The History of Windmills

The Times podcast: Our Masters of Disasters know it’s windy out, but they won’t stop making wind. It’s because they have some very specific goals in mind.

This is a guest post from the Times’s Ben Adler and Dan Barry, and also from the Times’s Ben Adler. They’ve taken the Times’s classic windfall profits story and expanded it to the world’s history.

In the 1960s, the United States was on the brink of a wind boom. It’s still there today, but wind is now a rare and declining commodity—a phenomenon that’s been exacerbated by the rise of wind turbines. But the U.S. wind industry isn’t the first to make money off the natural wind. In fact, it’s only one of many examples. If you want to learn the dirty tactics that made the wind industry what it is today, look no further than our history with windmills.

How to become a master of disaster

Here’s how it works: windmills are built on farms all over the world, using the cheapest materials, and then they’re imported into the country where they’re installed—that’s why we’ve lost over a third of our forests. In the 1970s, many of these same farms—the same ones responsible for the windmills we’ve installed all over the country—were also responsible for their own destruction.

In the mid-1970s, when the first turbines went up, you could see where many of the farms had been cleared and replaced with new ones. What were once fields of windmills were now monocultures of soybeans. Today, almost all of the farms in the wind industry have been replaced with wind farms (although there are still some that aren’t). In the 1960s and 1970s, the United States was making money from windmills, but we couldn’t sustain it. We just kept building them, and then there were too many of them, and they started having to buy more turbines instead of farmers to stay viable, because farmers could no longer afford them.

These windmills are in the news so

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