Jonathan Franzen on climate change in the New Yorker

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The latest edition of the New Yorker has a pessimistic and rather misguided piece on climate change by Jonathan Franzen.

Here he is arguing that “alternative” energy may not be so desirable:

Even in the nations most threatened by flooding or drought, even in the countries most virtuously committed to alternative energy sources, no head of state has ever made a commitment to leaving any carbon in the ground. Without such a commitment, “alternative” merely means “additional”—postponement of human catastrophe, not prevention. The Earth as we now know it resembles a patient whose terminal cancer we can choose to treat either with disfiguring aggression or with palliation and sympathy. We can dam every river and blight every landscape with biofuel agriculture, solar farms, and wind turbines, to buy some extra years of moderated warming. Or we can settle for a shorter life of higher quality, protecting the areas where wild animals and plants are hanging on, at the cost of slightly hastening the human catastrophe. One advantage of the latter approach is that, if a miracle cure like fusion energy should come along, there might still be some intact ecosystems for it to save.

The analogy of the earth with a cancer patient here is nonsensical. The earth does not care that we put a wind farm in a wild place or a solar farm in a desert; it is humans that care. Sand and the rocks of mountains don’t have feelings.

One man’s blight is another man’s sublimity. Just think of those engineering marvels erected by the Victorians, many of them in so called wild places. The Ribblehead and Glenfinnan viaducts do not blight the landscape, they enhance it. But today, we appear to have become a species that apologises to the earth, and we seek engineering structures that are non-obtrusive. The rooftop solar panel is a symbol of a civilization that has lost its nerve.

No, we must enhance the landscape, not blight it. And why can this not be the case with wind farms? It certainly is the case for cooling towers, sublime structures now being demolished with the approval of short sighted politicians. A wild desolate landscape is the ideal place to stick a hundred or so wind turbines. The sheer scale is a sublime reminder of the limits of the human individual, and of the limitlessness of the human species.