Something to do with Iain’s mention of a possible wind farm on Skye, sort of…

  • Something to do with Iain’s mention of a possible wind farm on Skye, sort of…

    Posted by Peter Barus on December 26, 2023 at 4:09 pm

    I published this elsewhere, but it seems relevant, and is at least informed by my readings of Iain’s books. And lately he discussed a horrible possibility of building a wind farm on Skye, which has set me off…

    The Displaced Common: it’s hard to value anything when it’s not even missing.

    Social dysfunction is often a matter of misplaced Context, an easy source of leverage. Schoolyard bullies make rules that close off negotiation, and change the rules capriciously. Politicians speak within the “Overton Window,” the tacitly-defined area of currently-permissible speech, outside of which journalists dare not stray. Heads of State, presidents, prime ministers and CEOs pretend an artificially narrowed view is the whole picture, justifying horrendous acts of mass murder. It is a tradition of long, long standing. By such underhanded tricks we throw ourselves down one rathole after another, in the name of Freedom, Democracy bla bla bla, while our planet begins to roast in its own juices.

    Here’s an example of how Context works. “Value Added” is a label used in pricing goods and services for sale. In the prevailing worldview, in which Profit is paramount, “Value Added” means only whatever is done that raises the return on investment (ROI), and no other value.

    A tangible example illustrates this principle. If you want to put up a wind-farm, the highest Value/ROI will be gained by placing it where the wind is constant and strong, and land is less expensive.

    I can see these great towers with their turning blades miles away, climbing the side of a beautiful forested mountain. That mountain is the reason this land had a higher market value, until they built those whirligigs on it. At night, the blinking red warning lights reflect on my bedroom wall. But far more dangerous, Bisphenol A, an endocrine disruptor, is known to leach from the microplastics shed by the turbines, amounting to many tons a year world wide. Even trace amounts of this poison cause terrible reproductive, birth and developmental problems.

    A lot of people would make these complaints, but somehow most of the public discussion centered on the comparative necessity-value of renewable energy, suggesting that we have to give up some luxuries to save our environment. As if that were the choice. As if human reproduction, much less peace of mind, were a luxury we cannot sustain. This makes sense only within the limited Context of investor confidence in high returns.

    Considerations such as a lovely view, the silence of the countryside, public health, the safety of endangered species, the glory of a starry night sky, and even the lucrative tourist trade, are seen as costs, lowering Profit. Unless of course these attract investors; they they become Values.

    People’s well-being, wildlife, the view, the night sky, are real Values. But not in the prevailing economic logic: under our global capital market system, only some of them are “added” in wind-generated electricity, from design and placement to power generation. The rest are “externals” not accounted for at all, and not discussed when it counts. It would be more honest to call them “Value Removed.”

    Value Added: Free wind lowers costs for the power company, increasing their bottom line; Renewable energy appeals to the people who understand that fossil fuels are killing everything.

    Value Removed: public health (a real value) is not a value to the utility companies, but a cost to be cut by aggressive denial; the birds (a real value) are not a value to the utility companies, but a cost to be cut by simple disregard; the view (a real value) is not a value, but a potential liability as an eyesore lowering regional property values. To date the companies have found it more profitable to apologize afterwards rather than ask first.

    It’s not as if we were told they are the propellers that keep the earth turning. But lies of omission are just as misleading. Truth is being told, but not complete truth; and the promoters may not even know the whole truth, because it is outside the Context, and Context determines what we can perceive as valuable in the first place.

    It’s hard to value anything when it’s not even missing.

    Suppose the renewable energy industry was considered sufficiently critical to be a government function, like the US Mail. What? Oh, sorry, we’ve imposed the “Value Added” rules, it has to show a Profit to compete with private services. Well, like the Interstate Highway system then…? an aquifer…? What a terrible idea! Why would anyone think adding Profit extraction to such obvious public assets would improve anything? It’s like paying rent on your allotted number of heartbeats. Did somebody say it worked for healthcare? No. Nobody believes that now, do they?

