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Eco-Camouflage and the Fossil Fuel Lobby: The War against Wind Farms

The fossil fuel lobby has had a busy year on the eco-camouflage front. Earlier this year, interest started to rumble and rage against the stranding of humpback whales on the east coast of the United States. Suddenly, opponents of wind turbine technology – and renewable technology more broadly – had identified an invaluable, if tenuous nexus: a link between whale mortality and offshore wind farms.

One true enthusiast for the proposition proved to be Donald Trump. Speaking at a rally in South Carolina in September, for example, the Republican presidential contender suggested that these “windmills” were driving whales “crazy”, inflicting death in such numbers that they were washing up on shore “on a weekly basis”.

Such technology is the subject of frenzied study, and it would be remiss not to mention that various environmental concerns have been raised. These are often specific to their intended locales. One need only consult recent work commissioned by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, an adjunct of the US Department of the Interior, to appreciate the complexity of the field. The report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concerned the Nantucket Shoals region, an area of complex hydrodynamics and ecology. The authors acknowledged that large turbines of the size planned for the region had not, as yet, been built in US waters, and would therefore require extensive modelling on oceanographic effects, notably on zooplankton populations upon which whales feed.

Rob Deaville of the Zoological Society of London’s Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme also admits that disruptions to marine wildlife can take place in the construction phase of wind farms given the presence of percussive noise. Animals such as porpoises or dolphins “may move out of that area while you’re installing the wind farms, but then the longer-term picture: in some areas they may never come back, in some they may come back in larger numbers than before.”

Such concerned albeit cautious observation sits differently with claims of mass whale mortality that has become a hobby horse for opponents of renewable energy sources. But look behind these newly converted whale-loving types, and you are likely to find an avid fossil-fuel lobbyist, the cash-filled account of the commodities sector, or those advocating the merits of nuclear energy.

The issue has also made its way across the Pacific to Australia, that great bastion of fossil feud mania. In the state of New South Wales, residents of the Hunter and Illawarra regions woke up to posters making the claim about the harmful effects of wind turbine technology. A roadside billboard in Port Stephens, north of Newcastle, featured a beached whale with a background of wind turbines, sporting the words, “Stop Port Stephens Offshore Wind Farms”.

Fictional articles have also made similar claims. One, in particular, purports to have been published in the academic journal Marine Policy, asserting that offshore wind farms in the Illawarra and Hunter would result in an annual whale death toll of 400. The journal’s disconcerted editor-in-chief, Quentin Hanich, could find no evidence of the phantom study with its alleged origins in the University of Tasmania, which had been shared on a Facebook group No Offshore Wind Farm for the Illawarra. “We never received this imaginary paper … I am seeing no evidence that the study ever took place.”

None of this seems to trouble members of the Liberal National Coalition. The federal opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has claimed, somewhat erroneously, that there had been “no environmental consideration of what these huge wind turbines, 260 to 280 metres out of the water, will mean.”

Another example of a fossil fuel parliamentarian turned green populist is Queensland Nationals Senator, Matt Canavan, who recently admitted that he had a soft spot for these cetacean casualties. But then again, he also claims to have a fondness for all of Mother Nature’s glories, now facing the scourge of wind farm technology. As he told Sky News, that favourite network for scratching populists and reactionaries, “massive amounts of wind farms, and solar panels which take up enormous amounts of land […] destroy koala habitat [and have] a massive impact on our environment … we destroy the environment to try and save it.”

The same senator has been a spoiler of any net zero emissions policy regarding greenhouse gases, much to the consternation of many members of his own party, and could barely conceal his delight at the wording of the 2021 Glasgow Climate Change communique that countries “phase down” rather than “phase out” coal burning. For Canavan, this meant that COP26 had given the “green light” for Australia to keep digging and “supply the world with more coal because that’s what brings people out of poverty.”

This burst of anti-wind farm criticism ignored the inconvenient fact that almost all the humpback whale strandings the subject of concern showed signs of vessel strike. In February 2023, the Marine Mammal Commission released a statement confirming the view that “there is no evidence to link these strandings to offshore wind energy development.”

