02 July 2009


DURING THE 1980s, somewhere between working in the music business and becoming a documentary filmmaker, I thrashed around and tried to make a living by producing corporate and non-profit films.

It wasn’t meant to be. We were in the Reagan years; it was supposedly “morning in America” again — but it sure didn’t feel like it, at least to me.

I recall making a presentation to produce a video for a national group of chemical recyclers whose collective aim was to re-use chemical solvents that had become a part of every day life. The chemicals were cleaning agents used at the local dry cleaner and the corner gas station — and people seemed to be becoming aware that it was better for all if the solvents could be recycled.

There was a chemical plant in a Cleveland neighborhood that wanted to expand its’ operation to meet the needs of this relatively young but environmentally-conscious industry. I tried to sell the group on the need for a short film about what I perceived to be the honorable goals of the company and the real need for its services. The video would address — upfront — the potential safety concerns of neighbors, and explain why the company would be a steward of not only this new environmental activism, but of good jobs for area residents.

I presented my 13-page assessment and proposal — full of Kevin Miller’s idealism — gave a speech to the Board, and waited. A week later the chairman phoned to tell me how much they loved the idea. “We are so impressed with your research,” I recall him saying. “How did you find all of this stuff?” Later, however, he said, “we’re gonna have to pass on doing this right now. We’re not sure it’s a good idea to raise the sceptre of safety if we don’t have to.”

I thanked him for his kind words but politely challenged his conclusions. “You’ve heard of NIMBY, right?” I asked the Chairman. “NIMBY — Not In My Backyard? If you don’t state your case directly to the public, your neighbors will see no value in your recycling efforts — and eventually, fear will rule, as it always does.”

Sure enough, six months later, the neighbors said “not in my backyard” and reacted, well, fearfully. City Council rejected the expansion plan.

The company went out of business in the 1990s.

I was reminded of this because of two separate but unrelated news stories that cropped up in the news of late. One story dealt with the trends in Massachusetts and Ohio where people were crying “NIMBY” over proposed wind turbines. The other — across Lake Erie on the shores of the Canadian province of Ontario — explained proposals to add a nuclear power facility in Canada.

The Great Lakes are home to the largest body of fresh water in the world. It has been said that if you stood on the moon, you would instantly recognize the enormity of the Great Lakes: Superior, Michigan, Huron, Ontario and Erie. Covering more than 94,000 square miles, these “freshwater seas” hold “an estimated 6 quadrillion gallons of water, or about one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water supply,” according to the Great Lakes Information Center. In the U.S. alone, these magnificent lakes account for about nine-tenths of the U.S. supply of fresh surface water.

So the idea that another nuclear power plant could surface on Lake Erie — there are already three — should scare the daylights out of everyone. Both the Davis-Besse and Perry Nuclear Power Plants are located adjacent to Lake Erie, and in Michigan, the Fermi II plant is located next to Lake Erie near the city of Monroe.

There have already been two near catastrophes at Davis-Besse. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the plant was responsible for “two of the top five most dangerous nuclear incidents in the United States” since 1979.

So when people say, “not in my backyard” to wind turbines on Lake Erie, have they considered that just one catastrophe on Lake Erie could contaminate up to one-fifth of the world’s fresh water supply?

I sure have.

If your ‘backyard’ is Lake Erie — everyone should embrace the future — now. We should do it before Ontario puts a fourth nuclear power plant on the shores of this — the most shallow of all of the Great Lakes — and we should employ some vision, for God’s sake! Estimates from a 2004 Renewable Energy Policy Project (REPP) report states that 12,000 wind-industry jobs could be created in Ohio, a region decimated by the loss of manufacturing jobs. That is second only to California!

For once, we should follow the lead of the innovative visionaries in Holland who have not only embraced wind farms, but also other innovative environmental solutions.

We need to take the leap — and accelerate the development of renewable energy on the shores of Lake Erie and the Great Lakes as a whole.

In Ohio, Michigan, and the Midwest, millions are out of work. The fear of losing it all is beginning to hit home. In that context, this NIMBY over wind turbines just doesn’t work anymore —especially with a fourth nuclear power plant on Lake Erie's horizon.

People need jobs. We need power. The future of power generation in the Midwest is there for the taking. We can shift to wind power and push nuclear away from the shores of our Great Lakes.

It is irresponsible to not act.

PHOTO CREDIT: Thomas Ondrey - The Cleveland Plain Dealer

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Anonymous Melissa Townsend said...

Thank you for sharing this in such a well-written, eloquent post. I'll definitely be sharing this blog with friends and family.

11:54 PM EDT  

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