Opponents of wind energy have three strikes against them. I reflected upon these strikes while I was preparing for the discussion following the local showing of Windfall. These three strikes have nothing to do with the merits of their case, which if anything are growing stronger over time. Rather, they have more to do with human nature. The three strikes are:
- We are the bearer of bad news and people don’t like to hear bad news. Especially when it shows they’ve been scammed. We’re telling people that putting up wind turbines won’t solve any problems. Compare this with proponents, who promise that wind turbines are a painless cure-all.
- There’s no money to be made opposing wind energy. There’s a ton to be made proposing it. Governments are throwing billions of dollars at the industry, which in turn has attracted large international corporations along with a host of rent-seeking NGO’s. Aside from The Donald in Scotland, I don’t know of any significant financial backers for the opposition.
- Wind energy has been so successfully marketed and is so intuitively wonderful that we are forced to show how useless it is, rather than the proponents having to show how wonderful it is. This requires facts, which in turn require details and numbers. Unfortunately the attention span and numeracy of the public isn’t well-suited to discussions involving details and numbers.
For an example of how the playing field is tilted against the opposition take a look at a recent debate about Ontario’s Green Energy Act on TVO’s Agenda with Steve Paikin. There were 4 guests. Two were ardently pro-wind: Tim Weis is from Pembina, a think tank that gets lots of corporate and government money, and Deborah Doncaster is from the Community Power Fund, which gets its money from the government. One was nominally anti-wind: Ross McKitrick is a professor at Guelph and gets no money to support his opposition. One was properly neutral: Paul Acchione, representing the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers. He was the lead author of their study regarding surplus base generation, about which I posted. As he said, they are professionals and take money from anywhere.
The very first question that Paikin asked of all the participants concerned Ontario’s reduction of coal and was that a good thing for the environment? A softball indeed, and the two proponents predictably said it was a wonderful thing. The engineer was more measured, saying simply that the government had been successful at implementing its plans. McKitrick started off expressing surprise that the other three never mentioned any numbers, and went on to show how the numbers indicated that the reduction in coal had no measurable impact on Ontario’s air quality. I was reminded of John McCarthy’s: “He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.”
The remaining 30 minutes goes on in a similar vein.
- The proponents who are well-funded (just look at Penbina’s office in the background) and make their living off of being proponents, and who are full of slogans but never quote any real numbers.
- The engineer, who quotes real (and quite damaging) numbers, but stays away from any policy criticism.
- The opponent who makes no money from his opposition and has reams of numbers to support his observations.
At least the opponents have one thing in their favor: the reality of what wind energy is doing to the grid, the environment, the neighbors and our pocketbooks. Conveying that reality to the public is proving to be quite the task. As Mark Twain commented: “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.“