The Covert Power of Creativity

By Alyce Santoro Because conceptual art can exist in non-material forms, one could argue that it is not only one of the most sustainable forms of creative practice, but also one of the most radical in its potential to challenge conventional thinking. To a tremendous extent, commercial media—whose primary function is to persuade its audience to consume—influences current prevailing thought. Conceptual art, by contrast, is often non-commodifiable; the value of an idea can supersede conventional methods of quantification, lending it a subtle, subversive, status-quo-defying kind of power.

The notion that all ecosystems, cultures, disciplines and systems are interconnected, and that we can cultivate a more efficient, healthy and satisfying existence by appreciating more and consuming less, run counter to the mainstream. In spite of the relentless promotion of the consumer mindset, one can find ample evidence of the tremendous human impulse to freely share and exchange information and other commodities simply by perusing the internet (the most culture-altering, wisdom-liberating development since Gutenberg introduced moveable type to Europe in 1439). Practical knowledge—including instructions on permaculture design, DIY, open source and appropriate technologies, petitions and calls for political and social action—is disseminated free of charge by those who, knowingly or not, describe a new social paradigm based on reciprocity, fair exchange and mutual benefit.

German artist/activist Joseph Beuys (1921 – 1986) believed that when individuals contribute to the betterment of society by infusing everyday actions with creativity and reverence for nature then "everyone is an artist." He considered the fruits of such labor "social sculpture."

I didn’t know about Beuys when I first set out to combine art and science by seeking a degree in marine biology, then going on to study scientific illustration. As the detrimental effects of reckless human activity on the environment have become all the more obvious, my urge to express the intangible, profound mysteries contained in the natural world has intensified. My technical renderings have morphed into multimedia "philosoprops," works that challenge conventional boundaries between disciplines and spark dialog around social, political and ecological topics. While most of these pieces have a physical component, their essence is really the ideas behind them—and these are free for the taking.

For example, the concept behind my "sonic fabric"—a textile woven from cassette tape overdubbed with intricate collages of sound—alludes to the ultimate interconnectedness of everything. While I wholeheartedly embrace opportunities to repurpose materials, sonic fabric was not intended as a statement about recycling, per se. Rather, the project was inspired by theories in quantum physics suggesting that everything, at the most basic level, is composed of little more than vibration. When all the vibrations are woven together, the result is one exquisite, unified cacophony.

Like Beuys, I believe that by cultivating a relationship with nature and by honing and engaging personal creative aptitudes, everyone can become a catalyst for social transformation. While the powers-that-be wage an insidious war on the freedom to share information, the subversive force of cooperation and exchange is vastly underestimated, even by those with the potential to wield it. Shifts in the course of our culture depend on the quality of our thoughts. Everyone is a catalyst.



Contributor Biography

Alyce Santoro is an internationally noted conceptual and sound artist, writer and lecturer. Her written work has appeared in and, and her interdisciplinary art has been exhibited at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Trinity College Science Museum in Dublin, and the Gwangju Design Biennial in South Korea. She has been a visiting artist at the Cidade da Cultura de Galicia in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and Lang College of the New School for Social Research in New York. Alyce’s ongoing Synergetic Omni-Solution project was presented by Ballroom Marfa in Marfa, TX as part of the 2011 Texas Biennial. Her work will be included in the 2012 ISEA (International Symposium of Electronic Art) in Albuquerque, NM. She affectionately refers to her studio as the Center for the Improbable & (Im)permacultural Research. Please visit for more information.

The Plant is Present, 2011

Organized by Meghan Moe Beitiks with Sabri Reed and Liliya LifanovaSansevieria trifasciata is an epic performer. Commonly known as "snake plant" or "mother in law’s tongue," the plant is ubiquitous and unique at the same time. Over the course of its career, it has gone for months without water, made fiber from its own body, and collaborated with NASA to remove toxins like benzene and formaldehyde from the very air we breathe. In Sansevieria trifasciata’s seminal work, "The Bedroom Plant," it converts carbon dioxide into oxygen at night.

Sansevieria trifasciata performed "The Plant is Present" at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s New Blood Performance Festival, November 19th and 20th, 2011, and at the First International Science Art Conference in Moscow, Russia, from April 3-5, 2012.

The plant sat silently while visitors took turns sitting in a chair opposite it, staying in its presence for as long as they liked. All guests were photographed, and asked to record their experience in a comment book. Responses ranged from "I felt a connection to the plant and was able to live in the moment" to "It was awkward" to "So good! I loved every second of it!" to "Marina was exactly as interesting." Many visitors expressed a new appreciation for the work of the plant, a sense of respect, and a change in perspective. Some expressed a desire to find a "snake plant" of their own and keep it in their homes.

Visitors could also read a biography of the plant, explaining its achievements, and listen to a docent clarify parallels between the plant and the famous performance artist Marina Abramovich, whose 2010 work "The Artist is Present" at the New York MoMA garnered much publicity and acclaim. Organizer Meghan Moe Beitiks gave lectures on the performance and artistic career of the plant.

