I have written about it before because it was such a stunning symbolic action. When Reagan entered the White House in 1980 one of his very first acts was to remove some solar panels that Jimmy Carter had had installed. Carter had put them there, in a remarkably far-sighted action (for the time), to encourage the public to do the same. He also, in a much-mocked move, encouraged people to turn their thermostats down a degree or two and wear a cardigan inside. Some of this was in response to the continuing ability of OPEC to restrict oil supplies and push up prices whenever it felt like it, but in part it was Carter’s recognition that America needed to start reducing energy consumption. The solar panels were a symbol of that.
But Reagan wasn’t having a bar of it – get these horrible things off the roof and get them off now. Odd, on the face of it – I mean, ok, don’t put any up, Ronald, but if they are already there why not leave them there and save a little if cost of running White House?
Because Reagan had his own symbolism to push. America, he was saying, is built on oil and coal, and by god it’s going to stay that way. Furthermore, as the greatest country on Earth we will consume masses of energy if we want to, and we do, and nobody can stop us. It is our birthright. So, we’ll have no more of this nonsense about reducing energy consumption and switching to renewables, Mr President, tear those panels down.
Ironic, really, that this period, 1976-1980, marked what we now know was the beginning of the uptick in CO2 production and rising global temperatures. Neither Carter nor Reagan knew this (although if I remember correctly Reagan was briefed, “Houston we have a problem” a few years later), but this was precisely the time America, and others, needed to switch to renewables.
In Australia in 2008 the excuse of ignorance could no longer be used. The Rudd government, to its credit, had acted swiftly to stimulate the economy as the GFC tsunami rolled towards our shores. As a result Australia was the only western economy to come through the crisis undamaged.
One of the schemes introduced, killing, as it were, two birds with one batt, was a home insulation scheme. Conducted by private firms, households could get their homes insulated, then apply for a rebate. Turned out however there were shonky operators out there (who could have guessed?) and that the states were way behind in regulating this relatively new industry. So there were four very sad deaths among workers, and there were some house fires caused by poor installation procedures. But in both cases the incidence seems to have been less than usual (ie before the scheme). While the minister in charge was hammered by Opposition and media, it is clear in retrospect that there was little wrong with the scheme
http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/04/23/peter-garrett-is-exonerated-nobody-cares/ and that with a million homes insulated, and the resulting lower energy use for individuals and the country, it had actually been a major success.
Regardless, it was attacked and attacked by both the Opposition and Murdoch Press, savagely and relentlessly. It was an attack far out of proportion to any supposed sins of omission or commission in the management of the scheme.
The reason I think is much like that of Reagan and the solar panels. It was an insulation scheme, and therefore implied that there was a problem (greenhouse gas emissions) and a solution was needed. The Opposition, climate change deniers to a man, and News Ltd, deniers from Rupert down, were angry that there was a response of any kind to a problem they refused to recognise. And, like Reagan, they saw Australia as being built on Coal’s back, and it being the god-given right of Australians to be, per head, the highest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. One has the feeling that if the Opposition come to power they would like to personally rip the insulation out of the million homes.
Which brings us to windpower and the “Landscape Guardians”. This astroturf group has been established via right wing think tanks.
http://www.independentaustralia.net/2012/environment/the-landscape-guardians-and-the-waubra-foundation/. It sets up fake little groups wherever windpower is planned. It has fake medical opinion about the reality of a “wind turbine syndrome”, apparently unique to Australia, and unique to people who aren’t receiving money for turbines on their own land but are neighbours of those who do. The fake medical opinion is based purely on anecdotes from people claiming sickness and has been disproved over and over again.
The group, being an apparently real “community group” with, like research, gets much media exposure as “independent opinion” including, shamefully, from our public broadcaster. They have succeeded in having the Victorian government imposing such extraordinary restrictions on windfarm location that few will be able to be built in that state anymore. They turn up at community information forums in NSW to distort the discussion, get residents frightened and angry with misinformation, and try as a result, to get projects delayed or blocked completely.
But why? Well one suggestion, in the link above, is that they are working with, on behalf of, coal miners in Victoria, to block the development of alternative energy sources. Probably some truth in this, these companies everywhere fund right wing think tanks to achieve this kind of result.
But with their spread into NSW, and probably elsewhere, I think the explanation must be more general. Windfarms, highly visible and effective, are both an actual and a symbolic response to climate change. They therefore, by their very existence, confirm the reality of climate change. And this, like the WH solar panels, can’t be allowed by the climate change deniers these groups are completely composed of.
This war, to get the world responding to global warming, is being fought on many fronts. Opposition to renewable energy is not one I’d have predicted 10 years ago, but here we are.