I begin this paper by
looking at declining wind turbine sales during the years 2007 to 2010. In an attempt to locate a reason for this
decline, I evaluate two claims by wind farm opponents: 1) that wind farms
reduce property value, and 2) that wind farms ruin the beauty of nature. The first claim I respond to by looking at
three studies conducted on residential property sales located near wind farms. For the second claim, I engage in a comparison
of Immanuel Kant’s and John Dewey’s aesthetics.
I ultimately advance an aesthetic appreciation of wind farms that seeks
to view beauty as an integration of both emotional and cognitive perceptions.
Jon Bonne, Allen Carlson, John Dewey, environmental aesthetics, Immanuel Kant, renewable
energy, Yuriko Saito, David Suzuki, wind farms
a. declining wind turbine sales
the American Wind Energy Association conducted a survey of small wind turbine
sales aimed at assessing the market’s rate of incline or decline from the years
2007 to 2009. The final report, “AWEA
Small Wind Turbine Global Market Study,” published in April 2010, concluded
that U.S. megawatt sales had increased fifteen percent from 2008 to 2009 and
that global megawatt sales had increased ten percent.
A closer look at the report, however, revealed that although wind turbine megawatt
sales in the United States had grown, actual wind turbine unit sales had suffered
a five percent decline.
published by EPC Engineer
three months later, in July 2010, reported similar findings. It stated that Gamesa Corporacion Tecnologica
SA, one of the top-ten suppliers of wind turbines in the nation, had suffered a
significant decline in its wind turbine sales during the first half of the year. The article, “Gamesa First Half Net Profits
Drop 65 percent, Cut 2010 Turbine Sales Goal,” stated that Gamesa’s net profits
fell to 22.5 million euro in the first six months of the year, down from 65
million euro the year prior.
April 2011, Venture Beat published
“GE: wind turbine demand fell last year,” reporting that General Electric, one
of the top three wind turbines suppliers in the nation, saw a drop in the
demand for wind power turbines to around half of its 2009 sales.
The article reported that although wind power deployment in the U.S. had consistently grown for the last three
years, GE had only added 5,116 megawatts’ worth of wind turbines in 2010, a
considerable decline from the more than 10,000 megawatts in 2009.
declining rate of wind turbine sales demonstrated by these reports is
perplexing. Current research regarding climate
change from global warming has indicated that fossil fuel usage must be reduced
in order to minimize future tragedies,
and many countries have begun to invest in renewable energy. China has increased its diesel car production
and, in 2010, the EU (European Union) set new targets for it members to obtain ten
percent of their energy for transportation from biofuels.
Each of these developments has given the illusion that societies are becoming
more aware of the dangers of nuclear and fossil fuel energy and more intentional
about promoting sustainability. This is
not without sufficient cause.
In 2010, the explosion of
The Deepwater Horizon Rig killed 11 workers and gushed 4.9 million barrels of oil
into the Gulf of Mexico, destroying the coastal habitat of the surrounding area
and killing countless mammals, birds, and sea life. There have been numerous coal mine explosions,
such as at New Zealand’s Pike River mine, which killed 29 men,
and at the Baluchistan, Pakistan coal mine, which killed 45.
Few will forget the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant explosion in Japan, which
resulted in the evacuation of more than 50,000 people from the city from fear
of potential radiation poisoning.
If these disasters have not been sufficient enough to encourage an increase in
wind turbines, one has to ask, what is?
The Venture Beat article actually indicated
that power companies are turning to natural gas as an alternative to wind power. Of course, the dangers posed to human health
and the environment from natural gas drilling are also troubling. The process of hydraulic fracturing
contaminates ground waters used for drinking, and leaks can result in deadly explosions
or carbon monoxide poisoning. Natural
gas is also composed primarily of methane, which traps heat at a rate 20 times
greater than that of carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming. Consequently, natural gas is not an
acceptable alternative to wind power among avid environmentalists.
