Awkward Questions Answered

This weekend’s roadtrip was one that could not have come at a better time, and its write-up could not be more germane to the discussion at hand. I travelled about 80 miles from Leeds to just outside Louth in Lincolnshire, and along the way I saw: one dead coal-fired power station (Ferrybridge); one operational coal-fired power station, with a new gas-fired power station being constructed alongside (Eggborough); one hybrid coal/biomass power station (Drax); one of the largest and most hideous “cumulative” agglomerations of onshore wind farms in Britain (stretching pretty much unbroken from Goole to Scunthorpe); and several private wind turbines of varying size, location and impact. You could not ask for a better control environment than today’s journey from which to take a closer look at different forms of power generation and their respective impacts.

With this blog in mind, I listened to no music along the way and instead gathered my thoughts. As always, it’s mostly critical thinking of my own arguments, trying to be the first to spot any inherent logical flaws, and asking myself those annoying awkward questions before anyone else does, such as:

Awkward Question #1: If we can’t see any turbines and we don’t even know they are there (eg at night, or even just because we’re looking the other way), can they still affect us?

Let’s work through it logically. If so, if under a controlled experiment people’s brain activity changed in the vicinity of a wind turbine that they didn’t even know was present, then that’s your smoking gun right there: something about the turbine other than its appearance would be having a neurological impact.

If not however, if we approach a turbine in the dark and don’t even notice its presence, then that would indicate one of two things:

Either: (a) whatever it is that has an impact when we see turbines has nothing whatsoever to do with their sound, magnetic vibrations or otherwise general uselessness, solely their visual appearance.

Or: (b) the visual impact is itself merely a trigger for some other personal cause of amygdala hijack (“Catcher In The Rye” theory, ie it wasn’t anything inherently about the book itself that led Mark Chapman to murder John Lennon, any other book being equally capable of being interpreted by the assassin’s mind as a trigger to attack Lennon). Derren Brown proved this with an excellent episode based on programming a participant to assassinate Stephen Fry with various everyday triggers (eg seeing an advert on a bus). So it is perfectly possible that just about anything could set off an amygdala hijack in people, either deliberately or accidentally. Maybe it’s just an irrational phobia, or even in some way related subconsciously to the arachnoid appearance of the turbines (not that I’m remotely scared of spiders, mind!)

I don’t have the answer but I’d love to test the theory, to find out if our brains detect the presence of turbines even when we can’t see them.

Awkward Question #2: If it’s just an issue of height and inappropriate rural development, how come radio masts, pylons and other assorted towers don’t have the same psychological impact? What about churches, for God’s sake???

This is interesting to me, with the giant Emley Tower visible from just around the corner from home. I love the Emley Tower, it’s one of Yorkshire’s iconic landmarks, higher even than the Eiffel Tower. That certainly comes between me and the Peak, so how come that gets a free pass? I even used to use the huge Holme Moss tower, actually located within the Peak National Park, as a logo for Peak City Radio. That too dominates the surroundings for miles and miles. The fact is, I can’t immediately rationalise why these towers are acceptable and even the smallest wind turbine isn’t. Maybe it has something to do with the motion of the blades, which certainly doesn’t help matters, but to be honest even at a standstill turbines cause an unpleasant sensation. I think the type and colour of high-visibility paint used is a huge part of the problem. To coin a phrase, wind turbines are “hideously white”. Not to mention the sharp and dangerous-looking blades. They just scream out: “WRONG ON EVERY LEVEL”!

Here’s a thesis that has just come to me: all the other kinds of towers resemble a peak, one way or another. They are essentially pyramid or cone shaped, which is natural-looking and in keeping with the laws of gravity and the physical universe. Wind turbines seem to defy gravity, visually anyway, like it’s taking the earth an unhealthy amount of strain to prop them up, and are therefore almost the psychological antithesis to everything we love about mountain landscapes. Wind turbines, especially those with the extra-long blades, look upside down somehow. They certainly clash with upland landscapes aesthetically, and therefore psychologically (unless we are now saying aesthetics don’t affect our moods, in which case we might as well just scrap art and music). Throw The Hay Wain in the bin. Raze Mont Sainte-Victoire. “I wandered, lonely as a Planning Inspector”. “To sleep, perchance, to dream…not to be kept awake by the constant whoosh, whoosh whoosh…”

All other machines tend to get smaller as they get better, less lumbering and more efficient. Wind turbines seem to get bigger and bigger, looking for all the world like they’re regressing in terms of style and sophistication. It’s like the new iPhone being the size of a shoebox!

