Election 2013 Western Australia March 9

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Health Matters

Health impact justifies renewable energy

source: Greens candidate Dr George Crisp

All of our activities and industries have differing, sometimes complex, health consequences. A striking example is in electricity generation, where ‘renewables’ and fossil fuel combustion have markedly contrasting implications for our health, now and in the future.

Along with the undoubted health and social benefits derived from accessible and available electricity, there are also inherent, often unrecognised or unaccounted, adverse effects from these same energy generation processes.

If these ‘externalised’ costs are significant and not captured by the market, they constitute ‘market failure’. Climate change and air pollution represent major failures, and have prompted action to address them on economic grounds.

However, it is the daunting health impacts that now provide the most urgent and compelling reasons to reassess how we generate energy.

Wind generation is now comparable in cost to coal and gas generation even excluding health costs, and according to government projections wind will be the cheapest form of power by 2020, with solar energy not far behind. Wind power can provide cheap, almost emissions-free power generation and has displaced fossil fuel combustion where it has been deployed.

In recent years anti-wind groups have claimed the low frequency or inaudible sound from turbines can have a wide array of health impacts.

Wind turbines have now been in use for several decades, particularly in Europe, and often located in proximity to residential areas. So it is rather surprising that health concerns have only recently emerged, and curiously, predominantly from English speaking Western countries.

There have now been 17 major reviews of the literature and research, including Australia’s NHMRC, all of which have found no evidence for adverse health effects, with the exception that some local residents may suffer annoyance from noise.

Importantly, there is no known adequate pathophysiological mechanism to explain how sub-audible and low frequency sound might confer damage to our health.

If low frequency wind turbine noise were harmful, then why would people not experience similar effects when exposed to other environmental sources, some of which produce far higher sound pressures?

Contrast this to the well-documented epidemiological and pathological effects arising from air pollution from fossil fuel combustion, which is linked to respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

Recent US and European studies have determined that once air pollution is accounted for, the cost of coal-fired electricity more than doubles, and reducing it confers immediate and progressive health related benefits and savings.

Climate change already contributes to more than 350,000 deaths globally, and trims global GDP by 1.6%, per annum. By 2030 these numbers are projected to escalate to five million deaths and 3.2% of GDP.

With just 0.7°C warming so far, this years extensive, unexpected Arctic ice melting and plight of the Great Barrier Reef, should serve to remind us of the imperative and urgency of action.

If we are to avoid crossing the internationally agreed ‘two degree’ global warming target, then we have just 50 months left to reverse our emissions.

Wind power provides a proven method of producing electricity and reducing pollution. Combined with other renewable energy generation, it allows us to maintain the health benefits of electricity while minimising the social and environmental costs.

A renewable energy future is justifiable on health grounds alone.

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