The question becomes: if we are willing as a public, to wait in line for hours to sit in the presence of a famous artist, what else could we be devoting our attention to? If the act of sitting silently with someone gives us a new appreciation for them, gives us a feeling of connection, of enlightenment, why not bestow that attention on something worthwhile—like the important ecological work of a common houseplant?

Photos by Joshua Slater, Carolina Gonzalez, Meghan Moe Beitiks, and Emerson Granillo. More information about the project and the full text of the comment book can be found at:


Contributor Biography Meghan Moe Beitiks does ridiculous things with plants. In her performance work, she explores our relationship to the environment and its greater meaning to pollution, bioremediation, and ecological catastrophe. She can be seen jogging with plants, researching uranium-reducing bacteria, and flinging oyster mushroom mycelium over fences. She has a BA in Theater Arts from the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she focused on acting, playwriting, and scenic design. Following those studies, she spent a year and a half studying Theater and Scenography in Riga, Latvia on a Fulbright Student Fellowship, focusing on the meaning of place in site-specific work. The past several years she has worked as a freelance theater artist and technician in the San Francisco Bay Area, working in institutions like the Magic Theater as well as out on the street in her own site-specific work. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Performance at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

New Moral Problems and New Approaches: Millennials Compared to Baby Boomers and Generation X

By Jathan Sadowski, Thomas P. Seager, and Evan Selinger (Authorship of this article is in alphabetical order)

A recent article in the highly ranked Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reports that, contrary to commonly held beliefs, the Millennial Generation is better cast as "Generation Me" than "Generation We." The study by psychologist Jean Twenge et. al. (1) analyzed the results of two nationally representative surveys, one administered since 1966 and the other since 1976. The surveys ask high school seniors and college freshmen a wide range of questions about life goals, concern for others, and civic orientation/social capital. The authors compared answers from across generations and determined that overall Millennials are more individualistic, materialistically motivated, and less civically engaged than the Baby Boomers and Generation X – despite the commonly held view that the current generation of college students is deeply concerned about social and environmental issues (e.g., 2).

One of the sharpest declines across the three generations is support for environmentally sustainable actions. For example, "Three times as many Millennials (15%) than Boomers (5%) said they made no personal effort at all to help the environment…" Millennials were also less likely to take measures to cut electricity use, and less likely to reduce heat usage during the winter to save energy (1).

These findings are at odds with the apparent surging interest among Millennials in sustainability. Even a cursory examination of college campuses will reveal that American universities are increasingly marketing to Millennials on a sustainability basis. Many offer degree and certificate programs in sustainability; they’ve created special administrative offices in sustainability; built LEED-certified and net-zero buildings; opened "green" dorms, instituted composting programs for cafeteria waste, and published campus sustainability reports. If Twenge is right, then many modern U.S. universities have badly miscalculated what interests their most important stakeholders.

On the other hand, it’s possible that longitudinal studies designed decades ago are no longer capable of capturing the characteristics, beliefs or moral attitudes that are salient today. As a consequence, what Twenge represents as moral decline may simply be generational incommensurability.

To take Twenge’s conclusions at face value risks ignoring three important observations:

  1. Although longitudinal studies focus on the individual as the proper scale of moral analysis, Millennials work in network groups to a much greater extent than any of their predecessors. Particularly with regard to sustainability problems, it may be that individual action is the wrong scale at which to consider moral obligation (3).
  2. Although Twenge’s interpretation equates actions with beliefs, we know from other studies that people often fail to live up to their own moral ideals (4). Consequently, it may be that Twenge is not measuring the narcissism she purports to have found, but the growing complexity that Millennials face when putting ideals into action.
  3. New technologies create new moral problems, and the Millennials are, to a greater extent than any prior generation, defined by the technology in which they are embedded. The moral questions that face the Millennials may be qualitatively different than those faced by previous generations, and as a consequence, be entirely unexamined by longitudinal studies.

The first observation about scale becomes important in the context of social interaction. The Baby Boomer generation may have conceived of moral action as an obligation the individual has towards society, without extending that obligation to include any responsibility for the actions of others. The old maternal refrain, "If Johnny jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?" is meant to reinforce the idea that the right action for one individual is independent of the actions that others take. But the increasingly interconnected world of the Millennials’ asks, "Did Johnny post on Facebook that he was going to jump?" The implication here is that we have an obligation to be sensitive to the emotional state of others (partly because these states are more public than ever) and that Millennials are, at least in part, responsible for the actions of others within their network. Dharun Ravi’s recent conviction on hate-crimes charges for secretly recording and sharing video of his gay roommate kissing another man reinforces this point. While Ravi’s public defense was, "I wasn’t the one who caused him to jump," the jury’s verdict suggests some culpability. To Millennials, posting, linking, blogging, and Tweeting may all be understood as moral acts, to the extent that these activities are meant to influence those beliefs, attitudes, or actions of others that to Baby Boomers may seem like "none of their business." After all, the use of social media is deeply intertwined with the events of the 2011 Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, both of which required an unprecedented use of technology to coordinate political action and civic engagement. According to Allenby (5), in a complex, interconnected world, "The choice of the process by which the individual becomes engaged in a dialog with the system, rather than each individual choice, is what becomes ethically critical."

