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Attacking the Windmills

Donald Trump's attacks on windmills are just as curious as that of Don Quixote's. Unfortunately, there is no Sancho Panza by his side

Don Quixote mistook windmills for giants and attacked them. That actually seems rational when compared with the attacks launched by Donald Trump against wind turbines, or “windmills” in Trump-speak.

As the world searches for fossil fuel alternatives, Donald Trump’s quest to undermine the potential of wind turbines to produce electricity is truly bizarre. But there is a reason. Not a logical one, but a reason nonetheless.

The term “windmill” traces back to a time when wind energy was used to turn large round stones that would grind grains. It is therefore incorrect to refer to today’s installations as windmills since they have nothing to do with milling. The rotating blades are, in fact, linked to a turbine that generates electricity.

Trump’s battle against “windmills” began back in 2006 after he had purchased seaside land for a golf course and then subsequently learned that a windfarm was being planned offshore. This annoyed him because Trump believed it would disturb the view and possibly eat into profits. His attempts to prevent the construction of the wind farm turned into a feud with the Scottish government and, in Trump’s mind, converted the wind turbines into giants that needed to be attacked. His weapons were words. Irrational ones at that. But they continue to be spewed out to this day.

“You know, I know windmills very much. I’ve studied it better than anybody,” Trump has said recently when speaking with FOX News' Sean Hannity. What are we to make of this grammatically curious claim from Donald Trump? That he knows more about the subject than all the engineers, physicists, environmentalists and materials scientists who are involved in the design of these turbines? From what book did he learn that the sound of the turbines causes cancer? Or that the electricity will go off if there is no wind? In his own inimitable words, “All of a sudden, it stops; the wind and the televisions go off, and your wives and husbands say ‘darling, I want to watch Donald Trump on television tonight, but the wind stopped blowing and I can’t watch.” Of course, this is not so. The electricity generated by the turbines can be stored. He has also incorrectly stated that the turbines spew greenhouse gases into the air and capped off this bit of nonsense with the non-sequitur, “You know we have a world, right? So, the world is tiny compared to the universe.” Well, at least he got the size comparison right.

He got something else right. Sort of. “You want to see a bird graveyard? You just go. Take a look. Go under a windmill someday. You’ll see more birds than you’ve ever seen in your life.” I’ve actually seen these behemoths close up. And while they dosort of look like giants, therewas no bird graveyard underneath. However, it is true that the turbines are a hazard for birds. There are all sorts of estimates about how many birds are killed a year, but it is a lot less than the upwards of a billion birds killed every year by domestic cats. And less than the number killed by crashing into cell towers and tall buildings, such as the Trump Tower.

Trump often laments that the “windmills” are ugly. That of course is in the eyes of the beholder. To me, windmills look like majestic, technological marvels. He argues that “after 10 years they look like hell and start to get tired, old.” Actually, windmills last 20-30 years before they “get tired and old.” And there is a real issue here. What do you do with the decommissioned turbines, whose blades can be a hundred meters long, and burying them in a landfill is not a viable long-term option? Made of polyester or epoxy resins reinforced with glass fibers, blades are difficult but not impossible to recycle in some way. They can be ground into small particles to replace sand and clay in cement or cut up and used in construction to reinforce concrete. They can even be converted into poles for power lines. Ideally, they would be chemically broken down to extract the resins, which then can be used to make new blades. This challenge is currently being addressed by several companies.

We need politicians to push for fossil fuel alternatives. Is there a chance that Donald Trump will get on the bandwagon? Whether he runs for office again or not, he does hold sway. But it is unlikely that he will change his mind. After all, we are dealing with someone who banned the Glenfiddich whisky brand from all his properties because of a tiff with a man who had received an award sponsored by William Grant & Sons, the company that makes Glenfiddich. Is there a Sancho Panza out there?


@JoeSchwarcz

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