Not just Nimby opportunist true-believer profiteers?

[ The following, complete with “dangerous” examples named in the original, was a recent analysis of some types of opposition to industrial wind development.  Or was it meant more to tell the reader about the prejudices (and weaknesses) of wind proponents?  It’s often hard to tell if the writer isn’t actually describing his own colleagues instead.  After all, who targets primarily other people’s and creatures’ back yards?  Who has the deep pockets and singleness of purpose to lobby for preferential regulation and subsidies and to mount concerted PR (or payoff) campaigns?  Who will not entertain the slightest doubt that large-scale wind is so necessary to save the planet that all downsides can be ignored?  And demonizes anyone who questions them?  Who commonly resorts to dismissing arguments by association rather than facts?  Who funds and promotes countless studies (ie thought experiments) “proving” how great wind power is?  Who promotes a form of energy that requires 100% backup, thus helping – not curtailing – the growth of fossil fuels, and that can’t provide base load, thus keeping nuclear viable as well?  And who misleadingly invokes the evils of oil, which is used for transport and heating and hardly at all for electricity?  Who makes the non sequitur connection between global warming and the need for wind energy?  Who represents a private for-profit industry – two-thirds paid for by taxpayers – that keeps an army of consultants busy, opens up otherwise protected land to development, and is buoyed almost wholly by self-righteous demagoguery?  Who denies all fault by reflexively redirecting attention from the harm done by their developments – on wildlife, particularly birds and bats, as well as landscape and human health?  Who asserts economic viability out of one side of their mouth while with the other begs for massive subsidies and preferential legal mandates to keep them afloat? ]

1. NIMBYs – Not In My Back Yard

These people do exist, but assuming that all opponents to wind energy are NIMBYs is insulting to everyone involved and ineffective as a basis for communication. In general, NIMBYs are pragmatic. They don’t want their view spoiled or their local area changed, and some will use whatever tactics are necessary to achieve their ends. They may fight to the bitter end, but 95% will stop bothering if they lose early in the process and learn to live with wind farms without complaints. If NIMBYism is their primary motivation, they are usually reasonable people and amenable to having conversations. And of course the nice thing about true NIMBYs is that as soon as the specific local battle that concerns them is won or lost, they will generally lose interest and stop spreading disinformation.

A subset of NIMBYs are of greater concern, however. These are well-connected, well-off urbanites with country homes. They know how to run PR campaigns, they have deep pockets and they deal with lawyers regularly. They are often fully capable of running large scale campaigns to support their local fight to preserve their rural fantasy land.

As with many of these categories, how they will respond to having their arguments debunked depends on their native intelligence and traits. In general, the smarter that they are, the more likely they are to merely switch to another argument when one is proven to be ineffective. The flipside is that there are less intelligent people in this category who will become hostile and belligerent if they are countered.

Recommended tactics:  Counter specific arguments with facts and counter-examples. Co-opt them with ways to make money out of wind turbines. Point out that property values increase more rapidly near operating wind farms according to two of the five major studies which show no evidence of property value decreases.

[Pro-wind: Developers typically want to build in your backyard, not in their own.]

2. True Believers

True believers are people who have decided that wind turbines truly are useless and harmful. They will believe anything which supports their world view and disbelieve anything which disagrees with it. They believe all of the negative health and wildlife impacts, and don’t believe the positive AGW avoidance and power generation values. They are usually the shock troops of anti-wind movements but many sensible people find them offputting due to their lack of reasonableness. True believers cannot be usefully engaged. They will often make the surreal claim that they are for wind energy despite the massive negative disinformation campaigns specific to wind energy they engage in.

The more intelligent among them will create more and more elaborate refutations and alternative hypotheses supporting their world-view. These are complete time sucks and not worth refuting in detail except as an intellectual exercise.

The less intelligent will throw out unreferenced facts that they believe support their claims. They will often claim that pro-wind people are heartless because they are ignoring health and environmental impacts. They will usually switch to another argument without acknowledging that they are changing the subject. As claims are refuted, they will become increasingly likely to attack experts’ credibility and the ‘hidden’ motivations of those they are speaking to.

Recommended tactics:  Counter their disinformation with accurate, referenced information. Do not engage in arguments. Talk past them to those listening.

