Finding Hope in a Texas Wind Farm

Many days it’s rather depressing to be a climate scientist.  It can be hard to keep a positive outlook when we seem to be on a trajectory toward more and more severe impacts. But, every so often, I get to witness firsthand real stories of hope and inspiration. These moments are what keep me going and make me confident that we are going to have a brighter future.

Last week, I had one of those moments. I attended a conference on climate change education organized by NASA, NOAA, and NSF. Being at a meeting with so much positive energy and creativity devoted to helping kids and adults understand what’s happening to the climate was invigorating in itself.  The real highlight of the three days for me, however, was getting to hear from Cliff Etheredge.

A Real Climate Hero

Cliff Etheredge a farmer from Roscoe, Texas, who convinced nearly all of his neighbors to install a wind farm on their land.  His story is featured in a new PBS program based on Earth: The Operator’s Manual, a book by climate scientist Richard Alley (another climate hero!).

Conventional wisdom suggests that Roscoe would not be on the cutting edge of climate solutions, but Cliff helped his neighbors understand that leasing their land for wind energy development made good business sense. Check out this video clip about his story and all the positive impacts his efforts have had for his community.


Climate Solutions Help Communities Become Climate Resilient

Roscoe is in west Texas, an area hard hit by last year’s record-breaking drought.  I asked Cliff how Roscoe had been affected by the drought.  He replied that the local baler usually processes 100,000 bales of cotton each year, but last year they only had 6,000 bales.  Ranchers had been forced to sell off 90% of their mother herds at a huge financial loss.

In fact, Cliff said that the only positive, regular source of income was from the wind turbines.  Each turbine can be counted on to bring in $10,000-$15,000 a year.

What is remarkable to me about this anecdote is that investing in an energy source that helps us to cut carbon emissions, an essential step to tackling climate change, also was instrumental in helping this community weather the worst drought that most of its residents had ever witnessed. Indeed, as Congress today heard testimony about how weather and climate extremes increase the vulnerability of our energy systems, they would do well to also consider how moving to new energy sources can reduce those vulnerabilities and provide some level of financial cushion to communities like Roscoe, TX.

Reasons for Hope

With teams of passionate, creative climate change educators out there, reaching more and more people, and with everyday heroes like Cliff Etheredge out there implementing real-world climate solutions, we can all feel hopeful. We just need some common sense, ingenuity, and persistence to solve these problems. Otherwise, in Cliff’s words, we run the risk of “messing in our own nests!”