for the decision to turn to natural gas was attributed to two main factors. First, wind turbines carry enormous upfront
costs, which can take up to several years for power companies to recover in
profit. This makes natural gas a cheaper
and more appealing option. Second, wind
turbines carry a negative stigma and are seen as eyesores by some residents,
who fear that a wind farm in close proximity to their homes will reduce
property values. Given the profit-driven
nature of most companies, the first factor is not surprising. However, the second presents a case for
further questioning and investigation. Although
the threat of one’s property value declining is a legitimate fear, is it
b. decline in property value
examining this concern, I looked at three studies, each of which assessed the
sale prices of residential properties located near wind farms. A 2003 study, conducted and funded by the Renewable
Energy Policy Project, examined over 24,000 residential home sales located
within five miles of 10 wind farms and compared them to nearby sales that were
out of view of those farms. This study found that sales prices actually rose
at higher rates closer to the wind farms; where prices in the region declined,
the prices near the wind farms declined less.
study, published in 2009 by the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkley National
Laboratory, looked at the sales transactions of 7,500 single-family homes
situated within 10 miles of 24 wind facilities throughout nine different
states. This report, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, concluded that neither
the view of wind facilities nor the distance of a home to those facilities was
found to have any consistent, measurable, and statistically significant effect
on a home’s sale prices.
a third study in 2009, funded by wind-power critics, found that vacant
residential lot sales near wind turbines suffered an average price decline of 30
to 40 percent. This study did not
involve any actual home sales, presumably because of the rural location and
undeveloped land within the survey area.
Notwithstanding, Appraisal Group Ones’ study still asserted:
It is logical to conclude that the
factors that created the negative influence on vacant land are the same factors
that will impact the improved property values.
Therefore, it is not a leap of logic to conclude that the impact of wind
turbines on improved property value would also be negative.
Although the final report appears to
be more conjecture than pure statistical findings, the data from the first two
studies at least disproves the ad hoc
fear that wind farms always lower property value. The third study is perhaps more significant
because of the comments made by Kurt Kielisch, president of Appraisal Group One. He stated that in comparison to other studies
of his that examined the impact of transmission lines and gas pipelines on
property value, wind turbines have the biggest impact. The main objection, he said, is aesthetic.
This suggests that if wind farms actually
do lower property value, it is certainly not from concerns leveled by opponents,
such as health-risks or danger to birds.
If so, these concerns would extend to transmission lines and gas
pipelines, as well. Venture Beat’s assertion, then, that wind farms carry a negative
stigma and are an eyesore to residents appears to strike at the foundation of
declining wind turbine sales.
c. decline for aesthetic reasons
to wind farm projects often claim that wind farms are ugly and destroy the beauty
of nature. These accusations are leveled
without taking into consideration the benefits wind farms offer by supplying
clean energy and reducing dependency on fossil fuels. Environmentalists and nature lovers often
oppose their construction in spite of data showing wind farms to have one of
the lowest environmental impacts out of all energy sources.
In 2008, plans to erect
three wind turbines on Warwick Hall Farm in the United Kingdom would have
provided 6 to 9 megawatts of additional energy to the region. Yet this project was met with resistance by
local residents of the village of West Cumbrian, who complained that the wind
turbines would “…detract from the lovely landscape.”
In 2010, residents of Kythera, Greece launched a campaign in protest against
nine wind farm proposals that would have generated a total of 321 megawatts of
renewable energy for the islands of Greece.
Among their complaints: “Wind power stations are no parks. They are industrial and commercial
installations. They do not belong in
areas of natural beauty.” A proposal in 2011 to build a 64-turbine wind farm at the foothills of Pumlumon,
along the Cambrian Mountain Range, prompted a protest by the Cambrian Mountain
Society, which complained that the wind farm would “destroy this spectacular
and unique area of Wales.”
and other wind farm project protests suggest that the main issue with wind
turbines is aesthetic. Philosopher
Yuriko Saito addressed this reality in her defense of a proposed wind farm off
the coast of Cape Cod. She wrote, “The
possible negative environmental impact, such as disturbance to area fish as
well as to migrating birds, and interference with seafaring route and
airplanes’ flight paths, seems to have been adequately answered. So what is the source of the opposition?
Aesthetics.”  In
“Machines in the Ocean,” Saito offered four strategies aimed at mitigating
these aesthetic concerns: imaginative comparison, historical precedents,
analogy to art, and civic environmentalism.
