Anyone got a spare fag? Actually, no, let us eat first, and maybe after a delicious main course we can smoke a cigarette.
The meat and potatoes (or vegan equivalent) of today’s blog is a straightforward copy-and-paste from a fascinating series of questions I was just asked by a very bright young student doing a dissertation on the effects of wind energy. How she came across me, Lord only knows, and don’t think I haven’t ruled out some kind of put-up job from someone connected with the wind power industry, but the questions were simply fantastic.
Ask the right questions, you get the right answers!
As I’m sure I’ve mentioned once or twice, there’s nothing I like better than a good natter about wind energy, so I needed no persuasion in answering the following questions. Feel free to answer them yourselves and post your comments below!
And your homework for today: see if you can work out what on earth all this has to do with cigarettes… I’ll pop back at the end if you need a light!
1 What is it about wind farms that you don’t like?
Up until 2014 my opinion of wind farms was probably the same as most people’s. I never really came across that many in real-life, and everything I’d heard of them was as a symbol of “green energy” ie good for the environment. A few incidents that occurred in a very short space of time around the South Pennines, around the late summer of 2014, changed my mind. Firstly whilst rambling around Scout Moor Wind Farm, I felt a very strange and unpleasant physical sensation, nausea and almost a lack of balance, which research leads me to believe was caused by the infrasonic frequencies of large blade movements.
Secondly, I discovered a place called Rooley Moor which was beautiful, an oasis of unspoilt high-altitude moorland around the back of Rochdale. When I found out there were plans to build a wind farm here, I looked into it, somehow got involved in the local activist group (I genuinely can’t remember how our paths crossed!), and, well, it’s a very long story but the wind farm was rejected and the developers shamed for their appalling lack of sensitivity to local interests.
This dovetails with the third factor, another ramble across nearby Crook Hill was spoilt when I saw some lorry tracks on top of the moor. Further investigation led me to discover yet another wind farm under construction here, which I documented on my own website Crook Hill Eco Disaster. I saw for myself the horrible eco-destruction of an unspoilt moorland, carved and scarred with lorry tracks, huge concrete pilings and wholly inappropriate machinery screwing up the fragile peat uplands. Needless to say, the local river Calder flooded a couple of months later.
Finally, and this is all within a few short weeks, I attended a planning meeting for yet another wind farm in the same area, Gorpley, which was unanimously rejected. The behaviour of the developer was suspicious, dishonest and, mercifully called out in the local press (they had exaggerated and faked support for the wind farm). The whole world of wind farms seemed to be an environmentalist and ethical disaster, lots of brutal corporations (with gangster-style cars and shady security guards now patrolling our cherished hills and mountains) riding roughshod over communities and nature for profit.
Having researched this for four years, here is the fundamental reason wind farms are terrible for the environment:
A FISH ROTS FROM ITS HEAD DOWN.
Like fish, rivers have heads. All human and animal life depends upon water. Pollute or screw up the very source of our water, and what are we doing to ourselves as a species? Which air freshener would you choose: “Fresh as a mountain stream”, or “Fresh as an electricity generator”? My fundamental belief is that the heads of our rivers are special places that give birth to life itself. Screwing up the upper reaches of rivers is, to my mind, the fastest way I can think of to kill the planet.
2 What about smaller projects where there might only be one or two turbines? Does that change your opinion? Why?
No, these are even worse. If we MUST have wind farms, I’d rather have just a few mega-wind farms, in which there is no denial that the affected land will be pretty much uninhabitable or unpleasant for humans (and probably animals), but outside these specific wind farm zones, all other landscapes will be safe. If we must have wind power, I’d rather we sacrificed a few zones to energy generation, and left the rest of the countryside unspoilt. Even a single turbine can cast a horrendous grey pall over an otherwise entirely green landscape, which is why I call them “blight”. They are basically urbanisation, industrialisation, land character change, smashing down the barriers of what is “urban” and what is “rural”, what is “beautiful” and what is “utilitarian”, and in the process destroying the character and appeal of vast swathes of rural Britain.
