Who tilts at windmills? Explaining hostility to renewables


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

Studying the catastrophe that has been Australian climate and energy policy these past 30 years is a thoroughly depressing business. When you read great work by Guy Pearse, Clive Hamilton, Maria Taylor and Phillip Chubb, among others, you find yourself asking “why”?

Why were we so stupid, so unrelentingly shortsighted? Why did the revelation in 2004 that John Howard had called a meeting of big business to help him slow the growth of renewables elicit no more than a shrug? Why did policy-makers attack renewable energy so unrelentingly?

About now, readers will be rolling their eyes and saying either “follow the money, stupid!” or “they are blinded by their marketophilia”. Fair enough, and they have a point.

My recently published paper, titled “Wind beneath their contempt: why Australian policymakers oppose solar and wind energy”
outlines the hostility to renewables from people like former treasurer Joe Hockey, who found the wind turbines around Canberra’s Lake George “utterly offensive”, and former prime minister Tony Abbott, who funded studies into the “potential health impacts” of wind farms.

It also deals with the policy-go-round that led to a drop in investment in renewables.

In a search for explanations for this, my paper looks at what we academics call “material factors”, such as party donations, post-career jobs, blame avoidance, diminished government capacity to act, and active disinformation by incumbents.

I then turn to ideological factors such as neoliberalism, the “growth at all costs” mindset, and of course climate denial.

Where it gets fun – and possibly controversial – is when I turn to psychological explanations such as what the sociologist Karl Mannheim called “the problem of generations”. This is best explained by a Douglas Adams quote:

Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Over the past 50 years, white heterosexual middle-class males with engineering backgrounds have felt this pattern particularly keenly, as their world has shifted and changed around them. To quote my own research paper:

This loss of the promise of control over nature occurred – by coincidence – at the same time that the British empire disintegrated, and the US empire met its match in the jungles of Vietnam, and while feminism, civil rights and gay rights all sprang up. What scholars of the Anthropocene have come to call the “Great Acceleration” from the 1950s, was followed by the great (and still incomplete) democratisation of the 1960s and 1970s.

The rising popularity of solar panels represents a similar pattern of democratisation, and associated loss of control for those with a vested interest in conventional power generation, which would presumably be particularly threatening to those attracted to status, power and hierarchy.

Consider the cringe

Here are a couple more ideas and explanations that didn’t make the cut when I wrote the research paper. First up is the “biological cringe” – analogous to the “cultural cringe”, the self-loathing Australian assumption that all things British were better.

In Ecology and Empire: Environmental History of Settler Societies, the historian Tom Griffiths notes that:

Acclimatization societies systematically imported species that were regarded as useful, aesthetic or respectably wild to fill the perceived gaps in primitive Australian nature. This “biological cringe” was remarkably persistent and even informed twentieth-century preservation movements, when people came to feel that the remnants of the relic fauna, flora and peoples, genetically unable to fend for themselves, should be “saved”.

Second, and related, is the contempt and hatred that settler colonialists can feel towards wilderness, which in turn morphs into the ideology that there should be no limits on expansion and growth.

This means that people who speak of limits are inevitably attacked. One good example is Thomas Griffith Taylor (1880-1963), an Australian scientist who fell foul of the boosters who believed the country could and should support up to 500 million people.

Having seen his textbook banned in Western Australia for using the words “arid” and “desert”, Taylor set sail for the United States. At his farewell banquet at University of Sydney, he reinterpreted its motto Sidere mens eadem mutate (“The same spirit under a different sky”), as “Though the heavens fall I am of the same mind as my great-great-grandfather!”

I am anticipating that at least four groups will object to my speculations:
(vulgar) Marxists, for whom everything is about profits; positivists and Popperians, who will mutter about a lack of disprovability; deniers of climate science, who often don’t like being described as such; and finally, those who argue that renewables cannot possibly provide the energy return on investment required to run a modern industrial economy (who may or may not be right – we are about to find out).

The ConversationReader, of whatever category, what do you think?

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

World’s largest wind farm study finds sleep disturbances aren’t related to turbine noise


Simon Chapman, University of Sydney

During the Abbott government, the often recalcitrant Senate cross bench was thrown a big, juicy bone plainly intended to sweeten their disposition toward government bills which needed their support to pass. The anti- wind farm Senators were outraged with the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) 2015 report on wind farms which found no strong evidence of health effects from turbine exposure. There have been 25 reviews with similar findings published since 2003. The government may have promised these Senators the gift of the office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner which by February 2015 had received just 42 complaints about 12 wind farms, seven of which have not even been built.

In August 2015, the Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines published its report. The Committee was chaired by Senator John Madigan, an open opponent of wind farms, and consisted of eight members. Six of these had form in savagely criticising wind farms. The content of their final report was therefore utterly predictable, with Labor’s Senator Anne Urquhart’s minority dissenting report shining like a beacon of respect for evidence.