    Those of us of a certain age recall how the operation of the Interstate had to be sabotaged for years before the idea of privatization could be floated without being laughed out of existence. We had to be convinced that Government was too big, and always screwed everything up, and Business would fix it, because Competition would force the very best results for all concerned. It’s purest hokum, the government is actually very good at doing whatever the power-brokers want done. It wasn’t hard to pull off. As Dr. Pill would say: How’s that working out for ya?

    But please bear with me. Suppose renewable energy was seen as a national treasure: the Wind belongs to all, just as it was in the Age of Sail, free fuel for world trade, a blessing for the common good. In that case, “Value Added” has nothing to do with Profit; it’s just anything we can think of that makes the technology, and our lives, better.

    Freed from the “growth” mythology of Profit, the impacts on environment, public health, air traffic, wildlife and so on, can be the foremost concerns from design to deployment. When no Profit has to be extracted real values can drive the project from the outset, and life for everyone gets a lot better.

    If the investors were all of us, instead of extracted rent monies, we would now realize the value of healthy and sustainable system lifespan, lower costs to ratepayers, the benefits to and from nature, protection of wildlife and our environment, and even property values and the lucrative tourist trade. In other words real profits, returned to the Common that is the real source of all investment anyway. And now, instead of being squirreled away in some offshore tax-haven, the returns are really returned.

    The Common is powerful if honored as Context. It has been displaced under modern economic rules that have failed and failed to make our lives better, ever since they were first invented. And wasn’t that the whole point?

    Yet now, the very doubtful assumption that investment must be attracted before anything truly beneficial can be accomplished, is driving the very possibility of a viable human future over the edge of a cliff.

    We need to notice the magnitude of damage done when we only see Profit as absolute necessity. It is a cultural structure, not Natural Law: it can change if we will.

    The Accelerating Damage

    Under this structure all states are at the dubious mercy of investors, who exact severe tax and regulatory concessions just to locate a call-center or air-conditioned server-farm in any Congressional district. The pretense that this “creates jobs,” although wildly exaggerated, has politicians wearing garlic and genuflecting before hordes of lobbyists.⁠1 It only extracts Profit from the locality, and moves on. This applies to nations of every political persuasion and configuration. Investor confidence is the primary driver of the global economy now. Down to the individual, we depend on the investors for our daily bread.

    We’re all in the evolve-or-die primordial soup now.

    Already there are more than a hundred million people on the move, fleeing for their lives from areas where nobody can live ever again, because of climate chaos, the land inundated, burned, dried out and/or poisoned by forces unleashed in the frantic competition for toxic energy resources.

    They are ordinary people, whose ordinary lives have been shattered, and who now face exposure, starvation, violence, exploitation and terrible death, only to be cornered between the EU or US border and predatory criminal gangs. There they may be robbed (again!), raped, kidnapped, sold or murdered, before they can get to a border crossing and be incarcerated, children separated from their parents. American citizens are routinely jailed for offering them water.

    Much worse is to come. Already, at least two governments have been wiping out whole populations at industrial scale, ostensibly to defeat an implacable terrorist enemy. But Context is decisive. Remember that we (including the investors) are in thrall to a cultural structure that requires us to satisfy a new investor class of unprecedented financial potency. Whatever is happening can only continue if there is sufficient ROI. Under the prevailing global market structure, none of the horror could happen otherwise; it is simply impossible.

    Under the artificial structural imperative⁠2 that investors must be satisfied first, the Common has been divided up into private preserves, and our planet is deteriorating with increasing speed and severity. There will be even more unimaginable conflict and bloodshed as a direct result.

    Or, we may stop. Just stop, and turn. There is nothing preventing this but mental inertia. The momentum of our own delusions about what actually matters. Something humans once knew, and forgot, about acting as one when it counts. Herds and prides and flocks and packs and schools of fish, and maybe people again. We have externalized and replaced most of our inner processes with technologies by now, like digestion and communication. Maybe so we can survive issues of scale. Maybe, just maybe, we have reached a level of super-critical connectedness for something unprecedented, unimaginable. Something we can’t ever figure out, and won’t have to.

