Silly Season Stories from Sydney: Wind Farms, Whales & Free Range Eggs

Silly Season Stories from Sydney: Wind Farms, Whales & Free Range Eggs

Some readers might dismiss these as “silly season stories” but they all appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and they were deadly serious: “Wind farm opponents ‘aided and abetted’ by climate sceptic groups”; “Why a nation obsessed with whales is drowning in a sea of bureaucracy”; and “Egg gas finding a rotten result for free-range hens”.

Ben Cubby & Josephine Tovey in Sydney Morning Herald (20 December 2011):

THE anti-wind farm movement that is gaining influence in the NSW Parliament is being ”aided and abetted” by climate sceptic groups and some mining figures.

The cabinet debated new wind farm guidelines yesterday, with division over whether NSW should follow Victoria and order wind turbines to be set further back from houses.

The Shooters and Fishers Party, which shares the balance of power in the upper house with the Christian Democrats, said yesterday it wanted a moratorium on new wind farms.

Industry sources said a US Tea Party-style ”astroturf” campaign, which mimics grassroots local opposition but is at least partly directed from elsewhere, was being waged against wind energy in NSW, which was expected to bring up to $10 billion in investment this decade as it accelerated to meet the national 20 per cent renewable energy target.

Wind farm opponents include a coalition of local groups under the banner ”landscape guardians”, and the Australian Environment Foundation, which sprang up seven years ago from a conference run by the right-wing think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs, but is now a separate group.

”Our role is, if you like, aiding and abetting what local communities are doing and helping them voice their disapproval over wind farms,” said the foundation’s executive director, Max Rheese.

While local groups say they believe the inaudible noise and vibration from wind farms affect human health, the foundation does not think humans have a role in causing climate change and therefore believes wind farms are an expensive extravagance.

It hosted the British climate sceptic Lord Monckton last year and says it ”questions the whole science behind anthropogenic global warming”.

Mr Rheese said the foundation had paid for anti-wind signs at public meetings and lobbied the Shooters and Fishers Party, and the National and Liberal parties in NSW.

The Shooters and Fishers MP Robert Borsak said yesterday the party would wait for the cabinet decision but would use its critical position in the upper house to oppose any pro-wind farm legislation that came to Parliament.

The party had discussed wind farms with the foundation but had come up with its own policy calling for a moratorium and public inquiry into wind turbines, Mr Borsak said.

”We do probably see eye to eye with them on this and many issues, but this is a party position that we have finalised internally.”

The Premier, Barry O’Farrell, said in August it was his opinion that no new wind farms should be built in NSW, but it is understood there are divisions in cabinet about the issue.

The Nationals MP and Roads Minister, Duncan Gay, said yesterday his anti-wind farm views were well known and he hoped yesterday’s cabinet meeting ”addresses the sins of the past”.

”I live at Crookwell; we’ve certainly come under the brunt of poor planning and lack of community consultation of wind farms in the past … It puts friends against friends, neighbours against neighbours.”

The Waubra Foundation is a national group arguing wind farms can cause illness because of the vibrations from turbines. It lodged a submission based on perceived health concerns with the government yesterday.

The chairman, Peter Mitchell, said his opposition to wind farms was based on health concerns and nothing to do with his background as a former director of oil and gas companies.

”The critics here are really playing shoot the messenger, which I find ridiculous,” he said.

The British equivalent of landscape guardians, ”country guardians”, was funded and supported by elements of the British nuclear energy industry.

Labor’s environment spokesman, Luke Foley, said ”flat earthers” were running a scare campaign against wind power.


Why a nation obsessed with whales is drowning in a sea of bureaucracy

William Pesek in Sydney Morning Herald (17 December 2011):

Want to know why Japan’s earthquake recovery efforts are moving in slow motion? Ask the whales.

Tokyoites have grown accustomed to shocking news items since the earth shook and the oceans rose. The nuclear meltdown has proven far worse than the government admitted; radioactive cesium made its way into baby food; more leaks were found in the damaged Fukushima reactor; and warnings by seismologists still go unheeded.

Yet the tale of the whales and the $US30 million is what proved most disturbing – and shed light on why Japan is either unable or unwilling to undertake reforms needed to avert credit-rating downgrades and reverse deepening deflation.

Japan spent about 2.28 billion yen ($29 million) on whaling expeditions from funds allocated for recovery from the earthquake and tsunami. It’s a drop in the proverbial bucket, given that the government plans to spend at least $US300 billion rebuilding the Tohoku region. It’s a highly telling expenditure, though, with significance far beyond the price tag.

The whaling programs carried out each year flout international conventions and dent Japan’s reputation, and for very little. Demand for whale meat is negligible: the industry survives because of huge public subsidies. Japan contends that using earthquake funds to boost security for ships will help them elude activists protecting whales. A successful hunt, it’s thought, will revitalise local coastal communities.

You know what would help more? Some fresh thinking. The devastation from March 11 required a reboot of politics, the government’s role in the economy and Japan’s change-resistant, consensus-obsessed mindset. What we’re seeing instead is an inability to adapt on a national level.

Nine months ago, the ground shifted under Japan’s feet not only literally, but figuratively. There was a fleeting glimmer of change, a hope that the disaster would end the political and economic stasis that has gripped Japan for more than two decades. Instead, tossing money at every problem without critical thought suggests that Japan is reverting to the wasteful ways that created a massive national debt and little growth to show for it.

