September 21, 2003

The hypocritical environmentalism of celebrities

By: David Harsanyi

Supporting and funding alternative means of energy in an effort to eliminate America’s dependency on foreign oil and reduce pollution has long been one of the stated causes of progressive politicians, activists and celebrities. But it seems that many of them, so skilled at furthering the case for unconventional energy resources, are unprepared to utilize them in their own backyards.

Of all the alternative energy sources available today, wind is professed by many experts to be the world’s fastest growing, cleanest and most easily renewable. Even the Bush Administration, the prime target of environmentalist ire, announced this week that the Department of Energy would provide over 17 million dollars for 187 energy efficiency and renewable energy projects — many of the grants given to wind energy projects.

Is the administration more forward thinking when it comes to energy than a cadre of celebrities tucked away in the exclusive environs of Cape Cod, Massachusetts? Former newsman Walter Cronkite, a part-time resident of Martha’s Vineyard, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a well-known inhabitant, are leading a campaign to shut down a proposed $700 million wind farm in the Nantucket Sound that would provide electricity to thousands of homes in the area, contending that the giant turbines would ruin the landscape of one of the nation’s most cherished areas.

The opponents of this planned 130-turbine wind farm say they support wind energy, but not when it’s in close enough proximity to compromise the aesthetic quality of their community. While that might make sense to those privileged enough to live in Martha’s Vineyard, it has the potential of sounding slightly elitist to the thousands of Cape Cod residents who could use affordable, safe energy.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, author of John Adams and one of the most vociferous critics of the project, explains that he’s “not against wind turbines. I’m against 130 of them over 400 feet tall right smack in the middle of one of the most beautiful places in America. That’s a hundred feet taller than the Capitol dome in Washington.”

Cape Cod is one of the most beautiful places in America and it would continue to be that. Because what Mr. McCullough leaves out is that these windmills would reside five miles offshore — an eyesore for Yachters maybe, not so much for middle-class residents. It turns out that from the coast, the supporting towers would blend in with the horizon and could be visible only one-half inch above the horizon. With the turbines spaced one-third to one-half mile apart, the park will have little impact on the existing uses of the outlying shoal.

Since celebrities tend to reside in all the “most beautiful places in America,” it seems unlikely, if we follow Mr. McCullough’s reasoning, that the privileged should ever have to deal with the visual pollution most Americans are burdened with. Has snobbery begun to replaced communal commitment among the environmentalist of Provincetown and Hyannis Port?

The wind farm is not the only recent example of celebrities having a difficult time coming to practical terms with their progressive values.

When amateur photographer Kenneth Adelman and his wife, Gabrielle, began snapping pictures from their helicopter, using the photos to build a web site designed to document erosion and excessive development along California’s 1,150-mile coastline, the last thing they probably expected was that entertainer, and self-professed environmentalist, Barbra Streisand would file a $10 million lawsuit against them. Adelman argues that the performer “moved to the California Coast because of its beauty, and now she seeks to deny the public the right to see and protect the same coast that she enjoys.”

On that note, it must have been a shock to local environmentalists seeking to make the Malibu beaches available to the public last year, when they were pitted into legal battle against liberal billionaire David Geffen and other major Hollywood players, who were intent on denying the public use of the state’s top beach. A judge has dismissed Geffen’s lawsuit.

Will the group opposing the Nantucket Sound wind farm go the way of Geffen? It probably won’t be as easy, but money has been no object. Recently, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound hired a powerful law firm, Texas-based Loeffler Jonas & Tuggey, to lobby members of Congress in their behalf to push for greater controls over offshore wind farms.

Is it hypocritical for those who enthusiastically support environmental causes and advocate increased federal authority over energy to become reticent when their backyard becomes the testing ground for the collective good? And there is no denying this project is in the public good. The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative confirmed that the wind farm could supply three-quarters of Cape Cod’s energy needs. Another study by found that the project would create more than 150 local jobs and as many as 1,000 jobs in the region.

Jim Gordon, owner of Cape Wind Associates, the company that hopes to build the turbines, probably said it best: “There are some people on the Cape who believe that Nantucket Sound is their exclusive playground.”

David Harsanyi is a writer living in New York. His articles on politics and culture have appeared in the Weekly StandardWall Street JournalNational Review, NRO, New York PressThe HillJerusalem Post, Toronto Globe & Mail, FrontPage Magazine, World and I, Tech Central Station, Associated Press, Sports and numerous other publications. His Web site is