Despite the urgent need to publicise my appearance at the Brighton Science Festival‘s Big Science Sunday, I wasn’t planning another South Downs conservation post, but synchronicity forced my hand. Shortly before leaving work tonight, I was irritating my colleagues by voicing my probably irrational dislike for programming by David Attenborough. (It has at least vague justifications — I particularly dislike the way that he sees wonder as immanent in nature itself, rather than a creation of the way in which we position ourselves with respect to nature — but this is probably not the place for them, and honesty compels me to admit there may be a bunch of things like grandfather hang-ups at play too).
Anyway, having just fulminated over-expressively I pick up a newspaper on the train taking me home and read of the great man himself doing something very impressive: trying to talk a bunch of Sussex nimbys in my sometime hometown of Lewes out of their opposition to a largish windmill proposed for the Glyndebourne opera house. Quoth Sir David:
“I greatly applaud the plan to erect a wind turbine. That such a celebrated institution should pay such regard to its environmental responsibilities seemed to me to be wholly admirable, demonstrating that some communities really do take the ecological challenge seriously and do not simply utter pious words and leave it to others to take action.
“A wind turbine, with its graceful lines, collecting energy from the environment without causing any material damage, is a marvellous demonstration of the way we can minimise our pollution of the atmosphere if we wish to do so. It would help protect not only the countryside we have known for centuries but also the wider world beyond.”
I don’t think one windmill in Sussex makes much of a difference either way — wind’s role in the UK will surely be mainly off shore. And a windmill for an establishment that also maintains a helipad is a trifle absurd. But such things do have symbolic power, especially when coupled with a cultural attraction of such excellence and renown. And the arguments against windfarms — that they damage views that they often enhance, and that they, as interventions that will last a century at most, in some way do lasting damage to landscapes, rather than to the amenity they provide to those in the happy position of inhabiting those landscapes and unwilling to see them change — seem so wrong headed that I find myself broadly in favour of the things on principle. Besides, I like the energy-as-flow symbolism that they embody so gracefully; look at a wind turbine and you know that you’re seeing an open process, not a finite stock, and that’s a good lesson in how we have to understand energy in the decades to come.
In the grand-old-man stakes it seems odd to find myself on the same side as Attenborough, whose work I mainly dislike, and the opposite side to Jim Lovelock, whose work I deeply respect. But attitudes to the countryside do funny things to us all.
Picture from near Glyndbourne under a creative commons licence from SussexWalkabout
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