For years, commentators on the right have railed against the problems trial lawyers cause to legitimate businesses.
Some of the most famous instances of legalistic excess have become household jokes. We've all heard of the time McDonald's was sued for millions by a lady who dumped her hot coffee in her lap and found it to be, well, hot. Books have been published and the Internet stuffed full of countless similar examples.
It's easy to blame lawyers for all manner of problems and excessive expenses; "tort reform" is a perennial goal of Republicans, yet a never-achieved one.
The dreadful costs of a litigious society are a two-edged sword. Ridiculous lawsuits can fell otherwise powerful companies and can make construction or other changes take forever, and ever, and ever, until they're finally abandoned. As Americans, we believe in progress, so this is usually bad.
But as we've discussed, change just for its own sake is unwise. Some changes are bad and should be stopped. The Oregonian brings us a report that presents a great opportunity for the right to use the left's favorite weapon against them.
Dr. Nina Pierpont of Malone, N.Y., coined the phrase "wind turbine syndrome" for what she says happens to some people living near wind energy farms. She has made the phrase part of the title of a book she's written called "Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on the Natural Experiment." It is scheduled for publication next month by K-Selected Press, of Santa Fe, N.M. In contrast to those who consider wind turbines clean, green and an ideal source of renewable energy, Pierpont says living or working too close to them has a downside. Her research says wind turbines should never be built closer than two miles from homes...
Pierpont's findings suggest that low-frequency noise and vibration generated by wind machines can have an effect on the inner ear, triggering headaches; difficulty sleeping; tinnitus, or ringing in the ears; learning and mood disorders; panic attacks; irritability; disruption of equilibrium, concentration and memory; and childhood behavior problems.
Concerns also are coming out of Europe about low-frequency noise from newly built wind turbines. For example, British physician Amanda Harry, in a February 2007 article titled "Wind Turbines, Noise and Health," wrote of 39 people, including residents of New Zealand and Australia, who suffered from the sounds emitted by wind turbines.
Is this research convincing? Who knows? But is it not the left that demands we apply the "Precautionary Principle" to everything?
This misbegotten "rule" claims that the promoters of anything new must be obliged to prove its safety before it can be used anywhere. We've explored the reasons why that's ridiculous: most good things have potential hazards, but the benefits outweigh the hazards. However, the benefits are not fully understood or realized until the innovation is in use, whereas at least the most severe hazards can be clearly predicted. The inventor of fire couldn't have imagined its use in cars or rocketships, but he sure did notice the pain when he got his finger too close to the flames.
As dumb as the "Precautionary Principle" is, though, the left tries to apply it to everything good. It seems only fair to hold them to the same standard, doesn't it?
If it were a petroleum refinery or nuclear plant being constructed, technologies which have seen decades of mostly safe use, the local judge would be buried under a pile of lawsuits filed by radical environmentalists - which is why there have been no new refineries or nuke plants built in many years, leading to today's high prices, shortages, or both. Where is the lawyer willing to use the exact same tactics against this new idol to environmental political correctness, the windmill?
And who knows? Once the environmentalists see the havoc that frivolous lawsuits wreak on their beloved pet projects, well, maybe that will finally collect enough allies to bring on desperately needed tort reform. Harness the winds of change!