July 7, 2013

Background Briefing

ABC Radio National

Malcolm Turnbull (1954):
I regret to say, that a number of the state Labor governments have, over the years, set priorities and renewable targets that are extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic, and have paid little or no attention to energy security. …

Tony Wood [Director, Energy Program, Grattan Institute]:
The policy that drove the 40% of electricity in South Australia coming from wind was actually a federal government policy introduced originally when John Howard was Prime Minister under a Coalition government for the Renewable Energy Target. …
[Industry then capitalised on the renewable energy target by building wind farms in the state with the most wind, that is, South Australia.]
So I would say that if you wanted to place blame on anybody for undertaking an aggressive renewable energy target and not thinking through the consequences, that blame could just as easily be laid, if not more so, at the foot of the federal government than the state government.
(System Black, 6 November 2016)

Climate Antiscience

There is currently no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects. …
The evidence on shadow flicker does not support a health concern. …
[Wind] turbines of contemporary design … produce very low levels of infrasound. …
The risk of blade glint from modern wind turbines is … very low.
[The] closeness of the electrical cables counters the electromagnetic field [generated by wind turbines], as does shielding with metal armour. …
[Evidence is limited, therefore] it is recommended that relevant authorities take a precautionary approach and continue to monitor research outcomes.

(NHMRC Public Statement, July 2010)

Table 3 (Adapted): Typical A-weighted sound levels for different sources

ActivitySound pressure level (dBA)
Busy general office60
Car travelling at 64km/h at 100m55
Typical wind farm (at moderate wind speed 7 m/s)*40 ± 5
Background noise in rural area at night30 ± 10
*Based on sound level measurements taken from multiple resident locations near two Victorian wind farms, at distances 500–1,000 m from the nearest turbine.

(p 8)

Table 4: Examples of sources of infrasound

Natural environmentHousehold and industryHuman body
Air conditioning
Rail traffic
Power plants
Heart beat
Head movement

Infrasound from wind farms has been found to be well below the hearing threshold of 85 dBG, and therefore inaudible, even as close as 185 m from the turbines.
(p 10)

(Wind farms, sound and health — Technical information, Victorian Department of Health, April 2013)

Would you like to know more?



Background Briefing

Jonathan Green

  • Betting the farm, 2 October 2016.
  • The inconvenient scientists, 29 May 2016.
  • De-radicalization and the ‘authentic voices’ of reason, 29 March 2015.
  • Left in harm's way, 8 March 2015.
    Proposed cuts to Community Legal Services cancelled on 26th March 2015.
  • The search for the clean coal holy grail, 20 July 2014.
    Paddy Manning: Business Editor, Crikey.
  • Epidemic of ink, 3 November 2013.
  • Deep sea riches could spark Pacific mining boom, 20 October 2013.
  • The narrowing of politics, 29 September 2013.
  • A literacy deficit, 22 September 2013.
  • Curse of the Frankenfoods, 15 September 2013.
    Jessa Latona: anti-GM activist.
    Mark Lynas: Environmentalist.
    ABC TV newsreader:
    Greenpeace protestors have broken into a CSIRO experimental farm in Canberra and destroyed a crop of genetically modified wheat.
    Activists wearing hazmat suits and equipped with brush cutters scaled several fences to enter the premises. …
    Ian Walker:
    They also filmed themselves, and later posted a video on the web.

    Jessa Latona:
    Well, we got up very early and we went into the field trial.
    We had full hazmat precautions, and we stopped the GM wheat trial.

    Ian Walker:
    The action trashed two years research work for the CSIRO scientists, and it cost Greenpeace $280,000 in reparations.

    They appeared to badly misjudge public sentiment.
    Even the more alternate online media commentary was wildly negative.
    And since then, Greenpeace has stopped actively campaigning on the GM foods issue in Australia.
    Their chief campaigner has left.

    Jessa Latona, though, still works for Greenpeace, and has no regrets.

    Jessa Latona:
    This trial was testing the commercial viability of the GM wheat.
    CSIRO was working with biotech companies who are going to make a lot of money from these new strains.

    Ian Walker:
    CSIRO counters that the trial was strictly for R&D and that they were nowhere near the commercialisation phase.
    They were assessing the health benefits and comparing GM with non-GM strains of what they call 'high amylase' wheat, designed to help people with bowel problems and diabetes. …

    Jessa Latona:
    I live by science, I'm a huge fan of what the CSIRO does in many areas, and particularly on climate change and … but I believe that not all science is equal. …

    Mark Lynas:
    {[Today,] close to 800 million people go to bed hungry each night.}
    According to the latest projections … we are looking at a global [food] demand increase of well over 100% by mid-century. …
    Land conversion is a large source of greenhouse gases, and perhaps the greatest source of biodiversity loss.
    This is [why improving crop yields (intensification)] is essential — we have to grow more on limited land in order to save the rainforests and remaining natural habitats from the plough. …

    [Thanks] to supposedly environmental campaigns spread from affluent countries [biotechnology] has been made prohibitively expensive to all but the very biggest corporations.