Although Saito seemed to endorse civic environmentalism, I see my endeavor
here as closer to what she termed 'imaginative
comparison first requires moving the aesthetic evaluation of an item beyond simply
its “thin” qualities, such as color, shape, and texture, to an inclusion of its
“thick” life values, such as its environmental impact. Second, it asks the individual to
imaginatively compare a proposed wind farm project with that of a nuclear power
plant in the same location. Although
each reaction may be negative, the case could be made that a wind farm is not
as bad as a nuclear power plant because of its positive environmental benefits. Saito conceded that such a strategy would
amount to choosing the lesser of two evils and ultimately would not transform
the negative aesthetic value of wind farms into a positive one. At its best then, imaginative comparison will
promote a tolerance for wind farms but will fail to cultivate an aesthetic appreciation
for these structures. The primary goal
of this essay, however, is just that: to
move beyond tolerance towards an aesthetic appreciation for wind farms.
farm opponents currently regard wind farms as ugly based purely on their
emotional response. Such responses only
judge the thin qualities of wind turbines and fail to take into consideration
their thick environmental benefits. We
find justification for these types of aesthetic judgments in Kant’s Critique of Judgment, which defends purely
emotional aesthetic evaluations. I
contend that such judgments must be challenged.
What is needed is an understanding of beauty that incorporates both
emotional and cognitive components. We
find this in John Dewey’s Art as
Experience, which presents aesthetic judgments not as lying within the
domain of emotions alone but as being a holistic encounter with an object. I conclude that Dewey’s aesthetic provides a
better method of judging objects of beauty and is more beneficial in advancing
an aesthetic appreciation of wind turbine farms. I begin first, therefore, by looking at the
problems posed by a feeling-based aesthetic.
Immanuel Kant’s Critique of
Kant began his “Analytic of the Beautiful” in the Critique of Judgment by stating:
If we wish to decide whether something
is beautiful or not, we do not use understanding to refer the presentation to
the object so as to give rise to cognition; rather, we use imagination (perhaps
in connection with understanding) to refer the presentation to the subject and
his feeling of pleasure or displeasure.
drew the boundaries of all aesthetic judgments around feelings of pleasure or
displeasure. Consequently, if we wanted to
know if an object was beautiful or not, we were not to look to the object for
understanding but to the viewing subject for feelings of pleasure or
displeasure. In this regard, Kant
understood all aesthetic judgments to be wholly subjective, meaning they were
determined and validated by the subject.
This was unlike cognitive judgments, which refer back to the object. Although these judgments were each derived
from the same representation, one was aesthetic and the other logical; one was
based on feelings and the other on understanding. This separation maintained a clear
distinction between judgments that are aesthetic and those that are cognitive. Yet, this also left aesthetic judgments to the
individual mercies of subjective feelings, with no grounds for external
agreement or dissent. Therefore, Kant
determined four characteristics necessary for pure aesthetic judgments: 1)
disinterestedness, 2) universality, 3) finality, and 4) necessity.
a. beauty and disinterestedness
Kant argued that judgments of beauty must be disinterested. This meant that in judging whether an object
was beautiful or not, I could have no personal interest or desire for that
object. A pure judgment of taste is completely
free of desire. This did not mean that I
could not desire a beautiful object, yet it did mean that I could not judge an
object as beautiful because I desired it.
At a certain point the argument begins to resemble the question of which
came first, the chicken or the egg. Kant
contended that a “judgment on the beautiful which is tinged with the slightest
interest, is very partial and not a pure judgment of taste.”
This is because Kant believed that to desire an object implied knowledge of the
object as either good or agreeable. In
either case, a concept of the object was required for such knowledge, and this
could only be derived from understanding in cognition. Thus, Kant’s characteristic of
disinterestedness ensures a distinction between the object’s real existence and
the subject’s aesthetic judgment.
Lucht suggests that this idea may actually hold environmental benefits. He argues that the concept of disinterestedness
can be utilized in motivating a non-instrumental and responsive attitude
towards nature. “Aesthetic contemplation
is indifferent to the manner in which the judged object’s existence might
contribute to one’s well-being; we find ourselves enraptured by something
independent of its capacity to contribute to the satisfaction of our selfish
to Lucht, this would open up space for nature to be judged as an end in itself
as opposed to something merely for human utility.
