(WFLA) — Of all the things society can do to limit climate change, the most vital and consequential is transitioning our energy sector from fossil fuels to clean energy, to stop the flow of planet-warming climate pollution.
To reach the world’s climate goals, time is of the essence. Thus the pace and scale of the change needed to avoid dangerous warming requires nothing short of a herculean effort.
Harnessing the endless supply of sun and wind – it’s an elegant solution to the world’s energy needs and for combatting the growing danger of climate change. But building the needed infrastructure requires cooperation of local communities all across the nation. It’s hard enough as it is, but now a deceptive nationwide effort to oppose renewable energy threatens to slow efforts even further.
WFLA’s Climate Specialist Jeff Berardelli recently interviewed Michael Thomas, a climate and energy journalist, who’s been digging into this story. He explained that in recent years a number of groups have been spreading misinformation, mostly on Facebook groups and local county commission meetings or town council meetings.
To uncover what’s been going on he joined 40 Facebook groups that oppose clean energy and monitored their activity.
“There is a legitimate reason for some people to not want a wind turbine down the block or a solar farm down the block, is that right?” asked Berardelli.
Yeah, I think there are a lot of valid reasons to oppose a project in your community,” replied Thomas.
The problem, says Thomas, is that many of the reasons clean energy supporters are turning into opponents are often not based on valid information.
“It’s not just that someone doesn’t want to see a wind turbine in their backyard or see solar panels as they drive down the street,” explains Thomas, “A lot of people feel an emotional response or feel fear over the safety of their community and the reason for that is because of the misinformation.”
Assertions that turbine noise causes cancer and that turbines are a graveyard for birds have been around for years. But studies show that beyond annoyance and sleep disturbance, there is no evidence that the sound from turbines causes health issues.
But there is robust evidence that the energy source turbines are replacing – fossil fuels – pose a bigger health risk, contributing to millions of premature deaths globally per year. Data appears to back that up, showing clean energy is far safer than coal, oil and gas.
Thomas says the misinformation doesn’t stop at wind. “If you were spending time on these Facebook groups you’d think that solar panels are gonna contaminate your water and make your family less safe, and maybe get your kids sick, when in fact there’s never been one documented incident of solar panels contaminating a water supply.”
Thomas says some of this misinformation is part of an organized campaign to cripple clean energy. “A lot of that misinformation is funded by thinktanks and nonprofits that are connected to fossil fuels companies.”
So why are these think tanks and fossil fuel companies trying to stop these renewable energy projects?,” asked Berardelli
“There are a lot of fossil fuel companies that have a lot at stake in the clean energy transition. There’s a lot of vested in financial interest in making sure that we don’t transition to clean energy or if we do, we do it as slowly as possible,” Thomas replied.
There is evidence these campaigns are working. A study this past spring from The Sabin Center at Columbia University Law School found opposition – whether legitimate or not – has resulted in 121 local policies – spanning most states – banning or severely restricting renewable energy facilities.