In the lists of obstacles to developing a sensible path to sustainability few are doing a better job of feeding the public with false and misleading information than the Daily Mail. Their latest headline "Wind turbines: A Burning Issue" led an absurdly misleading piece about storm damage in the Ardrossen wind-farm in Ayrshire.
The fire - which seriously damaged a turbine, happened in exceptional weather conditions, with wind speeds of over 100 mph. The Mail's spin on the story was "turbines don't work when the wind blows". The article goes on to attack wind because it produces no power when the wind doesn't blow or when it blows to hard. The reality is that turbines feather their blades when wind speeds exceed 50 mph to prevent accidents. The fire was almost certainly caused by by a failure of the fail-safe system.
Attacking wind because it produces no power when the wind doesn't blow or when it blows too hard is hardly news, that's what wind turbines are designed to do. What's more worrying is the escalation of seriously misleading journalism - in this case, almost certainly strongly influenced by a bit of "fake research" recently launched by the Adam Smith institute.
The article really hit the Mail's jackpot, combining climate denial, xenophobia, anti-trade union/european sentiment, China, political correctness and war in the Middle East in one cleverly written article. It even manages a schizophrenic denial of climate change and advocacy of nuclear power (presumably because of concerns about climate change) in adjacent paragraphs.
In an eloquent Spectator article earlier this week George Monbiot made it clear that the sane know denial of climate change is absurd and there's little point in trying to argue the case with the faithful. But it is worth running through the reasons why the Mail article is so wrong:
- New nuclear power plants can't possible come on line before 2020
- We need to curb carbon emissions now
- Wind is is an effective way of producing electricity and a very quick way of reducing carbon emissions, by 146 million tons in Europe this year, 32% of our Kyoto target.
- Wind is a multi-billion dollar industry that is close to producing power at grid parity and one of the few areas of industry that has significant growth.
- Wind is a sure hedge against fossil energy costs in a world where wholesale gas prices have risen by 40% this year.
- Wind is a secure energy source whereas oil and gas come from some of the least stable areas of the world.
- Finally, we know the Mail has never been a newspaper to allow facts to get in the way of it's prejudices.
The big question is "has the Mail (and many other mainstream media outlets) moved beyond a lack of objectivity and into paddling outright untruths in their news reporting?". George Monbiot again, this time on press impartiality: "The industry which should reveal and expose instead tries to contain and baffle, to foil questions and shut down dissent." Monbiot argues that the press is more and more acting in the interests of it's corporate interests and less and less in the public interest.
The Mail in particular has been exposed time after time this year, publishing inaccurate information - especially about climate change and the environment. A look at some of the sources it uses raises even more questions. No doubt this particular rant was inspired by a recent, heavily criticised, Adam Smith Institute report on wind, made in conjunction with the Scientific Alliance.
The Alliance claims to "promote debate to overcome misunderstandings in science" and be led by a Scientific Advisory Forum led by "respected scientists and experts in many fields" has a darker side. It's Wikipedia entry says the Royal Society has criticised the Alliance's climate denial position, and it's links to the George C Marshal Institute saying the Alliance has a "poisonous effect on the media". It published a joint report on climate change in 2005 with the George C Marshall Institute, a think tank known to have received a $715,000 donation from Exxon Mobile.
In the UK we are lucky - the latest YouGov survey for the Sunday Times gives "overwhelming backing" to renewable energy in the UK but we need to be vigilant. Fake scientific front organisations are well established in the States, and have done a fine job of muddying the waters - virtually paralysing action on climate. The UK media don't need to tell the truth or substantiate their claims to create headlines - straw men, front organisations, and outright lies are becoming commonplace, and it's enough to feed the flawed rational of a significant but influential minority who don't like the inconvenient truth of climate change. For the last ten years fake science and industry funded media and pseudo science have played a major role in stalling international progress, virtually tying the hands of negotiators. The emergence of similar groups in the UK is a worrying trend - especially when linked to the "denialist tendencies" of a powerful minority in government.