Here’s my favourite answer though, especially for fans of synchronised dancing. I once read a decidedly Toynbee-esque puff piece for industrial wind farms, prattling on about the “beauty of all these sleek turbines, dancing gracefully like ballerinas in the breeze”…or something equally vomit-inducing. The logic-slapdown to that inane opinion (which you still come across in The Guardian comments section from time to time) is to say: the whole point of ballet is that the nimble dancers are perfectly synchronised, both with each other and with the music. Unfortunately wind turbines seem to have a tin ear to the beat, and therefore rather than emulating the Bolshoi Ballet gliding around the stage in perfect sync to the music of Tchaikovsky; instead the chaotic, haphazard, bad-trip contortions of a dozen 150m tall wind turbines, totally jarring and out of phase with each other, end up resembling nothing more than a mass brawl outside Wetherspoons on a Saturday night. A brawl which the turbines probably helped cause in the first place, by making the locals feel aggressive.

Out of phase industrial wind turbines in the countryside are single-handedly the most ugly, soul-destroying and discombobulating sight I have ever experienced in my entire life.

Awkward question #3: What about old-fashioned windmills? Aren’t they supposed to be beautiful, sometimes even tourist attractions? Plenty of artists have painted them…

This question is one I ponder often, as my uncle and aunt lovingly restored an old windmill, adding sails (not blades), four of them (not three), and taking the best part of twenty years to restore a black stump into a working windmill. I used to love the bread they made! Occasionally even scones. So when I say all owners of wind energy infrastructure should face a mandatory 25 year jail sentence, am I including my dear old uncle and auntie? How come their beautifully renovated windmill gets a free pass?

(Incidentally, this is the same aunt that suddenly started suffering from depression and insomnia at the age of 80. Last time I visited her I noticed the swinging blades of a large wind turbine just beyond her garden fence. Funny that…)

Again, I don’t immediately have the answer, but I do know not a single neighbour ever complained about the noise or visual pollution of the windmill, painstakingly restored with the aid of local craftsmen, in the community in which they spent all their lives. The differences between their windmill and your modern wind turbine are legion – they did it as a labour of love, not for money, with top priority given to aesthetics and style. Different materials used – wood, not steel, for a start. No high-voltage electricity, certainly no live current fluctuating wildly and erratically. No neodymium magnets either, not that I’m aware of…

Maybe hundreds of corporate old-fashioned windmills, located and styled as inappropriately as modern turbines, would have the same impact on our psychology. Maybe they did. Maybe that’s why we got rid of them! In a hundred years from now, maybe there might survive two or three industrial wind turbine remains that might too become tourist attractions, quaint relics of a bygone era, looked upon with incredulity by our descendants.

Awkward question #4: There are so many things in life that cause stress and grief to people, why concentrate on something whose sole impact so far seems to have been that it briefly intruded upon your country drive for a few seconds? FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS! Man up for crying out loud and just be grateful that they’re not mining coal underneath Ilkley Moor.

I use the country drive as a control experiment, to demonstrate an example of how to enter the alpha mental state (which is seen by psychologists as the state of maximum creativity and clarity). I encourage each and everyone of you to try it for yourself.

Here’s another control experiment for you all: where do you go on holiday? Why do you even go on holiday? What does it do to your mind? What would happen if you didn’t take a holiday? Now, how would you react if, on arrival at your long-awaited destination, for which you booked time off work weeks in advance, you check in and see a building site outside your window? (Go to Brighton if you want the answer, more of which later. MUCH MORE…)

There are many physical symptoms of an amygdala hijack: stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol flood the body, as if to prepare for a life-or-death fight. Our heartbeats quicken and our breathing shallows. We feel a quivering in our solar plexus, limbs, often even our voice. We may notice heat flush our face, our throat constrict, or the back of our neck tighten and jaw set. This is all “emergency” animal instinct, largely out of our control, though there are coping strategies once you are aware what is happening. Bear in mind, then, if you are on any kind of “nature” holiday whatsoever, attempting to heal yourself from the stress of everyday living by reverting to a more organic existence for a few days, then an amygdala hijack is BAD NEWS. Bear in mind also that it can take up to four hours, if not longer, for the body to relax and calm down fully after a hijack.

A 30 second glimpse of an industrial wind farm can trigger an unpleasant physiological reaction lasting up to four hours. Our National Parks need to be places where people can safely roam for long periods of time without coming anywhere near a toxic wind farm. No wind farms must be allowed within four hours travel time of a National Park, otherwise we might as well scrap the National Parks, there’s no point even having them.

Maybe now you might start to understand the mental health implications of removing people’s places of leisure, recreation, rejuvenation, refreshment, exercise, fresh air, green fields, hills, moorlands, mountains, rivers and the ocean, soft horizons stretching as far as the eye can see, with just the odd small building blending into the landscape.

So what do we do with our turbines then? We don’t want them in nice areas because it makes them less nice. We don’t want them in bad areas, because that’s just taking advantage of vulnerable people and stigmatising deprived communities even more. We don’t want to see them from our beaches. We don’t want them within four hours travel of any National Park.

The only logical solution is to Build Absolutely None Anywhere Near Anyone.

