Editorial: Greenwashing

October 21, 2009

By Frank Schier

Editor & Publisher

Some of the 67 Acciona wind turbines northwest of Freeport. The bodies of these 1.5-megawatt turbines are the size of a school bus. Each blade is longer than the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District headquarters. Each with a red beacon, the towers dwarf 60-foot-tall corn silos. Photo by Hans Rupert

Some of the 67 Acciona wind turbines northwest of Freeport. The bodies of these 1.5-megawatt turbines are the size of a school bus. Each blade is longer than the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District headquarters. Each with a red beacon, the towers dwarf 60-foot-tall corn silos. Photo by Hans Rupert

Ever heard of the term “greenwashing”? It’s very similar to “whitewashing,” aimed to slap across your eyes and critical thinking ability.

Here’s a great definition offered (please read it all) at http://tinyurl.com/2xnyso: “Greenwashing is the unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue by a company, an industry, a government, a politician or even a non-government organization to create a pro-environmental image, sell a product or a policy, or to try and rehabilitate their standing with the public and decision makers after being embroiled in controversy.”

Quite a bit of greenwashing slops on around the world, even right here in the land of four rivers, Winnebago County.

The foremost local greenwashed controversy spins off the blades of the proposed wind ordinance, complete with green-sell text amendments, to the county’s 2030 Land-Use Resource Management Plan. The italics are mine because the only Resources at play here are labor, industry special interests, complete with potential campaign contribution threats-—aw, hell, let’s just call it what it is—blackmail. That’s the Management, which Democrats are so vulnerable to, and let’s not leave out the hungry Republicans, either.

As even the daily has pointed out, the labor unions are laying the “green” on thick,  pun intended, as some of their gallery signs said at the last county board meeting: “We need a clean environment to sustain our future!!!” and “Clean environment for our children!” I’m sure they really are concerned about their kids’ future. The 50-plus union folk (compared to only 12 environmentalists—I countedI don’t think they were paid) were straightforward, too, with signs saying, “Wind turbines create jobs! and “Construction Unemployment Is 35%!”

Construction, that’s the bread and butter for the Republicans (well, actually, it’s construction companies), but the elephants will not stampede away from union money, either. Unions gladly contribute to both sides of the pile.

This “pro-environment” image by the unions, the county board and the county administration has a problem. Without proper regulation, wind turbines damage the environment.

First, wind farms ruin the view—day and night. Take a look at the picture of the 67 Acciona wind turbines northwest of Freeport at www.rockrivertimes.com. The body of the 1.5-megawatt turbines are the size of a school bus. Each blade is longer than the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District headquarters. Each with a red beacon, the towers dwarf 60-foot-tall corn silos. And according to the proposed ordinance, they can be as close at 1,200 feet to any farm buildings or home. Wait until the blade-flickers and blade-shadows cut the sunlight. Most people, including our union friends, have no idea what’s coming.

The birds and bats have no idea of what they’re flying into, either. Kinda hard to get a good kill count because it’s a blade-kill, 24-hour diner for, as one farmer put it, “at least 14 kinds of critters, wild dogs and cats, coyotes, foxes, skunks, badgers, raccoons and all.” The normal prey-predator balance can go way out of whack.

Bats eat bugs; do we need a West Nile virus spread by mosquitoes to come up to the swine flu concern level?

The migrating white pelicans (350 of them just showed up for the first time at the Nygren Wetlands) and the whooping cranes (a federally-endangered species) go through this county every spring and fall. Their numbers will fall off if not protected.

Protectionism for jobs seems to be a false cry, too. Just like our new solar panel plant is owned by China, not anybody in Rockford, most of the area’s wind companies are owned by Spain.

Profits and equity all go out of our economy; and in the case of the wind industry, the only jobs we really get long-term are a few maintenance and management positions. The construction jobs disappear, unless our folks want to follow the installations around the country. Hello, home life. Don’t count on the stability of any of these jobs because once built, the facilities are frequently sold. Go to our Web site, double-click on the black “Online Exclusives” box and look back for “Wind farm transfer Web sites.” While on the site, also take a look at the editorial “October’s hallowed wind(farms)?”

