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Earth Day 2012: Before They're Gone

Earth Day 2012: Harvest the Wind

Philip Warburg is the author of Harvest the Wind: America's Journey to Jobs, Energy Independence, and Climate Stability. In honor of Earth Day, we asked him "What is today's most pressing environmental issue?" 

Curbing global warming is the overarching environmental challenge we face. Wind and solar power offer promising ways to wean ourselves off precarious and outmoded energy resources.  With the right “smart grid” investments, these two renewable energy resources could meet well over half of America’s power needs by mid-century. During the past half-decade, wind has supplied 35 percent of all new U.S. electric-generating capacity. Will this continue?  Not if we succumb to the allure of “fracked” natural gas as the new American panacea. Cheap it is – at least until stepped-up global market demand drives up its price. Environmentally sustainable it’s not. Leaving aside the under-studied hazards of fracking, even the best of gas-fired turbines produce nearly half as much CO2 as conventional coal plants.

Denmark is determined to rid itself entirely of fossil fuels by 2050. The Danish Commission on Climate Change Policy expects that shedding fossil fuels will reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent, at the same time that Denmark’s GDP is projected to double.  What America needs is a vision of similar magnitude. We have the resources to make it happen, but we need to summon the political will to internalize the crippling costs of our reliance on fossil fuels.

Harvest_the_windWind power is not only an effective way to address our reliance on fossil fuels, it holds promise as a way to revive the economies of America's small towns, a topic Warburg explores in Harvest the Wind.

Winds sweeping through the Great Plains once robbed the Farm Belt of its future, stripping away overworked topsoil and creating the dreaded Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Today, those winds are bringing new hope to the declining rural communities of the central United States. Nowhere is wind's promise more palpable than in Cloud County, Kansas, where the soaring turbines of the Meridian Way Wind Farm are boosting incomes and bringing green jobs to a community that has, for decades, watched its children drift away.

In Harvest the Wind, Philip Warburg brings readers face-to-face with the people behind the green economy-powered resurgence in Cloud County and communities like it across the United States. This corner of Kansas is the first stop on an odyssey that introduces readers to farmers, factory workers, biologists, and high-tech entrepreneurs-all players in a transformative industry that is taking hold across America and around the globe.

In this illuminating book, Warburg reveals both the remarkable growth of a breakthrough technology and the formidable challenges it faces. He visits epicenters of anti-wind opposition as well as communities that have embraced wind farms as neighbors. He guides readers through an Iowa turbine assembly plant that is struggling to compete in a global marketplace dominated by European and Chinese manufacturers. And he looks at the thousands of miles that wind-generated power will need to travel to reach American consumers.

Harvest the Wind is an earthly antidote to loftier treatises on global warming and green energy. By showing us how practical solutions are being implemented at the local level, Warburg offers an inspirational look at how we can all pursue a saner and more sustainable energy future-while at the same time investing in the nation's infrastructure and jumpstarting its economy.

Read an excerpt of Harvest the Wind on Scribd.

Philip_WarburgPhilip Warburg was president of the Conservation Law Foundation, New England's leading environmental advocacy group, from 2003 to 2009. Earlier, he ran the Israel Union for Environmental Defense in Tel Aviv and was an attorney at the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C. He has also worked with governments and citizen groups on anti-pollution initiatives in Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, and across Eastern Europe. Visit his website, PhilipWarburg.com.