Wind Turbine Syndrome or Turbophobia?

Is ‘wind turbine syndrome’  an allergic response by the over-sensitive?

Wind turbine syndrome - fact or fantasy?Wind turbines are making headlines again after the  recent coalition windfarm debacle  where Hayes, the energy minister, announced  ‘enough is enough’ while the energy secretary assured us there had been ‘absolutely no change in government policy’.  It seems that wind turbines are now politicised beyond rehabilitation, with the ‘anti’ side prepared to resort to increasingly strident and lunatic headlines to support their ’cause’.  We have the Telegraph’s deranged blogger James Delingpole spouting headlines such as  Alex ‘Butcher’ Salmond has destroyed Scotland while tabloids like the Express seek to employ medical metaphors with headlines like ‘Addiction to Windfarms a Disaster‘ going on to describe them as a ‘rash‘ and talking about vague  ‘health risks’.

It’s obviously a subject that gets people worked up, and one of the regular planks of  ‘anti’ campaigners countrywide is ‘wind turbine syndrome’. This is a mysterious disease allegedly caused by low-frequency sound generated by wind turbines. Symptoms reported include many that are common in the population at large such as hypertension (high blood pressure), mental health problems, sleeping difficulties, sensory problems (eyes, hearing, balance)  and learning and concentration  difficulties. 

The symptoms may be real, but are they  really caused by the proximity of wind turbines, or are the turbines a convenient scapegoat? Many independent reviews have been carried out but no scientific evidence of a connection between proximity to wind turbines and the reported symptoms has ever been established. 

So are the people who claim to be suffering from wind turbine syndrome making it up? Or is it a cover-up by the wind industry? Both explanations seem unlikely.

It seems there may be a third explanation. The symptoms are real, and in a sense they are caused by wind turbines – specifically, by an abnormal sensitivity to the technology. In a similar way to the way allergy sufferers become sensitised through exposure to their particular allergen so those exposed for long perioods of time to negative emotions and reacti0ns to wind turbines – their own or others – become unable to bear the presence of these ‘monsters’, as they now see them. The childhood bogeyman under the bed which used to keep them awake is transmuted to the menacing wind turbine three fields away. Noises many decibels below the noise of traffic on the road past their house or even of the wind in the trees – noises that most people simply do not notice – become painfully obvious to the sufferers  as they lie awake in bed with nerves at breaking point listening as hard as they can for the swish of those revolving/revolting  blades.

Their suffering is real, but it is in essence an allergy. Senitisation is brought about by exposure to anti-wind sentiment, and so it is a self-perpetuating syndrome. Once sensitised these people become upset by the very sight of a  single turbine miles away, even though it is dwarfed by the landscape it sits in and occupying a very small percentage of their field of view. They will justify this by talking about  industrialisation of the countryside and the fact that it is not the towers but the movements of the revolving blades that make them so irritating, but this is of course subjectie – pothers find turbines either newutral or attractive.  However, by spreading these ideas the sufferers joyfully  spread the contagion, hoping to infect others so the new sufferers will join the campaign.

So does it matter? How angry are you about wind turbines? Are they making you ill?  Or  is wind turbine syndrome just an extreme manifestation of  turbophobia, the  irrational fear of turbines?

 Links to recent articles

 Wind turbine syndrome: a classic ‘communicated’ disease  (Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health, University of Sydney)

 Wind turbine syndrome: who’s doing the research? (Ros Donald, Carbon Brief)

 Nocebo Doubt About It: “Wind Turbine Syndrome” Is Catching (Basically a report on the Chapman article, ,but some interesting comments)




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