This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly newsletter from Inkstick Media and The World. Subscribe here.
As the northern hemisphere lurches into fall, cool breezes become crisp winds, and the lurch of climate adaptation switches from powering air conditioning to powering heat. The respite from staggeringly hot summers, increasingly common in our warming 21st century, should allow cooler heads to prevail as countries and communities find ways to adapt to the needs and realities of a warming future. One of the best tools on hand are wind turbines, especially in places like the plains of North America or the windswept northeast of New England in the United States and Quebec in Canada.
Yet, despite this seemingly obvious marriage between the winds that mark the season and the changes needed to preserve the climate, opposition to wind power in North America is growing.
In “Prevalence and predictors of wind energy opposition in North America,” authors Leah C. Stokes, Emma Franzblau, Jessica R. Lovering, and Chris Miljanich examine the specific nature of resistance to abundant green energy across the United States and Canada.
“Opposition to clean energy is a privilege. It imposes pollution burdens on poorer communities and communities of color, as it slows down the transition away from fossil fuel electricity sources overwhelmingly placed in their backyards.”Leah C. Stokes, Emma Franzblau, Jessica R. Lovering, and Chris Miljanich
“Across North America and Europe wind projects have faced local opposition. Resistance to wind energy development presents a significant challenge for the energy transition, as the rate of wind energy deployment needs to accelerate rapidly to meet decarbonization targets,” the authors write.
That opposition is quantifiable. The authors created a comprehensive dataset of wind projects across the United States and Canada from 2000 to 2016, an important range that includes the pre-Trump administration and pre-pandemic eras. The authors tracked both successful and unsuccessful opposition to the wind projects, noting that even unsuccessful opposition can still slow the development and deployment of turbines. Types of opposition recorded were physical protests, legal actions, legislation, and/or letters to the editor.
“In the United States, wind projects experiencing opposition were located in areas with larger percentages of White people, and lower percentages of Hispanic people. These race and ethnicity variables are by far the strongest predictors of opposition,” the authors write. In Canada, race was not a useful variable of difference, because “places where wind projects were developed were on average 97% White, leaving little room for variation.”
Partisanship was shown to be a meaningful variable in Canada, as the Liberal Party was instrumental in crafting policy that streamlined and sped up authorization for wind projects. In both countries, wealth was an indicator of a group’s opposition to wind power. When it came to protests, the numbers of protesters required for a write-up in the press were small: a median of 23 people in the United States and 34 in Canada. Opposition increased around both large projects, with numerous turbines, and against projects with taller turbines.
The authors conclude, “Building on this work, we find that Whiter and wealthier communities are slowing down and blocking wind projects across North America. Opposition to clean energy is a privilege. It imposes pollution burdens on poorer communities and communities of color, as it slows down the transition away from fossil fuel electricity sources overwhelmingly placed in their backyards.”