The second observation speaks to long-standing evidence that people tend to overestimate their own capabilities (6). Compared to other generations, Twenge sees a decline in moral values that is based on a culture of rampant narcissism. Others point to a veritable epidemic of misplaced overconfidence (7) that has turned Millennials into the "self-esteem generation" (8). It may be true that Millennials indeed exhibit this tendency to a greater extent than prior generations, but at worst this would merely make them bigger hypocrites, not amoral beings. However, this conclusion disregards the increasingly complex challenge of putting moral ideals into action. Consider, for example, the problems of the environment and how they have changed since 1966. The Baby Boomers faced air and water pollution that was visible and tangible. Their environmental issues existed within the realm of human sensation, and progress towards environmental goals was rapid and measurable. By contrast, Generation X came of age under an ozone hole that could only be observed with scientific instruments and understood by advances in complicated photochemistry. Nevertheless, new policy prescriptions that phased out certain chlorinated hydrocarbons stopped the expansion of the ozone hole, and evidence is now accumulating that 25 years after the Montreal Protocol, the hole is shrinking (9). But the Millennials face the environmental problem of global climate change, which is not directly observable, even with sophisticated scientific instruments. Nor is science capable of directly modeling global warming with the reliability of previous environmental challenges, nor can science track progress towards a climate goal on a temporal scale that is meaningful to a single generation. Suppose the Millennials do care deeply about global climate change. What exactly should they do that would make an observable and convincing difference? The gap between moral ideals and moral action for Millennials may be larger than ever before simply because they are presented with larger obstacles.

Lastly, we must consider that technologies and their concomitant moral issues evolve more quickly than longitudinal studies. For example, the moral questions faced by the Baby Boom generation certainly included military conscription (i.e., the draft) and the birth control pill. By contrast, the all-volunteer Millennial military has fought America’s longest running foreign wars, where the critical moral question does not regard the military service of young adults – it concerns the use of drones. In reproduction, the moral issues are no longer whether women should be free to have sexual intercourse outside of marriage (although some conservative commentators no doubt are reliving the arguments of their own youth), but what constitutes paternity in cases of sperm donation, the legal status of frozen embryos (e.g., ownership), and cloning. Alternatively, consider civic engagement. Here, Twenge points out that the Millennials’ trust in government has declined considerably in comparison with their predecessors. However, this conclusion may conflate government with governance. Certainly, Millennials’ trust in Google (e.g., to curate personal data) or Wikipedia is extraordinary. That is, governance requires more institutions--systems of social order and cooperation that shape human interaction--than just government. It’s not enough to only ask questions that gauge attitudes towards the government because that misses out on all the contemporary institutions that help people manage their lives. A civil society includes corporations (profit and not-for-profit), markets, schools, and now social networks.

Although the issues we raise herein should clearly concern Twenge, it may not be obvious why the Millennials themselves, or the universities that serve them, should care at all. Nevertheless, consider that Twenge’s view of the problem evokes a particular kind of solution. If the Millennials are found to be morally deficient and are, by virtue of their place in history, nevertheless required to confront social problems like sustainability that have profound moral dimensions, then clearly universities have an obligation to attempt to correct the Millennial deficit. In Twenge’s view, this would require returning Millennials to the ideals and actions that properly characterized the Baby Boomers.

We disagree. If universities, and more specifically programs of ethics education, continue to focus on the moral issues that plagued previous generations, Millennials will no doubt be woefully unprepared to tackle the unfamiliar ethical dilemmas emerging from the technologies that define them. Effective ethics education must adapt to the networked way that Millennials address complex problems. It must empower students to use the technologies at their disposal to put their ideals into action, and it must take into consideration the moral problems these technologies create.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1134943. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at Arizona State University also provided support.

Contributor Biographies

Jathan Sadowski is a research technician in the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at Arizona State University, Phoenix Metropolitan Area, AZ, USA. Thomas P. Seager is a professor at the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment and a Lincoln fellow of ethics and sustainability at Arizona State University, Phoenix Metropolitan Area, AZ, USA. Evan Selinger is an associate professor of philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology, Henrietta, NY, USA.


1. Twenge, J. M., Campbell, W. K., & Freeman, E. C. (2012). "Generational Difference in Young Adults’ Life Goals, Concerns for Others, and Civic Orientation, 1966-2009. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication.

2. Howe, N. & Strauss, W. (2000). Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. New York: Vintage.

3. Seager, T.P., Selinger, E. & Clark (Spierre), S. (2011). "Determining Moral Responsibility for CO2 Emissions: A Reply to Nolt." Ethics, Policy & Environment 14(1), 39-42.

