You had to know that any serious proposal for wind power projects in Rhode Island would raise heated objections. Human squabbling has been part of building tall structures since Babel.
Because such technologies work best near or in the ocean—where the wind roams with needed sustained speeds year round—large scale wind farms are often proposed exactly there. And so any other user of those waters, like fishermen, must become part of the citing process. But what of those who complain that wind turbines will spoil their ocean views? Such concerns rouse little sympathy from many wind power supporters, who, like me, don’t live near the ocean.
All the same, I can commiserate with those fearful of citing infrastructure close to home. I live one quarter mile from a wastewater treatment facility and a football field’s length from an interstate highway. Every so often I awake during a summer’s night to the smell of the municipal sewer plant, and all day and night I hear the roar of 18 wheelers, the Doppler Shift of coming and going motorcycles and automobiles, and the sirens of the state police keeping it all in order.
Bothersome as it all may be I know that infrastructure is vital for everyone. The wastewater facilities and highways that share my corner of creation are there for the common good. Like it or not, I and my neighbors must balance our use of the world with the needs of everyone else. Our environment—our air, and even the sounds around us—are shared and used by those other souls known as neighbors.
His Holiness Benedict XVI has written and preached of such dynamics. In his 2009 letter to the church Caritas in Veritate, the Holy Father notes that “the environment is God's gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole ... In nature, the believer recognizes the wonderful result of God's creative activity, which we may use responsibly to satisfy our legitimate needs, material or otherwise, while respecting the intrinsic balance of creation. If this vision is lost, we end up either considering nature an untouchable taboo or, on the contrary, abusing it. Neither attitude is consonant with the Christian vision of nature as the fruit of God's creation.”
In other words, we Catholics bring a unique perspective to matters as practical as citing wind farms in and around Rhode Island Sound. We must not be automaton obstructionists to leave nature untouched. Nor should we cede to every proposal for electricity. Rather we should heed the Holy Father’s call for balance and seek the best good for all, even if it means we personally pay a price—such as if, for instance, the view from our picture window is altered. After all, sacrifice comes with Christian discipleship.
And so if some of us must live near highways, airports, wastewater facilities, power plants, fire stations, schools, or landfills, then others can put up with elevated, swirling blades of far-off (or nearby) machines that create out of thin air plentiful and clean electricity for the benefit of everyone.
William Patenaude is an engineer specializing in environmental regulation and a graduate student of theology at Providence College. He is a parishioner of SS. Rose and Clement Church in Warwick.