It’s common these days to talk about how divided we’ve become. Many of us hold strong opinions about issues like politics, race and education, and it seems like emotions are running at an all-time high – much of this angst fueled by misinformation and falsehoods spread on social media. Anyone in the wind industry can tell you that even clean, renewable energy isn’t immune from these problems.
A recent article in The Columbus Dispatch highlights how digital misinformation can have real-life consequences. It begins by describing the experience of a development manager for Apex Clean Energy who went to what she thought was a meeting to discuss a donation to the Crawford County HumaneSociety – only to be surprised by 25 wind opponents who challenged her at length about wind energy, her company’s intentions and her personal values.
It wasn’t a pleasant experience, and it speaks to the degree to which vitriol can over power facts and civil discussion. Almost any community will have residents who oppose change, and there is no shortage of mis- or disinformation about wind turbines on the internet to provide fodder for unfounded concerns or complaints.
The article discusses research by Josh Fergen, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota who analyzed posts from two Facebook groups for wind opponents in northwest Ohio. Noting that “conversations about renewable energy have become more divisive, its opponents more aggressive, and researchers suspect misinformation is to blame,” the article lists many of the falsehoods and myths being circulated about the effect of wind turbines on human health.
“conversations about renewable energy have become more divisive, its opponents more aggressive, and researchers suspect misinformation is to blame,”
Importantly, it flags a major shift in local attitudes: whereas in years past residents might have been inclined to hear from both sides and take their time to reach a decision based on facts, today’s polarization and the viral spread of misinformation seem to be hijacking some peoples’ thought processes.
Effective community outreach has always been important for project developers, and this is even more true in Ohio since the passage of State Senate Bill 52 last year, which gives county commissioners the authority to restrict or ban wind projects altogether.
Successfully developing a renewable energy project depends on creating solid connections with the local community that are based upon transparency, trust and mutual respect. Viral misinformation is a modern problem, and while there’s no perfect solution to address it, having a proactive approach to public engagement can go a long way toward combatting its ill effects and equipping stakeholders with the facts.