This month, Greenpeace published a piece stating that “offshore wind farms aren’t killing whales.” While admitting the answer is a nuanced one, it concluded that “building offshore wind is way, way better for ocean wildlife than fossil fuels, especially offshore gas and oil.” No single peer-reviewed study, Greenpeace went on to note, has found that offshore wind farms are responsible for whale mortality.

The greatest threat to various whale populations lies in fishing, ship strikes, and oceanic disruptions arising from climate change. As, it would seem, those figures in eco-camouflage such as Dutton and Canavan, who continue to coddle fossil fuel companies intent on seismic blasting and offshore drilling.

 

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17 comments

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  1. New England Cocky

    Being a sceptical biologist by preference I would suggest that the marine wind power masts would provide a wonderful opportunity for assorted species of fish to congregate as if the tower structure was a reef. This hypothesis is easy enough to test by checking fish behaviour around the many Woodside drilling rigs standing out in the ocean of NW Australia.

  2. GL

    The LNP Corruption ‘R’ Us party has developed into the acme and epitome of the “You pay, we play.”

  3. Clakka

    The eco-camouflaged, particularly Dutton and Canavan and their associated Atlas droogs should go back to their knitting.

    Then at least we could wait it all out in the hope of headlines such as:

    ‘Political Deaths Assured – Death of Nitwits with Knitting Needles’

  4. Michael Taylor

    I’m continually gobsmacked by Peter Dutton’s stupidity.

    Problem with his stupidity – he’s dangerous.

  5. andyfiftysix

    its about as smart as saying wind turbines kill birds so we should chop all the trees down because when its windy, they kill birds.

    Yea i get it, he is trying to find something to latch on to so he can beat Labor over the head. What i want to know is how many dumb arses fell for it? A few that i saw on TV news.
    What Dutton is doing is a bit of divide and conquer. Turning good willed people against each other.
    He cant win on policies because he has non. The best he can hope for is an abbott type of destruction. They wont stop until they get power again.
    Labor need to stop playing nice…. these shits wont stop until labor is destroyed. I dont see the sense in accomodating them. Appealing to our higher nature has worked in the past ………………….FUCKING NEVER.
    While democracy is run by narcissists, “what ever it takes ” is the name of the game.

    While I am at it, The ABC needs to take a good hard look at itself. Neutral reporting is starting to look like a right wing free for all. Questioning stupidity has been replaced by a form of legitimisation of the ugly , dirty and immoral.
    As there is no neutral position on climate change, so too , there should be no neutrality on dirty political plays. yes both sides have done it in the past, but one side excels

  6. Michael Taylor

    It’s such a pity we can’t impeach leaders of the opposition.

    His electorate has shown they’re not interested in voting him out.

  7. Andrew Smith

    Agree, a form of ‘greenwashing’ by deflection, but beware of ‘libertarian traps’…

    Recently the same author used a fossil fuel climate science denying think tank ‘academic’ or geopolitical expert, ie. Mearsheimer (hosted locally by CIS), to oppose support for &/or demand ‘peace’ in Ukraine by blaming NATO, deflecting from Russia’s actual invasion; also gives away shared interest between western, esp US, oligarchs and Putin’s Russia on fossil fuels, taxes, regulation and their antipathy towards EU (see Brexit).

    Part of a broader strategy, includes too many science and economics illiterate RW Oz grifters around LNP, think tanks and media, to try delay and deflect from faster transition to renewable sources, defying basic economic evidence in the public domain, yet they and their preferred think tanks claim economic expertise?

    Burn-Murdoch Sep ’22 in FT (also a good source on Russia-Ukraine according to a counterpart of the author, Eric Draitser at Counter Punch), explains how any nation can have both economic growth and decline carbon emissions (but the Anglosphere lags, of course):

    ‘Opinion FT Data Points: Economics may take us to net zero all on its own. The plummeting cost of low-carbon energy has already allowed many countries to decouple economic growth from emissions.’

    https://www.ft.com/content/967e1d77-8d3c-4256-9339-6ea7025cd5d3

    As opposed to desperation locally to embed fossil fuels permanently…..

