Sunday, August 17, 2008

Wind Energy

I haven't posted in a very long time, but I came across an article that finally prompted me to put something up here, even if it's just a quick thought:

http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/wayoflife/08/17/bitter.wind.ap/index.html

As the rage around clean energy grows, I can't help but wonder if we're being as short-sighted now as we were when we began to pump and burn oil for energy. We can't play God with the resources around us and not expect there to be some consequences of our actions. Our problem today, though, is that we assume that we know exactly what these consequences are, when in reality, we have no idea.

As the article (slightly) touches on, we're not really sure what the impact of tapping into wind power will be. The same applies for solar as well. What happens when, 50-100 years down the line, a very significant portion of our power comes from these source? We know next to nothing about how global wind and solar patterns shape our weather, so how can rationally assume that altering these patterns will have no impact on one of a number of other variables?

For example, El Nino (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Ni%C3%B1o-Southern_Oscillation) drastically changes the weather in many regions, an effect that spills over into agriculture and can often result in famine in poorer parts of the world. All of this from a phenomenon we can't completely explain or, more importantly, predict. Clearly, a few windmills here and there can't change too much, but there is no bright line to tell us how many windmills is too many, or, if there is, we certainly can't see it.

A similar argument could be made in solar power as well. For the entirety of our existance, some of the sun's energy has been trapped in our atmosphere, providing warmth and light and fueling life. How much of this energy do you need to take out of our ecosystem to trigger climate (or any other kind of) change?

I'm not saying that putting up solar panels and wind mills are a bad thing - I think they're very necessary and certainly a positive development. I'm just worried that we'll take it too far. Because we, as a species, often have the arrogance to believe we know all the consequences of our actions, even when they involve complex systems that we don't fully understand before we start meddling with them.

10 comments:

  1. This is the point Jared Diamond made in one of his books- all technologies have solved old problems but created new ones as well.

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