Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Power of Suggestion


 Wow, how's that for a future? Like, NOT! from http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/03/08/1691411/bombshell-recent-warming-is-amazing-and-atypical-and-poised-to-destroy-stable-climate-that-made-civilization-possible/

We've all heard that people can do the most outrageous (and humorous) things when they are hypnotized - its a staple of many magicians and other entertainers. And then there was the premise of the Rocky & Bullwinkle movie, where Fearless Leader (Robert DeNiro) broadcast a horribly bland and boring set of TV programs which also lulled viewers into following Fearless Leader's every wish, at least as communicated via TV. But, maybe this was not just fiction - witness the witless Fox TV and how viewers tend to be rendered more stupid by viewing this infotainment.

In recent history, the power of the press, especially the paid for press, to do bad things is very well established. The relentless campaign of the Cheney-Bu$h administration to invade Iraq (leading to "IraqNam") was thoroughly in the book "Hubris" as well as the recent Rachel Maddow TV special based on that book. And lots of other books, too. This has cost our country 4400 lives, with many times that number of "dreadfully wounded, probably over $2 trillion so far (ignoring Afghanistan also cost us a bundle). It also has led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis (http://necrometrics.com/wars21c.htm#Iraq03) and perhaps worse - a veritable rape epidemic as that society fractures in numerous ways - http://articles.latimes.com/2009/apr/23/world/fg-iraq-woman23 and http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2008/1124/p07s01-wome.html. And yet, to this day, Bu$h, Cheney, Rummy, Wolfie, Condi, Pearlie and a whole gaggle of intimately and nebulously interconnected "neo-cons" still stalk the earth as free men and women. But at least some of them supposedly can no longer travel to Europe, as there are warrants for their arrest for war crimes. But so far, War Crime has paid very well for them and their "friends" in the "Offense" , "security", "contracting" and consultancy (= ex-CIA/NSA/DIA, etc) fields. And, after all, anything is fair game in pursuit of oil and dreams of Empire and other neo-con fantasies, or nightmares, depending if you are among the lucky few or the many…

And now comes a series of reports that shows how a concerted press campaign can "poison the waters", so to speak, of communities that might have or do have wind turbines in them. We know that at least $120 million of "anonymous" money has been laying down quite the "propaganda barrage" instill doubt about anything wind turbine related in both the US an the UK (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/14/funding-climate-change-denial-thinktanks-network). Then there are the more direct efforts, such as by the Heartland Institute and the Koch fiend funded Americans for Prosperity - including a very concerted effort to keep the ITC/PTC tax incentives - which mainly benefit extremely well off entities and individuals like (but not actually) the Koch Brothers - from getting renewed. We had something similar with Tom Golisano's well funded efforts to set up a bunch of "Industrial Wind Watch" groups all across rural NY State a few years ago http://www.green-trust.org/wordpress/page/36/?s=led), and also the efforts aimed at generating the appearance of opposition to NYPA's offshore wind efforts. Compared to the atrocity inflicted upon Iraq - often by Iraqis against other Iraqis based on greed, particular version of a major religion or "tribes"/ethnic or regional affiliation - it seems like small potatoes, but there's a connection….

But all that was advertising, propaganda, multi-media campaigns, with nebulous results funded by people and corporate entities with money to burn. Where's the proof that such campaigns could actually work in statistically significant ways? Well, that may have been provided by some recent experiments in New Zealand (http://www.desmogblog.com/2013/03/14/research-finds-wind-farm-health-concerns-probably-caused-anti-wind-scare-campaigns), with results published here:
 Can Expectations Produce Symptoms From Infrasound Associated With Wind Turbines?
Crichton, Fiona; Dodd, George; Schmid, Gian; Gamble, Greg; Petrie, Keith J.
Health Psychology, Mar 11 , 2013, No Pagination Specified. doi: 10.1037/a0031760

Here is the abstract, which, like a good abstract should, says it very succinctly:
Objective: The development of new wind farms in many parts of the world has been thwarted by public concern that sub-audible sound (infrasound) generated by wind turbines causes adverse health effects. Although the scientific evidence does not support a direct pathophysiological link between infrasound and health complaints, there is a body of lay information suggesting a link between infrasound exposure and health effects. This study tested the potential for such information to create symptom expectations, thereby providing a possible pathway for symptom reporting. Method: A sham-controlled double-blind provocation study, in which participants were exposed to 10 min of infrasound and 10 min of sham infrasound, was conducted. Fifty-four participants were randomized to high- or low-expectancy groups and presented audiovisual information, integrating material from the Internet, designed to invoke either high or low expectations that exposure to infrasound causes specified symptoms. Results: High-expectancy participants reported significant increases, from preexposure assessment, in the number and intensity of symptoms experienced during exposure to both infrasound and sham infrasound. There were no symptomatic changes in the low-expectancy group. Conclusions: Healthy volunteers, when given information about the expected physiological effect of infrasound, reported symptoms that aligned with that information, during exposure to both infrasound and sham infrasound. Symptom expectations were created by viewing information readily available on the Internet, indicating the potential for symptom expectations to be created outside of the laboratory, in real world settings. Results suggest psychological expectations could explain the link between wind turbine exposure and health complaints. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).

