Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Communicated Disease–A Review

By Paul Gipe

For those who’ve fought the wind wars and done battle with renewable energy skeptics, climate denialists, and the “wind turbines cause cancer” crowd, Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Communicated Disease by Simon Chapman and Fiona Crichton is a welcome antidote.

It’s a dense, 330-page book that rigorously document why some people hate wind turbines and the often outlandish claims they make. The authors specifically examine claims about the effects wind turbines have on health. This phenomena, they note, is mostly found in the English-speaking world (Chapman is Australian, Crichton is a Kiwi), less so elsewhere, and that is part of the mystery they explore.

For example, the authors note that in Canada there have been far more complaints about wind turbines in English-speaking Canada (Ontario) than in francophone province of Quebec. Anecdotally, Chapman asked a friend hiking in northern Spain, where there are lots of wind turbines, to ask locals if they knew of any health problems there. His friend reported that after people looked at them as weirdoes for asking such a strange question they stopped asking and simply continued their six-week walk.

In another widely circulated case, anti-wind campaigners cited the German medical association as reporting “community concerns” about the health impacts from wind turbines. Chapman contacted the association and found that only one of its thousands of members had in fact reported such “concerns.”

Chapman is professor emeritus of public health at the University of Sydney. He made his mark examining the semiotics of cigarette advertising and has publicly taken on those promoting smoking. He prominently challenged popular Australian actor Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee) for becoming a spokesmen for an Australian cigarette company.

Crichton completed her PhD in psychological medicine at the University of Auckland in 2015 on the subject of how expectations influence the reporting of symptoms from those exposed to wind turbine noise.

Her work influenced the chapter on physcogenics, that is, what triggers opposition to wind energy among anti-wind campaigners. The list of triggers is long but it’s useful for wind energy advocates to know what they are. The authors list these triggers as “outrage factors.” For example, outrage is higher if the wind turbines are seen as “industrial” part of the landscape as opposed to “natural” part of the landscape. This explains why anti-wind activists never simply refer to “wind turbines” but always to “industrial wind turbines.” The choice of wording is deliberate–and manipulative.

The book, published by Sydney University Press in 2017, is a compendium of how logical thinking can thoroughly pick apart the arguments against wind energy. It can also be entertaining.

Though it has a global perspective, Wind Turbine Syndrome, by its nature, focuses on the wind wars “down under” where the authors are located. As such, the language used by the opponents of wind energy, and the rebuttals by the authors is, shall we say, more colorful than that typically found in academic treatises.

“Chapman has a finely tuned bullshit detector and a thick hide,” says Simon Holmes a Court, a senior advisor to the Energy Transition Hub at the University of Melbourne and a veteran in Australia’s wind wars. And that encomium gives a flavor for the frank descriptions in the book that old hands will find amusing.

Importantly, the book confirms other studies and anecdotal reports that those who benefit directly from the wind turbines have fewer complaints–of any kind–about the wind turbines. In a $2.1 CAD million study by Health Canada, researchers concluded that “annoyance was significantly lower among the 110 participants who received personal benefit” in the form of royalty payments, leases, or other indirect benefits. These results buttress the case made by community wind advocates that greater participation in wind energy development will reduce social friction, allowing more projects to be built.

Wind Turbine Syndrome explains what the terms NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) and the more worrisome BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere) mean. In the case of the wind wars down under, the opponents viscerally hate wind energy–and all that it stands for–and no location would meet their approval no matter how remote.

The author’s frankness in revealing the lengths to which anti-wind activists will go is refreshing. Cricthon reprints a portion of a threatening email she received from a prominent anti-wind campaigner. In the message the campaigner warned Crichton that her thesis was not “a great start for an aspiring Phd” and went downhill from there.

As someone who has been threatened, including threats of physical violence in person on more than one occasion, I applaud Crichton and Chapman calling these people out in print.  

The book’s last chapter deals with a topic George Lakoff (Don’t Think of an Elephant) would take to heart. Rather than endlessly trying to “debunk” false accusations, the authors recommend “prebunking” or creating messages that pre-empt many of the common false assertions and inoculating against them from the start.

Chapman is famous (or infamous if you’re against wind energy) for his “list” of ill effects caused by wind turbines. The book’s appendix includes all 247 symptoms that Chapman has documented. Better yet, he provides a link in the appendix to a digital version of the list with dates, quotes, and source of the symptom that was claimed. The document can be found on the University of Sydney web site Symptoms, Diseases and Aberrant Behaviours Attributed to Wind Turbine Exposure. It was last updated in early 2016 and stands at a total of 247 symptoms. A record of some sort.

As Chapman writes, “When you read the list below, you may ask whether you can recall any account of any threat to humanity which poses a greater threat. Old Testament accounts of pestilences and plagues seem mild compared to the effects attributed to wind turbines.”

For example, Sarah Laurie of the anti-wind farm group Waubra Foundation argues that “wind turbines can make people’s lips vibrate “as from a distance of 10km away.” She’s not done yet. She notes that wind turbines emit infrasound and low-frequency noise “at times with sufficient energy to perceptibly rock stationary cars even further than a kilometer away from the nearest wind turbine.”

You can’t make this up. Anyone who passed a high school science class would scratch their heads and ask how this is even possible. (It’s not of course that’s the absurdity of some of these claims.)

Wind Turbine Syndrome is essential reading for anyone responsible for public energy policy, wind turbine siting, or permitting of renewable energy facilities. It should also be part of the arsenal renewable energy advocates have at hand to deal with malicious anti-wind campaigners worldwide.

Chapman, S. & Crichton, F. Wind turbine syndrome: a communicated disease. Sydney University Press: Sydney, 2017. 330 pages. ISBN: 9781743324967 paper. ISBN: 9781743324998 ebook. 5.83 x 0.82 x 8.27 inches. Printed in the USA.

See also.


1 The history and growth of windfarms, and early objections

2 The advent of noise and health complaints

3 Core problems with health claims about windfarms

4 The best evidence opponents have to offer

5 The psychogenics of wind turbine complaints

6 Opponents of windfarms in Australia

7 How the anti-wind lobby reacts when challenged

8 Strategies for reducing anxiety and complaints

Appendix: 247 symptoms, diseases and aberrant behaviours attributed to wind turbine exposure

Works cited

Further reading