A brand new scare. The lack of warming and the collapse of the agw fear machine is leading to new causes. We may soon see the creation of a new UN IPOC - Intergovernmental Panel on Oxygen Crisis. The author of the screed below, Peter Tatchell, is best known as a homosexual activist. He appears to base his latest cry for attention on the contents of an as-yet unwritten book
The rise in carbon dioxide emissions is big news. It is prompting action to reverse global warming. But little or no attention is being paid to the long-term fall in oxygen concentrations and its knock-on effects. Compared to prehistoric times, the level of oxygen in the earth's atmosphere has declined by over a third and in polluted cities the decline may be more than 50%. [This is risible. Gaseous diffusion is very rapid. A huge difference like this in Oxygen concentration between city and country is impossible] This change in the makeup of the air we breathe has potentially serious implications for our health. Indeed, it could ultimately threaten the survival of human life on earth, according to Roddy Newman, who is drafting a new book, The Oxygen Crisis.
I am not a scientist, but this seems a reasonable concern. It is a possibility that we should examine and assess. So, what's the evidence? Around 10,000 years ago, the planet's forest cover was at least twice what it is today, which means that forests are now emitting only half the amount of oxygen. Desertification and deforestation are rapidly accelerating this long-term loss of oxygen sources. The story at sea is much the same. Nasa reports that in the north Pacific ocean oxygen-producing phytoplankton concentrations are 30% lower today, compared to the 1980s. This is a huge drop in just three decades.
Moreover, the UN environment programme confirmed in 2004 that there were nearly 150 "dead zones" in the world's oceans where discharged sewage and industrial waste, farm fertiliser run-off and other pollutants have reduced oxygen levels to such an extent that most or all sea creatures can no longer live there. This oxygen starvation is reducing regional fish stocks and diminishing the food supplies of populations that are dependent on fishing. It also causes genetic mutations and hormonal changes that can affect the reproductive capacity of sea life, which could further diminish global fish supplies.
Professor Robert Berner of Yale University has researched oxygen levels in prehistoric times by chemically analysing air bubbles trapped in fossilised tree amber. He suggests that humans breathed a much more oxygen-rich air 10,000 years ago.
Further back, the oxygen levels were even greater. Robert Sloan has listed the percentage of oxygen in samples of dinosaur-era amber as: 28% (130m years ago), 29% (115m years ago), 35% (95m years ago), 33% (88m years ago), 35% (75m years ago), 35% (70m years ago), 35% (68m years ago), 31% (65.2m years ago), and 29% (65m years ago).
Professor Ian Plimer of Adelaide University and Professor Jon Harrison of the University of Arizona concur. Like most other scientists they accept that oxygen levels in the atmosphere in prehistoric times averaged around 30% to 35%, compared to only 21% today - and that the levels are even less in densely populated, polluted city centres and industrial complexes, perhaps only 15 % or lower.
Much of this recent, accelerated change is down to human activity, notably the industrial revolution and the burning of fossil fuels. The Professor of Geological Sciences at Notre Dame University in Indiana, J Keith Rigby, was quoted in 1993-1994 as saying:
In the 20th century, humanity has pumped increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning the carbon stored in coal, petroleum and natural gas. In the process, we've also been consuming oxygen and destroying plant life - cutting down forests at an alarming rate and thereby short-circuiting the cycle's natural rebound. We're artificially slowing down one process and speeding up another, forcing a change in the atmosphere.
Very interesting. But does this decline in oxygen matter? Are there any practical consequences that we ought to be concerned about? What is the effect of lower oxygen levels on the human body? Does it disrupt and impair our immune systems and therefore make us more prone to cancer and degenerative diseases?
Surprisingly, no significant research has been done, perhaps on the following presumption: the decline in oxygen levels has taken place over millions of years of our planet's existence. The changes during the shorter period of human life have also been slow and incremental - until the last two centuries of rapid urbanisation and industrialisation. Surely, this mostly gradual decline has allowed the human body to evolve and adapt to lower concentrations of oxygen? Maybe, maybe not.
The pace of oxygen loss is likely to have speeded up massively in the last three decades, with the industrialisation of China, India, South Korea and other countries, and as a consequence of the massive worldwide increase in the burning of fossil fuels.
