May 28, 2009

Land of the Safe, Home of the Afraid

David Bromwich, May 25, 2009:

... Obama's May 21 speech at the National Archives combined a general repudiation of the Bush-Cheney policies with a surprising concession to methods that the former vice president, Dick Cheney, tried to graft onto the Constitution. This approach the Constitution repels as surely as a healthy body rejects poison; for in the Cheney interpretation, the common-law right of prisoners to be charged with a crime and to have due process in challenging the accusation was abridged in cases specified by the executive. Cheney singled out for detention as "enemy combatants" persons suspected of being hard-core terrorists without there being sufficient identification to charge or sufficient evidence to convict them.

We may think ourselves a safe country, but we can hardly be the United States of 1776, of 1865, and of 1945 so long as we retain a power imported by Dick Cheney and his lawyers from the 17th century into the 21st -- the power of government to imprison and keep in jail a person against whom nothing has been proved and nothing charged. It is a bondage as complete as slavery; and like slavery, it can last for life. ...

President Obama did not mean to copy the tenor but he did curiously echo the phraseology of the Bush presidency. Obama said: "my single most important responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe." Such talk about safety rather than liberty and justice, as the paramount value of American life, had almost no history before the Bush-Cheney administration. There can be no doubt that safe was the favorite adjective of George W. Bush, just as protect was his favorite verb. Yet there is not one word in the Constitution about protecting the people. The good of safety is assumed, of course, and the words of the preamble say the constitutional framework will (among its other purposes) "provide for the common defense." Yet that is a purpose for which any government might be formed. The American government is admirable and original not in its ideas about defense but its ideas about liberty and justice. And the president's powers in time of war are so far from the essence of his duty that they are not included in the presidential oath, or even, very prominently, in the enumeration of the powers of his office. The president is required to see that the laws are faithfully executed. In the presidential oath, he swears to do his best "to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." Italics added, and italics, apparently, necessary. The president protects the people by protecting the laws. He does not protect the laws by protecting the "safety" of the people. Indeed, not the safety of all the people, every moment, but the substance of the laws themselves makes the value of the way of life of a free people over time. How odd to forget this. At the National Archives, Barack Obama was speaking in front of a copy of the Constitution itself.

But he told us first about safety: "That is the first thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. It is the last thing that I think about when I go to sleep at night." He then did his best to play a part he likes far too much, that of the national healer. He urged Americans to believe that, in ordering the torture and imprisonment of persons whom they had deprived of legal rights, the leaders of the Bush administration may have done bad things but always did them entirely from good motives. "Our government made a series of hasty decisions. And I believe that those decisions were motivated by a sincere desire to protect the American people."

Is this true? And should we sincerely believe it? When we look at the leaders of other countries that have gone wrong -- Argentina, say -- do we assume the leaders could only have acted badly from the most pure and selfless love of the good? This exertion of fellowship flies in the face of honesty and a common knowledge of human nature.

Obama added: "I also believe that -- too often -- our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight, and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, we too often set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And in this season of fear, too many of us -- Democrats and Republicans; politicians, journalists and citizens -- fell silent."

The result, he concluded, was that "we went off course." But: "I have no interest in spending our time re-litigating the policies of the last eight years. I want to solve these problems, and I want to solve them together as Americans."

This casting away an evil of the past by moderately changing the policies and ignoring the crimes of one's predecessor -- this is in fact impossible to do. The reason is that some of the people who took us off course have not yet given up the steering wheels at which they sit, in one sub-cabin or another of the republic. The only way to face the future is to understand the present, and the only way to understand the present is to inquire into the past. ...

President Obama committed himself, in this speech, to hold in indefinite captivity persons the United States does not charge with specific acts, and whom it does not mean to bring to trial. The reason for such indefinite detention can only be that we do not know who the prisoners are, exactly, and therefore do not know what the charges would be; or that we know we have given the prisoners cause to resent us, after their capture if not before. This points to a darker category: persons whom we cannot bring to trial because all of the evidence against them was obtained under torture. These people either are abused but guilty, or if originally innocent, may reliably be supposed full of hatred toward the people and country that did such things to them.

This last is the fifth of Obama's five categories: "those who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people." What species of twilight creature is alluded to here? Someone, it seems, whom we know to be certainly dangerous to the American people but about the danger of whom we cannot possibly open evidence at a trial, or even venture to make specific charges.

Insight into this category of prisoners may be gained from William Glaberson's May 23 article in the New York Times on President Obama's detention plan.

