Breaking Wind

6 Jul

Oh, Monday. How I love and loathe thee. On the one hand it’s nice to start fresh after a weekend of wanton debauchery and unexplainable injuries; it’s a reminder that the real world continues to spin even when I go out of my way to remove myself from the day-to-day for a while. It’s necessary for a guy like me to gain a little perspective by forcefully realigning my world view by getting out into the bigger universe and subjecting myself to a little good old-fashioned visceral experience.

visceral experience

On the other hand I’m faced with the daunting prospect of providing you, my loyal and valued readers, with another weeks’ worth of bitterness, vitriol and social cynicism. Believe it or not, that gets pretty tiring.

angry all the time

Of course, that’s not going to stop me. Henry Rollins once called himself an “anger shaman” who looks out into the world and sees the bullshit that most people ignore or are too polite to talk about. I like to pattern myself the same way – you know, except for the big muscles and the whole straight-edge thing.

henry rollins is meaner than me

One of the most frustrating things I see on a day-to-day basis is contradiction. It seems the more we learn about the world and the way it works, the more difficult it becomes to do anything useful, helpful or just plain right. One of my co-conspirators at the Compound rightly pointed out that it’s more-or-less impossible to eat healthy in this day and age – even the vegetables have hormones and god only knows what else injected into them, and the search for healthy food becomes an exercise in futility when everything is sprayed with chemicals and chemically-treated poo.

fertilizer

It’s impossible to vote for a good candidate because they’re all contradictory in what they have to say – talking out of both sides of their mouths trying to get as many votes together as possible, and as soon as they wedge themselves in for a term, all the placations go out the window and they do what they damn well please.

lying politician

And it seems more and more that it’s totally impossible to try and develop an environmentally sound way of life you can actually stick to that will actually make a difference. Recycling is great except for when it isn’t : recycling a bottle might reduce landfill volume, but the amount of waste energy produced to do so is environmentally harmful. Similarly, adding a 5 cent charge to plastic bags at grocery stores may or may not incite people to buy reusable bags, but somewhere along the way there will be an environmental cost to producing those reusable bags – and if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably forget to bring the reusable ones with you to the store, or you’ll lose them altogether and have to buy another one.

forgetful

But perhaps the best illustration of this kind of contradiction comes in the form of renewable energy resources. A great deal has been made of alternate energy in the last ten years – solar power, biomass, wind generation, what have you. And as much as I’m a big proponent (and always have been) of renewable energy and not fucking up the planet any more than we already have, it seems people have yet to come to a consensus regarding exactly how efficient and worthwhile alternate energy might be.

solar panel

One of the most controversial forms of renewable energy has got to be wind power. It’s been a circular argument for years. On the one hand, wind generation sounds like a great idea – what is more abundant than air, right? If you can take advantage of something so basic as wind blowing and use that potential energy to power homes and businesses, what a fantastic proposition. Of course, there’s a laundry list of reasons why wind power might not be as efficient as the hippies of the world might have you think. For one thing, the wind isn’t always blowing. I really hate using my air conditioning because I find it wasteful (read: it costs a lot of money and I would rather spend my hard-earned on something other than cold air), but there are some days in the midst of the muggy, polluted Toronto summers where the use of A/C becomes absolutely necessary – my very sanity hinges upon it.

thermometer hot

I’ve always said I’d rather be too cool than too warm, because I can always put on an extra layer of clothing. With heat, it gets to a point where I just can’t strip down any farther, and since it’s not socially acceptable to gallivant around in my birthday suit (leaving aside the fact that nobody ever need see that), I’m left with limited options. I can crawl into my fridge, but I haven’t really got the room – it’s a question of priorities.

beer fridge

When the wind is blowing cheerfully along my street, I can swing wide my windows and bask in nature’s answer to the high-powered fan, and it’s just lovely. But the bottom line is I’m rarely that lucky. In fact, it strikes me that in my area, there’s actually a dearth of breeze on most days. In fact, the same can be said of a lot of places. Pay attention for a week, and unless you happen to live on top of a mountain or in Kansas, you’ll probably notice the air doesn’t move an awful lot.

wizard of oz

So that’s the first complaint about wind power, and it’s valid. It costs an awful lot of money to build an industrial-sized windmill, and if it takes years for such a construct to pay for itself, I fail to see the return on an investment like that.

windmill 1

The argument I can’t get behind is the one where people complain about the look of the things. I’ve been doing a considerable amount of reading on this subject, and for some reason this is one of the biggest complaints about wind power I’ve come across. Give me a break people. It’s one thing to comment on the efficacy of alternate energy, but arguing against “aesthetic pollution” is, to my mind, a symptom of upper-class yuppie whining. I mean, compare this:

windmill 2

to this:

coal plant

and tell me which one looks better. For my money, I’d rather have a futuristic-looking windmill outside my window than some hideous toxin-belching industrial nightmare. If it’s good enough for Don Quixote, it’s good enough for me.

don quixote

People who have some kind of aesthetic opposition to a potential form of renewable energy need to get their heads read. Yeah, there are questions as to how efficient it is, so if you want to argue the issue, focus on that, and not on whether or not a windmill makes an attractive lawn ornament.

