Sometimes when things catch the attention of the kookier segments of the public, they really take off. Fracking is a good example. Though it's been around since the 1940s, once it got really popular people started inventing fake illnesses to get into the mainstream media Scare Journalism of the Week pieces.
But natural gas isn't the only cleaner energy activists have found a reason to hate: Solar power is blocked by lawsuits, hydropower damages the ecosystem and wind power kills birds, as Alex Berezow and I detail in Science Left Behind.
But fracking gets its own special attention - it supposedly causes cancer, headaches, earthquakes, it might even cause the earth to deflate. If there is a crackpot claim someone might believe, someone in the environmental fringe has used it about fracking.
But a month before the presidential election, when both candidates were competing for votes in Iowa but couldn't endorse ethanol any more because, well, it sucks, both candidates who had said wind power was a dumb idea suddenly decided it was good. It is no secret that wind power, beneficiary of a $72 billion corporate welfare plan for green pet projects, is in trouble because those subsidies are set to expire. Governor Romney figured he could make the state's voters wobble for his opponent by embracing it. 2012 was the year the American public voted solely on who promised the most for their special interest so it was a reasonable strategy but it failed when President Obama agreed that wind power was suddenly good again.
However, once they both said wind power might be good, environmentalists got alarmed - if people like an energy source it must be bad - and so the dangers of wind power started getting attention in the US, just like they have in Canada.
It's a long-standing joke that if you want to clear out goofy people in (pseudo)science, invent some silly, cosmic or outrageous theory/study and get it into a newspaper. A few months later, when articles in journals begin to affirm or replicate whatever you made up, you can just throw those people out of that field. Conveniently, the journal Noise&Health is willing to take papers with anecdotes as evidence and so we now have claims that wind power causes depression.
The study compared two groups of people living in Maine, and found those living near wind turbines had trouble sleeping and more mental health 'concerns' than people living further away. The co-author of the report is Jeff Aramini,who just happens to be a director for the Society for Wind Vigilance, which is basically to wind tubines what Union of Concerned Scientists is to everything else - alarmists making money by scaring people using 'it has not been proven safe' fallacies.
"Roughly half of the individuals were categorized as being at risk for clinical depression — so, half of those close — compared to only seven per cent of people living further than three kilometres," Aramini told CBC news.
Now, I think wind power is useless. There is a reason smart people in the 14th century stopped using it but I also get why a government with $72,000,000,000 to spend in a short amount of time would need to throw money at as many crazy notions as possible. I certainly don't want a giant wind turbine in my backyard. NIMBYism - Not In My Back Yard ism - is a common enough disease.
Wind Turbine Syndrome (WTS) is brand new, though. It's a whole blanket of stuff. Are you irritable, can't sleep, get headaches, can't concentrate? You probably have WTS. Especially if you previously had NIMBYism about giant wind farms down the road.
Everyone has heard of the placebo effect, where a sugar pill or something harmless has a positive medical effect, but less well known is the nocebo effect - people who believe they get a disease or ailment from something harmless. If you are a devoted fan of alternative medicine charlatan Joe Mercola, for example, the nocebo effect causes you to recoil and pretend you are poisoned if you are told the product you are eating has high fructose corn syrup made with genetically modified corn - even if the food itself is organic.
It most surely accounts for depression from wind farms. I mean, the waveforms from a wind farm are actually shaped a lot like the dreadful noise you get from waves crashing on the beach. And we all know how stressful waves crashing on the beach sound.
Can noise be bad for you? Obviously. The people at Treehugger who hate cats have embraced CFL bulbs without ever considering that the high-frequency ballasts can only be heard by your pets and it could be making them crazy. But rural neighborhoods are simply against big government using their homes for green energy pet projects too - you can bet the Kennedy's don't have wind vanes off the coast where they float their yachts, despite it being a perfect location that doesn't impact poor people in the country at all.
So the malady they are suffering is likely a nocebo caused by NIMBYism - and they're not wrong. If energy is a problem we all have to face, it shouldn't be rural people forced to sacrifice.
Citation: Michael A Nissenbaum, Jeffery J Aramini, Christopher D Hanning, 'Effects of industrial wind turbine noise on sleep and health', Noise&Health 2012;14:237-43 (free to read)
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