In the view of Professor Ervin Laszlo, the drop in atmospheric oxygen has potentially serious consequences. A UN advisor who has been a professor of philosophy and systems sciences, Laszlo writes:
Evidence from prehistoric times indicates that the oxygen content of pristine nature was above the 21% of total volume that it is today. It has decreased in recent times due mainly to the burning of coal in the middle of the last century. Currently the oxygen content of the Earth's atmosphere dips to 19% over impacted areas, and it is down to 12 to 17% over the major cities. At these levels it is difficult for people to get sufficient oxygen to maintain bodily health: it takes a proper intake of oxygen to keep body cells and organs, and the entire immune system, functioning at full efficiency. At the levels we have reached today cancers and other degenerative diseases are likely to develop. And at 6 to 7% life can no longer be sustained.
Scaremongering? I don't think so. A reason for doomsaying? Not yet. What is needed is an authoritative evidence-based investigation to ascertain current oxygen levels and what consequences, if any, there are for the long-term wellbeing of our species - and, indeed, of all species.
UPDATE: An emailed comment from Prof. Roy Spencer of UAH below.
"It doesn't get much more stupid than this. The O2 concentration of the atmosphere has been measured off and on for about 100 years now, and the concentration (20.95%) has not varied within the accuracy of the measurements. Only in recent years have more precise measurement techniques been developed, and the tiny decrease in O2 with increasing CO2 has been actually measured....but I believe the O2 concentration is still 20.95%....maybe it's down to 20.94% by now...I'm not sure.
There is SO much O2 in the atmosphere, it is believed to not be substantially affected by vegetation, but it is the result of geochemistry in deep-ocean sediments...no one really knows for sure.
Since too much O2 is not good for humans, the human body keeps O2 concentrations down around 5% in our major organs. Extra O2 can give you a burst of energy, but it will harm you (or kill you) if the exposure is too long.
It has been estimated that global wildfire risk would increase greatly if O2 concentrations were much more than they are now.
To say there is an impending "oxygen crisis" is the epitome of fear mongering."
Update 2: I think Lubos Motl has the final word on the matter
August 'one of the coldest on record' for Australia
August 2008 continues to be one of the coldest on record for most of Australia with temperatures averaging as much as six degrees below normal.
The cold weather has even spread to northern Queensland with Burketown dropping to five degrees on Saturday morning for the first time in 24 years. On the Queensland coast Coolangatta has now dropped to five or less on 10 consecutive mornings, easily beating the old record of six.
Daytime has brought little relief with Orange shivering through 10 consecutive days below eight degrees for the first time in 17 years.
The prolonged cold spell is due to a strong high pressure system anchored south of WA. The high is directing southerly winds over the country, carrying cold air from the Southern Ocean well north into the tropics.
The high will finally move east early next week but a second high will maintain chilly weather until at least Sunday.
Canada endures 'briefest summer' in decades
Summer, we hardly knew ye. Even the sunniest optimist can't deny the signs. It's all but over. Area fall fairs start today. The CNE is under way. (Both, no doubt, doomed to storms that are both unforecast and torrential.) What, you say summer doesn't officially end until 11:44 a.m. on Sept. 22? Only if you're an astronomer. Back-to-school ads are out, retailers licking their chops in anticipation that Christmas is virtually around the corner. Soon sweaty Olympians will be replaced on TV by sweatier Jerry Lewis, the Ticats thump the Argos on Labour Day weekend, and the wet, brief, Summer of Woe-Eight is history. Has any summer felt shorter? And why does it matter? What is it about summer that so often breaks our hearts?
If you measure the season by blue sky and sunshine, this has been the briefest summer since perhaps the oppressive gloom and cold of the summer of 1992. It's not so much the total rainfall this season -- although Hamilton has indeed had at least 10 centimetres more rain than average, and three times more than last summer. No, it's more about timing. Summer is about the weekend. Last year, to this point in the summer, Hamilton had measurable rainfall on a total of four Saturdays or Sundays. This summer? Sixteen -- rain on 16 Saturdays or Sundays. Put another way, last summer there were seven totally dry weekends, this summer, just one (July 4-5).
Worst of all, the weather has been maddeningly schizophrenic, storm clouds on the periphery seemingly every day, and forecasts as scientific as a Ouija board. "If it's bright all day, or rains all day, it's easy to plan, but we've seen the weather changing on a dime, by the hour," said Dave Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, who is quick to assert that forecasters "never promise anything."
