The reaction to a new study published by the Nature Climate Change journal suggesting wind farms may cause changes in local weather and air temperatures has resulted in some predictably misleading headlines.
The Daily Mail were quick to run a story with the headline:
“Wind farms make climate change WORSE”
The story claims the study’s findings show wind turbines contribute to climate change and increase the temperatures around their location up to “ten times faster the natural rate”.
What the article misses is that while the researchers did observe trends of up to a 0.72° C increase in local temperatures (per decade) compared to similar areas with no wind farms, these trends do not indicate any overall net warming of the earth’s climate but merely the movement of warm air around wind farms.
It’s an easy fact to check.
On the first page of the study’s press release (pdf), written in bold, behold:
“Overall, the warming effect reported in this study is local and small compared to the strong background year-to-year land surface temperature changes.
“Very likely, the wind turbines do not create a net warming of the air and instead only re-distribute the air’s heat near the surface (the turbine itself does not generate any heat), which is fundamentally different from the large-scale warming effect caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.”
To be fair, the Daily Mail does caution its readers about the uncertainty surrounding the research towards the end of the piece, conceding:
“…firm conclusions should not be drawn until more research had been carried out.”
Perhaps the sub-editors missed that sentence when they wrote the headline.
• Ghastly decline in right wing reporting standards 9 Mar 2011
• More Mail climate change misreporting 18 Feb 2010
Unfortunately, headlines that mislead the public about green policies are all too common.
This is music to the ears of a growing body of right wing MPs, now reportedly 100-strong, who are openly hostile to government support for wind energy. Their views are in contrast to the majority of the public, with recent polls suggesting 43% of the population believe subsidies for wind power are good value for money compared to just 18% who do not.
Away from the sensationalist headlines, there is a serious debate to be had. The UK is on the cusp of a vast transformation in the way it produces electricity. We need to build new capacity not only to decarbonise but also to make sure the lights stay on. And we need to do all this in a way that limits the costs to consumers.
IPPR is currently researching the evidence base on wind power and is finding out just how much carbon it can save. A big question is whether intermittency is really the problem it is often made out to be. These debates need to be conducted on the basis of credible evidence, not misleading headlines.
In a open letter to the prime minister this week, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas this week revealed subsidies to fossil fuel industries amounted to £3.63 billion in 2010, compared to just £1.4bn for renewable energy technologies.
Perhaps the Mail’s attention could be better utilised by focusing on the subsidies which support fossil fuels, for which there is a wealth of robust science (pdf) which shows their damaging impact on the climate, instead of trying to spin scientific research which doesn’t actually back up their argument.