The value of scaremongering

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Do wind farms make you sick? Not so, according to new research out of Australia. It appears more likely that “wind farm syndrome” is caused not by the turning of wind turbines, but by scaremongering about wind turbines. What’s quite notable about this is just how much in common this has with certain types of Green scaremongering over power sources, touched on here by Keith Kloor in a post comparing “wind farm syndrome” with some of the more outlandish and evidence free claims about the health impacts of fracking.

If environmental groups wish to get on their high horse about scaremongering about wind farms, they must also ask themselves about the damage caused by scaremongering over nuclear power plants. A mainstream position within the environmental movement is that nuclear power plants cause cancer in surrounding. A more outrageous example of this would be the endorsement in 2002 by the Green Party’s only MP, Caroline Lucas, of a report into nuclear power, which made the following claim:

radioactive releases up to 1989 have caused, or will eventually cause, the death of 65 million people world-wide.

A claim based on the rather strange ideas of Chris Busby, a former Green Party science spokesman and all round crank. Claims such as the above should be borne in mind by those believing the environmental movement can be turned away from its opposition to nuclear power. Many Greens simply have an alternative set of facts. If Caroline Lucas really believes the dangerous nonsense I noted above then you are probably as likely to convince her to drop her opposition to nuclear power as convince the new Pope that condoms are no bad thing. Consider also the scaremongering around genetically modified crops. In September 2012 a piece of junk science was published, Seralini et al. to give it its academic name. This study got a reception from scientists akin to that of a Ku Klux Klan member in Harlem. However, instead of recognising that this was junk science many Green groups simply leapt to its defence. Friends of the Earth Europe issued a conspiracy theorist press release alleging that it was the European Food Standards Agency who were in the wrong for ruling Seralini et al. was flawed science, and not Seralini et al. for being fundamentally flawed. And just today we had the supposedly serious Guardian newspaper publishing a video featuring the Seralini research, including a rather pleasant montage of images of tumour covered rats:


So, the conclusion here is obvious. If the environmental movement wishes to successfully counter scaremongering about wind farms they should perhaps consider the damage done by their own scaremongering around nuclear power and GM crops. The activities of anti-nuclear campaigners are a template the anti-wind farm movement can borrow, and with very little modification needed.

What we need is an environmental movement that heeds that great sentence from the beginning of Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March:

Everybody knows there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression; if you hold down one thing, you hold down the adjoining.

[Update: It turns out that the source of the above video is in fact Friends of the Earth. With seemingly no regard for journalistic integrity, the Guardian republished a Friends of the Earth anti-GM video with zero attribution. The original video is GM_Edit_v2_CLEAN here. Here we have an extreme case of what Linus Blomqvist has called the complete intellectual closure of much of environmental journalism. But in this case the “journalism” is written by an NGO, and perhaps read by members of the same NGO under the assumption that it is independent journalism. An essentially rotten state of affairs.]


5 thoughts on “The value of scaremongering

    mem_somerville (@mem_somerville) said:
    March 18, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    This was interesting–came across my twitter feed today: “Unfortunately, scientists are helpless in the emotional and politically charged debate. I sincerely hope that one day Greenpeace will conclude that GMOs are not just evil but might, just might, help save the lives of starving children. Greenpeace has great powers of persuasion, and with power comes responsibility.” –Cris Kuhlemeier, plant scientist at Univ. of Bern. (sorry, subscription required)

    I think I won’t hold my breath though.


      Robert Wilson said:
      March 18, 2013 at 8:26 pm


      I won’t be holding my breath either. I think that there is little differences between the views held by many Greens on these issues with religious fundamentalists. As with religion there is very little hope of persuasion. Maybe it will take the environmentalists who were active in the 1990s to simply go (environmentalism may progress one death at a time, to rephrase a cliche). The kind of crackpot stuff seems to be less believed by the young, but it’ll take a long time before people can openly change their minds with potentially losing jobs/friends/credibility. Though, until that’s possible the green movement will be stuck where it has been since the 90s, and earlier.


    Writing from Japan said:
    March 19, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    What strikes me about the “official” green movement’s adherence to junk science is that it’s a terrible long-term strategy for influence. Just when scientists around the world are clamouring for action on the environment, too many greens are retreating into ideas that no policy-maker would touch because the numbers and evidence don’t add up. Politicians need to know what will keep the lights on, and will reject anything that can’t clearly guarantee that.

    Anti-nuclear campaigners in Japan are buzzing with conspiracy theories about the continued use of nuclear power. They can’t interact on an adult level with the issue of how to keep the lights on without bankrupting the economy, which is what the current demand for imported fossil is threatening to do. They have been floored by the electorate putting economic well-being before essentially single-issue parties. Their scaremongering has limits.

    The green movement should be at the forefront of emphasising the urgency of tackling climate change. This really should be their golden moment, their validation after decades of being sidelined and ridiculed. Instead, they’re simply putting up ideas that policy-makers are not going to buy.

    So perhaps a means of persuading greens to take the step into evidence-based environmentalism is to make them understand that they’ll have much greater influence that way. That relying on Busby or Seralini means they will not be heard because, as at least some of them know in their hearts, it’s b**locks science.


    When Newspapers Con the Public : Collide-a-Scape said:
    March 20, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    […] Lo and behold, as Robert Wilson tells us on his Carbon Counter blog (see bottom of this post): […]


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