Tag Archives: France

Rural-urban interaction: wind turbines as a form of surplus extraction

Back in the late-1980s Robert Potter and I edited a book called The Geography of Urban-Rutal Interactions in Developing Countries (Routledge, 1989; recently republished in the Routledge Library Editions: Urbanization) as a festschrift for our colleague Alan Mountjoy who had retired in 1985. My introductory conceptual chapter summarised various theories that had by then been developed to explain and help understand the ways through which people interacted between these very different kinds of places, the “rural” and the “urban”. It also proposed a framework for new thinking about these issues that focused on linkages (economic, social, political and ideological), flows (such as labour, money, telephone calls, authority and ideas) and interactions (involving things such as capital, families, allegiance and religious activities). The book was a product of its time, and much has changed over the last 35 years – although I am glad to see that I did indeed write about telephones, radios and televisions even back then.

Crossing northern France last weekend reminded me of those arguments, as I saw kilometre upon kilometre of wind turbines stretching across the vast expanses of the farmland of the pays champenois. Some people find these turbines inspiring and beautiful; I do not! However, no-one can deny that they have changed the landscape. What struck me most, though, was that this was yet another very visible, powerful and extensive form of exploition of “the rural” by “the urban”. Little of the energy produced by these turbines will be used in the rural areas where they are situated; their presence reflects the powerful urban demand for electricity, and the imposition of an essentially urban bourgeois ideology that wants to maintain its “culture” with little real regard for the rural environment. The rural is out of sight, out of mind; it is there to be exploited.

There have been numerous studies of the environmental impact of different kinds of energy, but many of these are based on traditional forms of analyses that tend to have an inbuilt prioritisation of the interests of those living in urban areas, and almost always ignore the environmental values of “indigenous peoples” and ethnic minorities. Moreover, insufficient work has yet been done on the environmental impact of the decommissioning of wind turbines, most of which have a lifespan of less than 25 years, and are currently disposed of in landfill sites. With rising demand for electricity, driven in large part by the expansion in the use of digital technologies (see the work of DESC), there will be a dramatic increase in the number of such windfarms, and thus yet further surplus extraction of “the rural” by the “urban”.

Further north in the Nord-Pas de Calais coal mining basin (since 2012 a UNESCO World Heritage Site) it is still possible to see many of the old spoil tips. As elsewhere in the world’s coalmining regions, there has been much landscape reconstruction. Some old tips have been flattened, others have been wooded, and at least one has been turned into a dry ski slope. However, I couldn’t help but think that the despoliation of the rural landscape (and indeed seascapes) by wind turbines in Europe is likely to be very much more extensive than that caused in the past by coal mining. How, though, do we judge and evaluate such thoughts? It is time for a very considerable rethink about the environmental impacts of all forms of energy, especially in the context of the rapid growth in digital technologies. After all, does not the term “Smart Cities” automatically imply that “villages must therefore be dumb”?

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Filed under Electricity, Energy, ICT4D, Rural

Auberge du Cellier, Montner

Occasionally I come across amazing hidden away restaurants, where the skills of the chef turn a meal into something very special.  One such restaurant is the Auberge du Cellier in Montner, some 30 kms to the west of Perpignan in south-west France, where Pierre Louis Marin has created somewhere to enjoy the highest quality local produce, prepared and presented with great skill and panache. Everything about the restaurant is special, from the single green chair at each table, to the welcome of the staff, to the way in which the food is presented, to the excellent list of local wines, and above the the quality of the food.

We went there last night for a very special meal, and one of our party has an allergy to cow’s milk.  Instead of just showing the items on the menu that she could eat, the chef Pierre Louis Marin, discussed various options with her, and concocted beautiful dishes especially for her to enjoy.

As well as “La Carte” there were menus priced at €32, €46, €55 or €69, all of which represented really excellent value for the quality of the food.  We particularly enjoyed:

  • a wonderfully textured melon gazpacho, with crispy pieces of ham and seeds on top
  • rich and tasty Foie gras mi-cuit maison, herbes folles, huile de noisette, truffe tuber aestivum et parmesan
  • Un tiramisu de tomates, aux variétés anciennes, tomates séchées et mascarpone – perhaps with a touch too much mascarpone
  • Fine Filet d’agneau catalan, houmous, aubergine, jus corsé au romarin
  • Mignon de porc « tirabuixo », en croûte de pain aux noix, fenouil braisé et purée riche
  • beautifully prepared Saint Honoré aux fruits de saison

The wine list was quite extensive, focusing mainly on wines from the region, with a dominance of AOC Roussillon and Côtes Catalanes.  For an aperitif, we had a local Muscat and an amazingly rich, intense and well-balanced Grenache Noir doux from Domaine Victor in Maury – am determined to visit Maury and purchase some of this most unusual and delicious wine.  And then we were recommended to try the very reasonably priced Domaine Seguela Les Candalières 2012 – which was full of delicious ripe fruit (60% Carignan, 20% Syrah and 20% Grenache), soft tannins, and of good length and depth – perfect with the lamb and pork.

The Auberge du Cellier is definitely to be recommended (1, rue de Saint-Eugénie, 66720 Montner – 04 68 29 09 78).

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