It’s the same thing with the bird angle. A lot of animal rights activists are up in arms about windmills posing a hazard to avian life – better known as “windmills turn birds into chunky salsa”.

dead bird

And while this is an issue with a lot of the older wind farms that have smaller blades (i.e. more difficult for birds to avoid) and didn’t take into consideration the migration patterns of local species, the newer wind farms are working to decrease avian mortality by building wind turbines with much larger blades (they’re more efficient anyway) and placing farms in areas that avoid migration routes. The other point I’d hazard to bring up is the fact that skyscrapers, cars and airplanes pose just as much risk – if not more risk – to birds as wind turbines, and you don’t seen anybody lobbying to get rid of cars, ban air travel, or tear down high-rises just to ensure that Tweety doesn’t mash himself against a window, a jet engine, or a big old Escalade grill.

bird hitting building

Given the fact that I seem to be able to debunk most of the arguments against wind power, I would have said before today that I was leaning more in favour of the idea. That is, until I came across this article that gave me cause for some doubt.

Apparently, the residents of a small Japanese community located some 350 meters away from a windmill farm are reporting some pretty severe health issues they say is directly related to the effects of the turbines. Shinjuro Kondo, a 76 year-old resident, complains he’s suffered stiff shoulders, headaches, insomnia and hand tremors, among other symptoms, since the wind farm went into service – and more interesting, the symptoms seem to abate when the farm goes offline for maintenance. He’s not alone – twenty of his neighbours in the 100-person community have had similar issues. Leaving aside the fact that Kondo’s was the only age mentioned in the article (and at 76 years old, it’s not uncommon to have those kinds of issues, along with many others), I find it a little unusual that such a large percentage of that population is reporting the same ails at the same time.

So what’s causing Kondo and his neighbours to feel like crap all the time, apart from the prevalence of bad anime on television and the constant fear of attack by large, cumbersome creatures made of clay who come out of the ocean and smash buildings (I am getting most of this information from the totally relevant and believable source that is my local video rental shop)?

Well, according to some scientists, the answer might lie in a subsonic atmospheric disturbance known as infrasound. Basically infrasound is any sonic emission registering lower than 20 cycles per second in frequency – far lower than a human ear can actually perceive, but still powerful enough to be a potential influence on human life.

did you hear that

Apparently this is still a relatively new phenomenon – according to the article, no research papers have yet broached this topic. However, certain health professionals are voicing concern: Dr. Fumitaka Shiomi of Wakayama, Japan, has suggested the effects of infrasound are very real and could cause significant health concerns if their source goes unchecked.

I don’t really know what to make of this. Enough studies have been done to ensure that infrasound is real, and clearly it’s measurable too – even the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization uses measurements of infrasound to detect when irritating Korean dictators decide to try out their illegal weapons and hide the huge mushroom cloud by doing it underground – any kind of seismic activity can be monitored and traced through careful attention to the infrasound wave spectrum. But nuclear explosions and earthquakes are one thing – the slow spinning of a huge metal fan is a little different, or at least you’d think so.

nuclear-explosion

On some level it makes sense. Infrasound is supposed to be subconsciously received and interpreted by the brain, causing strange vibrations of a sort the great Hunter Thompson might have experienced (okay, with him it was probably the drugs). But the feeling is there. Have you ever walked into a house and just known the television was on, even if the show was muted? That barely perceptible squeal you can almost sense more than hear, that tells you a tube TV is activated somewhere in the vicinity? It’s kind of like that. Oh – you don’t know what I’m talking about? Okay, maybe it’s just me.

super hearing

The point is, whether or not infrasound is responsible for Mr. Kondo’s headaches or whether they are caused by old age, screaming grandchildren or a nagging wife (just kidding ladies), the fact remains that all across the board we implement and utilize technology without really understanding its long-term effects on us and on the environment. We’ve all heard the stories about cell phones and radio waves and wireless signals giving us cancer:

cellphone cancer

but realistically we haven’t been using that technology on a grand enough scale for long enough to make an accurate assessment of its long-term effects. How long did it take us to figure out that asbestos was poisonous, or that it was a bad idea for kids to play with mercury because it could kill them? Furthermore, how long did the cigarette industry hide from the public at large the fact that its products were toxic and carcinogenic and were, in effect, a long-term suicide aid?

marlboro man

That’s the part that really bugs me. We’re so high on this idea of a green earth, and we want so desperately to feel like we’re effecting positive change (so we can stop feeling guilty for destroying the planet piece-by-piece), we’re willing to jump on just about any band wagon that promises us instant gratification and absolution from our sins of consumerism and wastefulness. We want it so badly we don’t consider the kind of long-term damage we might be doing in our ceaseless search for short-term, bandaid solutions. And realistically, I think a lot of people want to live in a Star Trek kind of world where everything is perfect, and we no longer have to worry about taking responsibility for our own actions because technology takes care of everything for us.

food synthesizer

My point is this: before we decide we’ve developed the Next Big Thing that’s going to save the world and make all our lives far easier, I think we need to slow down a little, invest some time and some money in ensuring that what we’re doing is actually for the better. We move very fast in this day and age, and we rarely stop to look where we’re going. For my money, that’s a damn good way to run headlong into shit piles we could have avoided if we’d just curbed our enthusiasm and done the job right the first time.

falling off cliff

4 Responses to “Breaking Wind”

  1. göğüs estetiği July 29, 2009 at 8:05 PM #

    i like this site. i added on my bookmark i thanks

  2. Helen Healy October 6, 2010 at 11:12 AM #

    I would like to use the illustration that appears online of Don Quixote. Do you know who the copyright holder is.

    Best Helen

    44 203 353 3955

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Short Of Breath: Global Warming Means Less Wind « State of Affairs - July 27, 2009

    […] power of irony never ceases to paradoxically amuse and depress me. I’ve written on the subject of wind power before, and I’ve argued pretty hard against it being a viable solution to the energy crisis. But at […]

  2. Waste Not, Want Not: Conservation Is Key To Solving Energy Crisis « State of Affairs - October 6, 2009

    […] written before on the topic of alternate energy, and in the past I’ve been pretty harsh in my judgements of […]

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