Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Windmills and Camp Fires

Paradise is lost, and other cities are next. As usual, there's a lot of other stuff in the news, too. One of them is the new UN report that says we have 12 years to get our act together or our species is doomed -- and they're actually using the word “doomed” to emphasize the point, not beating around the bush in the usual bureaucratese.

So, something needs to be done. But what might the kind of global movement we desperately require actually look like? How might it be organized? What sorts of tactics might such a movement employ?

Oftentimes when I go to a protest, I look around me and I feel like I'm in a TV commercial for Nike. Did these people with their signs on sticks and their rehashed chants from the 1960's learn how to hold a protest from watching corporate advertisements? I think so. Which is what it is – you gotta start somewhere.

But it seems to me that shouting “ho ho ho, so and so has got to go” is about as useful as writing a letter to your Congressperson. There are, however, other ways to get a point across effectively. Several of my favorite examples come from Scandinavia.

In the early 1970's, many countries around the world were building nuclear reactors. There was a growing movement against this extremely toxic, accident-prone, outrageously expensive form of energy which proponents then and now bizarrely try to sell as “clean.” For the most part, despite the movement, the nukes kept on getting built.

But not everywhere. In Denmark, the parliament was debating the issue of funding a nuclear energy program and building a reactor. There were protests. And then there were the people at a folk school in Jutland who decided that the best way they could think of to protest nuclear power was to build the alternative to it themselves. They set about to research, design and build the world's first industrial-scale windmill.

This windmill is still providing electricity to the town of Ulfborg. It's called Tvindkraft, and it was the model for all of the first generation of industrial windmills that were built soon after Tvindkraft went online in 1976, and the export of industrial-scale windmills became one of Denmark's biggest industries.

In this age of famine, flood and fire, it's worth remembering the story of Tvindkraft. Things can be different. In fact, in some places, they already are pretty different.

Some of the now white-haired folks who built that windmill live in the little village of Hellebaek, near Helsingor, just across the sound that separates Denmark from Sweden. One of the projects there is a cafe right on the water which is open during the warmer half of each year. It's called Cafe Hellebaek. For a couple weeks in early spring and then throughout the summer of 2019, I'll be the guest barista, running the cafe with my family. Drop by for a cortado if you're in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, here's a little more about that windmill. 

The Biggest Windmill

It was in the 1970's, the fuel crisis had begun
The choices were presented to us as if we had none
Leaders of industry said they could solve the problem
By mastering the power of the radioactive atom
Some folks in western Jutland got a notion in their heads
They thought there might be something they could offer up instead
A few hundred people gathered in a little place called Tvind
And declared their will to harness the power of the wind
We're gonna build the biggest windmill in the world

There were many who said their science wasn't sound
That such a mighty windmill would simply topple to the ground
Some of them were scientists, the vast majority were not
But they knew with years of effort you could do a lot
Word about the project spread far and wide
A hundred thousand visitors came to help and to advise
Until one day these windmill builders drove in with a crane
And lifted up their giant wings with a mighty chain
We're gonna build the biggest windmill in the world

When Tvindkraft was completed it reached up to the sky
Its wings churned in the air at 54 meters high
The critics all fell silent, no one now was jeering
As even industry agreed this was some damn fine engineering
The wind regaled Jutland from the north Atlantic sea
As it was seamlessly converted into electricity
It was power for the people, leukemia for none
When they declared in Denmark just south of the midnight sun
We're gonna build the biggest windmill in the world

They gave away the patents, they said knowledge should be free
And their plans were copied by a new-born industry
Soon Denmark would be known as the windmill-building nation
And it all started with some hippies at the Tvindkraft power station
Debates were held in parliament about which way things should go
Build a nuclear reactor, the majority said no
It could have gone quite differently -- in much of the world it did
Except for those in Ulfborg who said we're getting off the grid
We're gonna build the biggest windmill in the world 

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