photo by Pierre J. (source: Flickr Creative Commons)

The United States and France have a strange rivalry. American revolutionaries were helped by France and in turn inspired French republicans. One hundred years later, France gave the Statue of Liberty to the US as a centennial gift. Things soured after the World Wars and years of hegemonic struggle vis-à-vis Anglo vs. Franco cultural-linguistic dominance.

Huh?

In other words, to quote the Dandy Warhols: ‘a long time ago, we used to be friends’.

Nowadays anything the French do seems to raise hackles on the back of many red-blooded American necks, at the very least for ‘red state’ Americans. On the other hand, wine-drinking, cheese-eating, NPR-listening liberal do-gooders love French stuff. On the other side of the pool, France can’t get enough of Schwarzenegger films, hip-hop and McDonald’s – yet the French seemed to embody the anti-American sentiment of Europe during the Bush years, as opposed to the UK’s ‘New Labour lapdog syndrome’.

Let’s briefly compare the energy and environmental circumstances of the two erstwhile allies. The United States is a big oil nation – in case you didn’t know – while the French are big on nuclear power (see France’s energy stats from 2004 here).

The current massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico provides an opportune moment for a comparison between the two countries regarding energy and the environment. France 24 contrasts America’s infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez spill with France’s current plans to construct new offshore wind turbines:

In the short term, the slick killed 250,000 sea birds, 2800 otters and around 22 orcas. Today, at first glance, the shores look clean but scrap away the surface sands and the consequences of the accident can still be seen. Salmon stocks remain significantly lowered and commercial fishing of herring is still outlawed. Meanwhile off France’s oil free shores; ten sites have been picked to plant offshore windmills, part of new plans surrounding the renewable source of energy. The government has pledged to build at least 500 windmills every year.

Bit of cherry picking, for sure, but if the environment is a big laboratory – which is how energy and agricultural industries treat it – then can’t we at least learn from our successes and mistakes as well as those of our friends and rivals?

Check out the entire story from France 24, which includes a 9-minute video report and a feature on how to ‘make water’ with wind turbines.

I’m not saying we should put a giant wind turbine on Ellis Island in place of Lady Liberty – or in Paris in lieu of the Eiffel Tower, for that matter. But maybe if we saw wind power as something monumental rather than a necessary eyesore as many affluent Americans and Europeans see it, the future – and our transatlantic rivals – would perhaps look a little bit better as well.

by Graham Land