How aesthetics impacts our decision-making is often ignored or overlooked. Some researchers, for example, have claimed that our feelings (i.e., aesthetic responses) account for 85 percent of our decision-making for retail purchases. Another example from clothing helps to illustrate this point further. In Everyday Aesthetics, Yuriko Saito describes how natural fibers, such as wool and cotton, used for clothing are never pure white. It requires “extensive finishing processes that utilize large amounts of energy, water, and a number of toxic chemicals” to get the bright white color and soft touch. We have aesthetic expectations of what our clothing should look (and feel) like, which developed over time. Now that we have these aesthetic expectations, we demand (or at least expect) clothing to continue to have this appearance, regardless of the environmental impact. In the context of the renewable energy, there is a related concern.
The current climate situation illustrates the need for aesthetic considerations when solving problems. Regardless of one’s view about the environment, people are mostly united that alternative forms of energy, namely wind and solar, are ugly. While the climate crisis is widely discussed and debated in the national scene, Sammy Roth writes, in a recent LA Times piece, that “local opposition to renewable energy projects could be as significant a roadblock as any.” And it is connected with environmental aesthetics.
Roth points out that to provide enough energy, we would need an exorbitant amount of facilities producing wind and solar energy. And these facilities, for now, take up a lot of space. Those living in cities, for example, might think that a vast landscape in the western United States is a perfect place to have a wind or solar farm. However, those living there want to see the beauty of the landscape, not the ugliness of the solar panels and wind turbines.
Most people that Roth spoke to about this problem were concerned about the negative aesthetic impact of these renewable energy facilities. The concerns about ugliness were different depending on whether they visited the place occasionally (for hiking or other activities) or they lived there. Some admitted the ugliness, but believed that the positive impact of the environment was worth it. Obviously, not everyone maintains that cost benefit mindset. Even in Massachusetts, where residents tend to be concerned about the environment, citizens defeated an attempt to put a wind farm offshore near Cape Cod.
Whether or not to move forward with a renewable energy facility, it often comes down to aesthetics. When discussing beauty, people often cite the cliché, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” It should follow that ugliness is also in the eye of the beholder, but, in the context of these facilities, there is a lot of agreement that these facilities are an eyesore. If we want to move forward with more renewable energy options, then we need to solve the visual impact problem that these facilities create.