"Some proponents of an indefinite detention system," writes Glaberson, "argue that Guantanamo's remaining 240 detainees include cold-blooded jihadists and perhaps some so warped by their experience in custody that no president would be willing to free them." Note the words so warped by their experience in custody. So once we have ruined them body and soul, with or without tenable initial grounds of suspicion, we grant ourselves the right to go on harming them forever. Set free, they would wreak too sure a vengeance or stand as too glaring a testimony against us. Note well: it is worse, in some ways, to have been innocent than to have been guilty at Guantanamo. The guilty man can at least stand trial. Regarding the innocent, our own guilt is so complete that to prevent its effects we must keep him in prison indefinitely. Thus we compound our crimes before trying the persons we think we can succeed in convicting as war criminals. ...

In the week before this Memorial Day, we saw a new president under unseemly attack, trying to catch his balance. He shared some good thoughts at the National Archives. Yet this speech was one more speech by Barack Obama that deferred action. It suggested the comprehension of an enormous wrong which it decided only partly to remedy. And it set several plainly unconstitutional designs on the way to enactment, for no better reason than that the public morale has sunk so low as to expect such action. But the idea of prolonged detention without charge or trial was new. It gave a shock that will last; that should not be absorbed. And the move was unexpected by lawyers with whom the president had conferred just before giving the speech. As Vincent Warren, the executive director of Center for Constitutional Rights, put it in an interview with Amy Goodman:

the idea of detaining people not because they've committed a crime, but because of their general dangerousness or that they may commit a crime in the future: that's something that the documents that President Obama was standing in front of, particularly the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, simply doesn't permit. And when I heard that in his speech, I was deeply, deeply shocked that he would go in that direction.

Let us say it: something is seriously wrong in this administration -- though we are not yet in a position to judge the cause. We do not know who the lawyers are that gave Barack Obama advice that goes against a long career of ostensible commitments. And it is too early yet to say at what point a new president, confused by the depth of his burdens and uncertain how much even now he believes of what he used to say, becomes instead a man we are compelled to see as lacking in convictions. It cannot be a virtue that he sheds the Constitution with a gentler demeanor than George W. Bush.

The former vice president is engaging in a public refusal of the transfer of power. He embodies to perfection his party's failure to learn "the habit of trained and disciplined good temper towards the opposite party when it fairly wins its innings." Yet President Obama is unconsciously abetting that refusal when -- out of fear, or a wish for leverage elsewhere, or a wish to stand in the middle -- he treats justice as a desirable but not an all-important good.

A misjudged statesmanship has allowed Obama to think himself magnanimous when he declines to expose the wrongs he has come to know. The way to right a wrong is not to install a somewhat reformed version of the wrong. People, by that means, may be spared embarrassment, but their instinct for truth will be corrupted. It is a false prudence that supposes justice can come from a compromise between a lawful and a lawless regime. On the contrary, the less you tell of the truth, the more prone your listeners will be to commit the next barbarous act that is proposed to them under the cover of a national emergency or a necessary war.


Ted Rall, May 28:

We expected broken promises. But the gap between the soaring expectations that accompanied Barack Obama's inauguration and his wretched performance is the broadest such chasm in recent historical memory. This guy makes Bill Clinton look like a paragon of integrity and follow-through. ...

I refer here to Obama's plan for "preventive detentions." If a cop or other government official thinks you might want to commit a crime someday, you could be held in "prolonged detention." Reports in U.S. state-controlled media imply that Obama's shocking new policy would only apply to Islamic terrorists (or, in this case, wannabe Islamic terrorists, and also kinda-sorta-maybe-thinking-about-terrorism dudes). As if that made it OK.

In practice, Obama wants to let government goons snatch you, me and anyone else they deem annoying off the street.

Preventive detention is the classic defining characteristic of a military dictatorship. Because dictatorial regimes rely on fear rather than consensus, their priority is self-preservation rather than improving their people's lives. They worry obsessively over the one thing they can't control, what Orwell called "thoughtcrime" -- contempt for rulers that might someday translate to direct action.

Locking up people who haven't done anything wrong is worse than un-American and a violent attack on the most basic principles of Western jurisprudence. It is contrary to the most essential notion of human decency. That anyone has ever been subjected to "preventive detention" is an outrage. That the President of the United States, a man who won an election because he promised to elevate our moral and political discourse, would even entertain such a revolting idea offends the idea of civilization itself.

Obama is cute. He is charming. But there is something rotten inside him. Unlike the Republicans who backed Bush, I won't follow a terrible leader just because I voted for him. Obama has revealed himself. He is a monster, and he should remove himself from power. ...

