In 2006 I blogged about wind turbines, suggesting three scenarios in which the micro variety might be promoted to householders. I was reminded of it when wind turbines returned to the front pages last week with the publication of the government’s £100bn plan to boost wind and other renewable power generation in the UK.
Wind turbines of all sizes have received very negative press coverage. The small ones are accused of using more carbon to produce than they can ever save, and worse (in the eyes of many journalists) being a waste of money. The large ones are accused of destroying areas of natural beauty. Even the BBC has been guilty – this article was first published in 2006 but has been receiving comments right up until March this year.
I find the willingness of the media to take such a negative approach very frustrating. I often see a degree of political motivation or schadenfreude in the stories. Sometimes it’s just poor journalism, taking the easier route of producing the negative story rather than making the positive argument.
As some of the more reasonable comments on the BBC blog point out, these are the early days for microgeneration and renewable power. Only now are these technologies beginning to receive serious investment. This investment will reap rewards in the future, but without people adopting, trialling, and feeding back about the technologies, they will never reach the necessary level of sophistication. Dismissing wind power as ‘a dead end’, because of some poor maths and one negative experience seems a little rash, especially for an august news organisation like the BBC.
Rather than knocking every attempt that the government, individuals, and private companies make to try to address the challenge of climate change, isn’t there an argument that the media should be lauding them? The influence of the media is incalculable, yet on this most crucial of topics they seem obsessed with their own ‘impartiality’. Even the least scrupulous newspapers are suddenly converted to the need for a ‘balanced view’.
I’m not arguing that editorial controls should be thrown out of the window – no-one benefits when that happens. But the debate about climate change is over, as is any question about the economic need to reduce our independence on oil. Just because there are lots of people arguing otherwise doesn’t mean that their views are equally valid. Millions of people believe the world was created a few thousand years ago, but I don’t expect any serious publication to give their views credence.
The media should be campaigning for people to begin to tackle climate change and reduce our dependence on oil. With the media rallying people to the cause, we could quickly overcome the narrow-mindedness, selfishness and nimbyism that is holding up progress towards renewable power. Like the commentator on the BBC blog trying to prevent his neighbour from erecting a wind turbine because ‘there needs to be a balance between energy saving and quality of life’. This is a man who clearly doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation; a man who has been convinced that the situation isn’t all that bad because the media lets him believe that. A man who believes that the aesthetic displeasure he would suffer from a wind turbine on his neighbour’s house outweighs the monstrous damage climate change will do to the rest of the planet.
I am no green angel. I drive a car. I have lots of gadgets. I have no solar cells or wind turbines. But like many people I am making an effort: improving loft insulation; choosing green energy providers; cutting out standby modes on my gadgets; recycling; switching to a more fuel-efficient car; choosing a house with good public transport links. I will do more as it becomes more feasible: I want my car, my computer, my house and most of all my power to be greener in ten years than it is now. I will invest time and money in making that happen but it will be easier and cheaper for all of us if the mass market is convinced of the need to tackle climate change. If individual solutions can be developed to the point that they become economically, ecologically, and practically appealing.
The government is trying to stimulate such a move, but at the moment the media is a barrier to its success. Until they join the campaign to tackle climate change, every nimby and naysayer will feel like they are in the right-thinking majority.