Sierra Magazine: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.
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SPOUT | Rant, React, Chat, Blather

What Goes Up

wind power

In fits and starts I've been learning to kitesurf. Though I haven't gotten to the point where I can stay upright for more than a few seconds, let alone loft myself 100 feet above the waves, I plan to keep trying. I'm enthralled by the frightening sensation of tapping a current of fast-moving air as it strains against the lines of a distant nine-meter sail.

Our engagement with wind is mainly sensuous. Think of that flicker of cooling breeze across sweaty skin on an otherwise hot and still day. Think of the Aeolian symphonies you've heard in redwood forests or slot canyons. Wind whistles, sings, hums. Think of the cacophonies, too, as a windstorm whines, wails, screams, huffs, growls, and moans outside your tent.

One of my strongest aural memories is of the wind sighing as I kayaked on the Kokolik River through America's largest and wildest piece of public land. I was in the lonely Arctic tundra to write a story about how mining companies were eyeing a massive seam of coal running through Alaska's pristine National Petroleum Reserve, where bear and a herd of 350,000 caribou play. (See "Big Beasts and Black Rock," November/December 2010.)

At the end of last year, the U.S. Department of the Interior issued a final environmental impact report prescribing that this land be managed in a way that fully addresses the needs of native people and wildlife. This excellent news becomes even better in the context of this issue of Sierra, which celebrates a breakthrough moment in the history of energy.

In the past few years, enterprise and innovation have allowed us to harness the age-old power of wind in new ways and with more finesse, contributing mightily to our ability to move away from fossil fuels. The force that through those kite lines pulls me spluttering across the water drives huge turbines, which power cities and undercut arguments for why we need to bulldoze coal-mining access roads through caribou migration corridors or sink drill bits into the seas where Inupiat hunt seals.

As you read the stories in this issue, or the next time you fly a kite, I hope you'll find inspiration in the realization that the clean energy future has arrived. —Bob Sipchen, editor in chief

Illustration: iStockphoto/Zuki

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