In 2011, the National Health and Medical Research Council published a ‘rapid review’ of the evidence of whether wind farms are harmful to health. The NHMRC concluded that: “There are no direct pathological effects from wind farms” and that “low level frequency noise or infrasound emitted by wind turbines is minimal and of no consequence… Further, numerous reports have concluded that there is no evidence of health effects arising from infrasound or low frequency noise generated by wind turbines.”
The report outraged interest groups dedicated to opposing wind farms and ever since, they have been agitating for the NHMRC to revisit the evidence and reach an opposite conclusion. These include the network of ‘Landscape Guardians’ who are vitally concerned to stop wind turbine development but have nothing to say about guarding the landscape from open-cut mines or coal seam gas exploration.
Sandi Kean’s exposure of their links with climate change denial interests and mining interests is mandatory reading for anyone with an interest in the politics of clean energy. Political pressure led to a Senate enquiry in 2011 which was followed by the second NHMRC review, now underway and due by the end of the year.
Last week, lawyers acting for one of these opponent groups, the ‘Friends of Collector’ near Canberra, sent this blustery letter to the NHMRC. The chaotic anti-wind farm lobby in Australia has always leaked like a sieve and the letter is now in wide circulation. It’s just a beauty.
The lawyers write that their letter was prompted by a public statement I allegedly made “to the effect that the NHMRC’s work on this issue will ‘clear turbines’.” And that this indicates “pre-judgment of the outcome that they “view with great concern”.
What I actually wrote at ABC’s The Drum was: “Seventeen reviews of the evidence back this up with the NHMRC soon to add an eighteenth. If that too should clear turbines, [my emphasis] you can bet the anti-wind lobby has already rehearsed why it too should be ignored.”
It is difficult, I appreciate, for some to understand the difference between ‘will’ and ‘if’, but to my great amusement, the Friends of Collector seem convinced that I am pulling the strings of the new committee of review (apparently I “wield significant influence within and with respect to the NHMRC”).
The lawyers for Friends of Collector seem unable to work out what they think of the international acoustical expert Prof Geoff Leventhall, who was one of the reviewers of the earlier rapid review. In one paragraph they lament that the rapid review “omitted … significant work” published by Leventhall that they believe supports their case for turbines causing harm. But in the very next paragraph they complain about the peer reviewers who were selected to assess the rapid review. As Leventhall was one of these, the lawyers don’t seem to know if he’s acceptable or not.
The pointy end of the letter arrives after five incontinent pages when they argue that the NHMRC should not concern itself with whether turbines really cause health problems: they should just accept that they do: “the real question is not whether there is a real public health problem associated with industrial wind turbines – it is simply why and how.” Simple as that.
No matter that the NHMRC’s 2010 conclusions were consistent with 16 other reviews published before and since; that the Niagara of symptoms and diseases said by opponents to be caused by turbines now numbers 125 – more than for any known disease other than perhaps hypochondria; and that a search of the US National Library of Medicine’s 21 million research papers via PubMed for the main problem championed by these opponents (‘wind turbine syndrome’) returns precisely zero reports.
The NHMRC has recently appointed two people as official observers of the review. One of these is from the Clean Air Council, and therefore represents the wind industry. The other is the mining investor Peter Mitchell who heads the Waubra Foundation, a wind farm opponent group. None of the Waubra board according to its registration with ASIC live in the Waubra district (see table), something known to be causing widespread anger among local residents who see their town’s name being used to advance wider agendas.
However, no observers have been appointed representing communities who are strongly supportive of wind farms. Both the Clean Energy Council and the CSIRO reports on community attitudes to wind farms show large majority support for farms in regional Australia.
Simon Chapman is professor of public health at the University of Sydney. Follow him on Twitter.