Imagine your favourite picture or item of clothing, and someone draws a thick line in Tippex right through the middle of it. It would trash the painting or outfit, to the point where you’d probably throw it in the bin. That’s what even a single turbine does to a landscape, so far better to choose just a few landscapes that we are happy to trash, cover them with as many turbines as we can fit in that zone, and then ban turbines everywhere else, rather than to trash thousands of landscapes with single turbines. If we must have them, that is…
We currently have around 2,000 onshore turbines in Britain. Whitelee has about 100 wind turbines, so just 20 Whitelee-sized designated wind zones would be equivalent to what we currently have, which is turbine blight in virtually every county of the UK, and virtually every community feeling under threat from predatory wind developers.
3 Is it just wind or are you opposed to other forms of renewable energy (solar, hydro…) and why?
I’ve not experienced them enough to have been affected. And it’s not the fact wind power is “renewable” that is the problem, because wind turbines themselves are unrenewable, disposable scrap metal, so in effect wind energy is as traditionally polluting as any other form of energy generation infrastructure, if not more so! Indeed, Whitelee Wind Farm has been accused of causing water pollution.
4 How do you feel about the landscape before and after a wind farm has been developed?
A landscape with turbines will never, ever be more natural and “green” than the same landscape with no turbines. The shape and character of the landscape will be changed. Instead of a gentle landscape of green fields rising to gently, curved shaped hills, the landscape would be dominated by high-visibility luminous white spinning stars!
A lot of sports and artforms are judged according to how well synchronised the moving elements are – eg ice skating, ballet, synchronised swimming. On an aesthetic level, lots of turbines spinning out of sync has an appalling look that would score terribly, it looks messy and chaotic. It also “sounds” messy and chaotic, bearing in mind everything that moves vibrates and has a sound wave. Imagine the sound waves of 12 industrial turbines all rotating out of sync with each other. We might not hear the frequencies with our ears (although lots of people do), but we certainly feel them with our bodies. Low frequencies are proven to make people nervous and edgy (which is why they make great dance music, because they make it hard to stay still!) But imagine a bad DJ playing 12 songs all out of sync with each other…not so great!
5 Once a wind farm has been developed, do your opinions of the local council/authority and government change? Do you view them negatively? Does it change who you vote for?
Yes absolutely. I have just joined a political party 100% in order to oppose wind blight. I see authorities approving of wind farms as basically a scam, based on money and shady financial dealings. I genuinely feel I was part of the movement that changed English law regarding planning permission. The term “greenwashing” describes what I feel happens when councillors cover up their own financial interests by promoting “clean, green energy”. There is a fantastic novel called “OSPREY” by Matthew Corrigan that lifts the lid on some of the suspicious practices associated with such schemes.
I would never vote for a party that supported wind power (certainly onshore). Indeed I would actively campaign against them. Because, as I said above, a fish rots from the head down. If a party’s instincts are to screw up the mountains, moorlands and hills that form the heads of our rivers, then they are effectively screwing up EVERYBODY. I wouldn’t trust them, I wouldn’t think they knew enough about geography, nature and the basic reality of life on planet Earth to have the population’s best interests at heart.
6 If you were to gain more from a nearby development (such as reduced prices for bills, investment to your area), would you change your mind about wind farms?
No, because that would basically be the antithesis of green values – that would be eco-destruction for personal profit, which is everything I stand against. No amount of money can replace the benefit of an unspoilt upland landscape for the well-being of humanity. A lot of our great businessmen and women are keen mountain walkers, because these upland areas allow us to enter a higher state of consciousness, our brains literally operating on a more creative level. Many, many great minds have had an insight on a mountaintop which has led them to make millions. The “Peak Experience” is an archetype we all intuitively know and understand. To screw up those peaks for money is to be given one last plate of fish before the river is polluted, rather than taught how to fish in a clean and life-filled river. It’s a one-time bribe rather than a sustainable means of self-development.
7 What do you think the outcomes are for Scotland as a whole for wind farm developments?
Good timing, as I am an Englishman currently on holiday in Scotland. Like everything in life, there needs to be organisation, management, moderation and sense. Communities must have the final say. Every wind farm must PROVE its credentials, the way we expect of hospitals, schools, railways etc. I should be able to look at every single wind turbine in Scotland and be able to analyse its performance. I should be able to look at every turbine at Whitelee and work out if any of the turbines are under-performing – if so, they’re not actually good for the environment and they need to go.
We need critical thinking, rewards for good products that do well, and punishment for bad products that don’t do what they promise. The whole discourse around wind farms is too simplistic (love them/hate them), instead of saying, “Well, some are good, but others are a clear scam.”
