The Nation magazine has an ad for a company that sells clean energy. In the ad, the image of a smokestack belching pollution is on one side and on the other the image of a wind turbine. On the clean energy company’s website, the effects of conventional energy production are compared to the effects of wind and solar energy.
It’s a dramatic contrast. On the one hand, we see the effect of combustion technology that uses the air as a dumpsite. Ironically, the clean energy company does not list health effects but instead talks about more trendy “Greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.”
On the other hand, the wind turbine gives us a sense that we can, as the company’s motto says, “make our future clean and green.” What the company says is that wind turbines provide “100% clean energy that can reverse climate change.”
That green is clean and safe is one of the great myths of our age, sometimes with good intentions—as with this clean energy company. It’s very socially responsible—for example, donating 50% of its profits to organizations such as the Blue/Green Alliance. In fact, the president of the company was one of my graduate school professors. He’s smart, on the left, and a very decent person.
Despite all that, wind turbines are not benign and they are definitely not 100% clean.
A recent article in Counterpunch describes the growing citizen resistance to the installation of wind turbines. People near wind turbines object to their noise, habitat destruction, and murder of birds.
Clean-and-green energy proponents fight back using all the tricks of the political trade: discrediting the people who oppose wind farms, manipulating data to show public support, and gross violations of public health standards.
The article, however, has its limits. Although noise pollution is a growing menace, wind turbine noise isn’t the only health threat.
In a review article published in the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, Magda Havas and David Colling report that wind turbines cause health problems because they make waves: pressure waves and electromagnetic waves. Pressure waves affect people as audible noise, as described, for example, in the work of Dr. Louis Hagler and as infrasound—that is, pressure waves that humans can’t hear but nevertheless can have a physiological effect, including tissue damage.
As for electromagnetic waves, wind turbines produce poor quality electricity because of variations in weather, tower construction, and electronics. It is of poor quality because these variations produce electricity over a wide range of frequencies that must be converted to a consistent 60 cycles per second. The variations around 60 cycles cause dirty electricity, which mechanically damages electronic equipment and physiologically damages human and animal health, as described in the work of Dr. Sam Milham.
With pressure waves, the health effect is localized to the vicinity of the wind turbines—audible noise can have an effect miles away, while subaudible infrasound can reach tens of miles away. But with dirty electricity created by wind turbines, the toxic variations in frequency can be carried hundreds of miles over the electricity grid.
So this is hardly a “100% clean” technology. It is, instead, an object of desire. It’s a salve for climate change panic. The image is “It’s just the wind blowing—what could be wrong with that?” But it’s not the wind—it’s technology harnessing the wind, putting it in bondage.
I’m all for integrating human activity with the cycles and forces of nature. I’m also for stopping the pollution of the air—and water and land, for that matter. And I’m very much for working to make the world a better place.
However, I’m also in favor of accommodating the likelihood that technology bites back—for which I refer you to the work of Dr. Edward Tenner. In other words, a reasonable person or a reasonable people should assume that any new technology will damage his, her, or its health. I did not say it might damage health, I said you should assume that it will damage your health until proven otherwise.
To reinforce that gloomy idea, understand that wind power is generally considered uneconomical without the boatload of government subsidies lavished on it. The reason it lives on is that Big Wind is dominated by Big Oil—for example, one of the big players in wind power is Shell Oil. Big Wind, like Big Oil, is not interested in your health. It’s also not interested in being any percent clean or any percent green—except as it diverts attention from the harm they cause.
Farago, A. (2012). Big Wind’s Inconvenient Truth. Counterpunch. Retrieved from http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/02/09/big-winds-inconvenient-truth/
Hagler, L. (2008). Noise Pollution and Health. L. Berman (Interviewer). L. Berman & J. Fawcett (Producers). Your Own Health And Fitness: KPFA 94.1FM.
Havas, M., & Colling, D. (2011). Wind Turbines Make Waves: Why Some Residents Near Wind Turbines Become Ill. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society.
Milham, S. M. (2012). Dirty electricity : electrification and the diseases of civilization. [S.l.]: Iuniverse Com.
Tenner, E. (1996). Why things bite back : technology and the revenge of unintended consequences. New York: Knopf.