The Paris climate change agreement is a triumph for the planet, but the widespread ignorance of this subject demonstrates a failure of science communication. And this ignorance is more than just a laughing matter: it could represent an obstacle to reaching certain energy goals. For instance, a town in the U.S. has just blocked construction of a solar farm, in part due to fears it would drain the Sun’s energy, Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald reports.
Before we go into detail, let us just clarify a few things. Solar panels do not suck up the Sun’s rays of photons. Just like wind farms do not deplete our planet of wind. It’s in the name: these renewable sources of energy are not finite like fossil fuels; we simply harness what is available to us. Wind turbines and solar panels are not vacuums, nor do they divert this energy from other systems. Photons constantly stream towards the planet, and air continually rushes over our lands. There is no “using up” involved.
Now we have got the science out of the way, back to the story that will likely leave your face thoroughly embedded in your palm. In the town of Woodland, North Carolina, the council has rejected a proposal for the rezoning of a strip of land from residential/agricultural to manufacturing, a move that prevents the construction of a solar farm on the turf. Not only that, but during the same meeting the town council actually voted for a blanket ban on solar farms, despite the fact that three had previously been granted approval, one of which is already being installed.
By a vote of 3-1, council members approved the rejection of the planned rezoning on the grounds of concerns that had been raised by the public. For instance, Woodland resident Jane Mann, a retired science teacher, feared that vegetation in the area would suffer through a lack of photosynthesis, an energy-making process that requires sunlight. Her anecdotal evidence comes in the form of dead plants she has observed around solar panels. Disappointingly, she is not alone in her beliefs: another resident also said that the farm would suck up the Sun’s energy.
Mann also voiced concerns of supposedly elevated cancer levels in the area, and the fact that no one had demonstrated these weren’t to do with the installation of the solar panels. If this is a genuine worry shared among residents, or indeed the wider community, it is completely unfounded. Although UV radiation is a carcinogen, something that can cause cancer, solar panels do not affect the amount of UV rays that hit an area.
Some solar farms are designed in such a way that incoming sunlight is concentrated onto a particular area, for example using mirrors, but there is no risk of this harming a person as the area would be most certainly out of bounds. Yet should you serendipitously manage to find your way onto such a farm, you would probably die of burns before you developed cancer.
It should be noted that these were not the only issues raised by the public – concerns over property values and impacts on the economy were also voiced. Still, in a society where climate change denial is unfortunately rife, a more sensible move would be to reassure, educate, and inform.