The whole financial arrangements of wind farms are a mystery too. Nobody knows how wind farms make their money. There is no competition or choice for consumers. We are told “All wind farms are great” which is a clear lie, and of course invites the response, “No, all wind farms are rubbish!”. I’m sure reality is somewhere in the middle, but without any PROOF, I would always err on the side of NO turbine building being better for the environment than any turbine building.
Unfortunately the SNP looks corrupt, shady and backward in pursuing wind farms. They seem like a fad from the late 80s, if not the 1680s!!! Dated, struggling technology that is totally unfit for the 21st century. Whereas most machines get smaller as they get better, wind turbines only seem to get bigger and bigger! A good analogy would be the R-101 airship, which ended up smashing into a hill and killing everyone on board. Why? Because it was designed as more of a political statement rather than as an ergonomic and efficient means of transport, and as a result it ended up bigger and bigger, more and more bloated, essentially unable to generate sufficient power and uplift. Wind turbines are exactly the same!
8 Does Scotland benefit or not?
I don’t think it does. Certainly not rural Scotland, which is now full of communities living in fear, wasting an awful lot of their own personal energy (they say energy is not created, just transformed from one source to another – so maybe wind turbines just transform human life energy into electricity, in the process de-energising us as a species to provide energy for the machines?!) Does urban Scotland benefit? I can’t see how. I genuinely can’t see any benefit to anyone, other than money for a few landowners.
And if the only benefit of wind power is money, then it is nothing to do with environmentalism and all about capitalism. If that’s the case, the SNP are more capitalist and right-wing than the Conservatives!
Wow! Well, I was asked… I answered. And I received an awful lot of agreement and reposts from all around the world. Probably more people have read the above text in the last 24 hours than have ever read this blog! That’s fine – this blog is for the hardcore truth seeker, whereas the above answers were more mainstream in tone. The phrase “A fish rots from the head down” seemed to particularly resonate. Cliches are only cliches because they’re true, after all.
Now, either my young interviewee was a relative of a wind farm worker, sent on an undercover mission to find out more about the motivations of us Wind Warriors, or else (and I’d love to think this is the case), the latest generation of students is healthily sceptical and savvy about the Greenwash. It’s good that universities are looking into this stuff academically, that’s for sure. The effects of wind energy have truly entered the Overton Window of youthful discourse, which is a huge social change from even three or four years ago! Dare I say it, is opposing wind blight finally becoming “hip”?
We’ll look more at wind turbines in the arts next time, in what promises to be one of my personal favourite blog posts. I can’t wait to get stuck in, and if you want to contribute – please do send me any examples of wind turbines in art or music.
I just want to finish off with that long-promised ciggie! So, did you work out from my answers above what the connection is with smoking? After all, I only made the connection myself on pondering how I could have been more succinct or persuasive in my responses.
Well, here it is… My approach to wind turbine zoning is exactly what pretty much every country in the world already does in regard to smoking. In exactly the same way as even just one misplaced turbine can pollute an entire landscape, just one cigarette can stink out an entire house for hours. We as a society decided it’s morally wrong to impose cigarette smoke on people against their will and without their consent, so we banned it in all public buildings, whilst maintaining the basic liberty to carry on smoking if you really want, just so long as you keep it confined to a designated area.
You get the connection yet? Whitelee Wind Farm is like a smoker’s room. I noticed one last week at Schiphol Airport (we don’t have them indoors in the UK anymore, but they’re still about in the Netherlands). Step inside the smoking room at Schiphol and it’s like walking into an ashtray! But within this hermetically-sealed bubble of stale nicotine, you’re more than welcome to stay and chainsmoke twenty Marlboro Lights, if you don’t have a plane to catch and you’ve nothing better to do with your life.
Step outside the smoking room with so much as a semi-lit dogend, however, and you’ll get arrested within seconds.
Let’s treat wind energy (or hill energy, as I should have referred to it in the Q&A… saying we have 2,000 hilltop electricity generators in the UK would have really brought home the unrenewable, land-polluting reality of “wind” power) the way we treat smoking. It’s wrong to inflict its toxic pollution on people against their will and without their consent. If people really, really want wind turbines, then let’s give them a zone that we don’t mind turning into an environmental ashtray, and let them build as many as they like in that zone.
But if so much as an anemometer is erected even one metre outside the designated turbine zones, then its removal should be enforced as zealously as we punish sparking up in a no-smoking area.