Cape Wind Controversy Hits New Low, Illustrates Cost of NIMBYism

I have immense respect for Robert F Kennedy Jr, and have been frequently moved by his outstanding speeches on big-picture environmental topics. I’m not alone, however, in continuing to be surprised and baffled at the Kennedy tradition of steadfastly opposing the Cape Wind turbine project, the first major offshore wind energy project in the US, slated for Nantucket Sound in Massachusetts. But this post isn’t about the Kennedy family opposition, it’s about another surprising and confusing source of opposition to the project.

According to the New York Times, a Native American group has now raised its voice over the potential project on the grounds that the massive turbine farm “would thwart their spiritual ritual of greeting the sunrise, which requires unobstructed views across the sound, and disturb ancestral burial grounds”.

The political ball is play is as follows: The group has managed to get the National Park Service to declare that Nantucket Sound *might* be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Whether or not this actually happens (a huge swath of open ocean is an unusual place for historic designation), the bureaucratic delay this will cause could open the door to legal action and so on. Isn’t politics fun?

All the practical reasons to oppose a project like Cape Wind have been thoroughly debunked, including the idea that wind turbines hurt home values. So that leaves only the spiritual, aesthetic issue at hand.

Fair enough. There are some legitimate opinions to be heard about the aesthetics of wind farms – though most are based only in fear of something new and different. I’m obviously opinionated about this matter, but mostly, I’m concerned about what this says about our potential to work together to evolve our world’s energy production and move towards something resembling sustainability on a global level. What are the costs of such rabid NIMBYism? Especially when it comes from those who otherwise claim to be steadfast supporters of renewable energy and sustainability? Where ought one draw the line between aesthetic tradition and change?

If the Northeast’s highest potential area for wind development can be derailed by the interests of a few wealthy property owners and a small tribe who came out of nowhere this fall, then what will happen elsewhere? Then again, can those of us who stand to gain no real immediate benefit from the Cape Wind project really meddle with what could arguably be considered a strictly local issue?

If the people of Nantucket and Martha’s Vinyard opted to live completely off grid for eternity then they might garner some sympathy. However their opposition to aesthetic sacrifice may mean losing the ground on which they stand – literally.

What do you think?

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has since grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He was instrumental in the creation of TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years as well as an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.