“Say No to Wind Turbines” – and Yes to Global Warming, I Suppose?

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.


11 thoughts on ““Say No to Wind Turbines” – and Yes to Global Warming, I Suppose?

  1. “smog, pollution, acid rain, and ozone depletion” are far less an outcome from electricity generation in Ontario than in jurisdictions that have put their hopes in intermittents only to find they need more fossil fuel generation to balance the grid. With 80% of our production coming from nuclear and hydroelectric, we have very few emissions compared to such jurisdictions.
    Engineers have addressed much of the emissions that result is smog, and acid rain, and the Montreal protocol was particularly successful at addressing ozone depletion.
    Your opinion is quite the opposite mindset from those working methods – ignoring measurements and results. You don’t even seem to know what problem you think turbines in Ontario would be solving.
    Three times the GHG emissions of the electricity sector are put out by transportation sector (according to the most recent inventory).
    That would be a more appropriate topic to ponder while driving around in search of a puppy.

    • Thanks for your comments, Scott. I must admit I do feel fortunate to live in Ontario which has pledged to get off coal completely by 2014. You point out that 80% of our electricity is generated from nuclear and hydro. (I’m not a huge fan of nuclear, but I’ll take it any day over fossil fuels.) But the next largest source of electricity comes from natural gas, and coal also plays a part. As those are both fossil fuels, I think there’s a role to play for wind energy in helping us get off of natural gas and coal in Ontario, and that’s why I support it.

      You also misunderstood the ozone reference. The ozone I refer to is ground level ozone and contributes to a lot of cardiac and respiratory health problems; nearly six percent of cardiopulmonary deaths are attributed to it. (http://www.ec.gc.ca/indicateurs-indicators/default.asp?lang=en&n=CB7B92BA-1) It has nothing to do with CFCs harming the ozone layer and nothing to do with what the Montreal Protocol addressed. It’s something completely different, and combustion of fossil fuels plays a part in it. So I know a little something about the problems that wind energy can help with.

      I think wind turbines can help both of these to some extent: getting us off what fossil fuels we use even if they’re not the main source of electricity in Ontario, and reducing our pollution even further. And although Ontario is better than some provinces, three provinces get most of their electricity from coal, and yet there are four provinces that use no coal whatsoever, so we can still do better. Also, I still feel it’s important to bring attention to the issue for those living outside this jurisdiction.

      And finally, I’d like to point out that we didn’t drive around searching for a puppy. We found Maisy online and only drove there to pick her up. In our hybrid vehicle. With monthly carbon offsets we purchase to help reduce our carbon footprint. So as far as personal travel goes, we’re doing our part to help. But I agree, the transportation sector is a big problem. I’ve done blogs before on hybrid vehicles, but don’t worry, this will get further attention in the future.

      • Thank you for the response.
        The Montreal protocol addressed an issue with standards.
        Individual car emissions have been falling significantly for the same reasons.

        I am aware of ground level ozone – it was covered in the last Canadian Index of Well-being, which, in part, led me to review the environment Canada data. http://tinyurl.com/7pskuck

        2.3% of total particulate matter, excluding natural sources, is from electricity generation in Ontairo.
        3.4% PM10, 3.4% PM 2.4, only .1% of VOC’s and .6% of CO.
        NOx and SOx are slightly higher, but both of those have engineering solutions: emissions of both are falling much quicker in US states concentrating on reducing them directly instead of through the imagined magic of the latest alternative generation method.
        Perhaps your addiction to technology is infringing on others’ addiction to their forests.
        I hope you are enjoying your dog – I must admit we too drove a ways after spotting ours on a pound’s website.

  2. Cute puppy, however…..I live near Industrial Wind Turbines not too far Priceville and they are not that green. I personally know people who are sick and have had to move. They were bought out by the wind developer when they proved there was stray voltage coming into their house and low frequency noise. They were given a gag order so you can’t ask them about it. Seven more turbines started up in the spring near me and there are more people sick, high blood pressure, can’t sleep, thyroid issues etc. Midhurst is a long way from the wind turbines so you should be ok. Our area will soon have another 90 or so next year, 5 of them within one kilometer of my family. These are INDUSTRIAL Wind Turbines that are not being sited far enough away from people.
    Perhaps you are familiar with Dr. Robert McMurtry,
    In 1992, he became Dean of Medicine at the University of Western Ontario and subsequently Dean of Medicine and Dentistry, a post he held until 1999. In 1999, he became the first Cameron Visiting Chair at Health Canada – a post carrying the responsibility for providing policy advice to the Deputy Minister and Minister of Health for Canada. He has concerns about the siting of Industrial Wind Turbines. He and other prominent, well respected Drs. and Scientists have concerns and are asking for a moratorium until there is a proper clinical study to show an acceptable safe distance from people.
    They are asking for a 2km set back. He believes people are getting sick. The rural countryside and the people that live here are in a sacrificial area for the benefit of the urban centers……. so urbanites can feel good about all the excess energy they use. Tell me Dr.Dibble, do you hang out your laundry?
    I am not a nimby. We turned down a lot of money because we started looking into this. We have a large farm and they wanted to put 3 2MW IWT (40 stories high) on our property, sited 550 meters from our neighbours and ourselves plus a sub-station. It just is not right what is going on in Ontario.
    The amount of wind energy generated right now is roughly 3% and in the same time frame our hydro/electric generated energy has been turned down (more water over the falls) by 3%! What have we gained? We are spending astronomical amounts of money and getting no gain but we are ripping apart rural communities with unproven (health safety) technology. Farmers signing up because they are afraid of being surrounded by IWT and can’t sell their land. If they get sick how can they move to a safe, healthy home. And don’t even start on the peer reviewed studies because not a single person with a health complaint was interviewed for those. Sigh…….I am not a Dr., I am a resident in a part of Ontario that happens to be very windy, but I think I deserve, as does the rest of my community to have proper studies done to assure no harm will be afflicted on us. This is such a money grab for developers, often foreign developers and we are all going to pay for it.

