When climate science skeptics are Chicken Littles

15 November 2013 by Tom Gray Tom Gray

Stephan Lewandowsky, the Chair of Cognitive Psychology at the United Kingdom's University of Bristol, has an interesting article in the Australian series The Conversation, which features the writings of scientists on climate change. Titled, "Look out for that turbine! Climate sceptics are the real Chicken Littles," it focuses on how groups and individuals associated with the fossil fuels and mining industries in Australia describe climate scientists as "alarmist," yet also profess themselves to be alarmed by various features of wind power such as turbine sound and its effects on human health.

From their chastising of climate science, Prof. Lewandowsky writes, it seems that mining leaders are extraordinary individuals:

"Perhaps ... mining executives are simply Courageous Real Men™ who can handle small problems like climate change--if need be with a bit of nuclear landscaping. Their tough but experienced hands will guide us to a safe future.

"Perhaps.

"There is, however, one problem, which is that this culture of heroic risk-taking falters at the sight — and the sound!--of wind turbines."

Prof. Lewandowsky notes that the Australian Environment Foundation (AEF), an organization closely associated with a conservative think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), has assumed a leading role in opposing wind power.

In view of the wide array of symptoms attributed by wind farm opponents to turbine sound, he adds, "One might ... be tempted to dismiss concern about wind turbines as merely another instance of alarmism by 'Chicken Little' scientists.

"Except that no scientists were involved, because wind turbine syndrome has no presence in the medical literature. The Chicken Littles are anti-wind agitators, many affiliated with the IPA [, a group] that dismisses the risk from tobacco and climate change."

The situation is very similar here in the U.S., where a number of climate change deniers/belittlers have taken shots at wind power, including the Heartland Institute, Dr. Patrick Michaels of the Cato Institute, the George Marshall Institute, and many others. Interestingly, they haven't focused much on the sound issue, apparently because it hasn't gotten that much traction in the media. Instead, the criticism, while it has been similarly without merit, has been directed at wind's incentives, cost, reliability, and environmental impacts.

Even so, the facts will out:

- Wind's incentive, rather than being a subsidy payment, is tax relief that pays for itself in increased property, payroll, and other taxes resulting from wind farm development.

- Its cost has been trending steadily downward and, with the incentive included, has now fallen below all other new energy sources in windy regions.

- In one of the great unheralded success stories, utilities have been able to integrate large amounts of variable wind generation reliably, using the same system operating techniques they have used for decades to deal with variations in customer demand.

- Wind power remains inherently beneficial to the environment and wildlife, because it provides energy without air pollution, water pollution, water use, greenhouse gases, mining or drilling for fuel, or hazardous waste--while displacing energy from other, more environmentally harmful sources.

No wonder wind's success becomes more evident, and its critics grow more strident and desperate, with each passing day.

Photo credit: David K. Clarke