The Times podcast: Our Masters of Disasters know it’s windy so they build giant wind turbines
The Times today runs a video essay on “Our Masters of Disasters” by Paul Greenberg, who is on sabbatical this year from the Los Angeles Times with a focus on the role of technological change in shaping the world.
The short excerpt is based on an interview with Professor Greenberg conducted just as he was leaving his home in northern New Mexico — in the wake of a severe storm that brought torrential rain and wind to the area — and published earlier this month by the Associated Press.
Our Masters of Disasters – How Technology is Shaping the Past, Present and Future of Life on Earth
By PAUL GREENBERG
TAMPA, Fla. — From the time the dinosaurs died out to the present, we are an extraordinary species. We have invented new tools, devised new ways to understand our world, and even invented ways to destroy it.
Nowhere is this better showcased than in the development of giant wind turbines. The first windmill towers were constructed in the Middle Ages, as early as 1275. They were used to power a few thousand homes. By the 20th century, over 8,000 towers were erected. And during the decade or so following World War II, wind turbines generated a new source of energy, turning the power back into the ocean.
We do so many things that are dangerous, inefficient and destructive to living things, from building wind turbines to producing gasoline, pesticides and drugs.
The only reason these industrial practices have persisted is that it is easier for us to ignore the threat rather than confront it. But the very technologies that save us from destruction are also the ones that ensure extinction.
Today, there are over 800 wind turbines operating across the U.S., producing enough power for the equivalent of the entire country’s energy consumption. But that number is a modest fraction of the world’s entire fleet. When they were first erected, these turbines produced power for around 0.02 percent of the world