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Alternative Fact of the Week: Cancer turbines

Alternative Fact of the Week: Cancer turbines
Wind turbines in the Tehachapi-Mojave Wind Resource Area near the city of Mojave, Calif., on Jan. 8, 2019. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

There’s been quite a flurry of alternative facts coming out of the general direction of the White House this week. From how much has been spent on disaster aid to Puerto Rico (a whole lot less than President Donald Trump believes) to the effectiveness of U.S. aid to Central America (a whole lot greater than Mr. Trump acknowledges), the hot air keeps coming. But if you want to truly experience a Class 5 Hurricane of ill-informed, made-up stuff, the president’s view on wind power expressed during his appearance at a meeting of the National Republican Congressional Committee on Tuesday was the tempest with the mostest.

While it’s been pretty well established that President Trump likes his energy drilled or mined but definitely carbon-based and greenhouse gas emitting, his attack on wind turbines was surely the most memorable since Don Quixote’s. Mr. Trump not only sees wind power as unreliable — often claiming, for example, that one’s TV would stop working the minute the wind outside stopped blowing — but as harmful to property values to anyone living within sight of a turbine. But the jaw-dropper (and frankly, the reason Mr. Trump once again takes Alternative Fact honors) was his observation this week that wind power is linked to cancer.

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“They say the noise causes cancer,” the president said.

Oh, really? Take note, Johns Hopkins. That’s a new one for the medical research community. But the logic appears to go something like this: Windmills make noise. The noise stresses people. Stress causes cancer. Who are these people dropping like flies because they live near windmills? Was the Netherlands recently wiped out and nobody bothered to tell us? How odd that Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Sweden all produce more wind energy per capita than the United States, yet they all have significantly lower cancer rates.

Actually, this link between stress and premature death is worth exploring. As it happens, the American Psychological Association has been performing annual “Street in America” surveys and found a significant uptick in 2018. Among the questions people are asked: Is thinking about the country’s future “a significant source of stress” and are you “stressed by the current political climate?” Last year, the “yes” answers increased to 69 percent and 62 percent, respectively, after charting in at 63 percent and 56 percent the previous year. Some in the profession have even assigned a name to the source of the added stress: “Trump Anxiety Disorder.”

And given the link between stress and cancer (which most experts believe probably doesn’t exist but, hey, Mr. Trump thinks it does and there are legitimate chronic health problems related to stress), there’s only one conclusion to draw: Stop the president before he kills again.

Still, one could always opt for the truth. And the truth is that while wind power is, indeed, dependent on wind, that’s not really how the power grid works. Wind power is part of a large, interconnected system that relies on many sources of power, renewable energy among them. So even those folks living in the shadow of a turbine still get to watch their televisions when the wind dies down. Somewhere else, the wind is blowing or the sun is shining on solar cells or the turbines are spinning at the hydroelectric dam or the nuclear reactor, and so on. (And that’s not even getting into various renewable energy storage technologies that are in use or development.)

As for falling property values, that’s not been the experience of contemporary wind projects — and one of the reasons we believe, close to home, that Ocean City’s protests over off-shore wind development are particularly ill-advised and short-sighted given the threat of climate change and rising sea levels. Finally, one of President Trump’s other frequent talking points on wind — that turbines kill birds — is true to a modest extent but kind of laughable given his administration’s record on the environment. No doubt the Trump EPA and Interior Department have advanced policies that will kill a whole lot more living things prematurely, including humans, than any bunch of windmills could hope to do.

Still, the best medical advice is probably to spend more time laughing at President Trump’s prevarications than getting stressed about them. It is the best medicine, after all, and as long as Mr. Trump keeps saying stuff like how his father was born in “a wonderful place in Germany” as he did to the NATO secretary general this week, when records show, and have always shown, Fred Trump was born in New York City, there will be no shortage of entertainment.

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