A team of researchers have discovered a link between people who believe in conspiracy theories and opposing wind farms, which may help explain why such staunch opposition arises when renewable wind turbines are installed. The results also showed that changing peoples' minds is possible, but only when you don’t frame it as a debate and instead try to inform them in a non-confrontational manner.
The researchers, from the University of Queensland, began the study after being inspired by a similar dive into conspiracy beliefs and vaccination opposition, in the pursuit of understanding how such beliefs may stand in the way of a net zero civilization.
Wind farms have long been caught in the world of conspiracy beliefs, somehow turning a simple machine that spins in the wind into a public health hazard that supposedly causes congenital birth defects, cancer, and more. These have been pushed by anti-renewable lobbyists and subsequently politicians such as Donald Trump, despite zero evidence for such claims. Criticism also heavily focuses on bird deaths by turbines, though recent advances have attempted to curb this problem and even then, the deaths are dwarfed by the population declines via pollution and climate change.
The review focused on eight pre-registered previous studies with a collective sample size of 4,170 people. Each person provided data regarding their age, sex, education, and political orientation, as well as their belief in various conspiracy theories.
They discovered a strong link between conspiracy beliefs and lack of support for wind farms, indicating how likely each person was to vote for the installation of a farm in their local area. Interestingly, certain conspiracies drove people even further away, these are often centered around the authorities’ motives.
It also delved into how to go about changing their minds, and the results found that pro-wind farm information shared in the area can have a positive effect, while framing it as a debate and info-dumping on people does not help.
If governments are to combat this opposition, the findings suggest that positive information needs to be shared regularly and be available as a preventative measure, instead of attempting to debate and prove the conspiracy theorists wrong.
You can find out more about how to talk to a conspiracy theorist in Issue 1 of CURIOUS, our e-magazine. Available here.
The study was published in Nature Energy.