The Old Grey Lady explains why Obama wants this "entirely new chapter in American law" in a boring little sentence buried a couple past the jump and a couple of hundred words down page A16: "Yet another question is what to do with the most problematic group of Guantánamo detainees: those who pose a national security threat but cannot be prosecuted, either for lack of evidence or because evidence is tainted."

In democracies with functioning legal systems, it is assumed that people against whom there is a "lack of evidence" are innocent. They walk free. In countries where the rule of law prevails, in places blessedly free of fearful leaders whose only concern is staying in power, "tainted evidence" is no evidence at all. If you can't prove that a defendant committed a crime -- an actual crime, not a thoughtcrime -- in a fair trial, you release him and apologize to the judge and jury for wasting their time.

It is amazing and incredible, after eight years of Bush's lawless behavior, to have to still have to explain these things. For that reason alone, Obama should resign.

Health care can wait, tax breaks for wind industry can't

Nebraskan lawmakers heroically tabled a bill providing tax breaks for nonprofit health clinics, so that the money could all go to the "economically viable" wind industry.

Click the title of this post to read the whole story at National Wind Watch.

wind power, wind energy, human rights

May 27, 2009

More wind = more backup

[S]wings of 500 megawatts of wind can disappear from a system in an hour or less, creating scheduling havoc for system operators, as it did in Texas in February 2008. The system operator relied on interruptible contracts with industrial customers to retain reliability during that event. ... The maximum change in Colorado over a 24-hour period was a 743-megawatt increase and a 485-megawatt decrease. In Minnesota, the utility saw as much as a 517-megawatt increase and a 488-megawatt decrease, [Eric Pierce, Xcel Energy's managing director of energy trading,] said. ... When wind outages are more widespread, spinning and operating reserves are required just like for any thermal operator. In some areas, no enough excess is currently available if winds shift suddenly. What seems to be developing is an industry consensus that as renewable energy penetration increases, reserve margins will need to be larger across [a] regional transmission organization.

-- William Opalka, Energy Biz, May/June 2009

wind power, wind energy

May 17, 2009

Healthcare reform

Medicare for all! Now!

Deep vs. shallow ecology

‘Both historically and in the contemporary movement, [Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer Arne Naess] saw two different forms of environmentalism, not necessarily incompatible with each other. One he called the “long-range deep ecology movement” and the other, the “shallow ecology movement.” The word “deep” in part referred to the level of questioning of our purposes and values when arguing in environmental conflicts. The “deep” movement involves deep questioning, right down to fundamental root causes. The short-term, shallow approach stops before the ultimate level of fundamental change, often promoting technological fixes (e.g. recycling, increased automotive efficiency, export-driven monocultural organic agriculture) based on the same consumption-oriented values and methods of the industrial economy. The long-range deep approach involves redesigning our whole systems based on values and methods that truly preserve the ecological and cultural diversity of natural systems.’ —Alan Drengson, Foundation for Deep Ecology

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, human rights, vegetarianism, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism

May 15, 2009

A problem with wind energy

Why isn’t as much time and effort spent educating and encouraging people to conserve rather than defacing our landscape? ... Long-term benefits like preserving the character of Vermont and energy conservation are more important than short-term solutions that create more problems than they solve.

--Jane FitzGerald, Milton, Vt., Burlington Free Press, May 15, 2009

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, Vermont

May 14, 2009

Life in an 86-turbine windfarm after one year

Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, interviews with residents living near 400ft turbines - by Lynda Barry:

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, human rights

Evidence against industrial wind proves its need, insanity of opponents

In Wisconsin, energy projects smaller than 100 MW may be subject to local and county ordinances for health and safety. With those concerns in mind, many communities have established setbacks -- usually one-half mile from a residence -- and noise limits. While denying that noise is problem, developers complain that such regulations effectively ban industrial wind -- because noise is indeed a problem.

So the state wants to remove the right of communities to determine the siting of wind energy projects.

As reported in yesterday's Daily Reporter (Milwaukee):
More than eight hours of public testimony mostly opposed to state guidelines for wind farm placement did little to kill bills that would limit local control of the energy developments.

"It just underscores the reason why we need the bill," said state Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee.
In other words, the strong arm of the state is necessary to push these projects through because the arguments against them are indeed extensive and sound.