As if to compound frustration over the summer that wasn't, there is nothing convenient on which to blame the weather, not global warming, El Nino or El Nina. The cave-like summer of 1992 -- perhaps the worst ever for cloud and cold -- was attributed to atmospheric fallout of dust from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines the year prior. And this summer? There's no identifiable cause for our season of discontent, other than we have for some reason been trapped beneath what is called an "upper low," an oxymoronic disturbance parked over the James Bay-Central Quebec area that moves around a bit but never really exits, refusing to spin north or east, which would allow for the arrival of dry warm air from the southern United States.....
Expectations for a bright and warm 2008 season were no doubt influenced by last summer, which was abnormally dry and hot. It skewed our perception of what summer should be. But then, summer has always been less about reality than it is about magic.
Global Warming: Solving an Environmental Problem or Creating a Social Crisis?
By William Kininmonth of Melbourne, Australia. William Kininmonth is a former head of Australia's National Climate Centre and a consultant to the World Meteorological Organization. Kininmonth points out that it is only unrealistic figures fed into climate models that produce worrying projections
Prevention of dangerous climate change, particularly through implementation of a national carbon pollution reduction scheme, has emerged as a primary policy objective of the Rudd government. The rationale for the policy is the scientific assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its computer-based projections of global warming. We are told by the IPCC `consensus of scientists' that continued burning of fossil fuels, and a range of other industry activities that increase the concentration of `greenhouse gases' in the atmosphere, will lead to dangerous climate change, possibly passing a `tipping point' causing `runaway global warming'. What does this all mean, really?
The IPCC's most recent assessment attempts to be helpful to the casual enquirer by having a series of explanations for `frequently asked questions', or FAQs. The first FAQ is `What factors determine earth's climate'? We are informed that, on average, the earth emits 240 w m-2 of radiation to space and that this equates to an emission temperature of -19oC. The earth's temperature, however, is about 14oC and the -19oC temperature is found at a height of about 5 km above the surface. To quote the IPCC: "The reason the earth's surface is this warm is the presence of greenhouse gases, which act as a partial blanket for the longwave radiation coming from the earth's surface. This blanketing is known as the natural greenhouse effect".
This explanation by the IPCC is clearly misleading, if not wrong. The inference that the greenhouse gases are acting like a blanket suggests that they are increasing the insulating properties of the atmosphere. However, the main gases of the atmosphere are oxygen and nitrogen, non-greenhouse gases, and they are also excellent insulators against the conduction of heat (like a blanket); adding additional trace amounts of carbon dioxide will have no appreciable impact on the insulating properties of the atmosphere.
In its third FAQ, `What is the greenhouse effect?' the IPCC comes to the nub of the issue but provides a different and equally misleading explanation. "Much of the thermal radiation emitted by the land and the ocean is absorbed by the atmosphere, including clouds, and reradiated back to earth. This is called the greenhouse effect". According to the IPCC's global energy budget, the surface emits 390 W m-2 of radiation and the energy radiated back to the surface is 324 W m-2. It is difficult to see how an ongoing net loss of longwave radiation energy from the surface of 66 W m-2 can lead to warming! Indeed, we are all aware that between dusk and dawn the earth's surface cools.
The IPCC has not explained in a scientifically sound and coherent way, how the `greenhouse effect' is maintained. The greenhouse gases do not increase the insulating properties of the atmosphere and the back radiation does not warm the surface. The IPCC explanation of the greenhouse effect is obfuscation and, even to the mildly scientific literate, reflects ignorance of basic processes of the climate system.
How then do we explain to people who are going to be affected by reactionary government policies what are the greenhouse effect and its enhancement by additional carbon dioxide?
A credible explanation has no need for smoke and mirrors. The energy flow through the climate system is predominantly by way of four stages: 1) absorption of solar radiation at the surface; 2) conduction of heat and evaporation of latent energy from the surface to the atmospheric boundary layer; 3) convective overturning that distributes heat and latent energy through the troposphere; and 4) radiation of energy from the atmosphere to space. We will see that it is the characteristics of convective overturning that keep the surface warmer than it would otherwise be.
The Kiehl and Trenberth (1997) global average energy budget of the earth is used by the IPCC and is a useful starting point for explanation of the establishment and maintenance of the greenhouse effect. Of the 340 units of solar radiation entering the earth's atmosphere, 67 are absorbed by the atmosphere and 168 are absorbed at the surface. There is thus an ongoing source of solar energy available to the atmosphere and the surface. At the surface there is a net accumulation of radiation energy because the incoming solar radiation (168 units) exceeds the net loss of longwave radiation (66 units).