point is well taken but only accurate in so far as two criteria apply: 1) all
judgments must refer to nature and non-rational beings, and 2) all judgments must
be positive. The negation of either of
these criteria exposes the inherent challenges of appropriating this concept as
environmentally beneficial. It is worth pointing
out that, in spite of stating “aesthetic consciousness involves a love of (at
least beautiful) objects for their own sake,” Lucht never actually discussed objects,
only nature and non-rational beings. However,
some people love houses. They ride
through suburban neighborhoods and appreciate two and three-story homes with
paved driveways and three-car garages. They
look in admiration at in-ground swimming pools and well-manicured yards and,
without desiring to live in these homes, they appreciate their beauty.
though, the massive amounts of energy necessary to power these neighborhoods is
often the very reason, as wind power opponents argue, wind farms are
insufficient as sole sources of energy. Jon
Boone, in his opposition to the wind farm project off the coast of Cape Cod
wrote, “These wind plants will contribute only a small and diminishing
percentage of the region’s total electricity needs because they will produce
only ‘a piddling amount of electricity’ relative to our demand.” One should ask
if this is an indictment against the wind farm or against the out-of-control
energy demands of society. In either
case, this instance demonstrates how the disinterested appreciation of houses motivates
the unreflective disregard for nature.
second criterion exposes the implications of negative aesthetic judgments resulting
from feelings of displeasure. Although Lucht
does not address this possibility in his essay, it is easy to imagine the problem
of an aesthetic wholly validated by feelings when those feelings are negative. Namely, if disinterested feelings of pleasure
lead to a non-instrumental sensitivity to natural beauty, then, by contrast, disinterested
feelings of displeasure would lead to a non-instrumental insensitivity towards aberrations. This would explain why many wind farm
projects are met with such hostility and disdain: individuals are blinded by their emotional
reactions and disinterested in the potential environmental benefits.
b. the universality/necessity of beauty
second and fourth categories are similar enough that I treat them here together. Kant argued that judgments of beauty carry
the claim of universality. He believed
that since the statement “this is beautiful” carries with it no interest or
cognitive understanding of the object, the claim must view beauty as being an
intrinsic quality of the representation of the object. For Kant, then, beauty was not in the eye of
the beholder but in the representation of the beautiful thing.
Kant also held that judgments of beauty carry with them a claim of necessity. He wrote, “In all judgments by which we
describe anything as beautiful, we tolerate no one else being of a different
the claim to necessity did not imply that everyone will agree with our
judgments of beauty, it did affirm that everyone ought to. Thus, disagreements were thought to derive
from a subjective error in judgment as opposed to differing opinions. The implication is that anyone with common
sense would experience the same feelings of pleasure or displeasure as oneself.
considering such an idea absurd, consider the actions of wind farm opponents
who argue that wind farms are ugly without ever actually qualifying that claim. It’s as if they, too, believe that everyone
ought to feel the same. Some make reference
to wind turbines’ height or their obtrusiveness on natural landscapes as justification,
yet many buildings are tall, and roads are visible from almost every place on earth. Few areas remain purely natural; certainly
not the backyards of communities that oppose wind farm projects. One has to wonder where these defenders of
the natural environment were when trees were being cut down to build the
communities in which they now reside.
Boone’s article in this journal, “The Aesthetic Dissonance of Industrial Wind Machines,” he
undertook this task by comparing wind farms to structures like the Great Wall
of China and the Eiffel Tower. He
concluded that “only the US highway system has the scope and scale to match the
aesthetic pretensions for industrial wind power.”
In spite of the fact that those roads’ functional success has allowed them to
become an accepted part of the natural environment, Boone stated that
environmentalists should also have problems with the way in which they scar the
earth, diminish ecosystems, and corrupt economies. I was, however, unable to find any articles
Boone had written on the aesthetic dissonance of roads. Nevertheless, the type of aesthetic justification
he attempted to provide against wind farms is precisely what should be required
of other opponents of wind farms projects.
Unfortunately, many opponents are content with making the universal
claim that wind farms are ugly because they are ugly.
c. beauty and finality
third characteristic requires that an object of beauty exhibit finality without
an end. Although the finality in an
object implies an end, Kant contended that an aesthetic judgment could not take
into consideration the object’s end since, again, this would include cognitive
understanding. Knowing the object’s
purpose would incline the viewer to base his or her aesthetic judgment on
either the object’s utility or its conformity to an ideal. One should ask, then, how a viewer can find
pleasure in an object exhibiting finality and at the same time disassociate it
from its end? Kant would say that the pleasure derived from viewing a river is
a result of the harmony and free play of intuition in the subject and the inherent
purposiveness of the river’s form. However,
understanding the literal purposiveness of the river would taint its aesthetic
judgment, since “every purpose, if it be regarded as a ground of satisfaction,
always carries with it an interestabout
the object of pleasure.”
of performing such a separation is obvious.