    1 Tarun Banerjee, Michael Schwartz, and Kevin A. Young, Levers of Power: *How the 1% Rules and What the 99% Can Do about It (Verso Books)

    2 Howard Richards, https://www.transcend.org/tms/2019/11/the-basic-cultural-structure-a-comment-from-chile-as-it-burns

    Peter Barus replied 3 months ago 4 Members · 7 Replies
  • 7 Replies
  • James Willis

    Member
    December 26, 2023 at 5:35 pm

    Peter,<div>

    For decades I have been expressing optimism that for the first time in history the entire human race has a common cause (confronting the climate emergency)

    <div><div>

    But that optimism is wearing thin as evidence confronts us that blind greed and selfishness persist undiminished as apparently inherent human characteristics (perhaps inevitable in any winner in the game of evolution?) and secondly that humans have an almost limitless capacity to close their minds to ‘inconvenient’ truths that they don’t want to believe (not a good characteristic for ‘intelligent’ species hoping to continue their success.)

    <font color=”rgba(0, 0, 0, 0)” face=”inherit”>But civilization is dependent on energy and will have to find it from somewhere. All modalities have disadvantages and dangers. Onshore </font>wind farms<font color=”rgba(0, 0, 0, 0)” face=”inherit”> are the obvious front runner for windy places. Like Skye, I’m afraid. </font>

    <font color=”rgba(0, 0, 0, 0)” face=”inherit”>What else do you suggest?</font>

    James

    </div></div></div>

  • richard ruschman

    Member
    December 27, 2023 at 3:48 pm

    I will jump in here. I have practiced commercial real estate law and environmental law here in the US for some 40 years, have represented many developers, but no developers of toxic wind farms. Back in the late 1920s and the 1930s (during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt presidency), the federal government and many state and city governments and many newspapers were sympathetic (or at least not hostile) to the organization of electricity service companies organized and owned and operated by cities or by “rural electrical cooperatives,” which did not have to constantly validate their existence by earning quarterly profits in amounts satisfactory to bondholders and shareholders—the electrification of rural areas (farmer communities ) was very effectively and efficiently accomplished in the US by the rural electrical cooperatives between 1920 and 1960, many of which still exist. After the 1930s, large publicly traded electrical utility companies gradually subverted and destroyed the majority of the city-owned electrical utilities and a substantial part of the rural electrical coops through bribery of city officials, intentional sabotage from within, and intentional degradation of the quality of electricity services provided by the non-private companies, and never-ending imposition of extremely burdensome rules and regulations and taxes on the non-private providers by bribed or blackmailed unelected federal and state government bureaucrats, and propaganda spread by bribed or blackmailed newspaper/television publishers and reporters. This process continues. The process can be reversed only by an awake and informed and upset electorate—we do not have that today in the US or the UK or the EU (well, Hungary and Serbia are the exceptions to the rule), but we may have that 2 years from now or 5 years from now, as things are falling apart quite rapidly, and development of “micro grid” technology which enables small scale, but economically viable, electricity service providers to pop up and operate is happening right now. The smaller the non-private electricity service provider is, the smaller its number of disfunctional employees (corrupt and incompetent bureaucrats and sociopaths) will be ( as human organizations of all sorts begin to “rot from the head” once they have more than about 100 members), and the more responsive that provider will be to the wishes of the community as to environmental concerns. Let us all say our prayers, with great earnestness and conviction.

    • Whit Blauvelt

      Member
      January 1, 2024 at 7:54 pm

      Richard, “blackmailed newspaper/television publishers and reporters”? Really? Can you provide a single documented example? Do you write off all the news that doesn’t fit into your preferred narrative as there by virtue of some massive, world-wide criminal conspiracy, that can only be whispered about because no one is brave enough to publish plain evidence of it?

