The right’s anti-wind campaign is pure scaremongering (updated)

That’s the headline for my latest piece in Guardian. Of all of the anti-science nonsense peddled by the political right, here and in Britain, none is more stunningly hypocritical than their campaign against the (non-existent) health risks of wind turbines. The self-image promoted by these guys (and, with a handful of exceptions, they are guys) is one of hardnosed scepticism about unproven risks, disdain for emotive appeals to feelings about the environment. But because wind turbines are supported by their tribal enemies, they swallow and propagate utterly absurd alarmist claims.

Attempts will doubtless be made to draw a comparison with leftwing attitudes to nuclear power. But this fails for numerous reasons
* A substantial number of environmentalists support nuclear power as preferable to coal
* Among those who don’t a substantial number (me for example) base their view on the conclusion that nuclear power is simply more expensive than renewables or energy-efficiency measures
*The health risks associated with nuclear power are real, even if they are sometimes overstated
* Finally, even those environmentalists who are reflexively opposed to nuclear power aren’t guilty of the hypocrisy of their rightwing counterparts. Typically, they simply hold extreme concerns about risks of all kinds.

The only environmentalists I would convict of hypocrisy on this issue are people like Robert F Kennedy Jr, who campaigns against both nuclear and wind power while claiming to care about climate change. But RFK Jr is an anti-vaccine loon, whose only claim to fame is the name he inherited from his father. He has been rightly denounced by genuine environmentalists. Meanwhile, even those on the right who know that the scare campaign about wind is nonsense make excuses for their allies (I quote Greg Hunt in the article, and I anticipate more of the same in comments here).

Update I’m happy to say that my predictions on comments have been more than borne out. A number of rightwing commenters have weighed in with the claim (false, when you take account of the underpricing of CO2 emissions) that wind is subsidised relative to fossil fuels. Several comments have implied that, since wind energy is supposedly subsidised, it is OK to make up anti-scientific lies about it. None of our rightwing tribalists has been willing to call out their fellow tribespeople.

More amusingly, on the pro-science side of the debate, we’ve been testing out Poe’s Law. Check out the comments that reject mainstream climate science and put forward alarmist claims about wind. See if you can tell which are real and which are parodies. I had some genuine difficulty.

113 thoughts on “The right’s anti-wind campaign is pure scaremongering (updated)

  1. @John Quiggin on dismissal for poor performance, do many get the chop because they are poor or lazy teachers? I understand publications is the main meter.

  2. Jim Rose :@John Quiggin on dismissal for poor performance, do many get the chop because they are poor or lazy teachers? I understand publications is the main meter.

    Teachers of wind turbine technologies??

  3. @Ernestine Gross

    It was more Fox News trying to distort a story from Reuters. They gave the article the headline “New Research Shows Wind Farms Cause Global Warming”, even though the first sentence made it clear that the issue is something else. Evidently, Fox News thinks its target audience won’t understand the difference, which is probably true.

    And I don’t know whether it was in the original Reuters story, but they left out a crucial point from the study: “Very likely, the wind turbines do not create a net warming of the air and instead only re-distribute the air’s heat near the surface, which is fundamentally different from the large-scale warming effect caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases”.

    The Daily Mail ran their story on the study under the headline “Wind farms make climate change WORSE”, but at least they changed it when the lead author of the study complained.

    And apparently some people really do believe the crazy crap I wrote about fans earlier: just google “fan death”.

  4. @Angus Cameron I can’t imagine what makes you think I’m young, though I do feel young, and they say that 60 is the new 40! As a child I saw my father galvanized into action by urgent conservation issues in FNQ – he was part of a very mixed set of pioneering conservationists.

    As you say, many early, influential conservationists were from the political right – well educated, well travelled and well off – but they were enlightened folk, genuine conservatives – I was referring to right-wing fundamentalists of the reactionary type, they who now dominate the political right in much of the developed world, including Australia.

    And a characteristic of the fundamentalist right is a selfish pre-occupation with ones own interests, ie, NIMBYism.

  5. John Quiggin :
    Indeed! It is amusing, if a little sad

    I did not avoid the challenge. I’m seeking clarification on the ground rules. I’m keen to know what particular part of the paper by Alan Moran I will be required to repudiate as that of an anti science hack?

    If you expect me to issue some blanket statement that they are all hacks because you prove the price is $50 then that makes sense only if you first demonstrate they have said the price is something radically different.

    But frankly I just think you’re being belligerent. Your article seems to be little more than a political rant. Hot air with no substance to speak of.

  6. @Luke Elford

    Sorry to cause you so much work to clarify for my benefit. I don’t view Fox News nor read the Daily Mail. Good to see others keep track of the obfuscation industry. I suppose you referred to the Poe Law in your earlier hint. Useful, not sure though it would be an acceptable ‘concept’ among many who have influence.

  7. @Jim Rose
    Publications are used as a heuristic when universities restructure, which they do all the time in these fad-driven times. When they are not restructuring, lack of publications is published by increasing teaching load (thereby making it more difficult to do research).

  8. @TerjeP
    “I thought his trial hinged on him using biblical references to “prove” his new theory.’

    No, I think you could say that he contradicted the bible. However that was not a definite problem [1] if he could a) have substantiated the theory a bit better, b) not pissed off a very harassed and paranoid pope who though that Galileo was taking the piss.

    And not have already made a few powerful academic/clerical enemies. He was a real threat to the academic establishment, much more than to the Church in many ways. The Church, could and would adjust its doctrine here–it was not core–if there was enough proof. The scientists would essentially be buggy-whip manufacturers in an automobile age.

    It’s actually much more complicated, of course, but that will do for a quick summary. I’d recommend “Galileo Studies: Personality, Tradition, and Revolution” by Stillwell Drake and especially the definitive “The crime of Galileo” by Giorgio De Santillana for anyone interested.

    1. The Catholic Church were not biblical fundamentalists. However you had better be able to prove that your theory beat the existing combination of Aristotelian science and Catholic theology. Sort of like Carl Sagan’s “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”.

  9. I just looked at my latest power bill and if the price of gas in South Australia doubled it should increase my electricity bill by less than 7%. Of course, because of substitution, the increase would actually be less than this as South Australia would burn less gas.

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