In the atmospheric layer there is absorption of 417 units (390 of emission from the surface, less 40 that go directly to space, plus absorption of 67 of solar radiation) and an emission of 519 units (324 back to the surface and 195 direct emission to space). The net effect of the interaction between the greenhouse gases and radiation is a tendency to cool the atmosphere because it is continually losing energy.
Overall there is a dichotomy, with radiation processes firstly tending to warm the earth's surface and secondly tending to cool the atmosphere. Air is an excellent insulator against conduction of heat and will not transfer heat through the atmosphere, as is necessary for energy balance. Also, the thermodynamic properties of air (potential temperature increases with height) ensure that turbulent motions of the atmosphere will mix energy downward, not upward as required.
The process for transferring energy from the surface to the atmosphere, necessary to achieve overall energy balance of the climate system, was explained by Herbert Riehl and Joanne Malkus (the latter better known as Joanne Simpson) in a 1958 paper, On the heat balance of the equatorial trough zone (Geophysica). Riehl and Malkus noted that boundary layer air, rising buoyantly in the protected updraughts of deep tropical convection clouds, converts heat and latent energy to potential energy. Away from the convection, compensating subsidence converts potential energy to heat.
What is implied in the Riehl and Malkus model is that deep tropical convection, and the transfer of energy from the surface to the atmosphere, will not take place without buoyant updraughts within deep convection clouds. That is, there is a need for the temperature of the atmosphere to decrease with altitude and that the rate of decrease of temperature must be sufficient to allow buoyancy of the air ascending in the updraughts. From well-known thermodynamic laws, the rate of decrease of temperature must be at least 6.5oC/km to allow the buoyancy forces of convection to overcome the natural stratification of the atmosphere.
The climate system will come into energy equilibrium when temperatures are such that the net solar radiation absorbed is balanced by the longwave radiation to space. At equilibrium, the greenhouse effect (ie, that the average surface temperature of 14oC is greater than the -19oC blackbody emission temperature of earth) is an outcome from the need for convective overturning of the atmosphere.
Additional warming of the surface will come about when the greenhouse effect is enhanced. The fundamental question is how much warming will additional greenhouse gas concentrations cause and will it be dangerous?
An increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration reduces the emission of longwave radiation to space and increases the back radiation at the surface. An increase in back radiation adds energy to the surface, which will further warm the surface. However there is a constraint on the surface temperature rise because of the commensurate increase in rate of energy loss from the surface: both the rate of infrared emission and the rate of evaporation of latent heat increase with temperature.
The increase in radiation emission from the surface can be calculated from the well-known Boltzmann equation and is 5.4 units/oC at 15oC. The earth's surface is mainly ocean or freely transpiring vegetation and evaporation will increase near exponentially with temperature according to the Claussius-Clapeyron relationship and is 6.0 units/oC at 15oC. According to the IPCC, the radiative forcing from doubling of carbon dioxide concentration is 3.7 units. The actual surface temperature increase is derived from the ratio of the radiation forcing (3.7) to the natural rate of increase in surface energy loss with temperature (5.4 + 6.0). The direct surface temperature rise from a doubling of carbon dioxide is therefore 3.7/(5.4 + 6.0) = 0.3oC.
A 0.3oC global temperature increase towards the end of the 21st century from a doubling of current carbon dioxide concentration is not obviously dangerous. However, what also needs to be taken into account is the positive feedback. A warming of the surface temperature will cause a warming of the overlying atmosphere, an increase in the water vapour concentration (another naturally occurring greenhouse gas), a further increase in back radiation, and an incremental increase in surface temperature. Each successive incremental surface temperature increase will cause another incremental temperature increase through the positive feedback amplification.
The amplification follows standard mathematical treatment and, as long as the ratio r is less than unity, the gain is given by [1 / (1 - r)]. Here r is the ratio of natural increase in back radiation with temperature (4.8 units/oC - estimated from a standard radiation transfer model) to the natural increase of surface energy loss with temperature (as previously, 11.4 units/oC). The natural gain is 1.7 and increases the surface temperature rise from a doubling of carbon dioxide concentration from 0.3oC to 0.5oC.
A 0.5oC increase in global temperature over the coming century is within recent short-term temperature variability and is less than the apparent global temperature rise of the past century. Moreover, both the direct forcing of surface temperature and the amplification gain are tightly constrained by the magnitude of the natural increase of surface energy loss with temperature increase. It is not immediately apparent how `runaway global warming' could come about with such a constraint.