  • James Willis

    Member
    December 27, 2023 at 4:59 pm

    Richard,

    How depressing!

    It seems to be another law of nature that corporations become amoral as they become larger and more inhuman.

    (Can anyone explain why my last contribution was dotted with weird formatting codes? – perhaps this one will be!)

  • Whit Blauvelt

    Member
    January 1, 2024 at 7:49 pm

    Peter, The claim that wind turbines are shedding is dubious. See https://cleanpower.org/resources/microplastics-and-bpa-in-wind-turbine-blades

    • Whit Blauvelt

      Member
      January 1, 2024 at 8:00 pm

      That said, where to put turbines is a serious question. Personally, I find them sublimely beautiful in many places — say the offshore wind farms of Denmark. I’m reminded of John Muir, who thought the beauty of Yosemite was in the absence of man, so saw to it that the Native Americans, who had groomed that landscape for centuries, were removed from it. I live in Vermont precisely because it’s a working landscape, an integration of humanity with nature. We love visiting Switzerland for the same reason. But yes, there’s reason to spare some natural vistas from built human intrusion, and to keep what’s added harmonious.

  • Peter Barus

    Member
    March 19, 2024 at 9:40 pm

    I seem to have sparked a discussion that veers rather far from Iain’s focus on what, after all, makes us tick. Windmills are a personal matter to me, having grown up next to one of the oldest in the Western Hemisphere (the left?), with its carved wooden cogs and canvas sails rotting into the sand of Cape Cod; and now, looking out across the Vermont hills, they creep up the mountainside into our fabulous (and taxable) view.

    I do credit the idea of microplastics contamination, something I have followed since long before “microplastics” was a word. It is trace amounts that are more dangerous, and the vanes deteriorate quickly, as I learned working with fiberglas boats many years ago. But fossil fuels trump all that: we are very close to the end of our opportunity to mitigate the damage now.

    To tie this back into Iain’s area, our thinking is always suspect now. We must learn to check in with the wider picture with particular emphasis on several areas that seem disproportionately influential. Our artifact, the Internet, even without AI, has fragmented our culture severely, and continues the process, in relentless pursuit of profit. It’s another kind of toxic byproduct.

    Our culture may be ultimately delusional, but it worked to our benefit by virtue of its commonality; without that it ceases to qualify as a culture at all. Of course a culture that is truly integrated with the natural world of which it is part is desirable, but at least humanity can address collective problems more effectively when not actively killing each other.

    The “veneer theory” holds that humans are nasty brutes underneath a thin veneer of civilization. This is the basis for most of our delusions, if you ask me. I think it’s upside down, and it’s so-called “civilization” that has brought us to this horrible and bloody state. I have some basis for this view, having lived with and among indigenous peoples from time to time, although in modernity most of the time. In any case “civilization” would be a product of the left hemisphere, if I read Iain correctly.

    The situation variously called “metacrisis” and “polycrisis” is not amenable to solution by attacking one aspect or another. Oil, chemicals, nuclear waste, war, hunger and poverty, bad politics… fix one part and another is disrupted; but try addressing all at once, there’s nothing we can get a grip on; certainly not with the LH.

    The hope for us that I see is in the way in which a flock of birds turns on an instant, without an obvious leader. I think we have that capacity, to enter that level of awareness of both immediate and remote circumstance, laying aside our internal state, immersing in community. When birds alight, they enter a different state, feeding and breeding and avoiding predators; but in flight they operate like a very specialized supercritical network. It would not require telepathy or magick.

    We may be growing toward such an expanded capacity, and the Internet may be essential to this, but cultural selection is always at work, and we may select ourselves out. A worldview of scarcity and accounting, very much the creation of our left brain, is not a world of possibility, much less creative communal flow.

    There is a very interesting set of distinctions here, by Four Arrows, that seems to align beautifully with the LH-RH theory:

    https://peaceandplanetnews.org/dominant-and-indigenous-worldview/

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