4. Sadowski, J. (2011). Experimental Analysis of the Gap Between Moral Beliefs and Moral Actions. B.S. Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology: USA

5. Allenby, B. (2006). "Macroethical systems and sustainability science." Sustainability Science 1, 7- 13.

6. Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

7. Klink, W. (2010). "Don't I Wish My Professor Was Hot Like Me." Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies. 32: 431-446

8. Bahr, N. & Pendergast, D. (2007). The Millennial Adolescent. Camberwell: ACER Press.

9. Crow, J.M. (2011). "First signs of ozone-hole recovery spotted." Nature. Retrieved from

Manufacturing: The Key to Sustainable Business Innovation in the U.S.

By Daniel Riley and Jacob Park When President Barack Obama gave his State of the Union Address (1) last month, he made the case that U.S. economic revival is tied to a healthy manufacturing sector. Of course, he is not the first to triumph the importance of manufacturing to the economy. The key question, however, is what type of manufacturing the U.S. should have in the future. The answer, for the economy and for sustainable business innovation, may lie in advanced 3D printing technologies (2) or what some technology analysts refer to as, "additive manufacturing whereby machines based on advances in electronics and laser technology build complex materials from granules of plastics or metal" (3).

While not usually touted as a traditional sustainable technology, additive manufacturing processes can dramatically reduce the amount of waste created in the production of items from furniture to packaging. As compared to traditional manufacturing technologies, 3D printing technologies have relatively small capital requirements. MakerBot Industries (4), for instance, sells 3D kits designed for hobbyists for around $1,000.

According to the UN Environmental Program, the typical car wastes about 10,000 kg of raw materials during production (5). For example much of the bulk of a fender, because of uniform thickness requirements of typical manufacturing processes like welding and molding, is completely unnecessary. To Jim Kor of KOR EcoLogic who wanted to create the most efficient car possible, that unnecessary material increased drag and decreased fuel economy. "If you look at a cross section of a bird bone, you'll see that there is bone only where the bird needs strength," Kor explained. "The bone looks like chaotic webbing. [3D printing] is the only process that can replicate a bird bone." This logic led to the creation of the Urbee, the world’s first 3D printed car (6).

Like stacking bricks to build a house, 3D printing creates objects in layers, from the base up, without the limiting constraints of molding requirements or human error in welding. The result maximizes material usage, ensuring that no material needlessly goes from welder’s torch to junkyard. Even in smaller 3D printing projects, material use efficiency is an automatic consideration. The small scale of production typical of most 3D printing efforts means that, unlike with large-run manufacturing the cost of wasted material does not have to be ameliorated through economies of scale.

Shapeways, a company that allows customers to design custom products like furniture and household objects that might be hard to replace otherwise, actively encourages customers to save money by using less material (7). By prompting their customers to actively think about the materials that go into the production of their products, 3D-printing businesses like Shapeways foster consumer awareness of cost and material wastes involved production. This transparency is increasingly relevant as consumers demand that products be not only cost competitive (obviously an important factor in our current economic times) but also designed and produced with environmental sustainability in mind (8).

In addition, the U.S. is still dominated by the business model of making as many products as cheaply as possible, which often means outsourcing the actual manufacturing.A truly innovative feature of the additive manufacturing model is that it brings the possibility of scale to the emerging "hyperlocal" trend that can be seen from Northern California to Vermont. There are many emerging sustainable business enterprises that attempt to build on the growing consumer interest in all things local (e.g. food, energy, economic development, etc) and additive manufacturing provides a market template from which to scale a local business model to greater competitive advantage.

Case in point: what if a small community-oriented bookstore like Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, had a machine that allowed consumers to print books that were in the Public Domain (i.e. do not have copyright protection)? All you would have to do is search and find the book of your choice and, if it were in the Public Domain, order the number of copies you want at a fraction of the cost of going through traditional book retailers. Through what Northshire Bookstore refers to as "print on demand technology"(10), this small but innovative business can now more effectively compete with large e-retailers like and chain book retailers like Barnes & Noble.

The argument that the future of the US economy lies in sustainable business has been made before, and additive manufacturing cannot substitute for well-designed tax and other policy incentives for green energy technologies. Rather, there is a strong case for building a well-articulated U.S. additive manufacturing strategy to complement current green technology research and development efforts, such as solar and wind energy. This could have a major impact on the entire American business system By using 3D printing technologies to promote local production and advances in material sustainability, U.S. manufacturing has a real opportunity to be reborn as a hub of 21st century sustainable business innovation (11).

As Cory Doctorow, author of Makers, suggests in an influential 2010 Wired magazine article (12): "The days of companies with names like ‘General Electric’ and ‘General Mills’ and ‘General Motors’ are over. The money on the table is like krill: a billion little entrepreneurial opportunities that can be discovered and exploited by smart, creative people."


(1) President Barack Obama State of the Union Address (January 24, 2012)

(2) "The Fundamentals of 3D Printing," The Future of Open Fabrication, n.d.,

(3) March. P. (2011) "Production Processes: A Lightbulb Moment", Financial Times, December 29, p. 5.


