Research explains how depopulation was used to justify wind farms without taking the environment into account

Javier Esparcia (left) and Jaume Pla (right), at the entrance to the Faculty of
Javier Esparcia (left) and Jaume Pla (right), at the entrance to the Faculty of Geography and History of the University of Valencia.
Jaume Pla and Javier Esparcia, researchers from the University of Valencia (UV), have analysed rural depopulation in the Valencian press between 1996 and 2022, and conclude that this factor or job creation has been subordinated to the construction of parks wind farms, often without paying enough attention to environmental issues. In their article, published in the magazine Anales de Geografía of the Universidad Complutense, they propose that news from the media should have a complementary approach to the traditional one and give more importance to the environment.

"A narrative has been built in which it is transferred to the public, repeatedly and with little and insufficient scientific evidence, that wind farms were fundamental to generate employment and income for the rural population, reaching such categorical statements as bold and uncertain as when it is pointed out that the future of these rural areas and the brake on their depopulation depended on wind farms. As long as it is not proven, we are facing a discourse that can be described as idyllic and even fallacious", affirm Jaume Pla and Javier Esparcia, researchers of the Rural Development Unit (UDERVAL) of the Interuniversity Institute of Rural Development.

In addition, they explain that there is an inverse relationship between depopulation and environmental quality, and that sometimes the media take more into account the advantages than the disadvantages of the installation of wind farms. They came to this conclusion after reviewing 853 depopulation news stories, of which only 11% dealt with environmental issues.

Thus, the percentage of news in which the environment and depopulation were related decreased from 15 to 10% in the period between 2015 and 2022 compared to that from 1996 to 2014. The percentage that linked depopulation with demography also decreased and, for on the contrary, it increased what related it to institutional actors, services or public policies.

The reduction of references to the environment began to be very pronounced from the period 2011-2014, in which it went from 20% to 5%-10%, a period in which the effects of depopulation are more intense, coinciding with the economic crisis.

"The information published in the press should apply rigorous, quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches. This is not necessarily always objective, so it can contribute to discourses that are interested or simply insufficiently contrasted and, therefore, with limited journalistic rigor" affirm Pla and Esparcia.

Mainly, this news was published in the Mediterráneo newspaper (the one with greater circulation in the province of Castellón). It should also be noted that in other media, such as Las Provincias, some more critical assessments were published, questioning whether these projects could really have positive effects for depopulation, according to the researchers.

The study focuses on the Valencian Community, where some territories show signs of depopulation. In the province of Castelló, for example, 38.5% of its 135 municipalities have a density of less than 10 inhabitants per square kilometre, a figure that has increased since 2017, when they were 36%. But it is also emphasised that this situation can be identified with areas of the province of Valencia, such as the region of Utiel-Requena, or in Alicante, the case of the regions of Comtat and Marina Alta.

Article reference : Pla Bañuls, Jaume, Javier Esparcia Pérez. ’Despoblación y medio ambiente: una aproximación a las narrativas desde medios de comunicación valencianos’. Anales de Geografía de la Universidad Complutense, vol. 44, n.º 1, 2024, pp. 251-76,­AGUC.94212

Annex photo caption :

Wind farm in an area of the interior of the province of Castelló.