Many greens back wind power yet shy away from nuclear, the quietest form of energy generation. Of course the extraction of oil and gas is hugely noisy but, unlike so many wind turbines, takes place far, far from where people live. The World Health Organisation showed in its recent report that people start to get annoyed by wind turbine noise at lower levels than other sources of noise. The graph opposite, from some years ago, indicates the sort of differences. This is because of the high content of low-frequency in the noise. And, due very often to the subsidies offered by Governments, far too many cowboys – and in Italy, the Mafia – have become involved in the wind power industry, with little regard to how closely they build turbines to people’s homes. Yet I have not seen the greens tear into this industry. Indeed, some leading members of green NGOs have gone to work for wind power companies.
I am being somewhat unfair in putting all environmentalists under the term ‘the greens’. Many conservationists, very much environmentalists, have led the fight against many wind farm proposals. And there are other environmentalists who want to tackle noise. But far too many climate change campaigners have been willing to overlook the dire noise impacts some of the turbines have had on people.
'too many climate campaigners overlook the dire noise impacts of wind turbines'
And yet many of the same climate activists are very wary of, or actively opposed to, nuclear power.
Nuclear has been a controversial source of energy. There have been concerns around cost and safety. But modern technology is sorting the safety problems and the smaller plants now on the market will cost much less. Nuclear power has been described as “the silent giant of today’s energy system – it runs quietly in the background, capable of delivering immense amounts of power, regardless of weather or season.”
From a noise perspective it is preferable to onshore wind, solar or fracking. Countries such as France or Sweden showed long before climate change was on the agenda that the quiet alternative, nuclear, has the potential to be the catalyst for delivering sustainable energy transitions. Surely if you want to ‘Go Green’ your slogan should be ‘Go Nuclear’.
'I just don’t think noise is seen as a green issue by most environmentalists'
I just don’t think noise is seen as an environmental issue by most environmentalists. Even the admirable Mark Lynas, who in his book The God Species, who took a lot of abuse from many in the environmental movement when he agued that the way forward must include nuclear power, GM crops and geo-engineering, didn’t see noise as a ‘planetary’ issue, something deeply damaging to the planet, when I spoke to him. I think noise does damage the planet.
In my book Why Noise Matters I point to the evidence that underwater noise has doubled each decade during the past 50 years, posing a significant threat to whales, dolphins and other marine wildlife. Equally, the natural rhythms of the jungle are disappearing. Bernie Krauss, the eminent American acoustician who has recorded nature’s sounds for over 40 years, estimates in that time nearly a third of the ecosystems have become ‘aurally extinct.’
And still the greens don’t ‘get’ noise. It would be nice if that was to change. If it doesn’t, climate change campaigners can expect to meet growing opposition to any noisy plans they put forward.