Anti-wind turbine syndrome: We need to clear the air

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Wind turbines are subject to a disproportionate array of myths, compared to other generation technologies. From throwaway lines about bird deaths, to catastrophic misunderstandings of science and engineering, the opponents of wind energy tirelessly propagate odd falsehoods, based on a ferocious antagonism towards wind energy. These fictions, often deployed in rapid sequence, are difficult to combat. Significantly, the anti-wind lobby binds these falsehoods to a passionately emotive ethos, manifesting as unfiltered hostility. This tactic exposes an unnerving and worrisome fact – to influence public sentiment, evidence is unnecessary – myth and contempt might easily suffice.

A protest at a wind farm development in Midlothian, Scotland in 2006 saw the burning of a wind turbine effigy. The wind farm was ultimately not approved. – Photograph by Julie Howden Source: National Wind Watch

Earlier this year, climate sceptic James Delingpole published an article in The Australian, outlining his views of wind energy. He concluded with this quote:

“As a NSW sheep farmer fighting tooth and nail to stop a wind farm development near his beloved home told me the other day in trenchant style: ‘The wind-farm business is bloody well near a pedophile ring. They’re fucking our families and knowingly doing so’.”

Publishing comments that equate the wind industry with a pedophile ring, whilst unexceptional for Delingpole, might once have been considered a claim too wretched for a major national broadsheet. Delingpole’s article was re-posted more than 500 times, mostly by anti-wind groups. Astonishingly, the Hamilton Veterinary Practice, in western Victoria also republished the article, in a blog post on May 20. Though it is traditionally unusual to chance across industry-wide slander about child abuse on the website of a small rural vet clinic, it comes as no surprise when bedded in the context of the efforts of anti-wind groups across Australia.

Emotive references to ‘monsters’ and ‘bird-choppers’ are often deployed when groups organise protests against wind farms

In 2004, the Order of Australia Medal was awarded to Dr Alan C Watts, of the Carcoar Medical Practice in NSW, for “Service to medicine as a general practitioner and through the implementation of Q fever vaccination programs.” As a reputable and demonstrably dedicated medical professional, one might expect mythology and scorn to be absent from his public statements. The following phrase was penned in a letter to Senator Steven Fielding on April 4, 2011:

“There is a certain irony in the fact that many Australian tax payers are unwilling subsidisers of a highly inefficient form of non-base load energy production which may be causing them harm. This equates to being raped and forced to provide your own condom to avoid a sexually transmitted disease.”

The metaphor, confused, clumsy and sexist, seems to be a surprising and jarring inclusion, betraying the hyperbolic nature of the language often deployed with regards to wind farms. At the Blayney Shire Council meeting on wind farms, held in November 2011, Alan Watts stood up and delivered the following opinion concerning a colleague of mine who was attending the meeting to address community concerns about Infigen Energy’s proposed wind farm development:

“If you check his fingernails, you’ll see that they’re blue. Because he’s got his head so far up his arse, he’s cyanosed.”

A vigorous round of applause, along with laughter, rung out after Dr Watts delivered this line. The chair of the meeting chastised Dr Watts for the surprisingly personal slur – this rebuke has been edited out of the video proudly posted on the Wind Turbine Syndrome website, which boasts: “Doctor gets graphic re. wind developer’s anatomy.” Though it may seem initially odd that a website purporting to be providing medical information engages in childish bluster, again we observe the combination so frequently present in discourse by anti-wind groups. Non-scientific claims, closely followed by tellingly emotive barbs, infiltrate the arena of public discourse around this energy technology.

“Wind Turbine Syndrome”, the purported illness experienced by residents living close to wind farms, was coined in a book published by Nina Pierpont, in 2009. It is assertedly caused by infrasound – sound waves at a frequency below 20 hertz which are, for the most part, inaudible. Infrasound is emitted from most modern machinery – cars, air conditioners, refrigerators and natural sources, such as the beach.

If a doctor stood up at a public meeting, and claimed that the beach was triggering primal rage attacks, it is unlikely their hypothesis would be well respected. Curiously, arguments that are significantly sillier are being deployed successfully by the anti-wind lobby, to inspire fear and anxiety in communities that are considering the viability of wind farm developments in their area.

Nina Pierpont’s manufactured syndrome seems, then, to provide a sufficient bedrock for individuals and lobby groups to express contempt in a truly emotive context.

If Pierpont satisfies the mythology aspect of anti-wind efforts, then her husband, Calvin Luther Martin, certainly embodies the spite. He has been “Fighting the wind bastards well over four years,” and declares that “for wind energy the most appropriate language is profanity, vulgarity, and obscenity. The louder the better.” His approach to attacking the wind industry is recognisable: “Screw concerned and start getting angry and defiant. And stop asking the windies questions and start informing them of the fact they and their goddam monster turbines and substations are not welcome in town.” Martin proposes the tactical deployment of aggression, and the eradication of calm, collected discourse. This is neatly representative of much of the public discourse surrounding wind farm developments in Australia.

This conflation of myth and spite displays a growing efficacy when deployed in communities. Victoria’s wind farm planning laws are now suitably onerous, with the clear intent of dismantling the wind industry. New South Wales has released draft wind farm planning guidelines that take misconceptions into serious consideration. The impact of this fictitious health scare has resulted in serious detriment to the wind industry, the results of which will no doubt be felt in Australia’s economy for generations to come.

Anti-wind groups take a derisive nature towards scientific reviews of evidence, whilst demanding that further evidence be obtained before wind farms are built. This image is taken from the ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome’ website, in reference to a government ‘Rapid Review’ of the health impacts of wind turbines.

To counter this trend, the wind industry must engage in a full, frank and scientifically defensible effort to quash the many myths that invariably orbit wind developments in Australia. As is always the case, scientific truth is significantly more valuable than falsehood. Safe, efficient and most importantly, non-invasive to communities and the environment, wind energy has a vital role to play in transitioning away from energy sources that damage the planet’s physical systems.

Significantly, individuals will come to harm as they experience needless anxiety as the direct result of unscientific health claims. The onus is on the wind industry, and the media, to present clear and relatable information. We need to cast light on this regrettably murky topic.

Ketan Joshi is a data analyst at Infigen Energy, who has completed a Bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and psychology.

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