The desperation to continue supporting the wind industry in the face of mounting evidence of both its low benefit and its many adverse impacts is also illustrated in this week's Chicago Reader:
Here's how [Michael Vickerman of Renew Wisconsin] reads the aginners. "You can't stop a project in Wisconsin based on the appearance of these turbines," he says, "so over the past seven years the opposition has refined its arguments and framed them in the realm of protecting public health and safety. Here, as far as I'm concerned, is where they reveal their antiwind bias. They allege that they can't sleep, they suffer from nausea -- they express their discomfort in the most hysterical terms, and I think they basically work themselves into a very visceral hatred for wind. I don't even know if they have a philosophical objection to wind. They're maybe congenitally unhappy people and they needed to project their fears and anxieties and resentments onto something new that comes into the neighborhood and disrupts things."
Wow! Who's the hysterical one here? Unable to argue the facts, Vickerman and Plale instead malign the individuals who have actually researched the subject beyond the industry sales material and/or have experienced ill effects. It rather explains how visceral hatred -- not for wind, but for the developers and their abettors -- might take hold.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms,, human rights

May 11, 2009

Toronto Star attacks citizens, shills for industrial development

In an article in today's Toronto Star ("Noise protesters howling about windfarms"), Tyler Hamilton reports:
At the moment, however, there's no convincing evidence that wind turbines located a few hundred metres from a dwelling negatively effect health, [Energy and Infrastructure Minister George] Smitherman said. A 2008 epidemiological study and survey, financed by the European Union, generally supports that view.

Researchers from Holland's University of Groningen and Gothenburg University in Sweden conducted a mail-in survey of 725 rural Dutch residents living 17 metres to 2.1 kilometres from the nearest wind turbine.

The survey received 268 responses and, while most acknowledged hearing the "swishing" sound that wind turbines make, the vast majority – 92 per cent – said they were "satisfied" with their living environment.
That survey is available here. Only 26% of the nearby turbines were 1.5 MW or above, and 66% of them were smaller than 1 MW -- whereas the turbines being built now are typically 2-2.5 MW. Furthermore, only 9% of the respondents lived with an estimated noise level from the turbines of more than 45 dB, which is the maximum level recommended by the World Health Organization to ensure that the inside level is 30 dB as required for sleeping.

In other words, the survey does not in fact support the view that the turbines being built in Ontario should not be farther from people's homes.

Small wind energy expert Paul Gipe writes in the comments to the article:
There are 74,000 wind turbines in Europe, some 5,600 in Denmark alone. And contrary to many myths, the Danes, German, French, Spanish and others are continue to install thousands more every year.
Again, most of the turbines in Denmark are half the size of those being installed today. And it is a simple fact that Denmark has not added any new wind capacity since 2003. (See Danish Wind Energy Association.) Meanwhile the Spanish industry ministry just last week issued changes to limit the expansion of wind energy. Germany's wind still represents less than 10% of production, and France is just starting to push big wind. People are pushing back in all of these places: see the European Platform Against Windpower.

Finally, the reporter of the Star article, while readily questioning the direct testimony of dozens of individuals about the health effects of wind turbine noise, mentions without question "the positive environmental role that wind power plays in the battle against climate change and air pollution". Where is the data showing this? Where is this reporter's skepticism about that side of the story?

Wind industry advocates like to note, for example, that from 1990 to 2006, Germany's CO2 emissions decreased 13.7% (click here for the latest international data from the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy). Most of that, however, appears to be due to cleaning things up after the unification of east and west. From 1998, when industrial wind energy began to be installed in earnest, CO2 emissions decreased only 1.6%. Considering just Germany's extensive effort to insulate roofs, that figure doesn't suggest much benefit coming from big wind.

In part 2 of this article, published the next day, Hamilton writes about Denmark, "In some years, when CO2 emissions rise slightly, it has little to do with wind." Yet without embarrassment, he presents any drop in emissions as having everything to do with wind! In fact, Danish energy trade, and thus domestic CO2 emissions, varies dramatically year to year. In the same table cited in the preceding paragraph, we see that emissions decreased 16.3% from 2003 to 2005, although no new wind capacity was added in that period. From 2002 to 2003, the last year that wind capacity was added, emissions increased 16.2%.

Again, it is hardly courageous to avoid questioning those with power and to only attack those without.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights

May 8, 2009

Wind Turbine Syndrome

Wind turbine syndrome (WTS) is a cluster of clinical symptoms first formally identified by British physician Amanda Harry, MD, and subsequently given the name Wind Turbine Syndrome and a pathophysiological explanation by New York State behavioral pediatrician Nina Pierpont, MD, PhD.

WTS refers to the discrete constellation of symptoms that some -- not all -- people experience when living near wind turbines, symptoms which Pierpont and other clinicians maintain are caused chiefly by turbine low-frequency noise and vibration and shadow flicker affecting the body's various balance organs, including the utricle and saccule (vestibular organs) of the inner ear. According to Pierpont, people at notable risk for WTS are those with migraine disorder and a history of balance and motion sensitivity (such as car-sickness and sea-sickness).

