by W.D. Ehrhart
This past weekend, my wife and I went down to Margate, New Jersey, for a friend’s birthday party. Driving on the Atlantic City Expressway, we passed a huge billboard that screamed: STOP OFFSHORE WIND. Below that, in somewhat smaller letters, it said: Never Experience the Jersey Shore the Same Way Again. Pictured was an array of wind turbines stretching from one edge of the billboard to the other.
Together we marveled at the mentality that wants to preserve the scenic beauty of the seashore until the planet turns into a cosmic cinder and there’s no scenic beauty anywhere on the planet, or anyone to see it.
As we neared the coast and drove through a town called Northfield, we saw a campaign sign on someone’s lawn touting Republican Congressman Jeff Van Drew’s opposition to offshore wind farms in New Jersey. It seemed odd to see a campaign sign in August 2023 with the next election—a party primary—the better part of a year away in the spring of 2024.
Then this morning I called up the Washington Post on my computer, and there was a lead article proclaiming: “The beach town that could decide the future of wind power on the East Coast.” That community is Ocean City, New Jersey, often called “America’s Greatest Family Resort.”
It turns out that a Danish company has received federal permission to build a wind farm 15 miles off the Jersey coast, but an organization called Protect Our Coast, billing itself as “grassroots,” is fighting the project, hoping to throw up so many legal delays that the Danish company, Orsted, will finally decide it’s just too expensive to continue and kill the project.
This is what happened to a wind farm proposed off the Massachusetts coast after billionaire beachfront owners like the Kennedy Family and William Koch plowed millions of dollars into opposing the project.
New Jersey’s Protect Our Coast may well include a lot of locals, but also has the backing of the Caesar Rodney Institute that regularly opposes offshore wind projects and has ties to both fossil fuel interests and “dark money,” donors to which don’t have to be identified.
Admittedly, oceanfront communities like Ocean City depend almost exclusively on summer tourism to survive economically. But the wind turbines are going to be built 15 miles offshore. To an average person standing at sea level, the visible horizon is about 3 miles away. Years ago, I worked on an oil tanker. Our radar, mounted at the top of the mast of this massive ship, reached out to a radius of 12 miles. Turbines 15 miles offshore might be visible because they’re pretty tall, but they’re not going to spoil the view.
Other arguments for opposing this project include claims that the turbines will kill whales. Birds I kind of get; they fly around and maybe get whacked by a turbine blade. But whales? Seriously? Opponents also claim that the project will ruin fishing and clamming, but it’s not like these turbines are going to take up a lot of space, leaving too little for the fish and clams.
Meanwhile, I wonder how the whales and fish and clams are going to hold up as the ocean temperature continues to rise. Earlier this summer, the ocean temperature off Florida reached over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Oh, well, that’s Florida, right? We’re a thousand miles farther north. Our whales and fish and clams will be just fine, won’t they?
But the ocean isn’t just warming. It’s also rising. Very recently, there has been dire evidence of rising sea levels in the Gulf of Mexico that are threating New Orleans and the Gulf Coast with disasters much greater than Hurricane Katrina. In Italy, Venice is flooded almost constantly now. The ice caps are shrinking at both poles, and glaciers all over the world are receding at unprecedented rates. Where do you imagine all that newly released water is going?
And as alarming as that is, sea levels in New Jersey are rising at a rate more than double the global average. I wonder how the seashore tourist economy is going to do when storms that rip up the Jersey Shore like Hurricane Sandy did in 2012 start happening every other year. I wonder how business will be at the boardwalk pizza shops and miniature golf courses and amusement parks when the boardwalk is washed away so many times that no one is willing to rebuild it, and insurance companies will no longer insure seafront properties, and the seashore is a mile or two inland from where it is now.
But that’s just Chicken Little hysteria, surely. So let’s not build any more offshore wind farms. Not in New Jersey. Not in Massachusetts. Not in North Carolina or any other coastal region in the United States of America. Let’s not support solar power. Let’s not develop thermal. Let’s not be willing to pay the cost of avoiding global disaster. Let’s not risk jeopardizing the economy. Let’s just keep burning fossil fuels and enjoying our thriving economy and our beautiful beach vistas and our fishing and our clamming until life on Planet Earth ceases to be viable.
Global warming, after all, is just a liberal hoax, isn’t it? Fake news. Thousand-year floods and five hundred-year forest fires twice a year are just the normal fluctuations of the planet. Perfectly natural. Like the Ice Ages. Nothing to worry about. Rich folks like the Kennedys and the Kochs can, after all, buy their way out of anything. Maybe they’re all expecting to go to Mars with Elon Musk.
There is one small bright spot in all of this doom-and-gloom. Forty-eight years ago, I was pulled over by cop in Maple Shade, New Jersey, who told me to get out of the state and not come back. Seriously. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to live long enough to witness New Jersey disappear beneath the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, but I never dreamed I’d actually get to see it happen.
Now I’m not so sure.
W. D. Ehrhart is a retired Master Teacher of History & English, and author of a Vietnam War memoir trilogy published by McFarland & Co.