A fundamental question arises as to why the IPCC global temperature projections for doubling carbon dioxide concentration, based on computer models of the climate system, lead to estimates of about 3oC, or about six times the above estimate.
A clue to the conundrum can be found in published descriptions of the performance of the computer models used in the IPCC fourth assessment. Isaac Held and Brian Soden, writing in the Journal of Climate (2006) note that the rate of increase of evaporation in the computer models, on average, only increases at about one-third of the rate expected from the Claussius Clapeyron relationship. Additionally, Frank Wentz and colleagues, writing in the journal Science (2007), have confirmed the under-specification of evaporation increase with temperature and, from satellite based observations, have determined that global evaporation does indeed comply with the Claussius Clapeyron relationship.
It is clear from the above formulation of the surface temperature rise and the associated amplification gain that each is sensitive to the specification of evaporation increase with temperature. Substitution of the average evaporation specification of computer models into the formulation will boost the projected temperature rise from the above expected value of 0.5oC to 1.5oC, the lower end of IPCC projections. When the specification of evaporation increase with temperature is very low, as in the more extreme models, then the feedback amplification gain increases to a value of about ten; the temperature sensitivity of the computer model becomes highly exaggerated and model would likely simulate the behaviour of runaway global warming. The behaviour, of course, is false and arises only because of the significant under-specification of evaporation.
Despite the many claims that the IPCC projections of human-caused global warming are sound, the consensus of climate scientists and that the science is settled, there are disturbing shortcomings to both the essential explanations and to the computer modelling. The shortcomings are disturbing because the projections and their associated predictions of diabolical impacts on environmental systems are the only rational justification given for wholesale government restructuring of our industrial base and lifestyles.
This is the first time in human history that there has been a conscious move at the national level to discard the tools that have underpinned security, wellbeing and comfort. We are deliberately abrogating energy usage from proven and widely available sources on the basis of a perceived environmental threat which is poorly articulated and substantiated only by recourse to obviously deficient computer modelling. Why am I reminded of Charles MacKay's 1841 tome, "Extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds'?
Lomborg replies to the ticklish one
Says that Alarmist predictions of climate change like Oliver Tickell's are bad science. Tickell's plug for his new book was mentioned briefly on this blog on 11th
Much of the global warming debate is perhaps best described as a constant outbidding by frantic campaigners, producing a barrage of ever-more scary scenarios in an attempt to get the public to accept their civilisation-changing proposals. Unfortunately, the general public - while concerned about the environment - is distinctly unwilling to support questionable solutions with costs running into tens of trillions of pounds. Predictably, this makes the campaigners reach for even more outlandish scares.
These alarmist predictions are becoming quite bizarre, and could be dismissed as sociological oddities, if it weren't for the fact that they get such big play in the media. Oliver Tickell, for instance, writes that a global warming causing a 4C temperature increase by the end of the century would be a "catastrophe" and the beginning of the "extinction" of the human race. This is simply silly.
His evidence? That 4C would mean that all the ice on the planet would melt, bringing the long-term sea level rise to 70-80m, flooding everything we hold dear, seeing billions of people die. Clearly, Tickell has maxed out the campaigners' scare potential (because there is no more ice to melt, this is the scariest he could ever conjure). But he is wrong. Let us just remember that the UN climate panel, the IPCC, expects a temperature rise by the end of the century between 1.8 and 6.0C. Within this range, the IPCC predicts that, by the end of the century, sea levels will rise 18-59 centimetres - Tickell is simply exaggerating by a factor of up to 400.
Tickell will undoubtedly claim that he was talking about what could happen many, many millennia from now. But this is disingenuous. First, the 4C temperature rise is predicted on a century scale - this is what we talk about and can plan for. Second, although sea-level rise will continue for many centuries to come, the models unanimously show that Greenland's ice shelf will be reduced, but Antarctic ice will increase even more (because of increased precipitation in Antarctica) for the next three centuries. What will happen beyond that clearly depends much more on emissions in future centuries. Given that CO2 stays in the atmosphere about a century, what happens with the temperature, say, six centuries from now mainly depends on emissions five centuries from now (where it seems unlikely non-carbon emitting technology such as solar panels will not have become economically competitive).