  8. Phil Pryor

    Peter Duckwit-Futton is a perennial, pustular, pontificating, pompous, putrid, plaguey, pornerastic peanut, ignorant and untrustworthy, without a cell of cerebral certitude, a Blot on the Australian political landscape now and historically.

  9. Clakka

    Clearly, history reveals that the LNP have never been ‘better economic managers’. They have simply been better peddlers of greed, and people have bought it, then later Labor had to come in and fix all the stuff-ups, often with austerity measures. Then the LNP peddle greed again, and so it goes on.

    Again, clearly, there can be no dignity with greed, just the sophistry and newspeak to disguise it. So the entire national language declines into a complex entanglement of unreality, dissatisfaction, distrust and blame.

    Of course it has been happening globally, likely opportunistically following the absolute hijacked mess of the American GOP and the virtual breakdown of politics and democracy in the USA.

    That the LNP and Dutton have now brought that performance via Trumpian politics to Oz is a sign of their desperation and stupidity. Oz is not like the USA, (but for the cultural importations of divisive and feckless social media) and will unlikely for long give it legs. Post referendum, very many will be looking over their shoulder at the way they were gulled, and the cruelty and disrespect it wrought upon our First Nations folk, and thinking, “But that’s not us.”

    Blind Freddy could see that the LNP and Dutton couldn’t run a chook raffle. Nor could all the other cross-bench parties combined run the country – but at least those other than the FRWNJs are useful to keep the bastards honest, and mostly speak with some recognizable dignity.

    There are very tough times ahead, and properly considered language and dignity will be the foundations of success, much associated with bridging industry and the economy asap to Net-Zero and beyond – not just ours – we are not a singularity, but across the globe.

    The biggest problem is, will the msm learn that?

  10. corvusboreus

    There are manifest problems associated with offshore wind turbines, particularly during the installation process (eg the effect of hydraulic drilling upon sonar guidance.https://cosmosmagazine.com/earth/whales-offshore-windfarms-marine-mammals/
    Obviously such detrimental effects need science guided mitigations to minimalist environmental impacts (eg passive deterrents, activity exclusion around breeding areas/seasons).

    Meanwhile, here’s one impact of offshore fossil fuel mining upon marine animals at the pre-drilling initial exploratory phase;

    What is seismic blasting?

  11. New England Cocky

    @ andyfiftysix: Agreed on all points. Time to whack the whingeing COALition with some of their own medicine. Holding the moral high ground is an irrelevant tactic when nobody is listening to you.

    Start the ”renewal” by prosecuting the Robodebt perpetrators, either as a government or by a damaged family member.

    Pursue Gladbags into migrating out of jurisdiction.

    Anybody for putting Scummo on trial for treason?

    How about cancelling the publishing licences for Murdoch Media Monopoly because of false & misleading reporting?

  12. Clakka

    Yes corvusboreus,

    There are indeed environmental issues with any construction, from large civil infrastructure to domestic, whether onshore or offshore, and those issues must be attended to by scientific method and mitigated or eliminated via the best available methodology to the satisfaction of the law. It is always a risk balance.

    Those paying attention will be well aware of the very cruel and destructive effects of sonar seismic testing used during offshore fossil fuel exploration, and the high risks involved with drilling, extraction and transportation of the product, and the plugging of depleted wells. And needless to say, the product’s ongoing climate pollution.

    Those processes and risks are higher, ongoing and potentially devastating, and do not equate to the processes and risks involved in strata testing and foundation forming for wind turbine towers.

    For wind turbine towers, substrate testing can be done with conventional micro-drilling. Foundation forming can involve a variety of techniques, depending on water depth and geology / stratigraphy. There is no question that this will involve disturbance during construction – mainly vibrational and sedimentation / turbidity (the latter which can largely be mitigated by suction removal and processing on barges). From that point on, the marine environmental risks diminish to significantly less than the risks of conventional shipping, for example.

