The anti-science right on wind farms

So, Tony Abbott is going to hold another inquiry into utterly spurious claims about adverse health effects from wind farms. Credulous belief in these effects, or silent acquiescence in claims about them, is now compulsory on the political right, particularly among those who, absurdly, describe themselves as “sceptics” on climate science and, more generally, on scientific evidence about actual health risks from genuine environmental hazards. The extreme example, chosen by the Oz to lay down the party line, is James Delingpole whose denial extends beyond climate change to include rejection of the health effects of passive smoking (based on the bogus and discredited research of tobacco-funded “researchers” Enstrom and Kabat). Despite claiming that there is no risk in inhaling a toxic mixture of dozens of carcinogens, Delingpole has no difficulty in believing that noise levels quieter than those of a public library will cause all manner of health risks, including “night sweats, headaches, palpitations, heart trouble”. [fn1]

It’s easy to multiply examples of this kind (Miranda Devine, Jennifer Marohasy, Christopher Booker). What’s more striking is the silence of those who know this stuff is nonsense, but don’t want to offend their allies and supporters

Andrew Bolt is particularly interesting here. He obviously knows that the claims about health risks are nonsensical, and is careful (AFAICT) to avoid mentioning them, while writing in a way that hints at support. So, we get a favorable link to the Delingpole piece, but the pull quote refers to economics not to health issues. Of course, if the politics were such as to demand support for wind, Bolt would make mincemeat of the nonsense Delingpole is putting forward.

A couple of takeaways from this

1. To the best of my knowledge, there is not a single climate denialist anywhere in the world who has the minimal consistency and honesty needed to reject nonsense arguments from their own side, even when they take a form (NIMBY claims about unproven health risks) that they routinely denounce when put forward by misguided environmentalists. That can be extended to the entire political right in Australia – I’m not aware of a single person on the right who has called Abbott out on this nonsense. Active liars like Delingpole, and enablers like Bolt are representative of the entire right, even those who would like to appear rational and reasonable.

2. It’s crucial for the left to reject this kind of argument whenever it appears, even when the proponent takes the correct stance on other issues.

[1] This article earned a rebuke from the Press Council, but that merely perpetuates the notion that Delingpole is a journalist and that the Oz is a newspaper. These 20th century categories have ceased to be applicable – the Oz is better understood as a lunar right blog that, for historical reasons, is printed out on broadsheet paper every day.

130 thoughts on “The anti-science right on wind farms

  1. @alfred venison
    You may have had your eyes on the real enemy, but in my recollection that didn’t stop you from putting most of your energy into attacking Gillard. Why don’t you go back and have a look AV and just see for yourself how much time you spent criticising Abbott as opposed to criticising Gillard? It would be interesting to know.

  2. @Val

    IIRC means “If I Recall Correctly.” It can carry the implication “Correct me if my memory is wrong.” I apologise if my memory is wrong.

    It seems that no explanation of why I could not support Julia Gillard (as leader of the Labor Party) can convince you that my view has any validity or can be viewed through any prism other than one of virulent sexism of my part.

    I am sorry I put forward my view in a situation where I ought to have realised my view was less important than the general peace.

  3. @Val

    On these issues, I prefer to listen to smart people rather than talk, so feel robbed when the debate is derailed by gratuitous personal criticism and obsessions. Re IIRC, if you google it the first page of results tells you it means “if i recall correctly”.

  4. This is still kind of relevant on a thread about the “right” and, by implication, the “left”.

    I am not in S.A. and don’t know too much about it, but it looks to me like the ‘left’ of the ALP might have taken a stand against the ‘right’ today and successfully stared them down. Not only stared them down but sent them packing.

    Everyone knows that the main reason I am a critic of the ALP is because they, and their rusted on supporters, have allowed themselves to become so ‘right’ that they are suffocating anything in that party which is not furthering the neo-liberal ideology.

    I heard a snippet where Weatherill was implying that Farrell etc.. had orchestrated this whole thing with Rupert’s local branch.

    Maybe the people really are ready to reject Rupert and his hateful brand of ‘right vs right’ whatever it takes politics.

  5. @kevin1
    So Kevin where is the evidence? And how do you know that I’m not smart? And why is describing me as a “petulant child” not a gratuitous insult?

  6. @Ikonoclast
    Can you point to the place where I accused you of “virulent sexism”? Or could that possibly be an over-statement that you have made in order to suggest that I am being unreasonable?

  7. @kevin1
    Can I suggest to you that a good way of having conversations on the net is to respond to something that a person has actually said? If there is something I’ve said that you disagree with, fine, we can have a discussion. But just calling me names really isn’t useful.

  8. @kevin1
    On the subject of wind farms, as I’ve said previously, I don’t think it’s useful to see it as a science vs anti-science issue, because that diverts the discussion in ways that actually suit the climate change deniers. Unfortunately on most issues, and I expect on this one, you can get some scientists who are prepared to argue the case that suits the fossil fuel interests.

    I think it’s probably more useful to see it as fossil fuel interests vs renewables interests issue.

  9. @kevin1
    Sorry that last comment was actually meant for John Brookes.

    But I would like to say to you Kevin, that I am a PhD candidate in public health. If you would like to know more about my work, feel free to visit my blog. I won’t link it here because links here often get caught in moderation, but it’s fairgreenplanet dot blogspot dot com dot au. Your comments are welcome, if you can keep them civil.

    You might be interested to know that you describing my comments as like those of a “petulant child” is similar to Mel recently saying to Megan that she should talk like an adult. Two cases in short order of male commenters (I presume you are male because you have a male user name) making gratuitous insults to female commenters that they are childish doesn’t confirm sexism, but it certainly trends that way.