There was no greater display of the naked demonising agenda of the Madigan-aligned group’s anti wind farm show trial than the total absence in their report of any mention of the world’s largest and most important study of the question of whether living near wind farms was harmful to health.

Health Canada’s Wind Turbine Noise and Health study published its preliminary findings on October 30, 2014. Senator Urquhart’s minority report noted that many submissions to the inquiry recognised the great contribution of the Health Canada “Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study” to the body of knowledge on the potential impacts of wind farms on human health. But the 181-page report made no mention of the study.

The study data were collected between May and September 2013 from adults aged 18 to 79 (606 males, 632 females), randomly selected from each household. They lived between 0.25 and 11.22km from wind turbines in two Canadian provinces, Ontario and Prince Edward Island.

In March, the Health Canada study group published its full findings in a series of open-access papers in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, the world’s most cited acoustical research journal, and in Sleep, a leading journal in sleep research. Here is a summary of some of its chief findings.

Do wind turbines increase the prevalence of health problems and sleep disturbance?

The researchers assessed self-reported sleep quality over the past 30 days using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index and a wrist monitor to record the total sleep time, and the rate of awakening bouts and how long these last, for a total of 3,772 nights.

Averaged over a year, the measured sound of the turbines reached a maximum of 46 dB(A) with an average of 35.6. Forty six decibels is around the sound of a dishwasher operating in a kitchen.

Since January 2012, I have collected and catalogued a remarkable 247 different symptoms and diseases wind farm opponents claim are caused or exacerbated by wind turbines in humans and animals.

But the Health Canada study found that:

Self-reported health effects (e.g., migraines, tinnitus, dizziness, etc.), sleep disturbance, sleep disorders, quality of life, and perceived stress were not related to wind turbine noise levels.

Both self-reported and objectively measured sleep outcomes consistently revealed no apparent pattern or statistically significant relationship to wind turbine noise levels.

But, unsurprisingly, sleep was affected by whether residents had other health conditions (including sleep disorders), their caffeine consumption, and whether they were personally annoyed by blinking lights on the wind turbines.

Sleeping problems affect around 29% of all communities, regardless of whether they are near wind farms or not.

Do wind turbines cause measurable stress?

The researchers used a recognised scale to measure self-reported stress (the perceived stress scale – PSS) as well as recording hair cortisol concentrations, resting blood pressure, and heart rate.

However, the majority (77%–89%) of the variance in the perceived stress scale (PSS) scores was unaccounted for by differences in these objective measures. And wind turbine noise exposure had no apparent influence on any of them.

Again, the study concluded that the findings did not support an association between exposure to wind turbines and elevated self-reported or objectively defined measures of stress.

Do wind turbines annoy people?

Expressions such as being “hot and bothered” are well understood. When people are annoyed by something in their life, this can lead to the onset of symptoms. Being annoyed is not health problem in itself, but chronic annoyance can have health consequences.

The Health Canada study reported:

Visual and auditory perception of wind turbines as reported by respondents increased significantly with increasing wind turbine noise levels as did high annoyance toward several wind turbine features, including the following: noise, blinking lights, shadow flicker, visual impacts, and vibrations … Beyond annoyance, results do not support an association between exposure to wind turbine noise up to 46 dBA and the evaluated health-related endpoints.

The prevalence of residents reporting that they were very or extremely annoyed by wind turbine noise increased from 2.1% to 13.7% when sound pressure levels were below 30 dB compared to when the noise was between 40–46 dB.

So in summary, those who found the turbines annoying, tended to be those who lived nearer to them.

What factors predict who gets annoyed?

Even for the most annoying features, more than 86% of residents were not very or extremely annoyed by them.

There is much variation among our families, friends working environments in the way people react to noise. A 2014 review of symptoms related to modern technology (including wind turbines) found those who were more anxious, worried, concerned, or annoyed by a source that they believed to be a health risk more commonly reported symptoms than those without such beliefs.

In this Health Canada study, while proximity to the turbines was statistically significantly associated with annoyance, the relationship was weak. It was better explained by factors such as holding negative views about the visual impact of the turbines (not liking the look of them), being able to the see aircraft warning blinking lights, the perception of vibrations when the turbines were turning and high concern about physical safety. These are all perceptual variables that bothered some but not most.

Less than 10% of the participants derived personal benefit from the turbines (such as income from hosting the turbines). Deriving personal benefit had a statistically significant, although modest relationship to not being annoyed. The authors concluded:

these findings would support initiatives that facilitate direct or indirect personal benefit among participants living within a community in close proximity to wind power projects.

This suggests that strategies such as community sharing of rental incomes, offers of free electricity or home improvement and amenity payments may reduce annoyance.

