By Simon Chapman AO PhD FASSA Hon FFPHM (UK), Professor of Public Health, University of Sydney
New technology has a long history of attracting small networks of people who believe that rapidly proliferating inventions are silently eroding people’s health. Electric light and railway travel were early villains to those who saw such inventions as Mephistophelean artifice. On September 24, 1889, the British Medical Journal carried a report that the newly popular telephone could causes “telephone tinnitus” claiming that victims “suffered from nervous excitability, with buzzing noises in the ear, giddiness, and neuralgic pains”.
In the 125 years since, televisions, electric blankets, microwave ovens, computer screens, mobile phones, and transmission towers, and most recently, Wi-Fi and smart meters are examples of technology where claims of potential calamitous consequences of biblical plague proportions have been made.
The idea that wind turbines might be harmful to people’s health began to attract minor attention around 2002, when claims made in unpublished “research” by a British general practitioner was covered by a few news outlets. The 2009 publication of a self-published vanity press book, “Wind Turbine Syndrome”, by a pediatrician, Nina Pierpont, acted like petrol thrown on a fire of anxiety in some communities where activists were doing their utmost to urge people to interpret common health problems found in any community as being caused by sub-audible infrasound emitted by wind turbines.
Since that time, a small number of anti-wind activists operating mainly in parts of Australia, Canada, Ireland, United Kingdom, and the United States made this their cause celebre. In some cases, these groups have documented links to climate change denial groups and fossil fuel interests. Without exception, they see themselves as contemporary Galileos, fearlessly holding aloft the truth in the face of doctrinaire denial from the scientific establishment, which has now published 21 evidence reviews since 2003, which dismiss claims of direct health effects from wind turbines. The groups point knowingly to the historical denials of harm by the asbestos and tobacco industries convinced that the pernicious “Big Wind” industry is reading from the very same playbook.
Legal action has emerged as a favored tactic of these groups. In this report, Mike Barnard, Senior Fellow at the Energy and Policy Institute, catalogues the outcomes of 49 attempts by wind farm opponents to use the courts or tribunals to stop developments. In all but one case, these attempts have failed. Barnard also profiles 16 alleged expert witnesses called by these opponents.
These forlorn actions will have caused many residents who were swept along by the emotive claims of often visiting anti wind activists, and then joined the legal actions to have lost substantial sums in legal costs.
Anyone curious about the track record, quality of the expertise enlisted, and arguments advanced by these litigants will find this publication indispensible. But, its most important readership will be anyone tempted to repeat this folly. Barnard’s summaries and the links provided to the cases are more than sobering.