  10. @Val

    In a reply “at” tagged to me you wrote:

    “You think you’re making all these important points about “I don’t hate Julia Gillard because she’s a woman, I just hate her and have to say really nasty things about her at every opportunity because she failed to get a mining tax that I approve of” but what most of the public hears is “even her own side hates her and thinks she’s an incompetent fool/bitch”. ”

    That seems conclusive to me (of being accused of virulent sexism).

    However, we have gone off-topic and I am considerably responsible so I don’t propose to post on this topic again. It’s generating more heat than light now.

  11. @Ikonoclast
    Ok fair enough I see what you mean. IIRC I think some of your contemporaneous comments on JG were possibly “virulent” but I’ve taken this issue to the sandpit, happy to discuss further there.

  12. @Val

    I find it a bit intimidating to live up to your standards about not being sexist. I tell men to grow up. Do I have to stop doing that?

  13. @Val

    It is precisely the interests v interests approach that is the bane of good environmental policy. You cannot negotiate with a heatwave. Increasingly, as the right (in a small number of countries) gets increasingly virulent, intemperate and obscurantist, negotiating anything at all with them becomes equally impossible.

    Wind farms are not dangerous or unhealthy. The issue’s been researched extensively and there is just nothing there. The interests of someone who believes wind farms are unhealthy are no different from the interests of their neighbour who does not. The science that tells us about the safety of wind farms is the same for both people. You end up with the famous joke about the NYT headline, ‘Scientists differ on shape of planet’ followed by equal space for advocates of a flat earth and actual scientrists.

  14. “Wind farms are not dangerous or unhealthy. The issue’s been researched extensively and there is just nothing there.”

    The above statement is too general in the sense that it leaves out the physical conditions under which the stated conclusion holds. Here physical conditions refer to natural science.

  15. @Alan
    I’m using interests in the Marxist sense Alan. Rather than getting into a debate about science vs anti-science, I think we should be focusing on who’s behind this, and as I’ve already says, I think it’s probably Big Coal.

    I’ve been doing a lit review on climate change denial and – as I should think most readers of this blog will know – there is clearly a huge and well funded effort to cast doubt on the science of climate change, funded by fossil fuel interests in particular. So I think rather than getting into a debate about the science, which plays into that agenda, it would be more useful to know more about who’s involved in this enquiry, what are their links with fossil fuel industries , etc.

  16. dear John Quiggin – my remark at 01:53 in response to something said here last night is still in moderation. – regards, alfred venison

  17. @alfred venison

    You are probably in “eternal moderation”.

    These days, it automatically happens to me if I put my website in the “URL” field when trying to post a comment, and forget about links. Fran has found an astonishing array of words which will get comments sent there – I’ve found some, too.

    You could try emailing ‘Jacques’ (from OzBlogistan) but I did that a few months ago and got no response.


  18. “The Right”, in its original meaning, represented now by the first in line to the British throne, does not agree with ‘the right’, in its current meaning, as represented by the people listed in Prof Q’s post. [1]

    “On Thursday, in London, Prince Charles – the man Flint and Jones eternally champion to become the King of Australia – described denialists as a ”headless chicken brigade,” wilfully ignoring overwhelming scientific evidence, while also mounting ”a barrage of sheer intimidation” against all who speak sense on it.”

    Read more:

    [1] Not sure whether my choice of capital and lower case letters to distinguish the two ‘rights’ is appropriate but IMO, different notation is useful at least for people like me who aren’t versed in politics. Similarly, the notation skeptics versus sceptics could be introduced to distinguish the scientific versus the dinialists’ usage.

  19. I always find wearing my trusty old tin-foil hat wards off evil vibrations from wind turbines.

    Seriously, though, there was a time when the “centre-right” would steer well clear of this kind of fruitiness. Fluoride being a commie plot was treated with the derision it was deserved. Nowadays these kinds of nutty theories are given a respectful hearing in places like The Australian (and with our current PM).

    This should suit the social democratic left fine. If the right is determined to drive away all educated and rational (re mentally stable) voters, I say great.

  20. To attack the scientific illiteracy of the Right is to misunderstand what the reactionary mind thinks the battle is about.

    To JQ and small-l liberals, renewable energy is simply about the science of efficient energy generation and maintenance of the planet’s homeostasis.

    To the Right, however, all this talk of science is just a thin cover for a peasant revolution against the aristocracy, which will destroy the industrial base the wealthy derive their power from and put the terrible public on par with the gifted supramen that every sensible conservative knows should be in charge.

    Bolt et al don’t mind if they’re caught out being wrong on the facts, because their goal is to delay meaningful changes to the power structure, not win a scientific argument.

  21. Well, I’m a small-l. I get caught up in the scientific arguments as much as anyone.

    What I meant to highlight is the entirely different motivation and thinking between conservatives and progressives on this, and the basis of the Right’s overwrought, paranoid response to developments in a particular field of science and technology.

    I don’t think anyone who gets involved in these discussion is ignorant, let alone JQ, but I do think the pro-science arguments should include more reference to the denialists’ fears about the social hierarchy, because in many ways it’s more explanatory and also easier to explain than the finer points of science.

    All of us want to shake an inactivist by the shoulders and shout “how can you possibly believe that?”, but since we actually know how, maybe it would help to push the conversation in that direction.

  22. @Sancho

    I agree that you make a worthy point. The ‘debate’ almost inevitably takes on the appurtenances of an intellectual contest, when this is on one side a defence of existing social arrangements underpinning privilege, or at least, perceived privilege.

  23. @Ernestine Gross

    But isn’t Prince Charles just having his cake and eating it too?

    (As am I. I am over-privileged too, using more than my share of the earth’s productive capacity and more than is sustainable. Though my level of over-privilege does not compare to PC’s of course.)

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