Not just NIMBYs: understanding anti-wind energy campaigners

Last update: April 8, 2014

NIMBY is a nice crisp acronym, but it is completely inadequate as a categorization of the various people fighting against broader penetration of renewables in energy grids world wide and their motivations. When mounting a campaign for increased renewables in a region, or when battling disinformation campaigns around proposed or existing wind farms, it’s useful to understand who you are speaking with and what is leading them to actively oppose wind energy.

This will help you to frame your points so that they will be understood, and to ensure you are addressing the arguments that they are actually making. Most importantly, it will help you to communicate effectively with people who sympathize with these perspectives but who are not totally convinced. What are the categories?

  1. NIMBYs
  2. True Believers
  3. Fossil Fuel Profiteers
  4. Libertarians
  5. Nuclear Advocates
  6. Anthropogenic Global Warming Deniers
  7. Misguided Environmentalists
  8. Armchair Economists
  9. Opportunists

Remember, that while this categorization is useful, it is important to keep in mind that all of these people are human beings and that their opposition to wind energy is typically only a portion of their lives. They all love their families, give to charity and are kind to stray animals.  Treat them with respect even if they attack you personally, and (try to) limit your attacks to their ideas and communications.

This categorization is relatively complete, but please suggest improvements and additional examples of individuals who exemplify one or more of the categories.

Note that I’m not talking about individuals who are mounting very site specific campaigns based on valid concerns such as harm to specific endangered species, as is obvious from my comments on the proposed Ostrander Point wind farm in Ontario, but people who make broad comments across larger areas.

1. NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard

A subset of NIMBYs are one of the most potent anti-wind energy groups in almost every jurisdiction around the world. These are well-connected, well-off urbanites with country homes that they have typically purchased later in life. 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.

Local, rural working people who opposed wind energy solely on NIMBY principles 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, the local, working 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.

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.

Examples of the more dangerous NIMBYs: Robert McMurtry (Ontario), Peter Mitchell (Australia), Kevin Elwood (Ontario) Michael Dickinson (Ontario) and Chuck Magwood (Ontario), Carmen Krogh (Ontario, retired Pharmacist and now a “wind health researcher”), Jane Wilson (Ontario, head of Wind Concerns Ontario, strong opponent of proposed Marlborough Wind Farm with her husband, real estate appraiser Norris Wilson)

2. True believer

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.

Examples:  Sarah Laurie (Australia), Eric Rosenbloom (National Wind Watch, Vermont), Wayne Gulden (US and Ontario), the Wrightman clan (Ontario), Barb Glassman aka MyView1872 (a born rural Ontarian who plans to retire in the country near where wind farms are being erected, naturally), various pseudonymous online types (Valewood, rucio, cowcharge, vindpust), George Papadopoulos (Australia), Lorrie Gillis (Ontario), David Norman (aka Rogue Primate of Bloomfield believe it or not, Ontario),  Shellie Correia (aka 1957chevShellie Correia, Hamilton, Ontario and founder of Mothers against Wind Turbines), Barbara Durkin (USA)

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.

Stahler coal mining safety

Image courtesy Jeff Stahler

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.

Examples: Heartland institute (USA), Gina Rinehart (Australia), Koch Brothers (USA), Lisa Linowes (Industrial Wind Action Group, USA), Rick Coates (Ontario), many others

4. Libertarian

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 focussed on them. Counter corollary disinformation about health, capacity factors. Talk past them to those listening about job creation and negative externalities of fossil fuels.

Examples: Robert Bryce (USA), James Delingpole (UK), Kevon Martis (USA), Tom Adams (Canada), John Droz (USA, with bonus AGW denial)

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.

Examples: Willem Post (USA), James Lovelock (sadly, UK), Barry Brook (Australia), Eric Jelinski (Ontario), Professor Robert Cywinski (UK, also thorium advocate, plus bonus overlap with Armchair Economist), Bill Palmer (Ontario), Senator Lamar Alexander (USA)

6. Anthropogenic Global Warming Denier

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.

Examples (I recommend following the link as in many cases the references are fascinating in the depth of connections with the fossil fuels industry): Tory Aardvark (USA), Lord Monckton (UK and increasingly WW with his swastika-laden slide deck), Steve Milloy (Fox News, Junk Science, USA), Pat Michaels (Cato Institute, USA), Sen James Inhofe (Republican, USA), Christopher Booker (Sunday Telegraph, UK)

7. 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 their 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.

While an even smaller minority, and less likely to target renewables than mining and fossil fuels with protests, it is worth pointing out the subset of environmentalists who believe that any industrialization or infrastructure anywhere is wrong, and that we should return to effectively hunter-gatherer and subsistence farming lifestyles in ‘balance’ with nature. They occasionally surface to argue that instead of building generation capacity, we should conserve and reduce population instead, ignoring the remarkably effective efficiency gains already made and the extraordinary work in curbing population growth, as well as the reality that their solution would require killing roughly 6 billion people.