Third, Tickell tells us how the 80m sea-level rise would wipe out all the world's coastal infrastructure and much of the world's farmland - "undoubtedly" causing billions to die. But to cause billions to die, it would require the surge to occur within a single human lifespan. This sort of scare tactic is insidiously wrong and misleading, mimicking a firebrand preacher who claims the earth is coming to an end and we need to repent. While it is probably true that the sun will burn up the earth in 4-5bn years' time, it does give a slightly different perspective on the need for immediate repenting.
Tickell's claim that 4C will be the beginning of our extinction is again many times beyond wrong and misleading, and, of course, made with no data to back it up. Let us just take a look at the realistic impact of such a 4C temperature rise. For the Copenhagen Consensus, one of the lead economists of the IPCC, Professor Gary Yohe, did a survey of all the problems and all the benefits accruing from a temperature rise over this century of about approximately 4C. And yes, there will, of course, also be benefits: as temperatures rise, more people will die from heat, but fewer from cold; agricultural yields will decline in the tropics, but increase in the temperate zones, etc.
The model evaluates the impacts on agriculture, forestry, energy, water, unmanaged ecosystems, coastal zones, heat and cold deaths and disease. The bottom line is that benefits from global warming right now outweigh the costs (the benefit is about 0.25% of global GDP). Global warming will continue to be a net benefit until about 2070, when the damages will begin to outweigh the benefits, reaching a total damage cost equivalent to about 3.5% of GDP by 2300. This is simply not the end of humanity. If anything, global warming is a net benefit now; and even in three centuries, it will not be a challenge to our civilisation. Further, the IPCC expects the average person on earth to be 1,700% richer by the end of this century.
Tickell's hellfire and damnation sermon also misinforms us of the solutions to global warming: panicking is rarely the right state of mind for finding smart solutions. In essence, Tickell says that because the outlook is so frightening, we need to cut much, much more than the Kyoto protocol called for. Now, all peer-reviewed, published economic models demonstrate that such an effort is a colossal waste of money - one of the leading models shows that, for every pound spent, Tickell's solution would do about 13p-worth of good.
Tickell finds that current climate efforts like Kyoto have been "miserable failures", which is true, but makes it seem rather odd that he thinks much-more-of-the-same will suddenly be great policy. He claims that the reason these policies are not realised is because our governments are "craven to special interests". While this is convenient to believe, it is, of course, incorrect; the real reason is that no one in the electorate wants to pay œ2, œ3 or even œ4 for a litre of petrol.
If we are to find a workable and economically smart solution, we would do well to look at the best climate solution from the top economists from the Copenhagen Consensus. They found that, unlike even moderate CO2 cuts, which cost more than they do good, we should focus on investing in finding cheaper low-carbon energy. This requires us to invest massively in energy research and development (R&D). Right now, we don't - because the climate panic makes us focus exclusively on cutting CO2.
R&D has been dropping worldwide since the early 1980s. If we increased this investment ten-fold, it would still be ten times cheaper than Kyoto, and probably hundreds to thousands of times cheaper than Tickell's proposal. The literature indicates that for every pound invested, we would do œ11-worth of good. The reason: because when we all talk about cutting CO2, we might get some well-meaning westerners to put up a few inefficient solar panels on their roof-tops. While it costs a lot, it will do little and have no impact on Chinese and Indian emissions. But if we focus on investing in making cheaper solar panels, they will become competitive sooner, making everyone, including the Chinese and Indians, switch.
Such a proposal is efficient, politically feasible and will actually fix climate change in the medium term. Being panicked by incorrect data and suggesting outlandish policies might create a splash, but it will stall our prospects of achieving real change. Let's not be silly - let's choose the best solution.
Wind Woes: Living close to wind turbines can cause 'sleep disorders, difficulty with equilibrium, headaches, childhood night terrors'
Regrettably, carbon dioxide seems to induce the same disorders in some people
Dr. Nina Pierpont of Malone, N.Y., coined the phrase "wind turbine syndrome" for what she says happens to some people living near wind energy farms. She has made the phrase part of the title of a book she's written called "Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on the Natural Experiment." It is scheduled for publication next month by K-Selected Press, of Santa Fe, N.M.
In contrast to those who consider wind turbines clean, green and an ideal source of renewable energy, Pierpont says living or working too close to them has a downside. Her research says wind turbines should never be built closer than two miles from homes. Pierpont, 53, is a 1991 graduate of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and has a doctorate in population biology from Princeton University. Her interest was piqued by a wind farm being built near her upstate New York home, and she studied 10 families living near wind turbines built since 2004 in Canada, England, Ireland, Italy and the United States.