To a swimmer, a river would be a welcome sight, and perhaps even
beautiful, because it represents recreation and delight. To a man who once nearly drowning, however,
it would evoke a feeling of anxiety and fear.
Thus, what is beautiful to the swimmer would be abhorrent to the man. Although Kant would argue that a true
aesthetic judgment of the river would require both subjects to free their minds
from these cognitions, it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine anyone
who, upon approaching a river, would be able to successfully remove all prior
knowledge of a river from his or her mind in order to make a purely emotional
The disservice of attempting
to perform such a separation is evident in wind farm opponents’ refusal to
consider the environmental benefits of wind farms as justification for their
beauty. In the United Kingdom, figures
show that almost half of the wind farms planned for the countryside are
rejected before they can get off the drawing board. As attorney Jacqueline Harris noted, issues
such as the visual impact of wind turbines are being given special precedence,
and there is little willingness to consider the benefits of renewable energy.
In spite of research showing that wind farms occupy less land area per kilowatt
hour of electricity generated than any other renewable energy conversion
system, apart from rooftop solar energy,
that they generate the energy used in construction in just months of their
operation; and that they have zero emission or pollution in operation, they are
still regarded by “NIMBYs” (not in my backyarders) as just another industrial
Opponents to the wind
turbine project on Kythera Island stated, “Even the approval of one wind-park
on Kythera will make it easier for the rest of Kythera to be re-zoned for
industrial use. You might then see
wind-towers and factories and dumps spoiling the view from your spitaki.”
The concept of finality without an end implies that all objects that evoke the
same feelings are the same. This
promotes a disregard for the differences between wind farms and factories and
justifies generalizations that are harmful to the development of an aesthetic
appreciation for wind farms.
John Dewey’s Art as Experience
began his philosophy of art in a vastly different way from Kant. He argued that the current isolation of works
of art from the everyday experiences that brought them into existence has led
to a false separation. A wall has been
built around art that renders its general significance almost opaque and
isolates it from human conditions and actual life experiences. Such a perspective, he believed, was
problematic. Dewey wrote, “Mountain
peaks do not float unsupported; they do not even just rest upon the earth. They are the earth in one of its manifest
then argued that it is the role of geographers and geologists to make this fact
evident so that individuals can experience the mountain peak as a part of
Earth’s geological process, along with earthquakes, erosion, and tectonic plate
shifting. Likewise, the real and actual
experiences that bring a work of art into existence are also an intrinsic part
of the object and cannot be disavowed from it; the theorist who deals
philosophically with fine art must expose this reality. Dewey’s aesthetic is an attempt to relocate
aesthetic experience within the context of human activity.
integrating perception and contemplation in aesthetic judgments, Dewey presented
a holistic theory of beauty. It expanded
the realm of aesthetics beyond merely feelings and opened up space for
individuals to reflect on the purpose of an object’s development. Dewey understood the aesthetic experience as
touching every aspect of human life and, thus, art was not relegated to a field
of classification. Art, he wrote,
is a quality that permeates an
experience; it is not, save by a figure of speech, the experience itself. Esthetic experience is always more than
esthetics. In it a body of matters and
meanings, not in themselves esthetic, become esthetic as they enter into an
ordered rhythmic moment towards consummation.
The material itself is widely human.
In this regard anything could be
considered art, artistic, or aesthetic. Science,
politics, and even thoughts could comprise and exhibit an aesthetic quality. In many ways, then, where we see beauty says
more about us than it does about the object.
By contrasting Dewey’s aesthetic with Kant’s,
we are able to identify critical points of divergence. Whereas Kant’s aesthetic helps to explain the
current aesthetic perspective held by wind farm opponents, Dewey’s aesthetic
pushes the conversation forward by challenging those judgments. In an age when the exploitation of
non-renewable resources is rampant, where oil fuels not only cars but wars, and
where the negative effects of disproportionate climate change are more
pronounced than ever, the lack of an aesthetic appreciation of wind farms can
only be seen as negligent. In Dewey’s Art as Experience, I suggest that we can
find the case for such an appreciation.
a. beauty and interestedness
that the process of aesthetic judgment involved more than merely judging an
object. He wrote, “For to perceive, a
beholder must create his own experience.”
