Relax – wind farms aren’t stressing out your emus
What links the phenomena of allegedly stressed emus, dancing cattle and disoriented echidnas? Nothing but the ill-founded trend to blame anything and everything on wind farms, writes Simon Chapman.
Last week in Nova Scotia, the Canadian Atlantic province where midwinter temperatures fall to -20 degrees celsius, a small emu farm closed down. There’s nothing unusual about this. Investment in emu farming was an ill-fated get-rich-quick bubble that burst in Canada over a decade ago. It has been described as a “failed industry“.
But what made this sad story even sadder was that the husband and wife team behind it blamed the closure on wind turbines, saying they had seen many of their birds lose weight and die of “stress”. Tellingly, no necropsies were performed, prompting one person to comment, “So they didn’t have necropsies performed on any of the animals? That is extremely irresponsible farming. The department of Agriculture should be called in to inspect for animal cruelty.”
As the picture illustrating this story shows, in Australia, where emus don’t tend to be kept in pens and fed on pellets, the birds roam freely around turbines, among sheep and cattle.
But this morning in my email, a jubilant anti-wind-farm activist from rural NSW used the emu story to undermine the idea that wind-farm health complaints might be explained by negative thoughts about wind-farms, known as the “nocebo effect”:
We were was also wondering if you know how the ‘nocebo effect’ works in emus? Is it a communicated disease and just how do the emus spread the word? Do you think if they paid the emus they may not have had a problem?
Nice try. But no cigar. Because if you peer just below the surface of these claims, there are obvious unanswered questions about effects on animals.
My ever-expanding collection of (now) 234 diseases and symptoms attributed to wind turbines includes many about animals. Some of the more interesting ones include reports of “dancing cattle” (“Cattle have been videotaped ‘dancing’ or lifting hooves repetitively from being shocked by electrical voltage in the ground” said to be leaking from wind turbines); bee extinction; a farmer opining that echidnas are disoriented by turbines, causing them to “dig up more soil looking for food than before and that they could pinpoint the location of their food source much more accurately back then (before turbines were installed)”; and the death of “more than 400 goats” on an outlying Taiwanese island.
Four hundred is a nice big number for goats, and oddly enough, it’s the same number of goats that allegedly “dropped dead” in New Zealand! In Wisconsin, too, a farmer claims he lost most of his cattle herd after turbines were installed. Anti-wind-farm websites are awash with these astonishing claims that seem to have escaped the relevant authorities. Try searching for any official corroboration in government or official investigations and you’ll be looking for a long time.
As anyone with even a passing familiarity with farming knows, mass or unusual deaths in livestock are of intense interest to governments because of concerns about infectious diseases with the potential to devastate the farming sector and export trade, or even lead to animal to human transmission. Concern about diseases like brucellosis, avian influenza and hendra virus see authorities isolate farms and destroy all remaining stock. Massive publicity follows. But when 400 goats unaccountably “drop dead” or a farmer reports lots of dead emus, these same government authorities are nowhere to be seen. It must be a conspiracy of silence.
All of the problems the anti’s claim that wind turbines cause in humans occur in every community, regardless of whether they are near wind farms or not. Forty-five per cent of people report symptoms of insomnia at least once a week. Anxiety and depression are widespread. Getting old? Hair turning grey or receding? Eyesight, hearing, balance problems increasing with age? Putting on or losing weight? You need to know that all of these problems are apparently caused by wind turbines.
Many of the claims about animals fall into the same category. Yolkless eggs and those without shells are phenomena known to every poultry farmer, as this advisory site shows. But when such eggs are lain by chickens belonging to someone who doesn’t like wind farms then Robert’s your father’s brother, it can only have been caused by the dastardly turbines! Dogs, horses, sheep, cattle, getting listless, skitty, off their food … or anything really: wind turbines are to blame.
Every day in every country, thousands of people are diagnosed for the first time with one of countless health problems. They weren’t having the symptoms that drove them to the doctor a few months ago, and now they have the diagnosis, they start thinking about what might have caused it. If they don’t like the look of wind farms, or have been exposed to scary tales about all the things that can happen, and live near a wind farm, then the post hoc ergo propter hoc (after therefore because of) heuristic can powerfully kick in to make sense of the new problem.
Eighteen years ago, Australian news media were awash with stories of community panics about mobile telephone towers being likely to cause cancers. These never eventuated, with the age-adjusted incidence of almost all cancers in Australia flat-lining. Today, there are occasional reprises of this hysteria, but with the ubiquity of mobile phones, familiarity has calmed the situation. The current fringe hysteria about wind farms is likely to go the same way.
Simon Chapman AO is professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney and 2013 Australian Skeptic of the Year. View his full profile here.
Original story at The Drum