    The co2 generated to build and construct these Industrial Wind Turbines, their cement (lots of it!) , trucking, wires, sub-stations, turbine, mining for the large magnets used etc will not be off set during the life of the turbine. This “green” energy is going to fill the developers pockets while our hydro rates soar. Please see this link from Australia:

    Even farmers who have these on their farms are getting sick but have contracts that restrict them from speaking out. We have turned down turbines 4 times and I thank our lucky stars that I looked into this and did some research. There are many more problems with IWT but most people don’t want to know about it. I am not against wind energy that makes sense, sited properly, but these don’t. enjoy the puppy, Heather

    • Thanks for your thoughtful and thorough comments Heather, I truly appreciate them.

      I have certainly heard these comments before. I am a member of CAPE (Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment) and this topic is discussed thoroughly there as well. CAPE’s position is supportive of wind energy, as is mine. I’ve reviewed much of the literature myself, and have not been convinced that the concerns are justified enough to not move forward with such an important component of the energy sector. (And believe me, as a physician I take health into consideration in every decision I make.) I do agree that further study is needed, but to wait until all studies are complete isn’t practical, because that never happens. For every study that answers one question, another two or three questions get raised. There is always something unknown. (This is one of the tactics that global warming deniers use: wait until every last thing is understood before taking action—that will never happen and they know that.)

      What is reasonable is to move forward once a consensus of experts think it’s safe enough to do so, and that point has already passed. I have heard many anecdotes about harmful effects but anecdotes aren’t scientific evidence. There has been some thorough review on this issue; here is a link to a press release from the Canadian Wind Energy Association this past July, which includes a link to a PDF file which reviews the literature on the health effects, and the studies are very reassuring.


      I don’t deny that there may be some health effects from wind turbines. My perspective is to see the forest, not just the trees. We absolutely know of the negative health effects from the combustion of fossil fuels already—as one example, more than five percent of cardiopulmonary deaths in Canada are attributed to ground level ozone which is a direct result of fossil fuel combustion—and of course we also have pollution, acid rain, and greenhouse gas emissions to contend with. Compared side by side, I believe any negative side effects from wind energy are far outweighed by the negatives associated with continuing business as usual.

      And Maisy is doing great!

  3. Sorry, but you are wrong. I was not asking for an endless set of studies. I was asking for “a” Canadian study that actually spoke with people who are having issues.(Just one fair and unbiased study and not done by CWEA) Those “studies” that you say have been reviewed and should assure me that everything is okeedokee are just peer reviewed data. I am living in a community that is experiencing problems. People can’t sleep at night! They are leaving their retirement homes that they have put their life savings into. I don’t need a study to tell me things are out of whack, my neighbours are living it, but the public does need to know. I am not saying either to not use wind power. I did say that the recommended distances from homes should be 2 km not 550metres. (Shame on you for quoting a study done by the very companies that are profiting from this and are certainly not neutral). These turbines are not the quaint romantic wind mills of some years ago. Take a drive sometime south on Hwy #10 from Flesherton to Shelburne and see the turbine, close to 200 of them. They were built in 2006 and the ones coming here in 2013 are bigger and still are being sited to close to homes. No one has ever said fossel fuels are not a problem but are wind turbines too close to homes the only answer, I don’t think so. I too consider health as my primary concern for those suffering. I am a retired NICU nurse and feel that instead of the residents proving they are being affected adversely, it should be up to the government to prove that they are safe in the first place. I didn’t ask for an endless stream of repetitive studies, just ONE that has some clinical component. As I said, there is nothing like being on the front to actually see what is going on, while the officers are behind the lines telling us, it’s ok, we looked at the data and computer models, there is no problem. Sorry, Dr. Dibble, with all respect you are wrong. Heather.

    • At this point Heather, without the Canadian study you’re looking for proving your concerns, you can’t say I’m wrong. I’ll stand by peer-reviewed data anytime over anecdotes. Canadian data may be lacking, but I expect human beings around the world will respond to wind turbines in a similar physiologic manner, and I have yet to see any study anywhere that confirms health problems to the extent you and others describe. But I do strongly support ongoing research into the matter, and I’m happy to see you suggesting keeping them a little farther from homes is acceptable, as so many seem to argue we shouldn’t be using them at all.

  4. Hi There Bradleydibble,
    Thanks for your thoughts, Some of these are somewhat farfetched, however, not impossible, so don’t laugh at me please. 1. Collect fresh-water ice off of Antarctica, plus Greenland, plus market it because bottled water 2. Create fields of solar panels in the world’s sunniest, hottest places including the American Southwest, African Sahara, Middle east 3. Build extremely tall Wind Turbines, tall enough to reach the earth’s jet stream, that is constantly windy 4. Build very sturdy Wind Turbines on Mountain tops, Sea cliffs, and other low-lying area that are very windy. 5. Find healthy places to store nuclear waste, and begin using Nuclear Energy (that doesn’t have global warming-causing agents) 6. Invent filters which will likely not release CO2 through a car’s exhaust pipe

  5. Pingback: [BLOCKED BY STBV] “Say No to Wind Turbines” — and Yes to Global Warming I suppose? | Progressive Action New Hampshire

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