    It now costs tens of millions to get a crop through the regulatory systems in different countries.
    [It now] costs $139 million to move from discovering a new crop trait to full commercialisation, so open-source or public sector biotech really does not stand a chance.
    {Around the … world the regulatory delay has increased [from 3.7 to 5.5 years over the last 13 years.}

    [The irony here is] that the anti-biotech campaigners complain about GM crops only being marketed by big corporations when this is a situation they have done more than anyone to help bring about. …

    [By comparison, organic farming] is much less productive, with up to 40-50% lower yields in terms of land area. …
    Recent research … at Rockefeller University looked at how much extra farmland Indian farmers would have had to cultivate today using the technologies of 1961 to get today’s overall yield.
    The answer is 65 million hectares, an area the size of France.
    In China, maize farmers spared 120 million hectares, an area twice the size of France, thanks to modern technologies getting higher yields.

    On a global scale, between 1961 and 2010 the area farmed grew by only 12%, whilst kilocalories per person rose from 2200 to 2800.
    So even with three billion more people, everyone still had more to eat thanks to a production increase of 300% in the same period.

    So how much land worldwide was spared in the process thanks to these dramatic yield improvements, for which chemical inputs played a crucial role?
    The answer is 3 billion hectares, or the equivalent of two South Americas.
    There would have been no Amazon rainforest left today without this improvement in yields.
    Nor would there be any tigers in India or orang utans in Indonesia. …

    [There] are many very natural and organic ways to face illness and early death, as the debacle with Germany’s organic beansprouts proved in 2011.
    This was a public health catastrophe [caused by E-coli —] probably from animal manure infected organic beansprout seeds imported from Egypt.
    In total 53 people died and 3,500 suffered serious kidney failure [— more casualties than were caused by the Chernobyl nuclear accident.]
    And why were these consumers choosing organic?
    Because they thought it was safer and healthier …

    Over a decade and a half with three trillion GM meals eaten there has never been a single substantiated case of harm.
    You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than you are to get hurt by eating GM food. …

    The risk today is not that anyone will be harmed by GM food, but that millions will be harmed by not having enough food [due to the aesthetic preferences of a] vocal minority … in rich countries …

    Would you like to know more?

  • Asylum seekers: drowning on our watch, 1 September 2013.
  • Ageing on the edge, 18 August 2013.
  • The family trap, 11 August 2013.
  • No advantage, 9 June 2013.
  • An ill wind, 26 May 2013.
    Simon Chapman: Professor of Public Health, University of Sydney.
    Sarah Laurie: Medical Director, Waubra Foundation.
    (Laurie's medical registration lapsed in 2006.)
    Richard Dowell: Professor of Audiology and Speech Science, University of Melbourne.

    Simon Chapman:
    [In 30 years of practice in public health I've never] come across anything which has remotely the same number of problems associated with it [as Wind Turbine Syndrome.]
    There have been [19 reviews of the available research and none] have said that wind turbines, and specifically infrasound, are harmful to health. …

    Infrasound … refers to sounds with a frequency below 20 Hz.
    Infrasound above 85 dBG is generally audible, while infrasound below this level is generally inaudible. …
    Below 16–20 Hz, the sensation of tone (recognisable pitch of the sound) disappears. …
    The sound may become discontinuous in character and, at very high levels, may feel like pressure at the eardrums.
    (Wind farms, sound and health — Technical information, Victorian Department of Health, April 2013, p 10)

    Professor Simon Chapman is the lead author of a paper examining a condition known as vibroacoustic disease, which some people say causes adverse medical conditions for people living or working with 10 kilometres of wind turbines. …
    The study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, examined 35 research papers on vibroacoustic disease, and found that all but one had a first author from the same research group.
    Professor Chapman says the claim that wind turbines cause the disease is based on a single case study of a 12-year-old boy with memory and attention problems at school.
    (Academic Simon Chapman finds no evidence that wind turbines cause vibroacoustic disease, ABC News, 5 June 2013, emphasis added)