(5)  "Waste and car production - Maps and Graphics at UNEP/GRID-Arendal," Maps & Graphics, n.d.,

(6) "URBEE car - 3D Printed Body," Resources: Case Studies, n.d.,

(7) "Shapeways | creating hollow objects," Creating Hollow Objects, n.d.,

(8) OgilvyEarth research is one important source

(9) Alexa Clay and Jon Carnfield, "5 Big Ideas for a New Economy", Co.Exist Blog


(11) 3-D printer is featured in Fortune Magazine’s "Brave New Work: The Office of Tomorrow" photo essay (pg. 49-55) in its January 16, 2012 "The Future Issue"


Contributor Biographies

Daniel Riley (email: is a senior studying Environmental Management at Green Mountain College. After graduation he plans to start a business using 3D printing as a way to solve current environmental issues of resource use and material efficiency.

Jacob Park (, Associate Professor of Business Strategy and Sustainability at Green Mountain College, specializes in the business of social and environmental innovation and entrepreneurship in emerging economies.

The Politics of Fossil Fuels: Obstacles to Wind Energy Development in Kansas

By Dr. Gary Brinker Coal and oil have always been the life-blood of the industrial economy.  Historically, these energy resources had been so plentiful that, until the latter part of the 20th century, few believed that we could exhaust their supply.  And although the chronic negative health effects from inhaling coal dust and the exhaust of burning fossil fuels were recognized early in the industrial era, the full extent of the threat to human health and survival has only recently been realized and acknowledged.  The most recent threat to the global ecology in the form of global climate change has energized a social movement to convert energy production to non-fossil sources deemed more environmentally friendly and biologically benign, such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal and bio-fuels.

There have been political initiatives to convert to non-fossil energy sources, especially among highly industrialized nation states with limited domestic sources.  Heavy dependence on foreign energy sources means nations must invest huge military and economic resources to secure the flow of these fuels into their industrial machines.  The costs are often hidden in the form of higher taxes, fiscal debt and human casualties of war and terrorism, but are manifest enough to drive efforts to reduce foreign dependency through higher domestic production and alternative domestic sources.  At face value, this seems a viable and attractive solution.  Yet domestic oil production remains stagnate, alternative energy remains marginally profitable and the massive importation of foreign oil continues.  The validity of widely accepted theories of global climate change, supported by the majority of research showing increasing global temperatures and concentrations of CO2, melting polar ice and rising sea levels, are being challenged and disregarded by conservative politicians.  Even though the extent to which these phenomena are causally rooted in the human consumption of fossil fuels versus naturally and historically occurring global biogeochemical cycles can be debated, there is little doubt that human activities contribute to some extent or that human technology and that intervention is the only real hope for altering these potentially disastrous climatic trends.

This paper explores the theory that the bureaucratic inertia of the fossil fuel industry explains the apparent reluctance by some to accept the conclusions of many scientists that human emission of carbon dioxide is a force in global warming and that conversion to renewable and environmentally friendly alternative energy sources is the solution to this and several other environmental problems.  It presents tests of the hypotheses that people living in geographic regions with high production of fossil fuels will express low support for alternative energy development and that there will be an inverse correlation between support for fossil fuels and support for alternative energy.  The hypotheses are tested using random sample survey data from a statewide telephone survey and secondary data on energy production collected from government and private industry sources.

Literature Review

In assessing the degree to which renewable energy sources have performed, both with respect to economic efficiency and market penetration, McVeigh et al. concluded that, "In general, renewable technologies have failed to meet expectations with respect to market penetration. They have succeeded, however, in meeting or exceeding expectations with respect to their cost" (1).  They attribute this apparent discrepancy to a "declining price in conventional generation," which tends to alter the target cost for making renewable forms competitive (1).

Anderson and Newell assessed the economic feasibility of carbon capture sequestration as a means of reducing the carbon footprint of coal powered electricity and found it too expensive to compete with other renewable sources (2).  They concluded that it would only be an economically viable option if the price of competitive alternative energy rose sharply (2).

Azar and Dowlatabadi concluded that the only way to stabilize the long-term global climate, given widely accepted models of population growth and industrialization, is through rapid conversion to non-carbon based energy sources (3).  They found that, historically, the rate of structural and economic change necessary for rapid conversion has only occurred in the wake of economic or resource crises for periods of several years or more.  Dyson reached similar conclusions, going on to speculate that the lack of a contemporary structural or economic crisis and the typical way in which humans respond to difficult, long-run problems such as AIDS—denial, avoidance, recrimination—will result in no significant behavioral change in carbon emissions in the near future (4).

There is literature referencing the cost of fossil fuels as a determinant of the profitability of wind energy (5), but little discussing the cost of wind energy as a determinant of the profitability of oil production.  One way to encourage capital investment in wind energy that has been explored is to require large utilities to offer long-term contracts to wind developers and purchase surplus electricity from companies generating electricity for their own purposes from wind turbines, as California did in 1983 (5).