This meant that the beholder had to have an experience with the object similar
to the one had by the artist in creation.
However, the experiences were not the same. Each determined what was significant and
ordered the particulars into a whole; “the artist selected, simplified,
clarified, abridged, and condensed according to his interest. The beholder must go through these operations
according to his interest.”
meant that aesthetic judgments were more than just about the object and the
artist. They were also about the
interests of the viewer, what the viewer brought to the encounter and how the
viewer synthesized the experience within his or her mind. Objects were composed of practical, emotional,
and intellectual properties and, according to Dewey, it is impossible to divide
these properties from each other as one experiences an object. Aesthetic judgments are no easy task but,
ultimately, the object demands a holistic encounter. Those who only focus on the emotional, however,
are left with only a partial judgment of the object, one that is deficient and
aesthetic experience is one that gives a consummatory experience and affords continuous
renewed delight. It is one that has the
ability to evoke the experience of production and consummation for viewers over
and over again. For this reason, Dewey
believed that fine art should be both enjoyable and useful. What was often regarded as fine art he
referred to as self-indulgent, self-expressions of egotism. In contrast, Dewey referred to things that were
merely useful as routine.
case of wind farms, their utility is undeniable, even by opponents who would
want to diminish their significance. Also,
others have commented of the “graceful lines” wind turbines exhibit in motion.
Yet, these characteristics alone are insufficient to advance an aesthetic
appreciation of wind farms. Individuals
with a genuine interest in the natural environment must view wind turbines in the
light of those interests. An aesthetic
evaluation that privileges sustainability will inevitably find beauty in wind
farms for the role they play in this endeavor.
As Maine resident Harold Clossey expressed, “Wind turbines are becoming
more and more a source of pride, not only because so many of the people of
Maine have played a part in bringing these projects to bear, but also because
we believe in clean, renewable energy sources that do not pollute our rivers,
lakes and streams.”
b. individuality of beauty
second and fourth categories are that beauty is universal and necessary. Dewey, however, understood the subjectivity
of aesthetic judgments differently. As
opposed to believing that aesthetic judgments ought to be universally shared,
Dewey felt that all judgment were individual.
Retelling the story of a man who complained of the discordant sound of
church bells, he pointed out that, in fact, the sound was musical. It was later discovered that the man’s betrothed
had jilted him to marry a clergyman. Dewey
termed this “projection.”
That is, prior experiences transfer themselves upon the aesthetic evaluation of
a present object. Such projection can
lead to hostile first reactions to new modes of art.
to the claim that there exists a universal subjective perception of beauty, Dewey
actually argued that individual experiences and even psychical influences infuse
our perception of what is beautiful. David
Suzuki’s recounting of a conversation with Mostafa Tolba, former executive
director of the United Nations Environment Programme, demonstrated this reality. He shared with Suzuki that, while growing up
in Egypt, smokestacks belching smoke were considered a sign of progress. After becoming an adult and learning about
pollution, it took him a long time to get over the instinctive pride he felt
when passing a tower pouring out clouds of smoke. Notice that for Tolba these feelings were not
deliberate or conjured up but immediate.
He illustrates how our sense of beauty is influenced by our individual experiences.
Good pointed out in “The Aesthetics of Wind Energy,” projections can explain
why many environmentalists are opposed to wind farms. He stated that, from a traditional modernist
point of view, nature has no intrinsic value unless it is valued by an
intelligent being with rational interests.
Naturalists and ecologists who love nature and spend time there recoil
at this idea. For them, the “industrial
look” of wind farms is connected to modernist thought and carries with it an
ideology of progress that they perceive as unnatural and ugly.