If a Labor government is elected in July, the future of the ill-conceived Office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner is likely to be vulnerable, as it may well be with the expected departure of several wind farm-obsessed cross bench senators in the double dissolution, should the Coalition be returned.

State governments are increasingly removing wind farm planning barriers and the availability now of the Health Canada health report should drive another large stake through the forces determined to slow the growth of wind energy in Australia.

The Conversation

Simon Chapman, Emeritus Professor in Public Health, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Australian’s campaign against wind farms continues but the research doesn't stack up


Simon Chapman, University of Sydney

The Australian newspaper’s campaign against wind farms continued this morning with a page one story from the paper’s environment editor Graham Lloyd.

Lloyd writes about purportedly “groundbreaking” German research which, he infers, may provide a plausible basis for claims about wind turbines having direct effects on health.

Lloyd writes:

The results showed that humans could hear sounds of eight hertz, a whole octave lower than had been previously assumed, and that excitation of the primary auditory cortex could be detected down to this frequency.

A description of the project is here. The research never mentions wind turbines, only low-frequency noise, which is produced by many sources found in both nature and from a wide variety of mechanical sources.

The press release pitch, with its mentions of wind turbines, smells like a hook to a topical issue calculated to amplify attention to their work. (Note, this link to the press release was down at the time of publication.)

But these new findings are hardly “groundbreaking”. Earlier work found evidence of very similar auditory cortex stimulation from noise at 12Hz, slightly higher than the 8hz in this study.

In the study that excited Lloyd and the Australian’s sub-editors (the headline reads “Brains excited by wind turbines study”), auditory cortex stimulation at 8Hz (at pressure levels around the threshold of hearing) is meaningless in the context of wind turbine-generated infrasound, which is well below the threshold of perception.

Moreover, even fake stimuli can precipitate measurable activity in the brain. We know that both placebos (factors that increase expectations of positive outcomes) and nocebos (those which increase expectations of negative outcomes) can increase changes in cerebral metabolic rate when viewed via positron emission tomography (PET) scanning.

Expectations do not just affect people’s subjective experience of a stimulus (such as exposure to infrasound) but can actually produce measurable changes in brain activity which may or may not be markers of anything of clinical significance.

Fascinating work from Hungary and Germany on “electrosensitive” people (for example, those claiming to be made ill from exposure to mobile phones, wifi or other “stray” electricity) has shown that when such individuals are exposed to sham (fake) radiation from their feared source while thinking it is real, they experience symptoms. Correlates of these symptoms can be measured in the brain.

The Hungarian study exposed both people with “Idiophathic Environmental Intolerance (IEI) attributed to electromagnetic fields” and control subjects not reporting this condition to sham radiation. Those claiming IEI to electromagnetic frequency radiation both expected and experienced more symptoms.

In the German study, subjectively electrosensitive patients and gender-matched healthy controls were also exposed to sham mobile phone radiation and heat as a control condition. The subjects were not aware that the radiation was fake. Both before and during these exposures:

increased activations in anterior cingulate and insular cortex as well as fusiform gyrus were seen in the electrosensitive group compared to controls, while heat stimulation led to similar activations in both groups.

As the Hungarian researchers noted, electrosensitivity:

seems to be formed through a vicious circle of psychosocial factors, such as enhanced perception of risk and expectations, self-monitoring, somatisation and somatosensory amplification, causalization and misattribution.

In short, as the old saying goes, you can worry yourself sick. And those who spread fear arguably are an important part of this process.

Today’s Australian article complements Lloyd’s uncritical accounts of two recent studies about wind turbine noise. He wrote that:

Scientists in Japan measured brain function and reported last year that it showed the brains of Japanese wind turbine workers could not achieve a relaxed state.

As prominent wind industry science and research commentator Ketan Joshi has written:

[the study] doesn’t control for expectations, and it’s very likely that the subjects could perceive the sound = 20Hz at 92 dB(G), [at] the volume at which the synthesized noise was played, would annoy anyone.

Joshi compares such levels to the noise that would be experienced right inside a wind turbine nacelle, not hundreds of meters or several kilometers away, and notes that wind farm workers would never work inside nacelles when the turbines were turning.

Quoting an Iranian study, Lloyd continues:

In a similar vein, a study of 45 people … by Tehran University … said “despite all the good benefits of wind turbines, it can be stated that this technology has health risks for all those exposed to its sound.”

The study he referred to was of poor quality and Joshi has also mercilessly eviscerated its many problems, none of which Lloyd even hinted at.

Lloyd left messages for me to comment on the German research for his story. As his report notes, I did not respond. I have zero interest in obligingly playing into the Australian’s one-sided coverage. The paper has reported on a succession of trivial to terrible “studies” and published opinion pieces which are exalted by the tiny cells of anti-wind farm activists happy to embrace any fragment that furthers their cause.