[Pro-wind: Proponents refuse to entertain any doubt, any evidence weakening their claims of unmitigated benefit]

3. Fossil Fuel Profiteers

These people are amorally pragmatic. They are likely executing strategies related to other renewables and AGW-denial as well. They will spread fear, uncertainty and doubt of any kind to advance their cause. Typically these are the most sophisticated at PR. They cannot be usefully engaged because their goals are solely spin and PR aimed at preserving their bottom line. They take advantage of true believers mercilessly.

If countered, they will follow one or more of the following tactics:

  • Shift PR focus to another delaying argument.
  • Buy an expert to testify on their behalf.
  • Support more astroturf organizations.
  • Fund studies and research that ‘prove’ failure of wind and renewables and promote them heavily.
  • Attack the credibility of opponents, possibly by funding background investigations.

Recommended tactics:  Counter their disinformation with accurate, referenced information. Reference AGW realities. Follow the money. Talk past them to those listening.

[Pro-wind: Since wind requires 100% backup, it ensures the continued necessity of fossil fuels on the grid. The (false) promise of clean wind energy also diverts attention from cleaning up fossil fuel use.]

4. Libertarians

These people are economic ideologues who believe that any market distortion is necessarily bad. If pressed, they will agree that fossil fuel subsidies must go, but then will return to ‘green subsidies’ as the primary problem. They often have no qualms about massive exaggerations and other means in aid of their ends. They can be engaged, but only on subjects other than market distortions such as health, capacity factors etc, but they will return the subject to FIT, PTC, RET, etc rapidly.

If countered, they are likely to drag out more and more factoids about negative impacts of market distortions. Solyndra will be mentioned in the USA even though it is irrelevant. Poke them hard enough and they are likely to reference Ayn Rand in positive terms.

Recommended tactics:  Don’t try to argue that market distortions are of any use. Put forward fossil fuel subsidies with back up supporting documentation and get them focused on them. Counter corollary disinformation about health, capacity factors. Talk past them to those listening about job creation and negative externalities of fossil fuels.

[Pro-wind: The industry pleads that it would thrive if fossil fuels weren’t subsidized, so meanwhile 40-fold subsidies for wind are necessary to level the playing field.]

5. Nuclear Advocates

These people may or may not believe that global warming is real, but they are invested heavily in nuclear energy as the answer to almost all of our energy needs and often have a poor understanding of grid management. They tend to be smart but ignore human dynamics of problems, and have a blind spot about the effort and time required to develop nuclear engineers and maintenance workers. Their greatest challenge to renewables campaigns is that their arguments are leveraged by others who are just against wind energy. Nuclear advocates are frequently zero-sum game thinkers, but do present the best opportunity for useful discussions of balance between low-CO2e, low health impact energy sources. Some leading lights in the environmental movement are in this camp, sadly, without understanding that their efforts will not lead to social license for nuclear and that their efforts are solely being used to delay moving off of fossil fuels.

If countered, the average nuclear advocate will drag out more and more factoids about nuclear energy’s value and wind power’s lack of value. They will likely reference amateur and professional studies which look good until you dig in and realize the biases. Generally a time suck, so avoid digging into their arguments in too much depth.

Recommended tactics:  Counter their arguments on energy density (as Lovins points out, it’s a weird argument in that no one decides anything based on it). Agree that nuclear is very low CO2e source and has very low fatalities per TWh, just like wind and solar and unlike fossil fuels. Look for opportunities to talked about appropriate blend of low-carbon, low-particulate energy sources. Don’t poke them with nuclear failures or price. Do talk about difficulty of training sufficient nuclear engineers. Talk past them to those listening.

[Pro-wind: Even more than with fossil fuels, wind can not replace nuclear, which provides steady baseload. Again, promoting wind (falsely) as an alternative diverts attention from the problems of nuclear.]

6. Anthropogenic Global Warming Deniers

These people for their own reasons ignore the scientific consensus around global warming and man’s contribution to it. They tend to focus on carbon reduction aspects of renewables to exclusion of other factors and deny the value proposition on that measure alone. While the majority of mainstream religions embrace the science of global warming and consider stewardship of our earth an important element, it’s worth noting that there is a small subset of evangelical Christians who believe and preach the opposite; unfortunately it appears as if Canada’s Prime Minister Harper is among them.

