Dan Cass writes: The science culture war started by tobacco, nuclear and fossil fuel industries took a curious twist this afternoon, with the release of a Senate report into so-called ‘turbine sickness’. This inquiry was initiated by Family First’s Steve Fielding and is his last hurrah in the Australian Senate.
Fielding has turned his anti-green focus from denying climate science to now denying the scientific evidence that wind turbines are safe. The Fielding inquiry comes after a week which has seen Australian scientists from Science & Technology Australia — known until this week as the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS) – lobbying politicians to defend them from denialist death threats and lies.
We have also read that Australian mining companies are promoting the visit of Christopher Monckton, despite reports that he has called Professor Ross Garnaut a Nazi. Even the Herald Sun‘s Andrew Bolt came out strongly today against Monckton’s latest actions. At the Copenhagen climate conference, Monckton called young protestors ‘Hitler Youth’ and then denied he used that phrase, when interviewed about it by Associated Press.
A great development in the science culture war is The Conversation, a new media outlet for Australian academics. This is publishing credible articles that pull apart the intellectual credibility of climate denialism, but there are ominous signs that the battle front has advanced, from climatology to technology.
On June 15 the Australian used Global Wind Day to push its anti-environmental campaigning in this new direction. Like the Tea Party in the US, various commentators from the ‘sceptic’ camp are turning their anti-science activism from climate science to renewable energy.
The purpose is to make it seem that the ‘jury is out’ and ‘science is divided’ about wind and solar power. The Tea Party, for its part, is attacking US Federal funding for renewable energy R&D.
The Global Wind Day front page of the Australian creates the narrative that science is split down the middle between evidence that wind turbines are safe and evidence that turbines create inaudible (infra-) sound, which is destroying the health of people and animals.
The paper reported on a recent scientific forum hosted by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The forum was convened in order to appease a campaign against the NHMRC’s submission to the Fielding inquiry into wind turbines, which had accurately reported that there is no scientific evidence that wind turbine ‘sickness’ or ‘syndrome’ even exists.
Facilitator Gail Jennings valiantly persevered through a train-wreck of an agenda, which constructed the knowledge around the narrative of conflict. It was more a political show-and-tell to appease the Landscape Guardians, who oppose wind-farms, than a scientifically or democratically valid exercise.
If you were a scientific government body hosting a forum on renewable energy technology, you might be expected to have one MP from each of the Labor, Coalition and Greens camps. The NHMRC’s sole political representative was Liberal MP Alby Schultz.
As Greg Combet has pointed out, Schultz has compared the ”perverted science of global warming” to the ”perverted science of national socialist ideology”.
The NHMRC invited 20 non-government or science representatives to the forum: 50% pro and 50% anti-wind. All the community representatives were anti-wind. Nobody from the community who supports wind, nor anyone from the wind industry spoke. Imagine an inquiry into the nuclear industry where the nuclear industry was not allowed to make a presentation!
The NHMRC did not invite Infigen, who own more turbines than any other company in Australia. Infigen did attend (after some lobbying), along with Origin, Vestas, Suzlon and Pacific Hydro.
There is no doubt that some people are legitimately reporting stress and disease and citing wind farms as the cause. There is also no doubt that some wind companies have failed to consult well with local communities and that some people have legitimate grievances as a result. The problem comes when these people are used by campaigners in a science culture war aimed at preventing climate action.
It is reasonable to predict that The Australian and its political wing — Alby Schultz, Nick Minchin, Eric Abetz and Sophie Mirabella — will escalate ‘renewables skepticism’ over the coming months. Expect to see beat ups about solar panel standards, wind turbine sickness, inverter power losses and various conspiracy theories circulating on the Internet.
Already, wind proponents have received threatening phone calls and anti-wind activists have engaged in bullying.
You have to also assume that after a few months of the campaign, ABC and Fairfax journalists will feel bullied into reporting the new anti-science narrative, in pursuit of that false idol of ‘balance’ in journalism.
If science wants to defend itself from the culture war waged by big polluters, it needs to get vocal on technology denialism before it becomes as entrenched as climatology denialism is. There is nothing to be gained by waiting until solar and wind researchers get death threats.
Dan Cass is an unpaid Director of (and has invested $5000 in) Hepburn Community Wind Park Co-operative Ltd, Australia’s first community energy company.