Because they are often motivated by deep emotional connections to animals and nature, 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.

Examples: Jim Wiegand (California, STEI), Mark Duchamp (Europe, STEI), Chris Clarke (journalist / naturalist who will publish any story about negative impacts of renewables on wild life, but none of the balancing stories), Henri Garand (Ontario)

8. 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.

Examples: C le Pair (Holland), more TBD

9. 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.

Examples of long-term opportunists: Nina Pierpont (Wind Turbine Syndrome, USA), Senator Nick Xenophon (Australia), Carl V. Philips (epidemiologist, various locations), Vic Fedeli and Lisa Thompson (Ontario Opposition members of Parliament), John Laforet (politician wannabe, Ontario), Eric Gillespie  (lawyer filing all sorts of spurious lawsuits in Ontario), David Mortimer (Australia, works fibreglass, survived Vietnam and regular firing of 4.5″ naval guns, but blames wind turbines for health impacts), Neil Stollznow (PR flack, Australia), Rodd Pahl (PR flack, Australia), Stephen Ambrose (anti-wind testifying acoustician and author, USA), Peter Quinn (Australian lawyer), Tom Tanton (US AGW denier and front man), Michael McCann (USA, property appraiser)

14 comments

  1. Lyn Harrison, InsightWind · · Reply

    Mike, into which category would you put the large body of people who are genuinely convinced that renewables are a nice luxury but one that we can no longer afford? A strong economic case can be made for wind power on land (representing 90% of all current wind development globally), but it is seldom made coherently. Yet a main reason (perhaps THE main reason) for the continuing rapid development of wind power stations around the world is that the technology frequently represents the cheapest option for new power generation seen over a 20 year horizon. For some reason that fact remains a well kept secret. I often use a house mortgage as a metaphor for explaining why wind appears to cost a lot initially, but over time is cheaper than “renting” from the world’s finite resources. I am sure there are better illustrations. What do you suggest?

    1. Good question Lyn. My current thinking, subject to improvement, is that people who make the economic argument always start from another one of the motivations. In other words, the false argument hides the true position.

      The fossil fuel profiteers are easy to spot with this argument, as are the pro-nuclear types. The libertarians always make this argument in conjunction with subsidies. The true believers … well they just believe any false negative about wind energy.

      But I’ll mull over whether there is a separate category entirely here.

  2. [...] This category of people see a brass ring. They look for ways to capitalize on the conflict for personal gain. ….. Examples of long-term opportunists: Nina Pierpont (Wind Turbine Syndrome, USA),Senator Nick Xenophon (Australia), Carl V. Philips (epidemiologist, various locations), Vic Fedeli and Lisa Thompson (Ontario Opposition members of Parliament), John Laforet(politician wannabe, Ontario) http://barnardonwind.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/not-just-nimbys-understanding-anti-wind-energy-campaig… [...]

  3. cowcharge · · Reply

    How do you classify those who are against wind because they don’t like paying outrageous amounts of money for an unreliable, false-green source of power that cannot, ever, close a single power plant, and whose salesmen claim four times the power that is actually generated? If my Prius, bought on the promise of 50 mpg, only got 12 (which is what windmills provide, 25% of the advertising and never when it’s needed), I’d be seriously angry.

    1. Well, given the remarkable number of unsupportable claims in your brief comment, in your case I would say True Believer.

      If after a complete debunking you leapt to “so they don’t need subsidies then!” I’d be leaning toward Libertarian.

      They aren’t mutually exclusive, so if you’d like to put your hand up for both, please feel free.

    2. Do The Math · · Reply

      Windmills actually get infinite mpg as their fuel has a cost of zero.

      If you want to draw a parallel of capacity factor for your Prius it would be how far could you drive in a year at top speed 24 hrs a day vs. how far you actually drive in a year. Hold on to your hat…..your Prius is only about 2.5% efficient……better send that baby to the scrap heap.

  4. What about conspiracy theorists?

  5. I can think of a number of conspiracy theorists (Flawed Monkton among them) who are convinced everything about climate change is a white coated, scientist funding fraud. A number of federal and state conservative politicians in Australia appear to subscribe to that idea.

    1. I believe conspiracy ideation fits into a few of these categories as an explanatory mechanism for counter factual beliefs, rather than being a separate category.

      But I would be willing to listen to a case for it being a separate category.

      1. Point taken, it’s a pretty overarching descriptor. Cheers.

  6. What a very good article you’ve written here!

  7. […] are hearing about wind energy. I often hear two ridiculous “barriers” which are 1) the NIMBY and 2) the […]

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