Both Harry and Pierpont have based their research on clinical case series (defined, in medicine, as a descriptive account of a group of individuals with the same new medical conditions), and both have called for large-scale government-sponsored epidemiological studies to definitively establish WTS as a full-blown disease state. Until that happens, WTS remains, clinically, merely a syndrome.


Pierpont has identified the following cluster of symptoms among many people living near wind turbines. In Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment (Santa Fe, NM: K-Selected Books, in press) she explains how these seemingly disparate symptoms result from turbine low frequency noise scrambling the body's balance, motion, and position sensors.
  1. sleep disturbance
  2. headache
  3. tinnitus (pronounced "tinn-uh-tus": ringing or buzzing in the ears)
  4. ear pressure
  5. dizziness (a general term that includes vertigo, lightheadedness, sensation of almost fainting, etc.)
  6. vertigo (clinically, vertigo refers to the sensation of spinning, or the room moving)
  7. nausea
  8. visual blurring
  9. tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
  10. irritability
  11. problems with concentration and memory
  12. panic episodes associated with sensations of internal pulsation or quivering, which arise while awake or asleep
Case reports

British physician Dr. Amanda Harry, in a February 2007 article titled "Wind Turbines, Noise and Health" [1], wrote of 39 people, including residents of New Zealand and Australia, who suffered from the sounds emitted by wind turbines.

Pierpont interviewed 10 families living near large (1.5-3 MW) wind turbines, for a total of 38 people from infants to age 75. People in these families had noticed that they developed new symptoms after the turbines started turning near their homes. They noticed that when they went away, the symptoms went away, and when they came back the symptoms returned. Eight of the 10 families eventually moved away from their homes because they were so troubled by the symptoms.

Dr. Michael A. Nissenbaum, a radiologist at the Northern Maine Medical Center, conducted interviews with 15 people living near the industrial wind energy facility in Mars Hill, Maine. The purpose of the interviews was to investigate and record the health effects on those living within 3,500 feet of industrial-scale turbines.

On March 25, 2009, Dr. Nissenbaum presented his preliminary findings before the Maine Medical Association. The data, which he characterized as alarming, suggest the residents are experiencing serious health problems related to shadow flicker and noise emissions from the turbines near their homes. The onset of symptoms, including sleep disturbance, headaches, dizziness, weight changes, possible increases in blood pressure, as well as increased prescription medication use, all appeared to coincide with the time when the turbines were first turned on (December 2006).[2]

On April 22, 2009, Dr. Robert McMurtry, former Dean of Medicine of the University of Western Ontario, released a survey conducted on the various wind facilities in Ontario. Of the 76 respondents in the community-based self-survey, 53 people living near different wind power plants reported that industrial wind turbines were having a significant negative impact on their lives. The adverse effects ranged from headaches and sleep disturbance to tinnitus (ringing in the ear) and depression.[3]

In Japan, more than 70 people living near wind turbines have reported ill health. They include residents in Ikata, Ehime Prefecture; Higashi-Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture; Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture; and Minami-Awaji, Hyogo Prefecture. The Japanese Ministry of the Environment is now studying international data showing a potential link between wind turbines and health problems in surrounding areas to determine a plan of action for Japan. It has also started measuring low-frequency sounds around some wind farms.[4]

Scientific and clinical acceptance and explanation

Dr. Nina Pierpont's report has received peer reviews from the following:
  • Professor Robert May, Baron May of Oxford OM AC Kt FRS. Professor May holds a professorship jointly at Oxford University and Imperial College, London, and is a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford. President of the Royal Society (2000-05), Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and Head of the UK Office of Science and Technology (1995-2000), and member of the UK Government's Climate Change Committee (an independent body established by the Climate Change Bill, to advise on targets and means of achieving them).

  • F. Owen Black, MD, Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, Senior Scientist and Director of Neuro-Otology Research, Legacy Health System, Portland, Oregon.

  • Jerome Haller, MD, Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics (retired 2008), Albany Medical College, Albany, New York.

  • Joel F. Lehrer, MD, Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. Former Professor of Otolaryngology, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine (NYC), currently Clinical Professor of Otolaryngology, University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey.

  • Ralph V. Katz, DMD, MPH, PhD, Fellow of the American College of Epidemiology, Professor and Chair, Department of Epidemiology & Health Promotion, New York University College of Dentistry.

  • Henry S. Horn, PhD, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Associate of the Princeton Environmental Institute, Princeton University.

