Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Windfarms, Sustainable Energy and Biodiversity

The run up to the Copenhagen climate talks has provoked a rash of anti windfarm chat on the outdoor blogs. I've decided to join in and air my reservations about the wind farm frenzy that is currently sweeping the nation. I wrote the text below in response to a post of Chris Townsend's but  decided to give it an airing here too.


Anyone interested in the windfarm debate would do well to read David Mackay's book 'Sustainable energy: without the hot air'.   You can download a pdf version for free using this link.


In the book he estimates how much energy we can create from renewable sources and compares that to the amount we require. His conclusion was that even if we go all out down the renewable route (area the size of Wales covered in land based wind turbines, offshore wind turbines along entire Atlantic seaboard, tidal in every suitable location, pumped storage hydro in every suitable location, lots of clean coal etc) there is still a gap between what we can generate and what we require. This gap needs to be filled and - however unpalatable it may seem - the best way to fill it is probably to build more nuclear power stations.




My question is this: if we are going to have to build more nuclear power stations anyway,why bother polluting the hills with wind farms? Should we not just bite the bullet and build the nuclear power stations? This is an important debate and one that is currently being stifled by the feel good factor created by the construction of highly visible - but ultimately ineffectual - wind farms.



Windfarm development currently under construction above the Orrin Reservoir near Inverness. Photo taken from Strathfarrar ridge.


This week's Guardian Science Weekly podcast provided a further point to throw into the mix. It featured an interview with biologist and conservation campaigner EO Wilson in which he put forward the view that there is currently an over emphasis on saving the physical environment (reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate global warming) but insufficient emphasis on saving the living environment (preserving habitat and hence biodiversity, which is being lost at an increasing rate). 


Wilson's point was that if we shifted focus onto the preservation of the living environment it is likely that these actions would also have a beneficial effect on the physical environment. The reverse, however, is not necessarily true. He calls for intergovernmental action on biodiversity loss along the lines of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).


You can hear EO Wilson present his case by following this link.


There is no doubt that these are interesting, important and contentious topics. I will be using this blog to explore them in more detail over the coming weeks.



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1 Comments:

Blogger Stephen said...

The decommissioning of nuclear plants is a huge financial burden and the resultant waste a health and security risk. That's my main gripe with it. As a species i don't think we've evolved sufficiently to responsibly use this awesome source of energy, which is a shame.

If we could somehow fire the waste into outer space away from harms way i'd feel differently about it.

12 December 2009 at 10:43  

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