Sunday, November 7, 2010

Green Energy Not Without Criticism

In his article “Windfall in New York” found in the New York Times, Stanley Fish argues that wind turbines have a net negative impact on human welfare, on society, and on aesthetics. Fish’s viewpoint is typical of a anthropocentrist. Fish’s views will be explored later in this post, in addition to addressing his un-justified criticism of wind turbines. The town Meredith, which he references in the article, has recently become home to a new farm of these turbines.

Fish begins his article by addressing a wind turbine’s effect on welfare. He claims that these turbines create an unreasonable amount of noise. To back up his claim, Fish uses anecdotal evidence from a handful of locals who hold a disdain for these new turbines. His writing is very effective at creating a sense of empathy for the residents of Meredith, who have been duped by money hungry wind companies while they were trying to do the right thing. In his discussion of welfare, Fish does not reference any studies on the effects of wind turbines on sleep patterns, dizziness, etc... Fish uses broad, verbose descriptions so that he can get away without referencing any studies. Examples of these terms include his reference to the ‘horrible sounds’ and ‘massively disruptive’ construction.

Societal Costs
Fish discusses the effects on society caused by turbines. He writes that wind-energy companies: “look for relatively poor areas that display the desired population demographic — farmers with large landholdings and newcomers with large incomes — and then... pit the two constituencies against each other”. This statement is more justified than his other claims. Unlike his anecdotal evidence, this example describes rallies and campaigns which represent more than a handful of citizens. Fish underlines his argument by simplifying the problem, and then providing the reader someone to blame: “Former friends and once-friendly neighbors no longer talk to each other. Nasty signs and even nastier words pop up everywhere. That’s just what the wind-energy forces planned”. This sound-byte creates an institution out of wind-energy companies, and unfairly labels them as cold, calculating, money-hungry capitalists. It is also a generalization of mega-corporations which is perpetuated by the people. Fish relies on the reader’s emotional reaction, rather than trying to rationally support his argument that wind-energy companies ‘plan’ to pit locals against one another.

Aesthetics and Anthropocentrism
Fish only briefly addresses aesthetics. However, he gives it much importance, again using anecdotal evidence of locals who are repulsed by the appearance of the turbines. This part of his argument is especially weak. He acknowledges only that the turbines are a problem because they create problems for humans. This is a typical anthropocentric view. Fish spends the whole article discussing the effects of wind turbines on humans. He only briefly mentions the environmental costs of not employing green energy. He states that the environmental gains by turbines are smaller than ‘carpetbagger’ wind-energy companies would have you believe. Further, he writes that there is “no benefit to the individual.” This implies that human welfare is the only thing that matters. He goes on to say that we should not “submit to being beaten over the head with a moral club.” From this argument, one can deduce that Fish employs an Anthropocentric view, and a short sighted one at that. It seems that he does not take into consideration the long term benefits of green energy. From a biocentric view, green energy is valid as a means to itself. Even from Fish’s opposing Anthropocentric standpoint, green energy should be weighed against the small (theoretical) cost of human welfare. This small cost would surely be dwarfed by the long term gain of a less polluted biosphere. Fish fails to realize that not implementing green energy now could mean more severe welfare, societal, and aesthetic costs in the future.

In conclusion, the arguments that Fish uses to strengthen his points are quite feeble. Although these techniques might be successful in convincing the general public, they don’t hold water when analyzed for validity and strength. Firstly, he uses anecdotal evidence throughout his article as a valid method of justifying his claims. He couples these anecdotes with skillful writing techniques to create a sense of empathy in the hearts of his readers. Thirdly, he hyperbolizes his descriptions of wind-energy companies. He calls them money hungry and through generalizations infers that these companies are scheming. It is unfortunate that some readers of local newspapers could read articles like this and take them at face value. Hopefully, we as a society have learned to scrutinize our media and demand justification for invalid statements.

Alex Ciccone


Fish, Stanley. “Windfall in New York.” The Opinion Pages. New York Times, September 20, 2010. partner=rss&emc=rss

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