  • Robert Y. McMurtry, MD, Emeritus Professor and Dean of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Western Ontario Schulich School of Medicine. In 1999 McMurtry became the first Cameron Visiting Chair at Health Canada -- a post carrying the responsibility for providing policy advice to the Deputy Minister and Minister of Health for Canada. McMurtry is the founding Assistant Deputy Minister of the Population and Public Health Branch of Health Canada.
There are as yet no other reports in published clinical literature linking wind turbines to this set of symptoms. Residents of the U.K., however, presented their experience at the Second International Wind Turbine Noise Conference in Lyon, France, September 20-21, 2007.[5] And researchers in Portugal reported at the same conference that the conditions for Vibroacoustic Disease, in which low-frequency vibrations affect heart and lung tissues, were found in homes near wind energy facilities.[6]

Wind Turbine Syndrome, clarifies Pierpont, is not the same as Vibroacoustic Disease. The proposed mechanisms are different, and the noise amplitudes are probably different as well.

Wind Turbine Syndrome, according to Pierpont, is essentially low-frequency noise or vibration tricking the body's balance system into thinking it's moving. The process is mediated by the vestibular system -- in other words, by disturbed sensory input to eyes, inner ears, and stretch and pressure receptors in a variety of body locations. These feed back neurologically onto a person's sense of position and motion in space, which is in turn connected in multiple ways to brain functions as disparate as spatial memory and anxiety. New discoveries about the extreme noise/vibration sensitivity of the vestibular system of the human inner ear were published in Neuroscience Letters in 2008.[7]

Several lines of evidence suggest that the amplitude (power or intensity) of low-frequency noise and vibration needed to create these effects may be even lower than the auditory threshold at the same low frequencies. In othr words, it appears that even low-frequency noise or vibration too weak to hear can still stimulate the human vestibular system, opening the door for the symptoms that Pierpont has called Wind Turbine Syndrome. There is now direct experimental evidence of such vestibular sensitivity in normal humans.

Vibroacoustic Disease, on the other hand, is hypothesized to be caused by direct tissue damage to a variety of organs, creating thickening of supporting structures and other pathological changes. The suspected agent is high-amplitude (high power or intensity) low-frequency noise. Given Pierpont's research protocol, her study is unable to demonstrate whether wind turbine exposure causes the types of pathologies found in Vibroacoustic Disease, although there are similarities that may be worthy of further clinical investigation, especially regarding asthma and lower respiratory infections.

Against this growing evidence, the wind industry insists that no problem exists or that it is so rare as to be of little consequence. The Canadian Wind Energy Association, for example, cites a set of articles in the June 2006 issue of Canadian Acoustician as refutation of serious health effects from wind turbine noise. Besides the fact that they are not medical articles, they do not conclude that there is no evidence of health problems.[8] Although the wind industry denies that wind turbine noise is intrusive, let alone a health problem, it also fights against noise regulations that would ensure that to be the case.

In the United States, George Kamperman, INCE (Institute of Noise Control Engineering) Board Certified noise control engineer, and Rick James, INCE Full Member, have documented significantly increased levels and the unique character of noise from industrial-sized wind turbines. To ensure the World Health Organization recommendation of no more than 30 dB(A) inside a bedroom and that low-frequency noise be limited, they recommend that large wind turbines be sited at least 2 kilometers from homes.[9] Similarly, the Noise Association of the U.K. and the French Academy of Medicine recommend a distance of 1 mile or 1.5 kilometers, respectively.[10][11]

This is still an emerging phenomenon, but the evidence is clearly accumulating in support of Dr. Pierpont and others' observations of a clear clinical pattern of ill effects caused by large wind turbines.

  1. Harry, Amanda (February 2007). "Wind Turbines, Noise and Health".

  2. Nissenbaum, Michael (March 2009). "Mars Hill Wind Turbine Project Health Effects -- Preliminary Findings".

  3. "Ontario Health Survey Exposes the Wind Industry".

  4. "Something in the Wind as Mystery Illnesses Rise".

  5. Davis, Julian; and Davis, Jane (September 2007). "Noise Pollution from Wind Turbines".

  6. Alves-Pereira, Mariana; and Castelo Branco, Nuno (September 2007). "In-Home Wind Turbine Noise is Conducive to Vibroacoustic Disease".

  7. Todd, Neil; et al. (October 17, 2008). "Vibration Sensitivity of the Vestibular System of the Human Inner Ear".

  8. "Deconstructing CanWEA Health Claims".

