December 10, 2023

Donald Trump has launched a lengthy and largely baseless attack on wind turbines for causing large numbers of whales to die, claiming that “windmills” are making the cetaceans “crazy” and “a little batty”.

Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, used a rally in South Carolina to assert that while there was only a small chance of killing a whale by hitting it with a boat, “their windmills are causing whales to die in numbers never seen before. No one does anything about that.”

“They are washing up ashore,” said Trump, the twice-impeached former US president and reality TV host who is facing multiple criminal indictments. “You wouldn’t see that once a year – now they are coming up on a weekly basis. The windmills are driving them crazy. They are driving the whales, I think, a little batty.”

Trump has a history of making false or exaggerated claims about renewable energy, previously asserting that the noise from wind turbines can cause cancer, and that the structures “kill all the birds”. In that case, experts say there is no proven link to ill health from wind turbines, and that there are far greater causes of avian deaths, such as cats or fossil fuel infrastructure. There is also little to support Trump’s foray into whale science.

“He displays an astonishing lack of knowledge of whales and whale strandings,” said Andrew Read, a whale researcher and commissioner of the Marine Mammal Commission, of Trump. “There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that wind turbines, or surveying for wind turbines, is causing any whale deaths at all.”

The US has been slow, compared with other countries, to develop offshore wind farms but several projects are now under way off the east coast, enthusiastically backed by Joe Biden as a way to boost clean energy supply and combat the climate crisis.

Critics of this push, including some environmentalists, have warned that whales are being imperiled by work to install these new offshore turbines, but scientists have largely dismissed these claims. “At this point, there is no scientific evidence that noise resulting from offshore wind site characterization surveys could cause mortality of whales,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has noted.

Read said that there are some “broad concerns” about the overall industrialization of the oceans, but that the main threats to whales come from their being hit by boats and becoming entangled in fishing gear, and from warming oceans due to the climate change.

“The population of humpback whales, in particular, is recovering from being hunted and they are coming closer to the coast to feed on prey, which means they are being hit as they come into shipping lanes, or being caught up in nets,” said Read.

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A spate of dead whales that washed up along New York and New Jersey’s coasts earlier this year has fueled opposition to wind turbines, however, with Republicans in New Jersey attempting to halt construction of turbines.

This opposition has been embraced not only as another culture war battle but also as a way to help businesses keen to stymie clean energy, with several rightwing groups funded by fossil fuel interests linked to seemingly organic community protests against wind farms.

“It’s particularly sad to see well-meaning people who care about whales being persuaded that wind turbines are a risk to them,” said Read. “They are being manipulated by fossil fuel interests who see wind energy as a threat to those interests.”

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