Wind Turbine Groundbreaking
Dean Fritz Fleishmann (center) was among the speakers at today's groundbreaking for the Babson Wind Turbine.
“On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse sent the first public telegraph message from the old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol building in Washington, DC, to his co-inventor Alfred Vail in Baltimore. The message was “What hath God wrought” – a piece of Biblical text from the Book of Numbers (23:23) that is nowadays translated as “See what God has done!” Today, if we were to use similarly old-fashioned language (the King James Bible was created in the early 17th century), we might ask, “What hath Man wrought” – what have we done, through our ceaseless ingenuity, ambition, and hunger, to change the planet we have inherited?
Of course, some still deny that we have a problem or, if we do, that we have anything to do with it. Global warming, they say, is not our fault; it just came upon us.
Fault or not: it is certainly our problem, and the environmental crisis is the most significant challenge of our age. We are subjected to a daily litany of worrisome news: another large piece of the Antarctic ice shield is breaking off; glaciers are melting; climate zones are moving. The habitability of the world's regions is changing. Failed harvests, a shortage of drinking water, a rising of the sea level will lead to large migrations. The planet's carbon sinks (oceans, permafrost regions, and tropical rainforests) are filling up or disappearing, while rapid industrialization is putting more greenhouse gases into the air. The fact is: global warming is already here. The only question is: how fast will it progress? Are we doing things to speed it along or slow it down? Given that somebody or something “hath wrought” this, what ability do we have to deal with this crisis?
What can we do? What should we do?
We can do what Babson College is known for: create and collaborate, seize opportunities and marshal resources. In other words, engage in entrepreneurial behavior. But in addition, we can engage the entrepreneurial drive differently: not just in the spirit of economic individualism but for a common good. Those two are not mutually exclusive, to begin with: enlightened self-interest is simply a deeper, longer-term understanding of personal self-interest. Global warming is a phenomenon that no one individual can run away from, and it is a threat that no one individual can fight single-handedly. It takes all of us to confront it and to deal with it.
I welcome this wind turbine as an example of Babson's entrepreneurial spirit, of our ability as a community to create and collaborate, to live in the real world, and to turn a crisis into an opportunity. I welcome it as a manifestation of the same human urge that has led our ancestors to cover this planet with cities and towns, with roads and airports, with factories and shopping malls, with hospitals and universities. This is the human urge to achieve and create. But the Babson wind turbine also represents our ability to get things done together, and to articulate a common goal. This is the human urge to be part of a community that protects us against the unknown. Our wind turbine represents hope: we are not helpless; we have agency; there are things we can do. It represents optimism, an essential feature of the entrepreneurial spirit and of American business in general. Henry David Thoreau had this in mind when he wroteabout commerce as an antidote to passivity and fear. “Every path but your own is the path of fate,” he says and praises business for “its enterprise and bravery”: “It does not clasp its hands and pray to Jupiter,” but it is “confident and serene, alert, adventurous, and unwearied.” It is always concerned with facing what is real and with creating new realities. Human beings, in Thoreau's words, need “to live deliberately, to front … the essential facts of life.” In one of his most famous lines at the end of Walden, he reminds us: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.”
Being awake. Dreaming. Wind turbines. Wind mills. For me, as a scholar of literature, the most famous name associated with windmills is also a famous dreamer: Don Quijote, a literary character created by Miguel de Cervantes right around the time of the King James Bible (the first decade of the 17th century). You may remember: Don Quixote gets on his high horse, puts down his lance and makes a run at a group of windmills that he mistakes for giants – hence our figure of speech, “tilting at windmills.” Don Quijote has read too many romance novels; he is a dreamer and a denier of reality. Don Quijote would probably be a denier of global warming, too.
Entrepreneurs may also be dreamers, but they are perceptive realists, and they create realities that inspire. Let the Babson wind turbine be such a reality, a symbol of what we can and need to do. Let us be awake, then, and work together, so that we may be proud of what our generation “hath wrought”: a future filled not with distress and despair, but with opportunity and hope.