29 November 2012
Today there is an interesting debate about science going on in the Australian Senate, that wedges the Opposition into a rather untenable position.
The background is that a small lobby group in Australia, called the Waubra Foundation, has spread the idea that infrasound from wind turbines causes ‘wind turbine sickness’ (WTS). This issue has been taken up by two independent Senators (Madigan, Vic; Xenophon, SA).
Senator Madigan has proposed a bill to create specific legislative constraints on wind farms, which is being debated today.
The independent Senators have written a report on their anti-wind bill, where they call for the government to fund research into WTS. Senator Simon Birmingham (Liberal, SA) today backed the idea that government should urgently fund the research.
Senator Birmingham gave a balanced speech, given that the whole issue lacks credibility. But he and other rational Liberals need to be very careful where they go from here. WTS lobbyists are extremists and their issue is basically a conspiracy theory, not a scientific case at all.
The Waubra Foundation’s demand for government mandated research is good retail politics, but bad science, bad policy and eventually, bad politics.
Australia has a world-standard medical research capability. If WTS was a real medical issue, then it would be a hot topic of scientific interest (thanks to all the media coverage by Graham Lloyd at the Australian).
If medical scientists wanted to do deep, extensive research on WTS, then they would write funding proposals for funding bodies, where a peer review process would determine the value of that research.
It is bad policy to call for a government to direct medical scientists to investigate a non-issue, diverting their time and taxpayer funding from other, real diseases. It is illiberal and thus in opposition to the principles of the Liberal Party.
It also smacks of the conspiracy thinking of the climate denialist movement. The polluters and climate denialists have debased the public conversation about climate science and now they are starting to do the same to the public conversation about energy technology. They are beating up an agenda of renewables skepticism.
The Liberal Party is letting Senator Madigan drive its agenda on wind energy the same way it let Pauline Hanson’s One Nation drives its agenda on immigration and cultural identity.
I am hopeful that the big technology, infrastructure, energy and investment companies will pull the Liberals into line over this issue. My reasoning is simple. The Liberals could attack climate science with no political loss, because scientists lack political organisation.
The Liberals will not get away with attacking renewable energy, at least not in the long term. Business is rather more politically organised than science and will quietly educate LNP Senators and Members about wind and other technologies.