Dewey’s understanding of how projections influence individual aesthetic judgments
provides the opportunity for wind farm supporters and opponents to discuss
c. beauty and purpose
…esthetic experience is a manifestation,
a record and celebration of the life of a civilization, a means of promoting
its development, and is also the ultimate judgment upon the quality of a
believed that by understanding the aesthetic experiences of a civilization we
could come to understand their culture. Art
is not merely an aspect of culture but provides its ultimate judgement. As we appreciate a work of art, we are also
appreciating the civilization from which it emerged. Though the artist may have passed away, his or
her act of producing provides us with insight into that artist’s life and
opposed to attempting to detach the ends of objects from their aesthetic
judgments, it would behoove us, in the
case of wind farms, to ask what our aesthetic expressions will say about us to
the next generation. Some have presumed
that wind farms will become a blight on nature.
Columnist Ted Smith wrote, “History tells us that all technology becomes
obsolete and when technology that involves massive concrete pads and blades the
size of airplane wings becomes obsolete and abandoned, we will have another Tar
The comparison suggests that wind farms will hold no aesthetic quality when
viewed from the vantage point of time, and perhaps might even become comparable
to a Superfund site.
worth noting, however, that Smith’s argument here is a practical one and not an
aesthetic one. He is concerned with instances
when developers, for any number of reasons, abandon wind farm projects. Often what is left behind is a wind turbine
junkyard as opposed to an operating wind farm.
Practically, I agree with Smith that developers should be held
accountable for restoring these locations to their pre-wind farm condition. A non-operative, dilapidated wind farm would
hardly be considered beautiful, whether one was deploying Kant’s or Dewey’s
aesthetic. However, I would disagree
with the assumption that the mere inactivity of a wind farm would negate its
visits the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D. C., one can
see the original 1903 Wright Flyer displayed alongside the stopwatch the Wright
brothers used to time the first powered flight.
Also on view is the command module for Apollo 13, the vessel that held
the first three humans to make a journey to the moon. Although these devices are no longer in use,
their construction, the knowledge of their place in history, and the ingenuity
behind their design all contribute to their aesthetic appeal. Furthermore, they reflect the culture of a
civilization marked by technology and exploration.
society moves forward in the face of global warming and rapid and
disproportionate climate change, we should begin to ask ourselves what values
we want portrayed about us in the next hundred years. If Dewey is correct that our aesthetic provides
the ultimate judge of our values, then the road ahead is difficult one. An article published in September 2011
indicated that Texas has nineteen coal-fired plants and plans to build nine
more. Dewey’s aesthetic provides criteria for considering such decisions as
contradictory, and challenges us to examine the ends of the objects and
structures we create. If the ideals we seek
to advance are sustainability, biodiversity, and concern for posterity, judging
objects with their ends in mind will inevitably serve to expose the beauty of wind
conclusion, Dewey offers a response to the aesthetic concerns presented by Kant
and the feeling-based aesthetic practiced by many wind farm opponents. By advancing an aesthetic that integrates
interest, individuality, and purpose, we are able to understand beauty as a total
experience with an object, rather than simply as an emotive response. And if Dewey’s only contribution here was to
correct a currently dysfunctional system, while commendable, it could hardly be
deemed an advance in aesthetic appreciation of wind farms. But there’s more!
greatest benefit in Dewey’s aesthetic lies in its potential to enrich future
aesthetic judgments. According to Dewey,
experiences are occurring continuously but they are not all complete
experiences. Some are inchoate, meaning
that they are merely part of a total experience. Every experience is not necessarily “an
experience.” Take, for instance, Dr. Martin
Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It would hardly be considered an
experience if an individual heard only those four words. There would be no purposiveness, unity, or
consummation. However, within the context of the entire manuscript, those words
ring with artistry and bravado. Thus, it
is only after one has participated in a whole experience that one can genuinely
make an aesthetic judgment. While this does
not preclude aesthetic judgments along the way, Dewey would say that, without a
total experience, there is no pure aesthetic judgment.
and wind farm opponents, this means that, upon hearing of a proposed wind farm
project, they should delay their judgment and opposition. As opposed to immediately reacting from
emotion, they should have town hall gatherings and attend city council meetings. By discussing the potential benefits and harms
of a proposed wind farm project, individuals will slowly move towards having “an
experience.” In Boone’s article, “The Aesthetic Dissonance of Wind Machines,”
he challenged Saito’s support of the Cape Cod wind farm project. He called attention to the relatively low
percentage of electricity the project would produce and also questioned its
location, given that 33 percent of the nation’s potential wind energy is
located in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Kansas.