    Nina Pierpont, a New York pediatrician and wife of an anti-wind energy activist [claims in her] self-published, non-peer-reviewed book that ultra-low frequency sounds affect human health …
    [These claims] are based on a very small sample of self-selected subjects with no control group for comparison. …
    Simon Chapman has said that "wind turbine syndrome" is [not a recognised diagnosis in] any international disease classification system and does not appear in any title or abstract in the … US National Library of Medicine's PubMed database.
    [The] term appears [to have been coined] by anti-wind farm activist groups.
    (Environmental impact of wind power — Noise Annoyance, Wikipedia, 6 July 2013)


    BE ADVISED that, as a result of information gathered from the Waubra Foundation’s own [unpublished] field research, and from the clinical and acoustic research available internationally, the following serious medical conditions have been identified in people living, working, or visiting within 10 km of operating wind turbine developments. …
    • chronic severe sleep deprivation;
    • acute hypertensive crises;
    • new onset hypertension;
    • heart attacks (including Tako Tsubo episodes);
    • worsening control of preexisting and previously stable medical problems such as angina, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, migraines, tinnitus, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder;
    • severe depression, with suicidal ideation;
    • development of irreversible memory dysfunction, tinnitus, and hyperacusis. …

    Other symptoms include those described … in Dr Pierpont’s book entitled “Wind Turbine Syndrome, A Report on a Natural Experiment”, 2009 …

    The Foundation is also concerned that Vibroacoustic Disease, as recorded and described by Professor Mariana Alves-Pereira’s team from Portugal, will develop in people chronically exposed to wind turbines.
    The disease has already been identified in the occupants of a house with levels of infrasound and low frequency noise identical to levels the Foundation is recording in the homes of affected residents in Australia.

    (The Waubra Foundation, 29 June 2011)

    Sarah Laurie:
    [Symptoms of WTS include tinnitus,] balance problems, dizziness, headaches, and … 'fuzzy thinking', or not being able to think clearly. …

    Simon Chapman:
    This is a disease in search of a cause …
    Sarah Laurie believes that lips can quiver at up to 10 kilometres away from a turbine and that wind turbines can make a stationary car rock at up to 1 kilometre.

    Sarah Laurie:
    We know that in the population roughly 10% of people will be quite severely motion sick.
    And [they] seem to be the ones that develop the symptoms earlier. …

    Richard Dowell:
    At very high levels, it's … possible that low frequencies could be detected in the fluids of the inner ear …
    [This could, perhaps, make you] dizzy or [feel] a little strange …
    [But] I have never seen any clear evidence of that [actually] occurring …
    [If] you measure the levels of infrasound in most cities from traffic and other sources, they're actually much higher levels than you get from a wind turbine …
    [And at 300 metres or more] from the wind turbine [it becomes] very hard [to separate the] contribution of the wind turbine [from] normal wind noise. …
    [The] literature review [we conducted in 2012] concluded there was no evidence of a link between the sounds generated by the turbines and any health symptoms. …

    Sarah Laurie:
    [There] is a connection between specific acoustic frequencies and the sleep disturbance …
    [That] was according to the resident who took part in [Professor Con Doolan's] study.

    Sarah Dingle:
    [A] single resident?

    Sarah Laurie:
    The single resident, that's correct.
    [There's] not a lot of data that's been collected, so we go on what we've got …
    That's why we need [more research. …]

    Ian Macfarlane [Opposition Energy Spokesperson]:
    [The] concerns of the community are not satisfied by international studies.
    What we need to do is do a report here in Australia … in the communities that claim to be affected and then come to a scientific and medically based position after that. …

    Sarah Dingle:
    If federal and state governments agree to fund the research you're calling for around the country, and it clears wind farms of any adverse impact on human health, would you accept that?

    Sarah Laurie:
    [The] adverse impacts have been shown by a number of studies, both overseas and in Australia.

    If one is already convinced that wind turbines are harmful — it is likely that only new evidence which confirms this belief would be acceptable.
    While this is possible, it is unlikely — given the large body of existing evidence indicating that wind turbines are safe.
    Furthermore, it is likely that any additional falsifying evidence will simply be rejected; just as all previous evidence has been rejected.

    Thousands of people a year are already dying from the effects of climate change due to extreme events, water and agricultural impacts and spreading disease.
    This is not to say that research into possible adverse environmental effects should not continue, only that unnecessary delay in the deployment of renewable energy technology incurs already well established and escalating human and economic costs.
    That is to say, there is much evidence that exploiting wind energy will mitigate the harms of fossil fuel combustion, and little evidence that it will cause harm.
    Of course, whether these benefits are realized depends on community acceptance.

