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In a generational political exchange, which took place shortly before I was born in the early 1960s my Old Left labor-oriented grandfather once told my New Leftish father, “Ecology is a bourgeois science.” It had been an Old Left contention that ecology — later designated “environmentalism” was a “quality of life issue pursued at the expense of workers.” My grandfather’s dogmatism notwithstanding, he raised a point which has long been a matter of contention between labor and environmentalists despite some tenuous alliances. But every once in a while, a figure emerges who can take a big picture approach in heroic attempts to reconcile the interests of environmental health and opportunity for livelihood.

Environmental activist Natalynne DeLapp has been promoting the latest proposal for Monument Ridge and Bear River Ridge involving up to 60 turbines, and much like the Shell Oil proposal of a few years ago which was defeated by a coalition of intransigent environmentalists and conservative NIMBYs, this project is receiving similar opposition.

Look, I’m not saying that all of the stated concerns are unfounded, but I am also seeing much knee-jerk opposition from those who would have us return to the stone age in power production while somehow allowing them to maintain their cars and computers to voice their brilliant opinions and cynical rejection of anything which might change their community in any way. We have to generate power. We aren’t going to give up our computers and televisions. So we have to find ways of making it which minimize the footprint. There will always be a footprint. Wind energy is renewable and with less impact than fossil fuels and less dangerous than nuclear. Yes, it will kill some birds, but with the mitigations it’s been pretty well established that all of the birds killed by all of the current wind farms in the U.S. will not even approach the numbers of those killed by the Exxon-Valdez spill alone for centuries. The turbines can only bring power to the grid if they’re placed somewhere with wind. There is no place where wind blows which does not present danger for birds. Nor is there any place for hydro-power which does not present danger to fish. Solar power has not yet addressed the issue of disposal of batteries. Geothermal can cause all kinds of problems, even acid rain. There are problems with every power source and all we can do is improve technology and practices to mitigate them. Get over it.

And we need industry in this county. We’ve been over-dependent on export economies; first timber and later marijuana. Our economy thrived and declined on the fortunes of single industry. We need to diversify, and hopefully avoid the extreme gentrification facing much of the rest of the state as the working class is pushed out of the urban areas. We need families. We need projects which generate jobs. And we don’t have to oppose every damn thing proposed because it might change something.

I’ve read some of the EIR documents and personally discussed the project with Ms. DeLapp. She is willing to discuss the project with anyone, but there are certain public officials who don’t even seem to be interested in discussion. I recognize the intransigence and self-righteousness of the oppose-everything crowd, and it reinforces the image of the environmental movement as class-privileged and indifferent to the need for livelihood. I understand why the more conservative residents of nearby towns are nervous about the potential changes, but we need more working families to buy our homes, pay local taxes, fill our schools, and revive our local cultures. We need economic diversity.

And something environmentalists often miss in their myopia — communities with secure opportunities for livelihoods are more receptive to their concerns. If the next month is secure, people are more likely to think about the next year. If the year is secure, they are more likely to think longer term and to think about what they perceive to be “quality of life issues.”

I’m not suggesting that we don’t ask questions. Make demands about transparency of process and be part of the solution to make it work, and fight like hell if the companies involved don’t keep their promises. But we need power and working people need to feed their kids. That’s an important part of the conversation lest Humboldt County just become a retirement community of grumpy old ex-hippies chasing kids off their precious lawns. But you leave a footprint every time you walk. Not walking isn’t an option.

Eric V. Kirk resides in Eureka.

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