In a response, Saito indicated that both sides were waiting for the final
report of the environmental impacts study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
would not only applaud this type of rigorous and engaged research but would
argue that a pure aesthetic judgment demands it. In some situations, a proposed environmental
project may actually produce more harm than good, altering its aesthetic
evaluation. In 1979, as the Tellico Dam
was being completed to bring hydro electric power to Tellico Village in
Tennessee, it was discovered that the dam would put the Snail Darter fish in
danger of extinction. Consequently, the
project was halted. Although the project
was later completed, this is one example of how an ongoing query into the environmental
impacts of a project can and should affect its aesthetic judgment.
Carlson wrote, “When we are actually unable to find an object aesthetically
pleasing in the thick sense because of the (negative) nature of its expressive
qualities, this often makes aesthetic enjoyment of this object in the thin
sense psychologically difficult, if not impossible.”
Carlson’s observation points out how knowledge of the “thick” description of an
object can affect its aesthetic enjoyment.
Saito made a similar point when she questioned the perception of a
beautiful green lawn sustained by toxic chemicals. “Such an attractive green carpet may not
necessarily turn ugly with knowledge, but it may start appearing somewhat
sickly and garish; at the very least, it will not remain innocently and
These points demonstrate that additional knowledge of an object’s negative
impacts can affect the sensory perception of that object. The question remains, however, whether
knowledge of its benefits can make an object beautiful. David Suzuki’s article “The Beauty of Wind
farms” suggests so:
people think wind turbines are ugly. I
think smokestacks, smog, acid rain, coal-fired power plants and climate change
are ugly. I think windmills are
beautiful. They harness the power of the
wind to supply us with heat and light. They
provide local jobs. They help clean our air
and reduce climate change. And if one
day I look out from my cabin's porch and see a row of windmills spinning in the
distance, I won't curse them. I will
Suzuki, coal-fired plants and wind farms are not simply different types of
industrial parks both of which ruin the beauty of nature, as the residents of Kythera,
Greece suggest. Rather, coal-fired
plants are ugly because they contaminate drinking water, ruin air quality, and
increase climate change from global warming, while wind farms are beautiful
because they produce zero harmful emissions, are 100 percent renewable, and
reduce disproportionate climate change. Such
an understanding integrates both cognitive and emotional judgments into an
aesthetic evaluation and is indicative of the hard but necessary work required
for an aesthetic appreciation of wind farms.
course there are limits even to Dewey’s philosophy, and I am not in any way
suggesting that cognitive knowledge will change aesthetic judgments in every
case. That would be far too idealistic. There is undoubtedly a difference in the
aesthetic appeal of two wind farms with the same degree of environmental value
based on qualities like color, arrangement, size, and so on. In this regard, Kant’s aesthetic is not
useless, and I am not advocating the random, disorderly arrangement of clumsy
wind turbine structures against a landscape.
Factors such as placement, color, and configuration all serve to enhance
the aesthetic appeal of a wind turbine farm and can even meet the standards of
Kant’s purposiveness without a purpose. The
distinction I make between Kant and Dewey is not that Kant is against wind
turbines and Dewey in favor, but rather on their basis for judging beauty. Dewey’s aesthetic asks much of individuals in
the way of conceptual knowledge and requires that individuals move beyond a
mere knee-jerk reaction toward being informed, aware, perceptive, and engaged. This is not impractical. As Saito pointed out, “We engage in
conceptually-based aesthetic appreciation with works of art all the time--by
taking courses in music, art history, and literature…. It is just that we have
not developed an equivalent formal discipline or discourse guiding our
aesthetic appreciation of nature, environment, and designed objects.”
current decline in wind turbine sales along with Kant’s feeling-based aesthetic
is going to be overcome, this work is essential. For although it is
far from my intention to lay the environmental woes of society at the feet of Immanuel
Kant, his philosophy is not blameless. It
is therefore the responsibility of philosophers and environmentalists to take
the lead in redirecting renewable energy conversations beyond merely emotional
responses towards a more holistic understanding.
Tyson-Lord J. Gray
Tyson-Lord J. Gray is a 4th year
doctoral student in Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University. His academic interests
are in the areas of American Philosophy, Environmental Ethics and Social Justice.
More information regarding his research can be found at www.tysonlordjgray.com
Published on April 23, 2012.
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