No reporter from News has ever reported on any of my five recent studies on wind here, here, here, here, or here.

The University of Auckland’s Fiona Crichton who is arguably doing the world’s most advanced research on nocebo effects and wind farms has similarly never been reported.

The News agenda on wind energy is a travesty of good journalism.

The Conversation

Simon Chapman is Professor of Public Health at University of Sydney.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

More research is good, but not if wind experts are told what to find


Will J Grant, Australian National University

It is said that the solution to the ills of democracy is more democracy, and the same goes for science too. Generally speaking, it’s never a problem to bring more science to bear on an issue.

In those terms, the interim report released last week by the Senate’s Select Committee on Wind Turbines appears entirely reasonable. Drawing on an earlier finding by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) that “the body of direct evidence” on the possible impacts of wind farms on human health is “small and of poor quality”, the Senate committee concluded that “independent, multi-disciplinary and high quality research into this field is an urgent priority”. And that’s not, on the face of it, a bad thing.

After all, what scientist worth their salt would reject the idea of doing more and better research on a possible problem? When the Senate Committee asks “why are there so many people who live in close proximity to wind turbines complaining of similar physiological and psychological symptoms?”, who would deny that it’s important and legitimate to try and find out the answer?

But here’s the thing. Research on this topic doesn’t exist in a political or economic vacuum. It is well established that renewable energy broadly, and wind turbines in particular, are matters of significant political debate.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott last week asserted that his intention when renegotiating the Renewable Energy Target was to “reduce the number of these things (wind turbines) that we are going to get in the future”, while his government is also considering appointing a “wind commissioner” to address complaints about the industry.

Meanwhile, key members of the Senate Committee – including John Madigan, David Leyonhjelm, Bob Day, Chris Back, and Matthew Canavan – have used their positions to speak stridently against wind energy. Against this backdrop, is it really possible to pause the world to undertake entirely neutral research?

Telling researchers how to research

There are allegations that suggest the Senate Committee is less interested in truly independent, high-quality research than its members might claim, and is instead recommending to the NHMRC the researchers whose work they would like to see included in future assessments.

Those allegations would seem to be supported by the following exchange from the committee’s hearings on Friday, between Senator Back and the NHMRC’s executive director for evidence, advice and governance, Samantha Robertson:

Back: Are you familiar with [Simon] Carlile and the work he does in neurophysiology?

Robertson: Not personally, no.

Back: Ok, [he is] at the University of Sydney, so perhaps I could urge that you do.

That is not what I would call independent, and nor do I think it is likely to lead to high-quality science. This is nothing to do with the quality of Carlile’s research, but rather the principle of scientific advice to government. It is the NHMRC’s job to select the most relevant science and present it to government, not the other way around.

But more importantly, when we’ve had inquiry after inquiry into this topic – with no rigorous scientific process finding any evidence of a human health impact – at what stage do we accept that calling for yet more research is likely to yield only diminishing returns, and that harassing the research community to keep going until it produces a different answer isn’t a great way to do science?

Uncertainty is the game

The Senate committee has called for the Commonwealth to create an “independent expert scientific committee on industrial sound”, responsible for providing research and advice to the environment minister on the impact on human health of audible noise (including low-frequency) and infrasound from wind turbines, and that this scientific committee develop measures for infrasound and noise that can feed into the governance of the wind turbine industry.

It has also recommended the Commonwealth impose a levy on wind turbine operators to fund the costs, both of the new scientific committee and of the proposed new wind commissioner.

Last year, when the Abbott government began renegotiating the Renewable Energy Target we learned a significant lesson in energy economics. Without any new policy announcement, and before the target had actually been reduced, investment in renewable energy in Australia fell off a cliff. Uncertainty, not hard financial facts, was enough to kill investment.

The continued call for research raised by the Senate committee fits well within this pattern. You don’t need to remove a policy to kill investment. You only need to make things uncertain.

The Conversation

Will J Grant is Researcher / Lecturer, Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at Australian National University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Nice: Google makes its 15th clean power investment . . .15th!!


Gigaom

Google has now made over a dozen commitments to back wind and solar farms. On Tuesday Google announced its 15th investment in clean power, with a plan to put $75 million into a wind farm in North Texas, just outside of the city of Amarillo, near the border with New Mexico.

The wind farm, called the Panhandle 2, is 182 MW — or enough wind capacity to power 56,000 U.S. homes — and is being developed by the Pattern Energy Group. It’s supposed to be up and running by the end of the year.

The deal is Google’s second investment in a wind farm in Texas. The first was a 240 MW project also just outside of Amarillo called Happy Hereford, which will be live in late 2014.

Wind power is one of the only forms of clean power that is competitive with natural gas and coal when built…

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