    Wind turbines are electric fans operating in reverse.
    That is to say, electricity generators mirror electric motors.
    A wind turbine converts the kinetic or mechanical energy of the wind into electricity.
    Conversely, an electric motor in a fan uses electricity to drive the blades to create wind.
    The types of sound produced by each device (turbulent airflow and electro-mechanical noise) are the same.
    (Of course, all electric motors produce electro-mechanicial noise (eg refrigerators), whilst only appliances incorporating a fan would produce airflow noise.)
    Thus, if electric fans are safe, it is likely that wind turbines are equally safe.

    Simon Chapman:
    … 72% of the complaints [of WTS have] come from just six farms out of the 51 round Australia, and nearly 80% of those complaints have started after 2009.
    [It was around that time that] some of the anti-wind turbine groups — who'd previously been mostly basing their opposition around aesthetics [— started to focus on] health problems. …

    Sarah Laurie:
    There are two patterns of symptoms that are characteristic for exposure to the very low frequency sound energy.
    • One of them is this waking up in a panicked state at night, and
    • the other one is a very unusual and bizarre perception of body vibration.
      Sometimes it can be as subtle as just your upper lip. …

    Sarah Dingle:
    Sarah Laurie also says her phone is being tapped.

    Sarah Laurie:
    I've had it confirmed by police on a number of occasions when I've complained.

    Sarah Dingle:
    Background Briefing has statements from the South Australian police and the AFP, saying they don't have any record of Dr Laurie's complaint, and the South Australian police say they have no evidence of her phone being tapped. …

    Sarah Dingle:
    The head of the NHMRC Professor Warwick Anderson says outside of universities there's no legal requirement to have an ethics committee oversee research involving humans. …
    [The] acoustician, Les Huson [has] was conducting tests at six homes in Victoria and South Australia for the Waubra Foundation. [Residents were asked] to fill out questionnaires, which included a section for health complaints [including] the severity of symptoms. …

    Sarah Laurie:
    The residents notice that the turbines are not as noisy when the monitoring is going on …
    [And] we've got some film footage [showing the turbines] turning at [markedly] different speeds [while the] wind is blowing at the same strength …

    Sarah Dingle:
    A senior engineer at Hydro Tasmania says individual wind turbines catch different wind speeds, even in a local area, and each turbine automatically adjusts to the wind, which is why they can turn at different rates. …

    Fiona Crichton is a PhD candidate in psychological medicine at the University of Auckland.
    In a paper published by the American Psychological Association, she and her co-authors decided to test whether expectations affected the number and severity of symptoms reported from infrasound …

    [One] group of 27 people [were shown] a video of scientists explaining infrasound, saying there was no reason to assume it would affect health.
    This was the low expectancy group.
    She showed a second group video of media reports warning them of the health impacts of wind farms.
    This was the high expectancy group.
    Then she subjected both groups to ten minutes of real infrasound, and ten minutes of sham infrasound.

    Fiona Crichton:
    In the high expectancy group they experienced an elevation of symptoms both during sham and during infrasound.
    The low expectancy group didn't experience any symptomatic change at all.
    There was no physiological impact of the infrasound …
    [It] was all about expectancy. …
    [It's possible that Laurie, by] creating a health scare … could [be, inadvertently, creating] symptoms. …

    Sarah Laurie:
    I'm not telling them that it's going to make them sick …
    … I'm very careful … to say to people that not everybody experiences symptoms.
    Some people are fine.

    Sarah Dingle:
    There can be what's known as a 'psychological overlay' to symptoms. … Dowell says conditions like tinnitus and balance problems are common in older people, and psychological factors can considerably worsen the effects for some people.

    Richard Dowell:
    They then focus on that symptom very powerfully to the [extent] that they really can't even live their lives.
    … I see a few similarities in some of the reports about these symptoms related to being close to wind farms.

    Sarah Dingle:
    That people feel anxious and ill is not disputed.
    But there's been no evidence to date that wind turbines directly cause illness.
    The fear of health effects may be harming those individuals.
    In 2011, the British Acoustics Bulletin published the [tenth] independent review of the evidence on wind farms causing annoyance and ill health in people. …
    [Annoyance] has far more to do with social and psychological factors in those complaining than any direct effect from sound or inaudible infrasound emanating from wind turbines. …
    • being able to see wind turbines … increases annoyance [especially] in those who dislike or fear them [and]
    • whether people derive income from hosting turbines …
    (Environmental impact of wind power — Noise Annoyance, Wikipedia, 6 July 2013)
    Ian Macfarlane [Opposition Energy Spokesperson]:
    Of all the other technologies very few have the capability to install around 1,000 MW per annum which is what's going to be required if we are to reach the 20% [Renewable Energy Target by 2020].
    In fact the biggest challenge facing us getting to that target is to see enough wind farms built.

    Would you like to know more?

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