Pierpont's findings suggest that low-frequency noise and vibration generated by wind machines can have an effect on the inner ear, triggering headaches; difficulty sleeping; tinnitus, or ringing in the ears; learning and mood disorders; panic attacks; irritability; disruption of equilibrium, concentration and memory; and childhood behavior problems.
Concerns also are coming out of Europe about low-frequency noise from newly built wind turbines. For example, British physician Amanda Harry, in a February 2007 article titled "Wind Turbines, Noise and Health," wrote of 39 people, including residents of New Zealand and Australia, who suffered from the sounds emitted by wind turbines. According to Pierpont, eight of the 10 families in her study moved out of their homes."All these problems were resolved as soon as these people got away from the turbines, got in the car and drove away from the house," she said.
Mike Logsdon, director of development for Invenergy, developer of the 48 wind turbines under construction in the Willow Creek Wind Project, said he's heard of Pierpont's findings, but his 5-year-old company doesn't find them credible."We've had a number of other wind farms over the country and residents living by them and never had any problems," Logsdon said. Invenergy has built and operates wind farms in Canada and Poland and in 12 states in the United States, Logsdon said. The company has 1,200 megawatts in production and is building 600 megawatts this year. The 72-megawatt Willow Creek Wind Project near the Eatons' home is scheduled to start producing electricity Jan. 1.
If Pierpont's theories gain acceptance, decisions on where future wind energy farms are built could be affected. Last year, more than one-third of all new power capacity in the United States, roughly 5,000 megawatts, was generated by wind turbines, said Joseph Beamon, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington.Meanwhile, a U.S. Department of Energy report said demand for electricity is likely to grow 40 percent in the next 22 years in the United States alone, with 20 percent of the nation's power generated by wind turbines, he said.
The Eatons and their neighbors have more to worry about than the Willow Creek Project. Approval was given July 25 by the Oregon Facilities Siting Council for construction of as many as 400 more wind turbines in the nearby Shepherds Flat Wind Project spanning parts of Gilliam and Morrow counties. The planned 909-megawatt project by Caithness Energy of Chicago is expected to be the largest wind farm on Earth, generating enough peak energy to power 225,000 homes.
"Man, this whole country is going to be windmills," said a dismayed Denny Wade, 59, a railroad worker and neighbor of the Eatons. He and his wife, Lorrie, a 53-year-old schoolteacher, live three-quarters of a mile from one of Willow Creek's turbines. The Wades had planned to sell the home where they've lived for four years and build a retirement home on a knoll 200 yards away with a view of Mount Hood. "Now, the view that it had is all windmills," Wade said. "I didn't move out there to view windmills."
But Denny Wade's larger concern is his vulnerability to migraine headaches. Although not everyone living near wind turbines experienced headaches, Pierpont's research suggests "everyone with pre-existing migraines" developed headaches by living near the wind generators. The Wades scrapped plans to build a new home and hope to sell their 42 acres and move, they said.
Morrow County planner Carla McLane said potential health issues never were raised during the planning process in her county, and the opportunity to appeal has passed. The potential effects of turbines on the scenic values of Oregon 74 never were brought up in hearings he attended, said Terry Tallman, Morrow County Commission chairman. Generally, wind energy farms have been welcomed in this sparsely settled corner of the state, Tallman said. Tax revenues from the wind farms will be distributed to the counties, public schools, park and recreation districts and fire departments, he said."Everybody that I've talked to has been very happy," he said, adding that some on whose property the turbines are being built intend to retire on the income they receive. "I think it's a good thing," Ron Wyscaver, 40, a neighbor of the Eatons and Wades, said of the wind turbines.
Caithness first proposed a 105-megawatt Shepherds Flat Project in 2002, then applied to the state for the larger project two years ago, McLane said. The project was so large it went to the Energy Facilities Siting Council, where it received the go-ahead to start construction.
Potential medical problems aside, wind turbines will wreck the tranquillity that Mike and Sherry Eaton came to this remote place to find, Sherry Eaton said. She drives 90 miles a day to and from her job in Hermiston so they can live in the high-desert setting."When you come home from work, everything drains away from you because it's so quiet and peaceful," she said, adding that's about to end."Now we are going to have to listen to those windmills: Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!" she said
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