This is another area where the behaviour of the intelligent varies from the less intelligent in the crowd. The smarter ones will throw out more and more spurious studies and factoids. They’ll point to very narrowly cherry-picked time series ignoring larger times series. They’ll pretend that there isn’t a scientific consensus. The less intelligent, of course, will get belligerent and hostile.

Recommended tactics:  Point to climate change consensus but don’t argue directly, they are time sinks. Talk past them to those listening.

[Pro-wind: The wind industry cynically rides the coat-tails of climate change concern, but in fact wind power can not meaningfully reduce CO2 emissions, let alone other (more powerful) greenhouse gases.]

7. Opportunists

This category of people see a brass ring. They look for ways to capitalize on the conflict for personal gain. They are in the minority, but some have gained prominence. There are two categories of opportunists, the short-term gain con artist and the long-term opportunists.

Short cons include attempting to claim that tar paper shacks with mold problems have been made uninhabitable by wind farm noise, or attempting to extort money out of wind farm developers or leaseholders to avoid ‘problems’. (Both of these are documented behaviours near wind farms, but once again, this is not common nor should it be assumed that anyone claiming issues is an opportunist.)

Long-term gain opportunists include a subset of anti-wind energy politicians and ‘professionals’ who are exploiting the concerned in return for consulting fees, noise studies and fees to testify at hearings. To repeat, a majority of politicians and professionals who are opposed to wind energy are sincere if misguided, but there is a strong subset who are content to exploit the fear and negativity for ongoing political or fiscal gain.

Recommended tactics:

For the short-con opportunists, confront them privately, tell them they are busted and move on. The majority will give up under those circumstances. They are opportunists, not long term players and will move on to some other get-less-poor-quick scheme.

The long-term opportunists are more of a problem. Building credible responses and dissections of their material as well as strong peer-reviewed collateral to counter them is necessary. Engaging experts to confront them is required, and not particularly hard to do.

[Pro-wind: Profiteering defines the industry.]

Addendum, 8 October 2013

Misguided Environmentalists

Pretty much every major bird, wildlife and environmental organization in the world – Audobon, David Suzuki Foundation, United Nations Environment Program, World Nature Organization, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Birdlife International, Royal Society for Protection of Birds, Greenpeace, American Bird Conservancy – is strongly supportive of wind energy. They recognize that global warming and fossil fuel pollution and habitat destruction are the major population concerns for wildlife. They engage productively around broader scale guidelines for wind farm siting and in specific siting tribunals where endangered species are potentially at risk to minimize potential harm to species at risk.

That said, there are a subset of environmentalists who can’t see the forest for the trees, for whom any animal’s or bird’s death is one too many. Windfarms visibly harm birds that they can see, therefore wind farms must be stopped. They are short-sighted and have a very limited perspective, and there inability to gain perspective means that they typically believe a lot of other a-factual disinformation about wind energy as well, as they don’t have the capability or will to assess the evidence. It’s quite likely that many of them simply don’t care about the quality of anti-wind arguments, as they merely want evidence for their shotguns. The list of major, credible and dedicated organizations supporting wind energy makes it clear that this small subset are very much a tiny minority of environmentalists.

Because they are often motivated by deep emotional connections to animals, the majority of these people are completely impervious to reason and referenced arguments.

Recommended tactics:

Point to major conservancy organization and global studies supporting wind energy as the best form of utility-scale generation for wildlife including birds. Agree that individual siting must assess local species, specifically those that are at risk. Talk past them to those who can be convinced by facts and reason.

[Pro-wind: Have to destroy the village to save it. And please don’t mention bats.]

Armchair economists

This group of people tend to overlap with Libertarians and pro-nuclear advocates, but have a distinct core. They believe, despite the clear evidence of 240,000 wind turbines generating electricity today, each worth on average $3 million USD to manufacture and erect, each requiring a business case that had to satisfy a great swath of private sector Chief Financial Officers, that they somehow have a magic formula which proves wind energy isn’t economically viable in reality. Typically, they have little to no formal training in economics, but come to it from other disciplines, often engineering and physics for some reason.

In general, there’s a greater congregation in Europe, where Libertarian ideology is not as strongly expressed.

Recommended tactics

Point to the 240,000 operating, effective wind turbines generating electricity world wide today. Point to continued support for wind energy by companies such as Google. Talk past them to people who can be convinced.

[Pro-wind: The wind industry and its supporting consultants measure economic benefit only by their own fortunes.]


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