The Harper government is not known for fostering a strong relationship between science and public policy. Last week, scientists and researchers held a protest in Ottawa against cuts to hundreds of jobs and the closure of facilities like an Arctic atmospheric research laboratory that helps monitor the ozone layer and a facility to study the effects of water pollution. So it is peculiar, then, that the government has now commissioned a study on the health effects of living close to wind turbines – a decision that seems to have more to do with politics than with policy.
There are many valid concerns about the aggressive wind-energy strategy currently being implemented in Ontario, which is the impetus for the study. Among them are the costs to ratepayers, the aesthetic effects on rural landscapes and environmental impacts such as those on migrating birds. A body of research, including a report by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, already suggests that health impacts are marginal to non-existent. Claims of headaches, vertigo, tinnitus and other symptoms seem mostly to be manifestations of (perhaps understandable) anger about the placement of wind turbines without the consent of those living nearby.
Most of those affected are in ridings represented federally by the Conservatives, and the study appears to show residents that their MPs are taking action on their behalf. This is a government, after all, that usually prefers to allow provinces plenty of leeway to pursue their policy goals.
There is no inherent harm in additional scientific study of human health and wind turbines. Maybe Health Canada, which is to work in collaboration with Statistics Canada, will find new evidence that wind turbines really do affect people’s health, debunking the previous studies. Still, it would be better if the Conservatives’ interest in research were applied more, well, scientifically.