Quantitative analysis was performed on survey opinion data collected by the author in 2010 from a large random sample of Kansas residents (n = 1,200) and on secondary data on various forms of energy production at the state and county level collected by the Kansas Geological Survey and the American Wind Energy Association (6,7).  Qualitative data are from interviews conducted by the author with two key informants currently developing wind farms in western Kansas.  The first key informant is a community leader in a rural western Kansas county interested in local economic development and curbing population loss.  The second is the City Manager of a city located in a more urbanized county of western Kansas considering a wind farm.


Quantitative Analysis

Univariate analysis showed that most respondents think devoting resources to producing wind (62%) and solar power (49%) is "extremely important," while few were likely to say developing coal (21%) and nuclear energy (21%) is "extremely important."  Natural gas and oil fell in the middle.  Most respondents’ concerns with wind farms revolved around aesthetics and danger to wildlife.  Few (5%) felt wind farms were a threat to the local economy.  When asked specifically if the need for coal and oil energy outweighs environmental concerns, just over half agreed.

Bivariate analysis of variables measuring support for developing the various energy sources revealed that support for wind energy development was positively correlated with support for solar and bio-fuels.  Support for wind energy development was negatively correlated with support for development of coal.  Although the Pearson’s r p-significance does not quite meet the 0.05 criterion, support for wind energy development was also negatively correlated with support for oil development.

There was a moderately strong correlation indicating that respondents who felt it was not important to develop wind energy were more likely to also say that the benefits of oil (r = .286) and coal (r = .278) outweigh environmental concerns.  These results, together with high covariance between support for the fossil fuels, as well as covariance between support for the various alternative fuels, indicate a tendency of people to support one or the other, and suggests a perceived conflict of interest in supporting fossil and alternative fuels among a faction of respondents.

Correlation analysis was performed on a combination of survey data measuring support for wind energy development and aggregated county-level data on oil and gas production for each respondent’s county of residence (8).  Table 4 shows that three of the four correlations are in the hypothesized direction, but are weak and statistically insignificant.  Respondents residing in counties with high gas and oil production were slightly more likely to say wind energy development is unimportant.  Those in high oil producing counties were slightly more likely to agree that wind farms are bad for the Kansas economy.  The correlation for gas was very near zero in strength.

Another way to test the theory that wind energy development is impeded by concerns that it may be a threat to fossil fuel prices is to examine the relationship between the level of fossil fuel production and the percentage of potential wind development realized in each county.  If fossil fuel interests impede wind energy production, then one might hypothesize that the greater the amount of fossil fuel production in a county, the lower the percentage of potential wind energy will be realized.  Table 3 shows the correlation coefficients for these dependent and independent variables.  Here again, we see the evidence of weak relationships in the hypothesized direction.

Qualitative Analysis

Key informant #1 is a local investor who had been heavily involved in promoting wind farm construction in a county with high oil production, but little gas production.  Presented with the thesis of this paper, he was asked to comment based on his observations.  In his opinion, the major obstacle to the development of wind energy was not related to economic conflicts of interest, but the cultural aversion to change held by many rural Kansans.  Uncertainty about changes in the landscape and economy make many local residents reluctant to embrace a new means of generating power.

Key informant #2 is the City Manager of a city of approximately 20,000 located next to an area designated by developers for construction of a wind farm that incurred significant political opposition.  He agreed with Key Informant #1 that a reluctance to embrace change was a salient cultural characteristic of the established regional population, and that was a major force in apathy, if not opposition, towards development of wind farms.

He also believed that much of the source of opposition to wind farms came from a faction of local residents living in the rural areas surrounding the proposed location.  This faction tends to be in the upper end of the class spectrum, well educated and politically powerful.  Wind towers can be hundreds of feet high; a typical wind farm contains dozens of these towers, so their construction involves a drastic change in the landscape for residents that live up to several miles away.  The pristine prairie panorama is often a major feature that rural Kansans value in choosing residential property.  Under the proposed agreement, a majority of the economic benefits of the wind farm would go to property owners on which the wind turbines would be located, and only relatively small tax advantages are enjoyed by those residing adjacent to or near the wind farm.  Key informant #2 saw evidence that many of these politically powerful residents living near the proposed wind farm felt they would lose the aesthetic qualities of their property and would suffer a potential drop in the value of their property with the construction of the wind farm, while those few land owners fortunate enough to have the ideal locations for wind turbines enjoyed all of the economic benefits.


Analysis of survey data, fossil fuel production levels and opinions of key informants in areas where wind farms have been proposed revealed evidence to support the theory that bureaucratic inertia in the fossil fuel industry is an obstacle to timely conversion to alternative energy, but also identified other factors related to the regional culture that explain reluctance to accept construction of the required infrastructure for wind energy production and delivery.

Univariate analysis has provided evidence that only a relatively small proportion of Kansans exhibit opposition to wind energy development, and that the rationales for opposition are such that strategic location of wind farms and modest advances in biological technology could minimize these concerns.

