Week of 11/8/09

Dear EarthTalk: I don’t understand why many people oppose wind power just because they have to look at the turbines. If you ask me, wind turbines are much nicer-looking than coal-fired, waste-to-energy or nuclear power plants.

—Michael Hart, via e-mail

Whether it’s a wind farm, a coal-fired power plant, a nuclear reactor or even just a big box store, there are always going to be locals opposed to it, declaring "not in my back yard!" (NIMBY).

As to the attractiveness of wind farms, people do seem to come down on one side or the other rather vehemently. Those in favor of wind development have been known to extol the visual virtues of a horizon full of windmills not only for the turbines" graceful sculptural lines but also for the fact that their very presence advertises the coming of a modern, almost futuristic age of clean, renewable energy.

Writing in the online magazine Contemporary Aesthetics, Yuriko Saito waxes eloquent about the visual appeal of wind farms when created thoughtfully. "[I]t is possible to create an aesthetically pleasing effect by choosing the color, shape and height of the turbines appropriate
to the particular landscape, making them uniform in their appearance and movement, and
arranging them in proportion to the landscape," he says. "One writer admires the windmills in Sweden as "graceful objects" because "the slender airfoils seem both delicate and powerful
while their gentle motion imparts a living kinetic nature"."

Are wind farms beautiful or ugly? It depends on who you ask: Those in favor of wind energy extol the visual virtues of the turbines
graceful sculptural lines and view them as symbolic of an exciting, modern age of clean, renewable energy. Detractors begrudge them for destroying their pastoral views like 'machines intruding in a garden.© John Foxx, Getty Images

On the flip side, detractors begrudge wind turbines for destroying their views—a classic NIMBY stance. According to Saito, opposition to wind farms stems from their being sited on previously "open, unhindered lands" and as such "are viewed as machines intruding in a garden." He adds: "[T]hey are almost invariably decried as "marring", "spoiling", "ruining", and "intruding on" the otherwise relatively natural landscape, such as desert, open field, mountainside, and
ocean, and for creating an "eyesore"."

Respondents to a survey by the British magazine Country Life listed wind turbines as the most egregious type of architectural blemish across England. They disliked wind farms even more than other "eyesores"—such as highway service areas, conventional power stations and ugly office buildings—because of the size of the turbines, some of which are 300 feet tall, and their intrusion on the landscape.

Opponents of a proposed wind farm in the waters of Massachusetts" Nantucket Sound cite similar gripes. The builder, Cape Wind Associates, has campaigned for seven years for approval of the development, to be located 16 miles off the shore of Nantucket Island. Homeowners, politicians and some evidently conflicted environmentalists have mounted stiff opposition to the facility, which would appear from shore as distant white smears on the horizon. The decision rests with the U.S. Interior Department which, despite stated desires to expand offshore wind energy, is taking its time on the highly contentious matter.

But with wind now the hottest renewable energy source going, those opposed to seeing windmills better get used to it. In 2008 wind power provided 1.5 percent of global electricity—having doubled its output every year now for five years in a row—and should account for as much as eight percent by 2018.

CONTACTS: Contemporary Aesthetics; Country Life; Cape Wind Associates LLC.

Dear EarthTalk: I’m a travel agent and our firm has several clients wanting to go with green vendors, including for travel (airline or rental car) and lodging. Our company is supportive so would like to know which airlines, hotels and car rental agencies are going affordably green?

—Carol Biggar, via e-mail

Just like every other industry, going green has become a mantra among airlines, car rental companies and even hotel chains. Pictured: Boeing's new 787, which is some 20 percent more fuel efficient than other big passenger planes.© Andrew W. Sieber, courtesy Flickr

Just like every other industry, going green has become a mantra among airlines, car rental companies and even hotel chains. The fuel crunch of a few years ago forced all the airlines into belt-tightening mode and the results—lower fuel consumption and fewer emissions—are good news for the environment.

Boeing, one of the world’s leading aircraft makers, is doing its part: Its new 787 is some 20 percent more fuel efficient than other big passenger planes. Beyond saving fuel—which also reduces emissions—airlines are instituting in-flight recycling initiatives, incorporating carbon-neutral biofuels, and going paperless to reduce waste. Continental, British Airways, Singapore Air, American Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest and Virgin are among the leaders in the industry-wide effort to go green, but most airlines have made huge strides in recent years to lower their carbon footprints overall.

With regard to lodging, going green isn’t just for youth hostels and campgrounds anymore. In a recent survey, upwards of two-thirds of U.S. hotels said they had energy-efficient lights and had implemented towel- and linen-reuse programs—up from just over half five years ago. According to Budget Travel magazine, Accor/Motel6, Intercontinental, Marriott, Starwood, Hilton, Hyatt, Best Western and Wyndham/Super8 have all made huge strides in energy and water conservation, recycling and green design over the last few years. Beyond the chains, many independent hotels have taken up the green baton; you"ll likely find one or more at your destination via the website of the Green Hotels Association.

As for rental car companies, just about all of them offer large selections of fuel efficient cars these days, if for no other reason than to meet the demands of both business and vacationing customers not interested in spending lots of money on gas. Hertz, Avis, Budget and Enterprise each have large fleets of hybrid and/or flex-fuel (ethanol) cars for rent at hundreds of airport and in-town locations around the U.S. Advantage Rent-a-Car has pledged to turn 100 percent of its rental fleet "green" by 2010. For now, renting a hybrid still typically costs $5-15 more per day than an equivalent conventional car, but as rental car companies bring more of the vehicles online, prices should start to reach parity. And if you’re driving a long way in the car, you may just make up the difference in fuel savings. Travelers to the Bay Area should keep in mind that San Francisco International Airport offers a $15 credit for renting a hybrid from any of the rental car companies operating there.

Traveling by any means other than foot, bicycle or paddle always takes some toll on the environment, but those who watch their carbon footprints—and stay abreast of which vendors offer the greenest courses of action—can keep their impacts to a minimum. Stay tuned to websites like Go Green Travel Green for the latest info on what airlines, hotels, car rental companies and other travel-related businesses are doing to green up their industry.

CONTACTS: Budget Travel magazine; Green Hotels Association; Go Green Trave

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