“Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them than he said to his squire, ‘…I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war...’
‘Take care, sir,’ cried Sancho Panza. ‘Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone’."
Extract from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605)
“Tilting at windmills” has entered the modern English lexicon as a figurative way to describe attacks on imaginary enemies, or to misguided courses of action based on romantic or idealistic justifications. The English countryside has become the latest such battleground in the fight between preventing climate change and protecting the rural landscape. A High Court judge ruled in May 2012 that UK national policy promoting the use of renewable resources should not take precedence over protecting landscape in rural Norfolk. And yet recent polls have shown that a significant majority of the British public support wind power in the countryside.
Originally windmills were popular throughout East Anglia for milling grain or pumping water but recently they have been replaced by a more modern version. Today, there are almost 4,000 wind turbines in the UK that generate renewable energy displacing more than 5 million tonnes of CO2 per year from the atmosphere that would otherwise contribute to climate change. Both the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England have expressed concerns about inappropriately sited wind turbines. At the same time, NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) has become a byword for local efforts to resist development such as wind farms for a variety of reasons. All too often, technology, cost and efficiency are sited as reasons for objections but in reality, it is the visual impact that primarily drives opposition.
Aesthetic issues are subjective and by their very nature cannot be precisely defined or measured. The diversity of landscapes implies that some are perceived by the observer to be of greater value than others. Furthermore any given landscape is constantly changing depending on natural variables such as season, weather and time of day or man-made variables such as agricultural use, construction and local land policy. Ultimately, a personal judgment is made within the context of the observer’s particular worldview.
“Tilting at windmills” presents one vision of how wind farms and landscape interact in rural East Anglia with the intent of allowing the observer to more clearly recognize the validity of their own preconceptions and make a more honest and informed judgment on the debate.
Colin Cafferty is an emerging environmental photographer based in Hackney, East London who recently left the financial world to address the ongoing environmental crisis through creative means. He graduated with an MSc degree in Climate Change Management from Birkbeck, University of London in early 2012 and recently set up a website with the aim of inspiring action on climate change through photography. More information and photos available at http://www.climatechangecafe.com
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