Wind Turbines Don’t Make You Sick. But Anti-Wind Campaigns Do!
“Wind turbine syndrome” is an illness whose symptoms include a range of health disorders including dizziness, memory problems, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and headaches. As the name suggests, sufferers of this illness tend to live near wind turbines. However, 17 independent studies around the world have failed to find convincing evidence linking turbine noise, turbine vibrations and “infrasound” (sound whose frequency is below that of human hearing) from the turbines to the “syndrome”.
So what is causing these people to feel ill?
Two studies, one out of the Australia, the other out of New Zealand, have come to the conclusion that the problem isn’t the turbines. It’s the advertisement created by people trying to stop the development of wind farms.
The first study was done by professor Simon Chapman, associate dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney. Professor Chapman mapped out the history of health-related complaints about wind turbines throughout Australia. His study created some interesting results.
In some cases, complaints of health effects were made before turbines were even operational. Also, despite the fact that wind turbines began operating in 1993, health complaints did not begin in earnest until 2009. This also happens to be the year when anti-wind activists began advertising the “negative health effects” of wind turbines. In addition, 68% of the complaints came from only 5 of the 49 wind farms in Australia – the five that were the focus of anti-wind activism. This means that there were no health-related complaints from many of the large wind farms, including none from the wind farms in western Australia.
During an interview, professor Chapman stated that he found it “implausible that if wind turbines in themselves were harmful, there would be whole farms using the same equipment, mega-wattage, everything, where people weren’t saying they were affected.” Instead, the results from his study led him to conclude that “people have mis-attributed their common health problems to wind farms because of activists’ campaigns. Some may have even become more ill because they believe that wind farms make them sick — a phenomenon called the ‘nocebo effect‘”.
Scientists in New Zealand went a step further to demonstrate the power of anti-wind campaigns. From their group of volunteers, some were exposed to anti-wind campaign information. The rest were not. Then, every volunteer was exposed to 10 minutes of infrasound as well as 10 minutes of fake infrasound. As you would expect, the volunteers who had not heard the anti-wind campaign information never complained of any health symptoms. However, those that were exposed to the anti-wind info complained of “wind turbine syndrome” symptoms when exposed to infrasound and when exposed to fake infrasound.
I think we can all see what’s happening here.
Now, we can’t make the mistake of simply ignoring the people that make these health complaints. And we certainly can’t ignore the anti-wind campaigns. However, it is important to note that these types of problems are not found everywhere that turbines are built. While cases of “wind turbine syndrome” are common in Australia, the USA and Canada, they are almost non existent in Germany and Denmark. According to an interesting post on the website RenewEconomy, there are three explanations for this.
First of all, Germans and Danes are more aware of the risks associated with nuclear energy and climate change. This makes them more willing to put up with the true annoyances of wind turbines: how they look and the noise they produce (neither of which actually make you sick. They’re just annoying!). Second, there is no powerful fossil fuel lobby in Germany or Denmark creating opposition to renewable energy. And finally, in both Germany and Denmark, farmers and average citizens have made the majority of the investments into renewable energy (see image below). As a result, people are paid for the electricity that the turbines produce.
Moral of the story: if we are serious about increasing the production of renewable energy, it has to come “from the bottom up”. Like in Germany and Denmark, we need to create the financial conditions that will allow everyone (not just large corporations) the opportunity to invest in (and make money from) renewable energy projects. That means putting in place feed-in tariffs that will guarantee a rate at which renewable energy can be sold to the grid.
You do that, and people will forget about their headaches – they’ll be too busy thinking of ways of spending their extra income!