Awkward Question #5: You keep banging on about the unspoilt countryside and torturing people in their homes, yet when it comes to private turbines, it’s the very people who erect them who have to live with them, closer than anyone else. How come turbine owners never complain about health problems? Surely if people didn’t want them, they wouldn’t keep them, so who do you think you are are to stick your nose into country matters? You’re just as much a townie as anyone else. If country dwellers keep erecting turbines, doesn’t that indicate a popular, quality product that people choose to buy?

I’m going to get into a fistfight with myself at this rate! Don’t worry by the way, I’m not arguing with myself out loud. But here’s the answer to that difficult one. Firstly, if you oppose fox-hunting then you can’t ask me the above question with a straight face. If country dwellers want to fox-hunt, by your logic, us townies should butt out of that too and let them get on with it. Why do you oppose fox-hunting, even if you never see it day-to-day in the city, and you proactively have to travel miles into the countryside on the offchance of tracking down a hunt?

Whatever drives you to oppose predatory fox-hunters, that’s what drives me to oppose predatory hill-hunters, so look into your soul, ask yourself why you find fox-hunting so unacceptable, and realise I feel exactly the same about the gratuitous desecration of our hills. Same people, probably. Same lack of respect for other living creatures.

So how come these fox-hunting (probably) turbine owners never complain about getting sick? They must be happy with their turbines, right? Shouldn’t I just leave them alone and stop picking on them? First answer: confirmation bias. Clearly people who get involved with wind turbines are biased towards them for some reason, and therefore they see the world through a totally different prism from mine. That’s fine, and I welcome the discourse, as always. Any happy turbine owners in tip-top health, feel free to fill me in and turn me on. I’m all ears.

(I might just remind people that DelBoy was always the last to lose enthusiasm for his own schemes – long after Rodney, Uncle Albert and Raquel would twig this was another utter loser of an idea, Del would still be convinced success was just around the corner. “Never stop believing. This time next year we’ll be millionaires. This time next year we’ll start making money from the turbine, Rodney…”)

A more sinister explanation is that maybe once they’ve made their Faustian pact, turbine owners are contractually obliged to shut up and only say nice things about their purchases, no matter how many times the blades fly off. Or, if not obliged to say nice things, embarrassed to admit they screwed up. One step ahead of the pure DelBoy denialists, these owners may secretly acknowledge that they’ve been sold a pup, but really can’t be arsed with the inevitable “I told you so”s from us lot, so they just keep their heads down, try and make the best of a bad job and hope that somehow they can be extricated from their nightmare contract asap. Just a hypothesis this, not based on anything other than the odd case in America where a few landowners have finally blown the whistle on the godawful wind turbine deals they found themselves embroiled in.

I’ll keep coming back to these Awkward Questions, and feel free to throw in your own. I love it! I fail to understand people who feel passionately about an issue NOT welcoming questions, counterarguments and logic-chopping. It’s fun! And if you can’t answer a question, then it can sometimes lead you to query your own shibboleths and maybe change your thinking. I’m happy to do that. I’ve been asking wind supporters to engage with me, reassure me, persuade me and set me straight for three years now. They never do.

When I posted the Crook Hill Eco Disaster website, I was expecting to be threatened with legal action for libel at any moment, or at least have some arsey letter from Coronation Power, had I in anyway lied or misrepresented the “Eco-Destruction On An Industrial Scale”, as I tagged it. The website still stands, unchallenged, unopposed. Search Crook Hill Wind Farm on Google, and my website appears before the official one! My website is effectively the go-to resource for information about the wind farm. Nobody seems that bothered. I only ever had one complaint about my website, and that was from a fellow Wind Warrior who was concerned my Bible quotations (“Take these things away, stop making my Father’s house a place of business”) might be a bit inappropriate. Not that I was wrong, but that I might be weakening my own argument by bringing religion into it. Anyway, I put the Crook Hill Eco Disaster website up there expecting some kind of reaction from the developers, but nobody batted an eyelid. It just indicates to me that the parties behind the wind farm really don’t give a tinker’s cuss what people think of them, as long as they get their money. Basically, gangsters, for want of a better term.

I know, if it was me, if I thought I was working on an amazing “clean, green” earth-saving project, and some uppity website pops up criticising everything I was doing, I’d absolutely take steps to reassure them and set them straight that they had it all wrong, this is a great project, they should come and meet me for a chat, check out the operations, be involved and see for themselves what’s really going on. I’d relish the chance to win over a sceptic, if I genuinely believed what I was doing was in their best interests. The fact that nobody involved with Crook Hill reached out to me speaks volumes.

In the next section, I’ll talk in more detail about my complicated relationship with the Green Party and those who vote for it…

“Nature, live! Live, nature! Powers of Nature: Destroy illusion and reveal the truth!”

That was the motto of my Crook Hill Eco Disaster website: http://www.crookhillecodisaster.co.uk

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