There’s no such thing as a free lunch. But sooner or later you still have to eat.

An Associated Press article in the Nov. 17 Globe highlighted a perhaps overlooked negative to wind energy: waste material.

While most components of wind turbines are made from recyclable metals, the turbine blades are normally composed of fiberglass or similar composite materials and end up in landfills when retired.

Given that many wind farms are located in sparsely populated areas, the disposal challenge can be significant. And dedicating large tracts of land to garbage dumps isn’t particularly “green.”

Other negatives cited by opponents of wind energy include bird strikes, noise and unsightly appearance.

Wind energy, of course, isn’t the only allegedly eco-friendly power source to have its drawbacks.

Biofuels are currently derived primarily from corn and soybeans. Producing these crops requires significant energy input, encourages the destruction of native prairies and rain forests, and contributes to soil and water pollution.

Diversion of agricultural commodities to energy production also has the potential to increase food prices.

Dams associated with hydroelectric power alter the flow and continuity of rivers, often threatening aquatic species and leading to increased flooding.

Solar panels are energy and water-intensive to manufacture while containing metals that must be mined and toxic chemicals with the potential to harm human health and the environment if not handled and disposed of properly.

Nuclear power generates nuclear waste, and while the risk of a catastrophic accident or sabotage at modern nuclear facilities is low the results are potentially devastating.

Yet by focusing on the bad with each of these energy sources it’s easy to lose sight of the good: all are significantly better for the environment than oil or coal while likely being at least marginally preferable to natural gas.

Every human activity has an environmental impact that cannot be eliminated, only minimized and mitigated.

The most eco-friendly way to minimize is to conserve.

Those who truly care about the environment should endeavor to drive less, fly less, heat and cool less, consume fewer products and less packaging, use locally sourced goods whenever possible, etc.

But sooner or later you still have to eat. And drink, and work, and play, and keep from freezing to death when winter arrives a touch early.

Since no energy source is absolutely eco-friendly, the best way to minimize the negative impact of these activities is to embrace a variety of alternative and traditional energy sources while encouraging continued research and innovation to improve each.

Dismissing or discarding the good while awaiting the perfect is nearly always counterproductive.

Given that some negative impact on the environment is nonetheless inevitable, investments should be made to mitigate this impact by preserving and enhancing existing natural areas, retiring and restoring degraded environmentally sensitive land, and working to improve soil, water and air quality.

(A great way to do so would be to fund Iowa’s Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust, as environmental advocates have been urging state legislators to do for nearly a decade.)

There is no such thing as a free lunch. So if you can get one for half price you’d better take it.


Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has jumped into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, while former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is said to be seriously considering a run.

Well, thank goodness!

Clearly what the Democratic Party needed to unite and energize the masses was more choices. Seventeen just didn’t seem like enough.

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Tim Ackarman, a regular columnist for the Globe Gazette, lives in Miller.


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