One big question that hasn’t been tackled: whether to bother rebuilding parts of Japan’s north-east – given that they were dying a slow, steady demographic death anyway – or relocate the communities away from the sea. Rather than grapple with it, Japan is pursuing whaling. But how many young people who long ago fled to cities like Tokyo are going to rush back to their ancestral homes to become whalers?

Consider what the brains trust in Tokyo is up to. Last month, Standard & Poor’s hinted that another credit downgrade was brewing as Japan’s public debt, already the developed world’s largest, increased unchecked by distracted lawmakers. So how do they spend their time? In tit-for-tat one-upmanship.

In November a deputy to Defence Minister, Yasuo Ichikawa, was fired for comparing the relocation of a US airbase on the island of Okinawa to rape. Rather than move on and tend to the many dilemmas facing Japan, lawmakers spent last week crafting censure motions for the ousted official’s bosses.

Both story lines, supporting whalers and pointless political posturing, are microcosms of why Japan isn’t rising to this year’s challenges. What we have is a failure to adapt to a dynamic set of problems that threaten economic well-being.

Take Tokyo Electric Power Co. The company’s safety failures are responsible for the radiation still leaking into the air and water 217 kilometres from Tokyo. Yet Tepco hasn’t been nationalised or delisted. Instead of reform, there’s talk of bailouts.

Japan is a top-down society. Right now, mayors in the north-east need a figure: how much they will get to fix airports, train stations, roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, telecoms and ports. It’s hard to hire architects, assemble construction crews and procure materials when you don’t know your budget. Tokyo, instead, is obsessed with political infighting and old remedies for new quandaries.

Bureaucracy is running amok. There’s great confusion about who is handling what phase of reconstruction – the central government or local ones? Rural leaders fed up with all the foot-dragging are finding it’s not easy to forge ahead on their own. There are endless stories of towns that want to rebuild schools or hospitals on higher ground to avoid tsunamis only to find that regulations say they must be put up in the same place.

The upshot is that trust is breaking down on too many levels. Companies are reluctant to hire, communities are split between those who want to stay and those tempted to leave, citizens don’t buy the nuclear industry’s protestations of safety, and cynicism toward officialdom in Tokyo has rarely been higher.

It’s not a great environment for economic revival, never mind any semblance of confidence as Europe’s crisis foreshadows a global economic slowdown. That’s what happens in a country that gives higher priority to killing whales than to reassuring a traumatised population.


Egg gas finding a rotten result for free-range hens

Alexandra Smith in Sydney Morning Herald (17 December 2011):

“I would support the egg industry’s calls for carbon labelling and what I would say is that they should show some leadership and be the first to introduce it because I think we would see others follow” … Paul Klymenko, chief executive of Planet Ark.

EGGS from caged hens produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than free range eggs, a new report has found, prompting calls for carbon footprint labelling to be used on all food products in Australia.

A report for the Australian Egg Corporation, which represents most egg farmers, found that free range egg production’s carbon footprint in Australia was about 20 per cent higher than caged production.

The main reason was because free range egg production uses more feed per kilogram of eggs produced than caged egg production, the report, which was half-funded by the federal government, found.

The report also found that egg production had a lower carbon footprint than several European egg studies, mainly due to more efficient grain production in Australia.

The corporation’s managing director, James Kellaway, used the findings to call for carbon footprint labelling to be included on food to help consumers make more informed choices when shopping.

“The egg industry would be very happy to consider adding the environmental footprint or greenhouse gas emission status on egg labels,” Mr Kellaway said.

”However, it would be meaningless without other food products having to do it or providing a reference point so consumers can compare food types or food categories.”

Mr Kellaway said the report also suggested that eggs had the lowest carbon footprint of all the main protein foods.

”But the research also highlighted that there is still scope for refinements to current practices in egg production to allow further reductions in emissions,” he said.

Paul Klymenko, the chief executive of Planet Ark, welcomed Mr Kellaway’s calls for carbon footprint labelling.

Planet Ark and the Carbon Trust UK launched the Carbon Reduction Label in Australia after the labelling program was introduced in Britain in 2007 with just three products – chips, shampoo and smoothie drinks.

There are now hundreds of products in Britain with the label including bread, milk, juice, cereal, sugar, potatoes, detergent, toilet and kitchen paper, light bulbs, clothing and appliances.

Mr Klymenko said there was no reason for the egg industry to delay the introduction of a carbon footprint label, especially after it had already collected much of the research in its study that would be needed.

”I would support the egg industry’s calls for carbon labelling and what I would say is that they should show some leadership and be the first to introduce it because I think we would see others follow,” he said.

Aldi’s everyday olive oil and the Mobius Marlborough sauvignon blanc, a product of the New Zealand Wine Company, were the first products in Australia to label their carbon footprint.


One Response to “Silly Season Stories from Sydney: Wind Farms, Whales & Free Range Eggs”

  1. Mike Barnard Says:

    Max Rheese is either deeply misinformed about wind energy or actively promoting disinformation. Given that the two organizations he heads, the AEF and AusCSC got the majority of their funding from the US-based climate-change denying ACSC, I pick the latter. He managed 14 whoppers about wind energy in 17 minutes in this ‘interview’. Read the entire dissection of his disinformation here:

    Mr. Rheese appears incapable of accuracy when it comes to wind energy. Given that the AEF and the Australian Climate Science Coalition have run $35K in the red while he took $22K from them over the past two years, it’s obvious Mr. Rheese doesn’t just have a truth deficit.

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