The Problem of Anti-Windpower Prejudice

The Guardian has an interesting article about a condition known as “windfarm sickness” which is apparently spreading in the neighbourhood of some windfarms in Australia. Found via Jay Lake.

Interestingly, windfarm sickness mainly occurs in the vicinity of a couple of windfarms that are particularly controversial and have been at the centre of an anti-windfarm media campaign. So in short, if you tell people that windfarms may cause various health issues (the Guardian lists sleep problems, heart trouble, hypertension and depression), people start reporting complaints. It’s largely psychological. What is more, the diffuse list of complaints can be caused by pretty much anything. Sleep problems, heart trouble and depression are not exactly rare conditions.

Now wind turbines can be annoying to those living in the immediate vicinity, particularly due to noise. light reflections and the flickering shadows they cast. Some people also have issues with the flashing warning lights on those wind turbines that might pose a danger to air traffic. There is a reason why many German towns and states require a minimum distance between wind turbines and housing estates. However, Australian anti-windpower activists claim to have detected health problems within a radius of ten kilometres around windfarms, which is extremely high. By comparison, the most common minimum distance to housing estates in Germany is two kilometres. There are several wind turbines approx. three or four kilometres from my home, close enough that I can see them from my window. And I for one have never experienced health issues, nor have any of my neighbours.

But the alleged health issues caused by windfarms are only one of the arguments against wind turbines presented by those opposed to windpower. Ecological reasons and supposed hazards to birds, fish and other forms of wildlife are another common argument. But by far the most common anti-wind energy arguments are variations “I just don’t like the look of them”, an argument which is often dressed up as concern about property prices or tourism.

This Guardian article, which discusses why the US still doesn’t have a single offshore wind turbine in spite of having more than enough coastlines to build them, lists a bunch of common anti-windpower arguments from the logistical (“It’s expensive and we don’t have the ships to handle wind turbines”) to the ecological and aesthetic. There’s even a new one that does not crop up in Europe for obvious reasons, namely that a planned offshore windpark near Cape Cod would desecrate sacred tribal lands.

However, the potentially valid concerns of wildlife preservationists, local fishermen and Native Americans are being hijacked by those whose opposition to the proposed windfarm off Cape Cod has little to do with concern about birds and fish and tribal lands, namely wealthy people with beachfront estates such as the infamous Koch brothers, a pair of American billionaires who never found a rightwing cause they would not finance. This 2010 article from The New Yorker has more on them. Since renewable energy and global warming are considered leftist causes in the US, the Koch brothers are of course opposed to windpower. What is more, one of them owns a beachfront mansion in Cape Cod. The Guardian quotes him as follows:

“I don’t want this in my backyard. Why would you want to sail in a forest of windmills?”

So in the end, it all boils down to “They’re ugly and I don’t like the look of them” again.

Now I have never understood the “wind turbines are ugly arguments”, because I don’t find wind turbines ugly. To me, they’re simply part of the landscape by now. If you look at my photo posts over at my personal blog, you’ll occasionally spot wind turbines in the background. And that’s exactly what they are here in North Germany. Background details at the horizon.

What is more, a recent survey in Germany revealed that while 55 percent of Germans are in favour of windfarms, the percentage rose to 74 percent in favour among those who actually live near windfarms. So people who live near wind turbines actually view them more positively than those who don’t have wind turbines in their neighbourhood.

How can we fight anti windpower prejudice? I don’t know. Perhaps, if the German survey is anything to go by, the prejudice will simply erode as more and more become familiar with wind turbines.

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