We have been puzzled by the intensity of opposition to wind power in Vermont in the last year. The National Resources Defense Council, long known for the integrity of its positions on the environment, continues to see wind power as "an affordable, efficient and abundant source of domestic electricity" (the advantages of wind energy are spelled out on the NRDC web-site). Yet, we hear reports that wind towers are "horrendously and permanently evasive" (Warren, letter to editor, Feb. 21): they kill wildlife, leach money from our economy, lower real estate value in nearby towns, and damage human health, causing seizures, deafness, insomnia, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
This rhetoric of fear begins to sound oddly familiar; thus, we were not surprised to learn through an article (May 8, 2012) by Suzanne Goldenberg, the U.S. environmental correspondent for The Guardian, and through an interview with her on Democracy Now (democracynow.org, Feb 19), of a network of ultra-conservative groups who have been "ramping up an offensive on multiple fronts to turn the American Public against wind farms and Barack Obama's energy agenda." These groups were summoned together over a year ago by John Droz, Jr., a long-time opponent of wind energy and a senior fellow at the American Tradition Institute, notorious for lawsuits against climate scientists, including James Hansen, and for having been denounced by the Association for the Advancement of Science for contributing to an "environment that inhibits the pure exchange of scientific findings and ideas."
Seeing an opportunity to create a groundswell movement against wind (or, as it says, the "appearance" of one), this confederation has been working at the state and local level to cause, in its own rather awkward wording, "subversion in message of (the wind) industry so that it effectively becomes so bad no one wants to admit they are for it." In a coordinated nationwide campaign, "wind warriors" (its wording) have been dispatched to fight the wind industry anywhere, anytime. "Wind warriors" in their PR rely on supposedly "scientific" reports generated by ultra-conservative think tanks with close ties to the oil and gas industry and the Koch family. Another aspect of the confederation's 20-point strategy is to promote an anti-wind curriculum in public schools and colleges, including discouraging students from entering wind energy projects in science fairs. The confederation's complete proposal is available online at National Campaign PR Proposal.
The people in these think tanks (ATI, the Heartland Institute, the John Locke Foundation, and Americans for Prosperity, among others) are not stupid: they are very skilled at creating the appearance of science. One example is their claim that wind turbines generate low frequency sound and infrasound that endanger human health. Reviews of the literature commissioned by both the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority have discredited these claims.
For our democracy to flourish (or even survive), we must have before us reliable information in order to make wise decisions. Well-funded ultra-conservative think tanks and networks make our job of discerning what is or is not factually true doubly hard. We must be alert to deception and careful in our research. And we must not be blind, in our work to save this planet, to the extremes to which the opposition will go.
Fred Taylor, Ph.D., teaches Environmental Studies at Antioch University New England and Global Issues in the Media at the Community College of Vermont. Charlene Ellis is a writer and teacher with a long-time interest in environmental issues.