  9. Kamperman, George; and James, Rick (July 2008). "Simple Guidelines for Siting Wind Turbines to Prevent Health Risks".

  10. Noise Association, U.K. (July 2006). "Location, Location, Location: Investigation into wind farms and noise".

  11. Chouard, Claude-Henri; for the French Academy of Medicine (March 14, 2006). "Repercussions of wind turbine operations on human health" [in French].
Testimony: diaries, letters, and interviews
News reports
Petition: 2 km setback of industrial wind turbines from homes

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights

Tax and income inequalities: insult upon injury

A letter in the May 7 (Woodstock) Vermont Standard expressed the opinion that the rich are unduly taxed to support the poor. I will ignore the absurd accusations implying that the poor have chosen to be so and that even the obscenely rich are justly rewarded for uniquely hard work and wise decisions. And I will ignore the other question raised of whether sharing the risk of what afflicts all of us equally, such as ill health, is not the mark of a civilized society.

The writer cited Congressional Budget Office figures showing that 39% of federal income tax is paid by the top 1% of household incomes, 61% by the top 5%, and 99% by the top 40%.

Actually, the CBO report (April 2009) says that (in 2006) the top 1% paid only 28% of all federal (not just income) taxes, the top 5% paid 45%, and the top 40% paid 86%.

This may still appear to be unfair to those who think the poor should be soaked as much as those who can more easily pay, because the top 1% represented only 20% of all household income (ignoring the fact that they owned about 34% of all wealth and 42% of all financial wealth), the top 5% 32%, the top 40% 75%.

But another way to look at it is how those income proportions change after taxation. After taxes, the top 1% were down from 20% to 16% of all income, the top 5% from 32% to 28%, and the top 40% from 75% to 72%. Meanwhile, the share of the bottom 20% rose from 4% to 5% and the bottom 60% from 25% to 28%.

That's hardly a turning of the tables.

In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau data, the real turning of the tables appears to have occurred 30 years ago. From 1947 to 1979, family incomes rose by nearly equal percentages across quintiles: an average of 108%, ranging from 99% to 116%. But from 1979 to 2005, the family income of the bottom 20% declined 1%, that of the middle 20% increased 25%, and that of the top 5% increased 81%.

Progressive taxation helped the bottom 20% somewhat, so that their after-tax income rose 6% from 1979 to 2005, according to the CBO. But the middle 20% lost out, with their after-tax income increasing 21% compared with the pretax increase of 25%. And belying the claim that the rich support their less fortunate compatriots, the top 5% saw their after-tax income rise by 106%, compared with the pretax increase of 81%. The average pretax income of the top 0.01% rose by 484%, while their after-tax income rose by 742%.

It appears that the middle class is paying more than their fair share and the rich less and less towards keeping our country whole.

human rights, Vermont, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism

CO2 emissions of countries with the most wind energy

Denmark, Spain, and Germany have the most wind energy capacity as a proportion of total electricity generation.

Denmark's wind plant was built from 1996 to 2003. Spain has built steadily since 2000, and Germany since 1998.

According to data from the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy, in the International Energy Annual 2006, with data updated in December 2008 (
  • Denmark's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions decreased 14.9% from 1996 to 2003. The trend of Denmark's emissions is hard to follow, however, because year-to-year energy imports vary a great deal. CO2 emissions were 57.41 million metric tons in 1990, 72.07 in 1996, 75.07 in 1997, 53.36 in 2002, 62.02 in 2003, 51.93 in 2005 (a 16.3% decrease since 2003 with no new wind capacity), and 59.13 in 2006.

  • Spain's CO2 emissions increased 14.0% from 2000 to 2006, 57.3% since 1990.

  • Germany's CO2 emissions decreased only 1.4% from 1998 to 2006. From 1990 to 1998 (before large-scale wind installation), they decreased 11.9%.
The belief that wind energy is an effective means of reducing carbon emissions is not well supported by these figures.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

May 6, 2009

Wind: The next battlefront

Janice Harvey, president of the New Brunswick Green Party, writes in today's Telegraph-Journal:

It’s as predictable as the wind. Now that big utilities and corporations have grabbed hold of wind energy, the controversies begin.

The first complaints were of the visual impact of wind farms on their landscapes and waterscapes. Now a new concern is emerging. People who live near wind turbines are complaining of health problems such as sleep disorders, migraines, tinnitus, equilibrium problems, depression and anxiety attacks, and in children, learning disabilities. A 2008 California study and a 2007 British study have dubbed the “wind turbine syndrome,” an effect on the inner ear by low energy noise from the turbines. There may also be an effect from air pressure changes from the turning turbines.

