/or reduce the value of some of the land it cuts through. There are plenty of ways to un-sell high speed rail to the voting public.

      In the 1990s, BTW, there was a wonderful proposal to link Houston/San Antonio/Austin/Dallas via monorail, but the airlines got to the voters and the Texas lege and it was all for naught.

      • J4Zonian Says:

        Vastly more efficient, clean, safe, renewably-powered High Speed Rail replaces extremely polluting and warming—and regressively anti-egalitarian—flying and long distance driving. It thus helps everyone.

        It especially helps those in its immediate area, including those at every stop along the way, and near every stop along the way. It’s much more efficient, even, than EV buses, although we need the whole system, with HSR, other rail, light rail, EV buses and jitneys, bike shares, better walking, solar hat-powered skateboards, and other ecological choices.

        (I just read an article in a California small-town newspaper (2011?) that would have been/will be 20 miles from the nearest HSR stop, making it a quick trip by coordinated EV bus or jitney. It would have/will connect everyone in that town with the rest of the country, far better than they are now or could be with any other imaginable system. HSR benefits local people and businesses in big cities, certainly, and that jealousy and resentment, (and the 1 little town’s jealousy for the town 20 miles away who gets a stop) was and is fueled by massive funding from Koch, ALEC, Republicans, and the like, as well as the racial disdogwhistleinfopropatainment psycho-industrial complex. It drove the opposition to California’s HSR as it drives opposition to all transit. After they die the world will be better for what they were against. If civilization survives them, that is. At this point I’m close to saying I wouldn’t bet a plugged subway token on survival, precisely because of such schizophrenic psychopathic narcissists, and the criminally stoopid people who buy their lies.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          Nobody needs to sell HSR to me. The trick is to stop anti-HSR rhetoric (paid for by airlines) to the voters and deal with the emotional news stories about those being displaced by HSR.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      “. It’s unlikely civilization will survive without the US rejecting the destructive food and fiber production methods it’s spread all over the world.”

      Those methods are the most efficient and have the smallest carbon footprint of any system in the world. That’s why they are being exported – to reduce the footprint of agriculture and avoid mass starvation.

      • J4Zonian Says:

        Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

        Good one.

        No, chemical industrial agriculture is being exported so US and European corporations and governments can profit and dominate by extending sado-colonialism into further realms—rural society, air, water, soil, and the rest of nature. That harms everyone, including those doing it. The exporting happens because Monsanto (maker of glyphosate and Agent Orange) Syngenta and other temporarily split-off (oops, I mean reunited, er, I mean, hmmm…?) parts of IG Farben, (maker of Zyklon A and B and user of slaves from the extermination camps) lie and corrupt.
        We’ve always known they were continuing that tradition of exploitation and deception but now they’re coming out all over—publicly, officially.* They’re still practicing the on-the-fly lie, though. How many more name changes do they think it will take to escape their responsibility for how destructive humanity is in the 21st century?

        Chemical industrial agriculture is efficient in only one way—it uses less human labor than other forms of food production. In terms of soil, fossil fuel energy, materials, mining, drilling, global warming, and total land and sea use,[1] it’s extremely INefficient, in fact monstrously wasteful and destructive. Its footprint—the total land it takes up, and wrecks, with runoff and other pollution, ecosystem simplification, harmful resource extraction, overconsumption of meat, etc. is much larger than organic permaculture’s footprint; in fact it’s the worst of any food production system ever invented.

        So gingerbaker’s assertion otherwise is radical, ideological, and absurd. To then claim that the network of interlocking corporate boards
        (fossil fuel, ICEV, rail, agriculture, chemicals/biocides, media…) and extreme right operatives that has been among the largest funders of climate denial and delay has suddenly, undetectably, completely reversed course and that “That’s why they are being exported – to reduce the footprint of agriculture and avoid mass starvation” is absolutely ludicrous, worthy only of the most blatant, in-your-face climate denying delayalists, ARFs, anti-evolutionists… Chemical industrial agriculture, as one of the main causes of Climate Götterdämmerung and intransigent climate denial, is going to be a main cause of mass starvation in the coming decades. To be successful, the solutions have to include small-scale low-meat perennials-based family- or woman-run organic permaculture.

        newrepublic[DOT]com/article/161926/farming-lobby-cunning-plan-fight-climate-changeand-regulation

        insideclimatenews[DOT]org/project/harvesting-peril/

        It turns out less human labor is bad; it increases unemployment, hollows out the heartland and breaks people’s bonds with each other in rural communities and relationship to the land and to the ritual time of our myths and history. It’s sad and disturbing that you say you don’t know any of this.

        Read Roy Rappaport’s Pigs for the Ancestors: Ritual in the Ecology of a New Guinea People, the Odums’ writings on energy and agriculture, for example,
        https://training.fws.gov/history/Articles/PotatoesMadeOfOil.html
        “Energy and Order or If You Can’t Trust the Law of Conservation of Energy, Who Can You Trust?” is still an excellent teaching guide, though the data is from the 70s.
        files.eric.ed[DOT]gov/fulltext/ED137075.pdf

        “You’d have to be an evil genius to do worse than agriculture.” Bill Mollison

        Chemical industrial agriculture obviously has an enormous carbon footprint, producing huge clouds of CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide as it destroys soil communities, leads to massive erosion, and kills off populations and species, all worsening climate catastrophe.

        A combination of traditional and modern organic methods guided by permaculture principles can sequester huge amounts of carbon. And of course eating low on the food chain would dramatically reduce carbon, but that’s contrary to the spirit and unprinciples of chemical industrial agriculture. The world already produces food for 10 billion; inequality and oppression driven by Wetiko disease keep it from being distributed fairly, and chemical industrial agriculture is one of the most crucial tools in that system. The system and the ag methods are inseparable; politics, energy and climate, militarism, medicine, disinfopropatainment (including sports), agriculture… are all joined by being manifestations of the need to dominate and ultimately destroy.

        [1] No chinampas here.
        Any calculation of chemical industrial food production on land has to have subtracted from it what it devastates in sea food production because of dead zones caused mostly by ag runoff, and other harm such ag does to carrying capacity.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          Someone would have to convince me that yield per hectare isn’t the most important metric in determining the best agricultural processes on a planet with 7.8bn people.

          “…though the data is from the 70s.”

          Because efficiencies haven’t radically changed in 50 years.

          BTW, while ag runoff (especially livestock poop) contributes the majority to the dead zones in US lakes, Chesapeake, GoM, it turns out that overuse from suburban lawn care represents a disproportionately large amount of the N and P. Municipal sewage and NO2 emissions contribute to dead zones, too.

  2. J4Zonian Says:

    Can Regenerative Agriculture Reverse Climate Change?
    | One Small Step | NowThis Earth |

    Just posted another comment with too many links; stay tuna’d.


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