Talking to ‘the locals’? Listening to ‘the locals’!

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Submitted by Karen Lee, Ohio voter living in Greece.

 

The locals? That’s pretty condescending, isn’t it? Who are these ‘locals’? I set out to better understand who this group is and how they think when considering the challenge facing us as a nation and planet when addressing climate change.

If we are those Democrats and other progressives living away, abroad, outside the home state, etc., then ‘the locals’ must be the folks back home. And if we’re concerned about how to talk to them, it probably means they’re either Republicans (or worse), or libertarian-leaning independents, or just those whose first thought of the morning is not about politics.

The locals might also include those ‘brain-dead, Fox-warped, QAnon-fringe, crypto-fascist Christians who keep propounding extreme authoritarian ideas that only 15% of the population supports and hinting they might know someone willing to start a civil war if they don’t get their way. They may even refer to us as libtards and snowflakes. Bah, locals! Don’t waste your time on em!

If you like a good donnybrook, as I do, you might take them on frontally. We can sling epithets as good as the next guy’s, right? If you like winning … an election, a fight for the soul of democracy, etc., you may want to rethink the whole process and the ‘locals’ you plan to engage.

But, I’m thinking ‘the locals’ are a lot like me.

A few weeks ago, I ran into one of the locals in a hometown social media group that I visit. He was trying to raise votes to oppose a ballot issue coming up in November, opposing a wind-generation project proposed for the home county. He attracted a few equally vehement supporters and one or two comments saying they weren’t sure but generally thought renewable energy was needed.

Some of the guy’s arguments looked like they’d been picked up from a fossil-fuel ‘talking points memo.’ They repeated some of the old claims about wind turbines being noisy, killing birds and bats, and flashing strobe light flashes as the blades crossed the sun’s rays. The ‘fact-sheet’ he offered contained more along this line, also thrown out without references or date stamps. More recent literature from the industry notes new designs for quieter operation, height specifications geared at minimizing bird kills, and so forth.

But, some of his objections had a hint of … legitimate. I decided to engage.

First, I noted to him some of my misgivings about the ‘con’ arguments. Had they been fact-checked? He assured me a woman he knew had gathered and checked all of them.

I sent his fact sheet off to one of our ECCC members, who’s a long-time reader, collator, and supporter of wind energy. She trashed a few of the claims out of hand. I softened the tone and relayed the concerns. They had the usual duck’s back effect on him: rolled.
Then, I began web searching. And the rabbit hole turned into a map of the LA freeway system.

This has been going on in my home state of Ohio for a while. What? Do you mean not everyone is hot for the economic stimulus and ecological promise of renewables? Really? Who knew?

We Dems Abroad didn’t, obviously, cocooned as we are in the sure EU confidence that renewable energy will stave off climate catastrophe.

Web search. As I found and read and dug deeper, several revelations surfaced.

  1. The long, slow drip-drip of fossil fuel influence has left deep doubts. Few claim these days that sunspots cause climate change, but the niggling doubt about the real drivers persists. Likewise, ancillary climate ‘improvements,’ e.g., electric vehicles, are given very low points for desirability and battery range, not to mention the current inadequacy of charging stations. All these factors into the opposition.
  2. The matter is highly politicized, not least because certain politicians have deep roots in the deeper pockets of the fossil fuel industry. A case in point is the recent chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and, ergo, also chair of the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), Sam Randazzo. His murky ties being exposed in the FirstEnergy scandal forced him to resign the chair’s seat, but he was apparently still on the PUCO board. Randazzo received a bonus (Is that the $4 million paid out?) from FirstEnergy just before he was appointed by the current sitting governor, DeWine.
  3. Carrying politics a step further, the Ohio legislature had passed, and the governor had signed SB 52 in 2021, which gave county and township officials the teeth to block wind and solar projects they disagreed with … or their constituents disagreed with.
  4. In the case in question with my ‘local,’ Honeycreek will be on the November ballot for voters to allow or reject. Note that not all Republicans in the legislature voted for this bill, with one citing that it targeted only wind and solar and not other forms of energy production. That is, a county might not be able to stop the construction of an oil refinery or pipeline or the building or refurbishing of a nuclear reactor on their home soil. But they could stop a solar farms.

