Bugger the view

There’s a story in this morning’s Dominion Post (not on-line, I’m sorry) about a proposed new windfarm. It will have 50 turbines, each 130 metres high, spread over the hills between Porirua and the Hutt Valley, just above the Pauatahanui inlet.

The reason why it’s news worthy? It turns out that the turbines will be visible from all over the city, and while some people in some areas will see only a few, many people will be in sight of all 50 turbines.

Of course, there is a “Preserve Pauatahauni” campaign. Here’s what they have to say:

Local opponents of the $50 million wind farm have been labelled Nimbys (not in my back yard) by some, but Preserve Pauatahanui spokeswoman Diane Strugnell said the leaked information shows that all Wellingtonians should be concerned.

“There is a slow growing awareness that this wind farm is going to be something big,” she said.

“People are realising that if it goes ahead then they will never see the hills the way they are supposed to be seen.”

I never realised that there was a way that hills ought to be seen. There’s two problems with this claim, one just a matter of logical fact, and the other a matter of moral reasoning. This error of logic – Strugnell moves from an idea of what is – the way the hills are seen now – to an idea of what ought to be – the way the hills ought to be seen. It’s the is-ought problem, famously identified by the greatest British philosopher ever, David Hume.

In addition to being poor at logic, I think that Strugnell is also embracing the naturalistic fallacy. If it’s natural, it must be good. You should be able to think of at least five counter examples to that before lunchtime. It’s a classic error in moral reasoning, and people use it all the time.

But errors of logic and philosophical thinking I can forgive – they are common, and not commonly understood, and often enough are sufficiently obscure that they will only be identified by people who have studied a little philosophy or logic or argumentation.

What I find absurd about the claims by the Preserve Pauatahanui group, and claims by similar groups, is that a view, any old view, is somehow worth more than an environmentally sustainable way of generating power. We aren’t talking about an iconic Grahame Sydney landscape here. Sure, the hills around Wellington are nice hills, as hills go, but even then, the Pauatahanui hills aren’t a patch on the Orongorongo ranges, or the Rimutaka hill. So, nice view, but what’s the priority here? A view, or the planet? Or do the Preserve Pauatahanui people think that the hills ought to be sere and brown, burned to a crisp and dessicated by endless dry winds?

I think there has to be a compelling argument before a view would take priority over a wind farm. Not just this wind farm, but any proposed wind farm in this windy and energy-poor country. So far, the Preserve Pauatahanui nimbys haven’t given us one.

Update: I’m not the only person who thinks that the Preserve Pauatahanui people are being a bit damned precious. WellUrban debunks their arguments here. Thanks for the pointer, Stephen.

6 responses to “Bugger the view

  1. A balanced view can be found at http://www.pauatahanui.com where the forum has arguments from both sides of the fence. Personally, I see the Preserve Pauatahanui group as doing a valuable service to the community of Pauatahanui by raising awareness.

  2. “So, nice view, but what’s the priority here? A view, or the planet?”

    Oho. Well, the rest of your post is great. But I have to take issue with the ‘planet’ as a priority. This is one of the worst shibboleths of environmentalism. We don’t need to save the planet. The planet doesn’t give a stuff. The planet-wide ecology will survive whatever we do, even if it becomes quite changed from what we are familiar with.

    What we are saving is our sensibilities, and our medium-term comfort. Let’s be clear about this.

    I don’t think humanity has any special moral status; who cares if we go extinct, except us. Nor does bio-diversity have any special moral status. In fact, you could argue that a good extinction event would be good for biodiversity. Sure, things would get a bit thin in the short term (1 to 3 million years), but then surviving organisms would evolve to fill, the ecological gaps, and there would be an explosion of diversity. That is the way it has happened for the last 600 million years or so.

    So for those concerned about the planet, how about as much depredation and extinction as possible? That seems more likely to lead to biodiversity, which is a better planetary outcome.

    Or is invoking “the planet” simply a moral cloak for our own dubious preferences?

  3. Apropos:
    http://wellurban.blogspot.com/2007/11/visible-and-risible.html

    Personally I like seeing the windmill on horizon, cranking out electricity for me. Ask people in Huntly how they feel about their beautiful coal station…

  4. How arrogant to suggest that because you do not think the hills around Wellington are not special. Some of us who have lived quite a while (more than 20 years) think the surrounding hills are the back drop to a very special city.

    If the energy from a wind generator was efficient and cost effective it would not be quite so bad but the transmission lines cannot allow any more than about 20 percent wind load at any time. When the wind does not blow where is the electricity to come from?

    NZ exports coal to China where it is used in the most unfriendly way with no thought of protecting the planet. Why don’t we apply our ethical actions to abandoning this form of export. At least if it were to be burnt here to produce electricity then there would be every effort to protect the environment.

    Don’t knock Diane for being brave enough to put her views forward.