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When it comes to climate change, Tony Abbott is representing vested interests, not voters (Image via @EnviroVic)

Tony Abbott and opponents of action on climate change have determined a new path of obstruction, writes Patrick Keane: instead of doubting the science they will thwart the solution.

2015 is a momentous year in the story of climate change; never has the world been hotter and never has the Government of Australia done more to thwart action on Climate Change.

The Abbott Government has engaged in an unprecedented attack on renewable energy. Tony Abbott described wind turbines as “visually awful” and coal as “good for humanity”. His government's attacks have occurred at the same time as there is another Senate Inquiry into wind energy — the tenth so far. 

I was working for a Labor Senator sitting on a previous Inquiry: The Senate Community Affairs Committee Inquiry into The Social, Health and Economic Impacts of Wind Farms, in 2010. My job was to read the submissions and follow the hearings. During the Inquiry, it became obvious to me that, rather than deny the science around climate change, those opposed to action on climate change were going to obstruct the renewable energy industry through invented adverse health effects such as "wind turbine syndrome", or even on the grounds of conservation, claiming wind turbines were detrimental to local wildlife such as birds.

Since the angry summer of 2012-13 gave us an alarming insight into the future of our nation without action on climate change the world is even hotter. 2014 was the hottest year recorded and 2015 shows every sign of being hotter still. The national June mean temperature was 1.35°C above average, Australia's fifth-warmest June on record for mean temperatures. And, despite the rises in temperature, the Abbott Government wants to delay action on climate change and water down the emissions reductions targets Australia takes to the UN Paris Conference on Climate Change later this year. 

Bill McKibben articulated the frustration many people feel when confronted by recalcitrant governments such as Australia’s and asked:

“Why haven’t we acted already?”

The answer is not because the science isn’t conclusive, or because there is a significant part of the population that don’t believe in the science. The answer is not because there isn’t the technology or the capacity. And the answer is not because we have plenty of time. The answer is because the fossil fuel industry has married themselves to political interests and only death will them part. The Abbott Government, amongst others, provides a clear example of who – and what – stands in the road of action on climate change with their attacks on renewable energy.

There is popular support for action on Climate Change

After the massive demonstration of popular support for action on Climate Change after the People's Climate marches of 2014. which represented a worldwide call for action to confront climate change of more than 2,800 rallies in 166 countries, the popular commitment to action cannot be doubted.

Further, more than 97% of the world’s scientists agree the world is warming and that greenhouse gases created by the burning of fossil fuels are responsible.

We have the capacity and the technology

An excellent demonstration of the capacity of technologies such as wind turbines is the recent production of 140% of its national electricity needs from wind turbines by Denmark.

The Deep Decarbonisation Pathways report, released by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon last year, concluded that 15 countries, including Australia, account for 70% of the world's greenhouse gase missions. According to the report, Australia could slash its carbon emissions to zero by 2050 and still experience average economic growth of 2.4%. Further the IMF believes a shift to renewables will not significantly hamper the economy.

There isn’t plenty of time

There is estimated to be 2,860 gigatons of fossil fuel remaining in the world, but if we burn only 565 gigatons more we will have breached the predicted and internationally mandated limit that could prevent the temperature of the Earth rising by more than two degrees Celsius, and thus change our way of life irrevocably.

It is estimated we will burn this limit in 14 years.

So, why haven’t we acted?

The reason action on climate change remains at such a glacial pace, despite the apparent and measurable increase in temperatures is because of ideological and vested interests. The former Family First Senator Steve Fielding, a self-described sceptic on climate change, initiated the 2010 Inquiry I researched and just as his purpose was to thwart action on Climate Change, Senator David Leyonhjelm has a similar mission, even similar tactics in the latest 2015 Inquiry into Wind Trubines.

In the current Senate Inquiry into wind, Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm compared “wind turbine syndrome” to cancer caused by tobacco.

The Senator told wind turbine operators:

“I’m minded of the tobacco company’s 50 years ago testifying to a committee somewhat similar like [sic] ours, saying cigarettes do not cause lung cancer. If I was in your shoe [sic], I would be concerned that in due course there would be a tort liability emerge out of this.”

In 2010, former Family First Senator Steve Fielding invited Dr Nina Pierpont and Sarah Laurie to the Inquiry hearings to argue there was an illness they called “wind turbine syndrome”. Sarah Laurie was invited to testify at the current inquiry.

The proponents of "wind turbine syndrome" claim the cause is "infrasound". But the low frequency noise generated by wind turbines occurs commonly. Infrasound is generated by natural sources such as the wind and waves on a beach, as well as human made sources such as air conditioners. Worldwide, there are more than 100,000 operating wind turbines and yet there are only anecdotal cases suggesting ill health effects, of which none can demonstrate causation. In 2010 and 2015, Australia’s peak medical body, the National Health and Medical Research Council concluded there was no such thing as "wind turbine syndrome", let alone a connection between wind turbines and ill health. So, quite unlike smoking and lung cancer.

Fielding claimed he was concerned about wind farms precisely because of the environment – just as Leyonhjelm claimed his opposition was – because he would:

“... hate to see our majestic eagles and hawks splattered all over the countryside.”

There is no evidence of wildlife, including birds, being endangered by wind turbines; if there was, there would be considerable photographic evidence.

The ideological and vested interests have determined that, rather than deny climate change, the most effective path is to block construction of renewables and thus the Abbott Government have declared war on renewable energy. For instance, Tony Abbott has issued a directive banning the Clean Energy Finance Corporation from investing in existing wind and solar technologies.

The opponents of action on climate change are bent on a new direction, rather than doubting the science they will obstruct the solution.

We must stop them because, if we let them, they will seal the fate of the whole planet.

As mentioned above, Patrick Keane was an advisor to a Labor Senator on the 2010 Inquiry into Wind Farms. You can read more about his research into that Inquiry here. You can also follow Patrick on Twitter @pckeane2014.

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