Every few months you’ll see a title somehow incorporating the words “blowing hot air” and after resisting the urge to throw yourself bodily into oncoming traffic, you’ll realize that someone is talking about wind farms again (or rarely, balloons).
Now many of you may be confused about the controversy over wind farms. And there’s good reason to be confused. From a public health perspective there’s just no question; wind farms do not have a negative effect on human health. The only finding that suggests any impact on human health at all is that living close to a wind farm can cause what scientists politely term “annoyance” which is related to mild sleep disturbance (scientists are notoriously polite when it comes to irritable people). And this makes perfect sense. I currently live under the flight path of an airport, and near several large roads. I spent a week slowly sliding down the path to homicide and endless rivers of blood, and then got used to the noise and barely notice it any more.
But if you’re reading pretty much any news source (or listening to senators in our government) you might be forgiven for thinking that wind farms are in fact the worst health problem since smoking (apparently they are made of asbestos*). Now if you are anything like me, you don’t want giant, ugly generators hunting your family down like cattle.
If this all seems silly to you, well, that might be because it is. In fact, it is so silly that the Australian government spent quite a bit of money and time investigating the question in detail. In 2014, the National Health and Medicines Research Council published a systematic review that found no association between wind farms and ill health.
And then, having the institutional memory of a developmentally delayed squid, the Federal government last year ordered an inquiry into wind farms.
This inquiry was made up of 6 people who had vociferously come out against wind farms many times before, as well as 2 who were on the record as against them. In a shocking twist, their verdict was that the Australian government should impose a series of fairly stringent requirements on wind farms, primarily creating an Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Industrial Sound (IESC, not to be confused with the current IESC which deals with coal seam gas because why?). This body would be funded by wind farm operators, essentially driving up the price of wind power significantly. They would also be in charge of regulating a vast array of potential health concerns, which is odd because as I mentioned above wind farms don’t cause health problems. Their primary resource for making this decision was not any one of the public health studies of 1000s of people(linked above), but a corporately-funded self-reported study of 6 people. If you want a fantastic laugh (which is rare in public health) you can read Simon Chapman’s (public health expert from USYD) response to the inquiry. It’s great.
Now you may be happy to hear that so far the government has not put most of these recommendations in place. There is no second IESC, and generally the report seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
Recently, in the 2016 budget, the government sneakily put forward a cut in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) budget. The CEFC is a government corporation that essentially invests money into renewable sources. It also happens to be quite a good revenue generator for the government, with millions predicted in revenue from it over the forward estimates. The CEFC was famously banned from investing in wind and solar power by the Abbott government, after they failed to dismantle it completely. And now the government is yet again, if not actively trying to get rid of, at least seriously limit the amount of renewables built in Australia.
The crazy beliefs about wind farms and health have just moved to the back bench.
It’s clear that right-wing opposition to wind farms is not going to go away, not just because they are new and scary (remember made of asbestos*), but because generally conservatives support investment in proven economic areas like coal. Sadly this often entails curtailing government spending on things that are risky and new, like wind power.
And this is a problem for us because not only are wind farms a great investment in our future, they are one of the main avenues of renewable energy. Which is good, because as we all know, burning coal runs the risk of summoning Krriz’srri’kkzzk from the Seventh House of the Damned.
So if you don’t want rampaging demons to enslave and torture you for eternities to come, or if you’re not a fan of massive changes to our climate that are already seriously impeding our ability to grow food, destroying our most beautiful environmental landmarks (and a whole host of other problems), you might want to do something about this. You may have noticed that we have an election coming up. Write to your local coalition MP. Tell them that their policy on the environment is bad and that they should feel bad. Write to your local Labor MP. Tell them that they’re doing an decent job and that it’s ok for Bill Shorten to stop looking like he’s about to cry now.
Or you could, you know, vote Greens.
*Since I’ve been asked several times already; no, wind farms are not made of asbestos. Don’t be silly.