Over the summer I drove past the Hazelwood coal-powered plant and adjacent open coal pit on the way to Melbourne. After Clive Palmers defunct Coolum Dinosaur Resort I’d have to say the Hazelwood power-station may just be the most hideous, ugly, obnoxious and downright backwards landmark in Australia. However, there are some amongst us who don’t seem to have a problem with coal-fired power stations at all. They happen to be the ones in control.
So when you think of coal-powered stations, the words ‘ugly’, ‘noisy’ and ‘visually awful’ are usually descriptive terms that spring to mind… unless you’re Tony Abbott. He’d rather apply such language to wind farms. You see, the captain of Team Australia really hates them, forcing commentators to come to the logical conclusions that he’s either in the pockets of Big Coal, a climate change sceptic or just simply an idiot. But the truth is actually a lot more simpler than that. He hates wind turbines for what they stand for, for what they represent. Let me explain…
There’s a theory that artefacts, technologies and inventions have politics. What this essentially means is that various technical systems are deeply interwoven into the conditions of modern politics. For example, lets look at nuclear power VS solar power. The environmentalist Denis Hayes notes:
The increased deployment of nuclear power facilities must lead society towards authoritarianism. Indeed, safe reliance upon nuclear power as the principal source of energy may be possible only in a totalitarian state… dispersed solar sources are more compatible than centralised technologies with social equity, freedom and cultural pluralism.
Is it such a stretch to substitute Hayes comparison of nuclear and solar within the Australian context of coal and wind turbines? I think not.
Coal power stations (and the fossil fuel industry in general) provide Abbott and the LNP their raison d’être. This leads Abbott and friends to ignore some very disturbing facts about the industry they seemingly adore. On top of receiving approximately $10 billion in subsidies each year, coal generated power negatively impacts on the climate and the health of citizens. In fact, the Hazelwood power plant has been dubbed the “most polluting power plant in the industrialised world”, having spewed out 600m tonnes of CO2 over its lifetime, whilst consuming approximately 18m tonnes of inefficient brown coal and 27 billion litres of water a year. It outranks 120 countries in terms of CO2 emissions. It’s also riddled with asbestos and ya know… coal dust and toxic fumes, so the workers at the plant die on average 15 years before their Victorian counterparts. Furthermore, local residents live shorter lives that the average Victorian – 3.9 years for men and 2.8 years for women.
How ‘ugly’ are wind turbines in comparison? Well just to repeat points that the media and our politicians should be addressing, there is literally NO EVIDENCE that wind turbines have any negative health effects (we’ve known about this for years), and they’re actually the cheapest source of energy going around at the moment.
So going back to my argument, it seems odd that one would find wind turbines offensive, whilst also giving coal power stations a free pass. This is because coal powered stations essentially provide a ‘reason of being’ for both major parties in Australia. The unions in these stations and the mines hold the Labor party hostage, whilst the mining magnates and corporations that now own most of Australia’s power generating capabilities have a scary amount of influence on the LNP in this era of deregulation and privatisation.
Both major parties in Australia need the coal power stations to thrive to further benefit their own vested interests and keep the coffers full via political donations – whether that be from union fees or corporate political donations.
But it is only Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and co. who are brazen enough to tell it like it is. And the reason is this: if you go off the electricity grid and turn to solar, wind or some other sort of renewable energy that depends on mother nature and not the people in charge, then their power and influence is considerably weakened. It’s the reason John Howard pushed so hard for nuclear power when he was PM, and it’s the reason Tony Abbott campaigns for a dying industry today. It fucks up their business model if the people opt out whilst weakening the role of the state in the everyday affairs of its citizens. It allows us peasants at the bottom to realise that we don’t need corrupt unions, dumb politicians or an expensive, polluting and unsustainable network of coal-power stations to carry on our day-to-day living. Those at the top suddenly become a little more redundant, and the shackles on us citizens become a little looser.
That is the real reason why Tony Abbott hates wind turbines.