Dear county board members, the wind company you negotiate with today, may not own the wind farm next year. What type of company will want to build more wind farms? Protect us, the environment and our real future.

“We Need Jobs!!” read one of the union signs at the last county board meeting. I am in long-term agreement. In 2002, I wrote “We can be an alternative energy showcase… Retooling Rockford for the future.” Yet, even though firms like JL Clark are stepping forward, as shown by the Winnebago County Green Business Awards, we do not own the plants to produce our own wind turbines, solar panels, hydroelectric generators, and geothermal systems. Those are real long-term jobs that will not disappear like so much manufacturing did in the 1980s. Unions should get behind retooling Rockford.

As fellow River Districter Hans Rupert pointed out in an e-mail, “Frank, You have been calling for a green revolution in manufacturing for Rockford for years; I thought it interesting that Friedman is giving it the national stage now.”

He was referring  to The New York Times op-ed “The New Sputnik,” which said, in part: “China is embarking on a new, parallel path of clean power deployment and innovation. It is the Sputnik of our day. Unfortunately, we’re still not racing.” See www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/opinion/27friedman.html

So instead of getting behind any real investment in long-term jobs, our county board is grabbing for short-term money, without protecting the environment.

They aren’t balancing their “Green Economic Checkbook.” The Sept. 29 Newsweek cover story was: “The Greenest Big Companies In America, An Exclusive Ranking.” Look at these companies’ commitment to research, recycling, emissions and locations. They know that to attract the right talent, they need a high standard of living, arts and environment. Get it? Keep your green balance high. Don’t greenwash it, although Greenpeace, one of the first to identify “Greenwashing,” might have a problem with many of Newsweek’s rankings.

Green spray can reach very high. “Green Luxury… How environmental causes help boost sales” in Barron’s Sept. 29 issue, cited green credential efforts by Tiffany & Co., “a Chanel-branded Segway,” and BMW, with the caution: “…they must stay true to the color.”

Wheeling locally for green luxury, an electric Tesla Motors “Roadster” (only $100,000+, see page D1) will be featured at the Green Ball, a fund-raiser for the Green Communities Coalition, this Friday at Cliffbreakers. Cool.

Unfortunately, GCC is recycling, as Ball MC, former 21-year veteran, Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli (R), who was first repainted by the United Way when they chose him as their executive director (I should have said something then), after his defeat by Lisa Fabiano (D) in an upset judgeship race. Voters aren’t so dumb.

Besides the record that lost him that race, many of us also remember his ridiculous prosecution of protesters trying to save the Ditzler wetlands and sacred American Indian sites. We consider Logli as green as an orange traffic pylon on the Harrison-Springfield Avenue extension. Gotta love more sprawl, and jobs at any cost. Logli did, and he just accepted a large donation for the United way from “Mr. Sprawl” Sunil Puri. Birds of a feather windmill together.

Bad GCC choice, hope it’s a good ball; I’m sure he’ll return the love of these comments during the ball. He’s my and this paper’s long-time “pals,” and the GCC did themselves no favors with the joke of that choice. No greenwash here; sponsorship for the event was withdrawn.

Which brings us back to the serious matter of real fairness under the law. Winnebago County had better wake up and include required special-use permits and hearings for each windmill site, not the whole wind farm.

Consider the new testimony by the wind industry at both parties’ previous caucuses, and the unfair limiting of Seward residents presentation at the caucuses this week. Look out. Without strict special-use permits and environmental protection, as Seward Township resident Sally Hoff said, “Winnebago county is handing us a lawsuit on a silver platter.” (See page A1 “An open letter to members of the Winnebago County Board.”)

Really get out the green, taxpayer green. That doesn’t wash.

From the October 21-27, 2009 issue

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