Correlation analysis of variables measuring the importance of public support for the various forms of energy production showed that support for fossil fuel development tends to be inversely related to support for alternative fuels, especially coal.  Strong positive relationships between support for wind, solar and bio-fuels suggest that a faction of Kansans is supportive of all forms of alternative energy, while strong positive correlations between support for oil, coal and gas suggest that a second faction of Kansans is strongly committed to fossil fuel development.  So there is evidence here that many Kansans tend to support either fossil fuels or alternative fuels.  Environmental concerns explain the preference for alternative fuels, while the most obvious rationale for support of only fossil fuels would be economic interests, since fossil fuel production also harms animal life and blights the landscape, the most common reasons to oppose wind energy.

The fact that relatively few Kansans have direct investments in fossil fuels might explain weak correlations in Table 3.  The general public might not readily make the connection between the levels of fossil fuel production within their own residential regions and the overall health of their local economies, even though there may be a causal impact.  However, one may make a fair assumption that the small percentage of Kansans who do have vested interest in fossil fuels tend to be landowners, and thus have at least moderate political power and influence.

Finally, the observation that a county’s oil and gas production is negatively correlated to the percentage of potential wind energy development suggests that oil and gas interests are political obstacles to wind energy development.  The relatively weak strength of these correlations can be explained by the fact that many counties in Kansas have both high fossil fuel reserves and abundant wind, so the economic and political forces in many counties are comparable and offsetting.  This may not be the case in other geographic areas suitable for wind farms.  But there is some tendency for counties with low fossil fuel production to be more likely to fully develop their potential for wind energy.

Wind energy is likely to remain to be seen as a viable competitor to the fossil fuel industry, especially as it becomes an increasing source of electrical power and as demand for coal-based electricity declines.  As more cars become propelled by electricity, wind will increasingly usurp demand for oil.  However, wind is an unreliable, intermittent source, and most experts believe that coal-powered plants will continue to be needed.  Similarly, petroleum is used for producing many commodities other than fuel, not least of which is plastics.  The non-energy uses of fossil fuels, together with greatly increasing global demand for energy as underdeveloped countries industrialize, may result in a negligible effect on current fossil fuel demand and prices. Even with moderate growth in wind production, it may negate increasing demand and higher prices.  But as long combustion of fossil fuels declines, many of the health and environmental concerns will be addressed.

The study does suggest one immediate obstacle to wind energy development.  Means are needed to equalize the compensation/liability equation, so that everyone who suffers economic or aesthetic losses from the construction of a wind farm is fairly compensated.  One way this could be accomplished is through differential tax breaks, funded through revenues generated by taxing the electricity produced, to residents around a wind farm based on the distance of their property from the nearest turbines or reduction in the assessed value of the property.  Another option would be to offer residents near the wind farm reduced electricity rates.  With an equitable compensation structure, wind farms should become an attractive option for any community with enough wind to drive them.  The research of McVeigh et al. also suggests that reductions in government subsidies for fossil fuel production should be eliminated to allow renewable sources to be more competitive (1).  The research of Loiter and Norberg-Boh showed that mandates requiring large power companies, especially those owning large coal-burning plants, to purchase electricity at competitive rates from wind farms would also promote conversion to renewable energy.

Current fossil fuel subsidies and a well-developed infrastructure currently make fossil fuels a very profitable option for investors.  Building an alternative energy infrastructure will require considerable investments that may take many years to produce comparable profits.  This study suggests that if conversion to clean, renewable energy sources is to be the solution to reducing levels of CO2, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and the many other hazardous environmental pollutants resulting from production and usage of fossil fuels, regulations and tax policies must discourage future capital investment in oil, gas and coal.  Additionally, the study suggests that public resources will be needed to jump-start alternative energy production to build infrastructure that can produce and deliver abundant, clean, profitable and sustainable energy indefinitely.


1.            McVeigh JJ, Burtraw DD, Darmstadter J, & Palmer K (2000) Winner, loser, or innocent victim? Has renewable energy performed as expected? Solar Energy 68(3):237-255.

2.            Anderson S & Newell R (2004) PROSPECTS FOR CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE TECHNOLOGIES. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 29(1):109-142.

3.            Azar C & Dowlatabadi H (1999) A REVIEW OF TECHNICAL CHANGE IN ASSESSMENT OF CLIMATE POLICY. Annual Review of Energy and the Environment 24(1):513-544.

4.            Dyson T (2005) On Development, Demography and Climate Change: The End of the World as We Know it? Population & Environment 27(2):117-149.

5.            Loiter JM & Norberg-Bohm V (1999) Technology policy and renewable energy: public roles in the development of new energy technologies. Energy Policy 27(2):85-97.

6.            American Wind Energy Association FS (2012) Fact Sheet.

7.            Kansas Geological Society (2005) Production from Kansas Oil and Gas Leases.

8.            The Docking Institute of Public Affairs (2010) Kansas Speaks 2010 - Statewide Public Opinion Survey.  (Fort Hayes State University, Hays, KS).