I first heard of this last year. A CBC radio documentary featured a family in southwestern Nova Scotia driven out of their home by the new wind installation nearby. Their story demonstrated, as do all the similar stories that are cropping up around the world, that we have learned nothing from the past century of hyper-industrialization. Regardless of technology or intention, scale and intensity matter. Indeed, it has been the vast scale and intensity of industrialization that has pushed the impact of economic development way beyond any reasonable thresholds of ecological and human tolerance. (For an eye-opening read on this topic, check out J. N. McNeill’s Something New under the Sun: An Environmental History of the 20th Century).

In the wind farm case, scale and intensity imply squeezing as much energy as possible out of each unit, and locating as many units on as large a portion of the landscape as possible. This results in mind-boggling dimensions for both individual turbines and wind farms.

The third leg of this stool is the pervasive pro-development bias within regulatory agencies, which ultimately expresses itself as a dismissive attitude towards public concerns. I’ve heard the story of the Nova Scotia family a thousand times. They are suffering real health problems as recounted above. The company’s response? They followed all the rules; no studies have proven a direct link between wind turbines and health effects; their own noise monitoring revealed levels below probable health effects. The bureaucrats echo the company line: the environmental impact assessment was done, no effects predicted. Therefore, there must be no effects. The family must be imagining their symptoms or, if they had them, they couldn’t possibly be connected to the new kid on the block — the wind turbine.

This contemptuous attitude is being repeated all over the world where these mega-wind farms are being built. The technology may have changed, but the business of doing business is the same. The companies circle the wagons and the government rides shotgun.

It doesn’t have to be that way. All governments, including Canada’s, present at the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil endorsed the precautionary principle as an alternative to the conventional risk-based approach to environmental management. The precautionary approach states that the lack of scientific proof is not a justification for inaction in protecting against potential harm. Using this approach, the government simply needs to establish siting requirements for wind farms that assume there is a potential for health effects associated with the large-scale interference with air currents. These requirements would establish a mandatory setback from any dwelling based on the growing body of evidence of health impacts and incorporating a good margin of error. Such setback would be adjusted as more research is done.

There should also be a limit on the number of hectares that can be covered in any one location. If humans are being affected by changes in air pressure and noise, so are animals. The larger the wind farm footprint, the more habitat is being removed for some species.

In this current economic system, being precautionary would make wind farms “uneconomic.” We need a new business model in which people and the ecosystems on which all life depend come first. No more cost-benefit analyses in which economic benefits to some come at the expense of others. No more pollution- and illness-based profits. If governments need to offset the extra cost of truly green power while the economy is transformed from an exploitative to a protective model, so be it.

Wind developers and regulatory agencies have a choice. Either take these emerging issues seriously now and change the way the industry develops, or face inevitable and justified hostility at every turn. Wind developments need to be appropriately scaled and located well away from human habitation.

Everything has limits, even renewable energy developments. Until we learn that lesson, we will continue to make big mistakes.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism

May 3, 2009

It's time to reject wind

To the Editor, Burlington (Vt.) Free Press:

If wind energy had not been prominent in the news for several years, the Free Press might not be faulted in asserting that a balance can be found between impacts and benefits from industrial wind facilities on Vermont ridgelines (editorial, Apr. 26).

But while they appear to be open to discussing impacts and presumably how best to minimize them, they ignore the fact that the benefit from -- and thus the need for -- industrial-scale wind energy remains debatable.

The Free Press pleads for energy self-sufficiency, as if Vermont were not a part of the New England grid and does not also have connectors to New York and Quebec (with the latter providing a third of our electricity). Self-sufficiency may be a laudable goal, but large-scale wind energy would make Vermont more dependent, not less, on outside sources to fill in for the intermittent, highly variable, nondispatchable, and significantly unpredictable production from wind.

Rather than face the facts about wind energy (besides its utter lack of documented benefit, its substantial environmental and health impacts are also by now well known), the Free Press resorts to name-calling.

To imply that those who have actually researched this technology "say 'no' merely because of nimbyism" or are engaged in "resistance for the sake of resistance" is not only insulting and projects an attitude that does not encourage working together. The attempt to shut out dissenting voices also reveals the emptiness of the editors' reasoning.

Vermont would no longer be a "green" state if it flouted its own protection of the ridgelines only because wind energy salesmen have convinced so many that their product is above questioning. If one or two or five arrays of giant wind turbines are allowed, when will it stop? Why? The right thing to do is to ask those questions before, not after, the damage is done.

It is hardly a sign of leadership to jump onto a juggernaut. Vermonters can lead by thinking for themselves and finally rejecting the false idol of industrial wind energy.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, Vermont