The anatomy of a lie. How wind farms do not cause climate change.

It seems that those science writers at The Telegraph, or as they once described themselves ‘interpreter of interpretations, have once again sold the public a scientific lie.

To examine the anatomy of their lie, we shall start with its overall structure. The Telegraph, as do all news publishers, know that readers rarely read to the end of an article. As such journalists have in their mind a sort of ‘pyramid structure’ to their writing, and you guessed it, the headline and the strapline are the two most powerful parts of your work, forming the foundation for the readers understanding of the article.

So, when you start with a headline that reads, “Wind farms can cause climate change, finds new study” and you follow it up with the “according to new research, that shows for the first time the new technology is already pushing up temperatures”, you’re ensuring you bring your reader to this very conclusion. That would be fine if the statement were true, but they are entirely false. A writer clever enough to read the paper couldn’t possibly come to that conclusion, especially a writer who deemed ‘an environment correspondent’. So what’s going on?

Let’s actually take a look at the paper the article is based on. Scientists also like to ensure that those reading their paper understand what it will be about before they get stuck in. They give their work a study title and an ‘abstract’. Liming Zhou’s study was called “Impacts of wind farms on land surface temperature” and the abstract said ” While converting wind’s kinetic energy into electricity, wind turbines modify surface–atmosphere exchanges and the transfer of energy, momentum, mass and moisture within the atmosphere.” The study wanted to understand the local effects of building large scale wind farms, because it’s important we have a good understanding for future projects.

What the study actually found was that wind farms, when they are large enough, bring down warmer air from the upper atmosphere and thus make local earth surface temperatures slightly higher. Nothing to be concerned about, nothing unexpected, not even a surprise. Zhou explained “the warming effect reported in this study is local and is small compared to the strong background year-to-year land surface temperature changes. Very likely, the wind turbines do not create a net warming of the air and instead only re-distribute the air’s heat near the surface,”

Surface temperatures are not climate, they’re not even weather, and yet the study, which has nothing to do with climate change, was digested and spewed out in a way that led readers to believe that wind farms cause climate change. The fraudulence of the article is made more clear when you take into account the fact that James Delingpole has been arguing that man made climate change is a liberal global scientific conspiracy, and yet in the very same newspaper we have a bizarre lie that claims wind farms actually cause the very effect they have worked so hard to discredit.

Well if the ends were to discredit climate change, then the means were particularly effective. You only have to browse through the comments and social media reactions to find confirmation that their scientific assassination scored a perfect headshot.  “Great… now even global warming causes global warming. =(” said Zaemus. Just one of hundreds of people in the twitter echo chamber all jumping from the top of the pyramid to pompously repeat the words, “Wind farms cause climate change! Wind farms cause climate change! Wind farms cause climate change!

That’s all you need to know right? Wind farms cause climate change. And so a myth is born.


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