BUT some of the local opposition’s points may be very valid! Here are a few:

  1.  The project calls for turbine towers taller than any in the US except for a pilot array in Texas. That seems to be true. In fact, the US DOE’s website sorts out wind projects, with the top category being 140-meter, not the 160 meters in the Honeycreek specs.
  2. There are 144 of these turbine towers slated for the Honeycreek project. We haven’t seen the sizing chart. (The number does seem a bit excessive to the virgin ear. Will, there be anywhere in the county you can go and NOT see a wind turbine?)
  3. Sinking the foundations needed to keep the towers from blowing over may impact groundwater flow. (This is supposed to be part of the OPSB enviro/geo surveys required for permitting.)
  4. But maybe first and foremost is that local residents feel they’ve been blindsided. Leases are signed with property owners to erect the turbines, and no one seems to hear of it till the deed is pretty well done. Renters on the properties or those living nearby have no recourse. In Ohio, private property is king. The owners, many of whom the opposition claims are ‘absentee,’ reap the royalties. The folks nearby reap … whatever.

Note: This ‘stealth’ treatment, while necessary for the developers not to be priced out of the field, is also one of the drivers of opposition to a number of wind and solar projects in the state.
So, okay, the local opposition, in this case, has some valid points, along with some possibly specious information. What do WE have?
This is where ‘talking with the locals’ gets real.

Let’s say ‘we’ are much better informed. We’ve been collecting news articles and academic reports for yonks. We know the climate crisis is anthropogenic. We know the ‘powers’ that be and the ‘captains’ of industry (especially the quick-buck finance industry) will press forward with whatever makes a fast buck. And we know, deep in our hearts, that something, anything, that lends itself to ameliorating the current crisis is crucial to the survival of the planet, threatened species, humans, civilization as we know it … and bees.

We also know, or should pick up on sooner than later, that the US is a) the dog that wags the dog and b) that we have a real problem ‘talking to locals who disagree with us.’ We’ve been led to believe they’re all braindead, Trump-anesthetized, or simply comprised by their surely-it-was-Fox info sources.

Au contraire, my fellow Democrats. They are NOT all dumb! Some are as caring and as searching as we are. Let me recommend a few points I learned in my recent exchange.

  1. Assume you are exchanging with a fellow sentient human being who wants a decent future just as much as you do.
  2. Respect this person’s access to information as well as the time they may have to read every new article about the subject. If they’re still working, i.e., not retired, they may have less time than you to surf widely.
  3. Ask your counterpart what THEY think the problem is. You may pick up some new information. I know I did!
  4. Suppress your desire to send them every article you find on the Internet. Use a little self-discipline! Your correspondent may have a full-time day job, with their family left eating Sunday lunch without them while they read your recommended reading trove.
    (PS – I didn’t, but my ‘local’ just shut down when it became an avalanche! In retrospect, I see his point. My index finger gave out, scrolling up the Messenger thread for that DOE turbine-height link!)
  5. Don’t assume that you are the fount of wisdom on the subject. There may be other considerations in other geo-locations. Compare!
  6. Do look into local and state laws that apply in the home district. They may have been lobbied and rigged (Ohio, SB 52). They may, on the other hand, promote sustainable growth. Don’t assume! (It makes an ass of u and me!)
  7. Stay open. There is a great deal more happening on the homefront that our mass media online pundits would have us believe … or bother actually to research themselves.

The key is, as it always has been, a little respect. A little humility, maybe.
You are talking with someone … if you can get a conversation going … who is just as curious as you are, just as hopeful that you may reach some consensus. Yes, they’ll try to persuade you. And yes, you’ll try to persuade them. But in the end, you may discover, as I did, that the mutual effort, once undertaken, will bring both of you back to that place we all say we want to be … friends, neighbors (even if leagues apart), fellow citizens of a democracy that rises from mutual respect.


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