Let me say, upfront, that Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors. The American-turned-transplanted-Brit-turned-American again is without doubt one of the funniest human beings on the planet, and his every contact with the written word should be encouraged.
But, for all his virtues, there's one subject Bryson should avoid: wind farms. During a recent stopover in Britain, I picked up the Telegraph and Sunday Times, and both had Bryson — no longer a resident of Britain — nonetheless sounding off in his role as president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).
Normally, this group is fighting the good fight over preserving open space. I'd send them money. Readers of Bryson's books are well aware of his fondness for tramping over meadows and marshes with walking stick and sack lunch. It usually ends badly.
For centuries, England was primarily warmed by coal, which is where the legendary pea soup "fogs" came from. Today, it's struggling to develop alternative energy sources, including both onshore and offshore wind. According to the Telegraph, there are 3,162 land-based turbines in the UK, up from a few hundred 20 years ago.
Another 657 are under construction, and 1,788 approved but not built. England's goal is to have 20 percent renewable energy by 2020.
But Bill Bryson says the wind farms are in the wrong places, and will damage the landscape of Britain for "at least a generation." He opines, "The speed and scale of the change we are now seeing as a result of the proliferation of wind turbines is immense and threatens to damage the character of many landscapes for at least a generation."
Bryson says he and his CPRE leadership are "supportive" of the plan to cut carbon emissions, but they don't say how to do it without someone having to look at turbines. Placing them offshore doesn't placate these types, as the Cape Wind case amply demonstrates.
Yes, Bill, the British countryside is "incredibly beautiful, dangerously fine and infinitely precious" but what will really kill it is climate change, not a few zero-emission wind turbines. According to a 2011 scientific paper on global warming effects in Britain, some coastal communities are "already experiencing extreme storms or floods and the effects of sea-level rise and coastal erosion."
And what aggravates global warming most? Burning coal, and the British use of it is actually up in 2012, now accounting for 46 percent of all power generation. Get real, Bill.