Contributor's biography

Dr. Gary Brinker is the Director of the Docking Institute and a Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology and Social Work at Fort Hays State University. His teaching interests include research methods, social problems and quantitative analysis. His sponsored research projects define an eclectic research agenda.  Dr. Brinker has been the principal investigator for more than 75 applied research projects, including program evaluations, needs assessments, economic impact studies, population projections and public opinion surveys in the areas of education, substance abuse, environment, education, politics, family planning, aging, community health and marketing. He earned a Master of Arts degree in sociology in 1994 and a Doctorate Degree in Applied Sociology in 1997 at Baylor University.

Occupy Creation!: The Role of Religion and Ethics in Addressing Climate Change

By Rev. Doug Bland Standing on the steps of the Newman Catholic Student Center across the street from ASU’s campus and the Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS), Rev. Jan Olav Flaaten told the story of climate refugees in the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu.  As he recounted the story of rising sea levels, Flaaten grasped the blue shower curtain that encircled him and slowly raised it from his knees to his waist to his chest.  He finished the story with only his nose sticking above the rising cloth waves.

The "Moving Planet" march on September 24, 2011, at which this dramatic recitation occurred, was co-sponsored by GIOS and Arizona Interfaith Power & Light (a coalition of religious communities concerned about climate change). It happened because Lauren Kuby of GIOS brought sustainability students and staff together with people from the faith community.  Rev. Flaaten, Executive Director of the Arizona Ecumenical Council, was one of several religious leaders who facilitated the event.

The "Moving Planet" march united people of faith with those who claim no religious affiliation in a walk from the Newman Catholic Center to the Tempe Mosque to the Hillel Jewish Center and finally to the First United Methodist Church.  At each stop we told stories of some of the world’s environmental refugees, including the forced migration of the Bog Copper Butterfly populations, disappearing glaciers, and refugees from Ethiopia’s drought.  We honored the suffering, mourned the losses and shared confessions of our own complicity.

Religion and spirituality are some of the most significant influences on environmental values—both good and ill.  Lynn White Jr. famously argued that Western Christianity "bears a huge burden of guilt" for the contemporary environmental crisis.  He went on to explain: "What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them.  Human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and destiny—that is, by religion" (1).

Today, religious communities are increasingly providing resources and teachings to affirm and deepen environmental ethics.  Whether in the Vatican’s bid to become the world’s first carbon-neutral state, the host of environmental policy statements generated by religious denominations, the embrace of "creation care" by evangelical Christians, or the rise of faith-based environmental organizations, religious worldviews are being applied as never before to help solve environmental problems and preserve ecological integrity.

Just as healthy religion fosters healthy ecology, noxious religion fosters noxious ecology.  For the environment, the most menacing religion of them all is the Materialism and Consumerism of western civilization.  One of the reasons that our culture is so impervious to the scientific data that verify anthropogenic climate change is, at its core, religious.  As a society, regardless of our stated creeds, we are inclined to idolize the same bottom line that Exxon worships.

Frank conversation about climate change has stalled because we keep debating whether climate mitigation makes economic sense (jobs, jobs, jobs) and whether the scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change is settled.  We need to ask deeper questions: ethical questions, religious questions. Questions investigating why we have developed ethics for suicide, homicide and genocide, but not for biocide or geo-cide (2).

At the most fundamental level, climate change is not a scientific, political, economic or energy problem.  It is a moral and ethical crisis.  Our energy use and consumption threaten life as we know it.   Solutions won’t come simply by stacking up more scientific facts or technical arguments.  From civil rights to women’s suffrage, history has shown that toxic pieties, practices and policies can be overcome only when they are recognized to be morally wrong and decidedly unjust (

We need a religious and ethical revolution.  Occupy Creation!  Let the human 1 percent listen to the flora and fauna of the 99 percent.  As the writer of Job suggests, "Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you" (Job 12:7).

Gus Speth, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and the Environment said, "Thirty years ago, I thought that with enough good science, we would be able to solve the environmental crisis.  I was wrong.  I used to think the greatest problems threatening the planet were pollution, bio-diversity loss and climate change.  I was wrong there, too.  I now believe that the greatest problems are pride, apathy and greed."  Speth called for "a cultural and spiritual transformation" and admitted "we in the scientific community don’t know how to do that" but religious teachers do (3).

As a religious leader in our community it is my intention to be part of the sustainability dialogue that GIOS helps to foster.  Learning to live sustainably is not just the work of the "The Great American University"; it is "The Great Work" (4) for all of us, and it is Holy.


1. White, L (1967) The Historical Roots of the Environmental Crisis. Science 155: 1203-1207.

2. Rasmussen, L (2010) An Earth-Honoring Faith. Sojourners. June 2010.

3. Richard, C (2009) "What If?" in  Love God Heal Earth, ed. Bingham, SG (St Lynn's Press, Pittsburgh, PA), pp 9.

4. Berry, T (2000) The Great Work: Our Way into the Future. (Harmony Books, New York).

Contributor’s biography

Doug Bland is Pastor of the Tempe Community Christian Church.  He serves as Executive Director for Arizona Interfaith Power & Light and teaches storytelling classes at South Mountain Community College.