That was the headline of an article in Forbes Magazine from April 30, 2012. And how about this one: “Wind farms can cause climate change, finds new study” from the Telegraph. Or this one from Fox News where they remove the word ‘can:’ “New Research Shows that Wind Farms Cause Global Warming.”
All of these articles have glommed onto a study published in Nature Climate Change on April 29, 2012. The title of that article? “Impacts of wInd farms on land surface temperature.”
It’s amazing how the media can distort the truth when it wants to. The observational study looked at west-central Texas where four of the world’s largest wind farms are located. From 2003-2011, recorded measurements of the local surface temperatures in the vicinity increased by 0.72 degrees Celsius, particularly at night compared with nearby non-wind farm locations. As the authors point out, “These changes, if spatially large enough, may have noticeable impacts on local to regional weather and climate.”
The proposed mechanism is attributed to a changing distribution of air, swapping warmer air above with cooler air below as a result of the rotating motion of the turbines. There’s no net increase in heat, just a change in where it’s located. But this may have the possibility of affecting the regional weather patterns and even regional climate, if the effect is substantial enough.
That so many media sources can take the regional effects of wind farms and immediately make the claims that wind farms cause global warming is disappointing. There’s nothing global about this effect. Such claims are irresponsible, but of course they’re nectar from the Gods for any climate-deniers or climate-skeptics looking for anything to hold onto in their efforts to refute the general opinion of the scientific community.
Interestingly, the Forbes article actually provides that proper perspective, once you read further down the page: “However, amusing as this is, being able to point to one of the proposed solutions for climate change as being a cause of it, it’s not actually anything that affects the larger picture. We’re not changing the amount of heat that is disappearing off into space with this and thus not changing the basic energy balance of the planet. We’re just moving it around a bit, that’s all.”
Of course, that’s assuming most readers have made it down that far into the article. Reading the first few paragraphs is likely all that most deniers and skeptics needed to feel vindicated. And of course, many simply get their information from the headline itself.
So fear not, the science is still intact. Global warming is still real. Perhaps some local effects might exist around some wind farms—that’s really all one can conclude from an observational study made in one specific region—but local does not equate with global and never will. Once the skeptics and deniers figure that fact out, we’ll have made some real progress.