In other words, it is possible to engender complaints about infrasound simply by raising the possibility that wind turbines CAN or MIGHT make sound that cannot be heard by humans that will cause bad health effects upon neighboring humans. The key to making this happen is a skillful anti-wind turbine media campaign. Cool, eh? Here is a concluding comment from the lead author:

The findings indicate that negative health information readily available to people living in the vicinity of wind farms has the potential to create symptom expectations, providing a possible pathway for symptoms attributed to operating wind turbines. This may have wide-reaching implications. If symptom expectations are the root cause of symptom reporting, answering calls to increase minimum wind-farm set back distances is likely to do little to assuage health complaints.

Here's another study from across the pond in Australia:
http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/handle/2123/8977. And the money quote:
''Wind turbine sickness'' is far more prevalent in communities where anti-wind farm lobbyists have been active and appears to be a psychological phenomenon caused by the suggestion that turbines make people sick, a study has found."
Some surprise, eh?

In chemistry, there are a lot of chemicals that do not behave well in the presence of either air or water vapor, and so the correct way to handle them is to put an inert atmosphere (such as with nitrogen gas) over them. For example, sodium metal oxidizes on contact with oxygen, and can ignite in the presence of water and air. But this is the kind of blanket without any threads, and you can't knit it into completion. It's basically air, or a least the pure form of the largest component of air, considered to be inert in most cases. You just can't knit a nitrogen blanket…. and yet, these anti-wind turbine groups seem to be doing that with their claims of adverse health effects due to the sounds coming from commercial scale wind turbines...

Now, it turns out that the one form of renewable energy that is putting a nasty hurt on the profits obtainable from selling coal and nuke based electricity where natural gas is also part of the mix (like a lot of NY State) is wind turbine sourced electricity. Furthermore, over 1.5 trillion cubic feet per year of natural gas is NOT burned nowadays because wind is now the source of 20 GW of our country's electricity. And this lack of a larger demand for natural gas can have amazing effects on the price of natural gas. A subtle discrepancy between supply and demand can make all the difference between $3/MBtu and a higher price, such as $6/MBtu (the exact price rise is hard to say, dependent on the moment it happens, and whether it is a supply shock/surge or a demand shock/surge - it was close to $10/MBtu in 2005). For example, that $3/MBtu times the 25 trillion cubic feet per year of gas sold could be worth $75 billion/yr.

Most natural gas sold these days is still "conventional" - a by-product of oil production or from gas fields where soils have decent porosity. This gas can be sold profitably at $3/MBtu, though the owners/producers would most certainly like the higher profits that come from higher prices. However, most fracking based sourced methane (about 40% of natural gas now made) produced loses money - at least $3/MBtu - at a price of $3/MBtu. They would really like the higher prices to AT LEAST $6/MBtu, and most fracking based gas is made under bizarre rules that specify that this gas must be produced as soon as it is possible to do so - regardless if the price is depressed due to oversupply.

Since the frackers generally cannot restrain their production as a result of the agreements they signed with Wall Street financiers, their only hope at raising prices is to increase the consumption rate - alias the demand for methane. If this means replacing coal or nukes to make electricity, so be it. And this most definitely means keeping wind out of the electricity production business. So far, the excess of methane has not been converted into oil products (Gas To Liquids, alias GTL), and at $25 billion per facility (140,000 barrels/day from 2 billion cubic feet per day), that is being put off for a while. But two GTL facilities (taking the better part of 5 years to construct) would use up 1.5 tcfy, which is the amount of gas not used because wind turbines are raining on the gas parade. But then those GTL facilities would be competing with crude oil, some of which is made at $20/barrel (Alaskan) or $80/bbl (North Dakota), or from Tar Sands in Alberta at $50/bbl.

In any case, spending a few hundred thousand dollars on an anti-wind campaign  - even a 100 times over - to delay wind energy by another half a decade or a full decade could be so immensely profitable that a few billion dollars spent on propaganda and various "psy-ops" efforts  is merely chump change spilled to get world changing profits. And of course, world changing they are. Take a look at our ecosphere's temperature future if we keep burning oil and gas like there is no tomorrow (top graph). Who'd that thought that something so cool looking (below, and a pretty nice neighbor, at that) would cause so much commotion…? From http://www.jimbush.com/Portfolio/gallerySlide/images/Architecture_Construction/Invenergy_Wind_Farm.jpg

A view of the Sheldon High Winds Array (Invenergy), Wyoming County, NY, 25 miles SE of Buffalo, NY.

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