If I were to propose a new product for the marketplace to be used for human consumption, it would need to be rigourously assessed to confirm its safety first. If I described my new product as having the following properties, what do you think would be its chances of getting approved?
—it’s addictive, not just habit-forming
—it’s known to cause or aggravate the following health conditions: heart disease, oral cancer, lung cancer, esophageal cancer, bladder cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, asthma, and low birth weights in children
—all of these occur when the product is used exactly as intended, not just when abused in excess. In addition, non-users who are exposed to it secondarily are also at increased risk for these same diseases
It’s no secret I’m describing cigarettes. Simply put, cigarettes have no redeeming features. My patients who smoke describe that it relaxes them, but that’s misleading. What they’re truly experiencing is going through nicotine withdrawal when they feel that relaxing effect, essentially getting their next “fix.” Nicotine is a stimulant, not a sedative. Anyone who’s addicted to a substance suffers when they go without it too long.
It’s fair to say that if cigarettes were introduced today, they’d never stand a chance of being approved for public use. But since they’ve been around for centuries, we’re stuck with them for now. There’s a certain degree of regulation (e.g. kids aren’t supposed to smoke them), but despite the jobs associated with the tobacco industry and the taxes generated from the sale of cigarettes, none of that will ever compensate for the costs to society in health care alone with so much death and disease that they cause. New products introduced into society are forced to prove their safety before they’re approved, even though other products out there are clearly unhealthy for us.
We face something similar with wind turbines. This weekend my family and I drove to Priceville, Ontario to get our new puppy. (You don’t know where Priceville is, you say? Well, it’s just on the other side of Flesherton!) On the way driving through Grey County, I was amazed at the number of signs protesting wind turbines. Most farms we drove by had signs on their properties urging people to “Say No to Wind Turbines.” They often had other comments too like “Foul Wind” and “Say Yes to Turbines, Say No to Visitors.” They all listed a website at the bottom of the signs for Wind Concerns Ontario.
I checked out the website when I got home. It’s amazing to see how many references they have listing how bad wind turbines are for society. I wanted to check some of the information out and given that I have some expertise in health care as a physician, I clicked on the health tab on the website’s home page to see what was listed there.
There were a number of categories for health concerns listed including noise, mental health, stress, and sleep disturbance. I checked out the first six links I could click on that were meant to elaborate on these topics and was surprised to see that none of them worked. They all had “Error 404 – page not found” errors. The next two links worked but both went to the same slide show and without the words of the speaker to go along with the slides, it didn’t provide much useful information.
The next ten references were to articles in a peer-reviewed journal, the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society (August 2011 31 issue). In fact, every one of them referenced this particular issue. As someone well-versed in science, I can tell you that having some variety in scientific references is a much more robust way to support an argument rather than having everything coming from one particular issue of one particular publication. But I guess they have to get their sources where they can and this particular journal does it for them. (According to the webpage, it seems the current issue is from December 2011. I don’t know if that means they’re on hiatus or only publish intermittently. I’d never heard of this journal before so I’m not sure.)
There may well be some health concerns with wind turbines, and I appreciate that further study will be helpful to elaborate those further. But can they really argue that the health concerns from using fossil fuels aren’t a problem? (Later this week I’ll have a blog post dedicated to this very topic, so stay tuned.)
Even if we ignored global warming and the future climate crisis we’re destined to experience if we continue with business-as-usual, do they not realize that smog, pollution, acid rain, and ozone depletion create havoc with our environment and our health? Many of the diseases caused or aggravated by these problems are cardiovascular so as a cardiologist, perhaps I’m more sensitive to the issue than other physicians might be.
The health concerns about wind turbines are on par with the health concerns about any new product being introduced into the market today. They’re like a new pharmaceutical agent that could prevent heart attacks and strokes. But if that new agent leads to an increase in liver cancer, for example—even a small one—it might not make it to market. It’s often a forest-for-the-trees situation.
I started out this post by describing how cigarettes would never be approved for use if introduced into society today, but because they’ve been around for centuries, they’ve gotten away with it. Fossil fuels are like cigarettes in our society. Long-entrenched, they’ve been in use for hundreds of years. So despite the known health concerns with fossil fuels, they’re too much a part of our civilization to do away with very easily.
I guarantee you if both wind energy and fossil fuels were being introduced today, wind energy would win out over fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have the advantage of having been introduced long before regulations would ever explore their risks, or anyone ever expressed safety concerns associated with them. And now it’s too late to do so, and yet safer options like wind turbines will have a lot of people protesting against them.
These protestors simply can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s a fact those who argue against wind energy conveniently forget.