Allegations about supposed health effects are a common challenge for issue managers. And there are few health issues with so little scientific evidence and so much emotion as claims that wind turbines cause a whole catalogue of illnesses.
But the campaign against wind turbines just got a serious black eye with the Australian Government revoking the status of the Waubra Foundation, one of the country’s most active and vocal anti-windfarm lobby groups. Federal regulators have stripped the group of its health promotion charity status, which effectively means they can no longer receive tax-deductible donations.
Now, it may be a matter of opinion whether wind turbines are ugly and a blight on the landscape. However it’s a matter of fact that passing birds are far more likely to be killed by cats or from crashing into lighted windows at night. And it is a matter of fact that repeated studies around the world have found no real evidence of any link between wind turbines and human health. Indeed a Victorian Health Department report found no physiological health effects caused by turbines, although “expectation of symptoms may lead to increased reporting of health complaints associated with wind turbines.” In other words people could “worry themselves sick” as a result of all the activist claims and allegations.
The recent Government decision about the Waubra Foundation certainly won’t put an end to the anti-windfarm issue, any more than numerous studies have put an end to other health scares such as radiation from mobile phone towers, microwaves or electric blankets; and the alleged dangers of childhood vaccination and metal fillings in your teeth. However, for issue managers everywhere, the windfarm saga is a valuable template and warning about the damaging potential of supposedly “scientific” issues which are based on next-to-no science.
Like legendary gangster Al Capone, who was finally sent to prison not for multiple murder but for tax evasion, the anti-windfarm lobby group appears to have been brought undone by the Green Party, who complained to the Taxation Office and the Australian Charities and not-for-profits Commission that taxpayers should not subsidise donations to the Foundation. While the Commission said it was prevented by law from detailing the reasons for its decision, many months earlier Assistant Commissioner David Locke had said: “It is not possible for me to find that the Foundation’s principal activity promotes the prevention or control of disease in human beings.”
Risk guru Peter Sandman argues that perceived risk is just as “real” as statistical or scientific risk, that it is just as measurable and just as much in need of being addressed. In this case there has certainly been prolonged public debate over wind turbines in Australia, much of it heated, with personal reputations challenged and damaged, and with each “side” attacking the motivation and credentials of the other.
But in the end it was the cold hand of regulation which has dealt the anti-windfarm lobby such a black eye.