Face it. So-called renewable energy is sold on fear and shame. Why else would Santa Barbara County approve a wind farm in the hills outside of Lompoc?

Alfred Runte

Alfred Runte

You mean your Planning Commission doesn’t believe in climate change? Shame on you, Santa Barbara!

No, shame on the commission for giving in. After all, Santa Barbara County is where California’s environmental movement began. As early as the 1930s, the City of Santa Barbara enacted building codes that were the envy of the state — and nation.

The person of the hour was Pearl Chase. The city and county need not apologize for wanting a beautiful face, she advised. Rather, the rest of America should apologize for tolerating too many ugly ones.

Fast forward to 1969 and the infamous Santa Barbara Oil Spill. The county’s message remained loud and clear: There are some places in the United States too beautiful for offshore drilling, and the Santa Barbara Channel was one such place.

The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, was in large part inspired by the spill, as was UC Santa Barbara’s Environmental Studies Program, then but the second of its kind in the nation.

At UCSB, other noted leaders then emerged, among them Roderick Nash, Garrett Hardin and Barry Schuyler. You don’t solve growth with a technological fix, they taught. Far more important is limiting growth.

There is no free lunch; there is no perpetual motion machine. Nothing will save us from destroying Spaceship Earth until we admit it is a spaceship.

What happened to that humility? Why lose the county’s precious hills and coastline to 29 wind turbines the equivalent of 50-story buildings?

Because we haven’t done our part, the Planning Commission argues. The county has done nothing to head off climate change!

Nonsense. An open landscape is vital for absorbing carbon dioxide. Let Los Angeles County suffer wind farms. They are the ones smothering the planet in asphalt.

The point is: Santa Barbara County has more than done its part. No coastline in the United States is as beautiful, and that the county has saved — so far. The integrity of the natural environment remains the key to controlling CO2.

To be sure, renewable energy needs us to forget that. Rarely are its projects placed on marginal lands. Proponents rather prefer undeveloped land, free of people and legal hassles. That means the nation’s deserts, mountains and coastlines — America the Beautiful — rather than abandoned strip mines, dumps and parking lots.

Just the base of a single wind turbine requires 2,500 tons of reinforced concrete, the stem 900 tons of steel. At 45 tons, the blades are made of nonrecyclable carbon composites. And proponents call all of that “green?”

On marginal lands, renewable energy might make sense. Unfortunately, there is nothing marginal about the California coast. It is pristine land, open land, the last of its kind we will ever have.

No less than Warren Buffett admits the truth: He builds wind farms only for the government subsidies. And even then his projects soak the ratepayers. Still, the cost of renewable energy keeps going up and up.

Did oil get cheaper when Santa Barbara County sacrificed the channel — and those beautiful bluffs at Gaviota? Just the reverse, as I recall. Meanwhile, no way will those offshore platforms come out until the oil runs out. Wind energy is a poor substitute for jet fuel.

Where beauty warrants, the world needs to say no to both oil and renewables. Meanwhile, from where I sit, Lompoc is taking it in the shorts. A bribe of $150,000 for all that damage? And yes, it is a bribe. Even $100 million would not begin to cover the county’s losses. Or do tourists actually want to see more wind farms?

My fondest memories of Santa Barbara County are of the coast. Those suing to stop this project are right. Virtue signaling may make county residents feel good, but how finally that threatens your priceless landscape should make you feel downright sick.

— A specialist on national parks, Alfred Runte holds a Ph.D. in American Environmental History from UC Santa Barbara (1976). Among his books are National Parks: The American Experience, Yosemite: The Embattled Wilderness and, featuring Santa Barbara, Allies of the Earth: Railroads and the Soul of Preservation. Al and his wife live in Seattle. The opinions expressed are his own.

An internationally recognized historian of the national parks, Alfred Runte’s principal books include National Parks: The American Experience (five editions) and Yosemite: The Embattled Wilderness (two editions), both published by Lyons Press. A Seattle resident, he last wrote for Noozhawk about a Lompoc wind farm.