  13. GL

    Clakka and cb,

    Stop throwing science and engineering into the equation for The Spud and Spudettes, they have enough problems trying to work out who gets the spare brain cell each morning.

  14. leefe

    GL:

    They have a spare brain cell? Wonders will never cease.
    Of course, it’s useless without a synapse or two to make it work …

  15. Clakka

    A sorry tale of the Fossil-Fuellers search for naughtycal boys:

    1- the Trumpian – once a foghorn, now a wail being slowly flensed

    2- the Spud – son of a gun, towed into line as parliamentary airgun, running out of puff

    Results: Hydrophobia. The underlying rabid dog exposed.

    Conrad might observe; as they wait their rewards, all’s at sea aboard the Narcissus.

  16. totaram

    Offshore wind turbines have been in existence for about two decades (e.g. Denmark). To claim
    “no environmental consideration of what these huge wind turbines, 260 to 280 metres out of the water, will mean” is nonsense. Further claims that no one knows what effects they might have on sea creatures, is also aimed at the totally uninformed and ignorant.

    The fact that this possible danger is supposed to influence people, shows the thinking of these people, for whom any old propaganda trick will do. It is disappointing to see that some of this fear-mongering is having an effect.

  17. Ken Fabian

    I think the Doubt, Deny, Delay crowd are not just making the mistake of treating the whole climate and renewable thing as for, by and about Left Environmentalists – they decided that themselves way back with “you care so much, you fix it” to keep the focus AWAY from the top level science based expert advice in order to NOT have to address it – but the mistake of acting like it is TRUE.

    Mustering opposition to green activists was always much easier than mustering opposition to the world’s leading science agencies and they’ve been doing it so long now they don’t appear to remember it was something they made up themselves. Not made up that green activists were making a lot of noise about climate in the wake of emerging climate science advice – but in the deafening silence of mainstream political heads down, mouths closed paralysis, it could be made to appear as if it were a fringe issue driven by activist hype, a fad – and not the mainstream issue of fundamental importance to the long term prosperity and security of this nation that it actually is, for which those in Office have a duty of care to address.

    They don’t like that renewables work and much prefer renewables to be unreliable, even if they have to make that happen themselves by fiercely opposing the elements that will make high levels of renewables reliable. Like interconnectors and battery farms. And Offshore Wind. And it is getting harder for them – they never expected smart people apart from activists (scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs) to make solar and wind actually work, let alone make solar the least cost energy option that has ever existed, even against fossil fuels with institutionalised cheating (with Labor as well as LibNat support) in their favor.

    So wedging environmentalists between care for whales and commitment to climate seems to make sense to them. Except it wasn’t green-left activism that lost the LNP their heartland seats, it was the growing bloc of educated, informed Liberal voters who take the science on climate seriously, who can’t be induced to reject everything that scientists get right because activists said something that was wrong.

    Meanwhile Nuscale’s only contract to build an actual working SMR has fallen through. But just-use-nuclear in the mouths of climate science deniers has never been about achieving zero emissions better or at all, just “oh too bad, we just have to keep using fossil fuels” until The Greens support nuclear, ie never.

    If they meant it it would BE their policy (and that might have had an actual impact back before renewables got cheap) but we all know they don’t mean it.

    THEY chose renewables over nuclear, by failing to have a climate policy themselves and by handing the issue (and a bit of empty gesture/enough rope funding to green supported renewables) in the smug certainty they would never work and everyone involved would end up looking foolish. And are looking foolish themselves.

    But what they are doing should never be mistaken for mere foolishness; their climate science denial is all built on and made of corporate influence and political corruption and has NO redeeming features. It may be the most dangerous conspiracy theory ever devised, that will cause more human suffering than any other human choices. It’s foundations are willful ignorance, lies, pride, hubris, greed, alarmist (as in false) economic and political fear mongering. It involves ongoing willful neglect of fundamental duties of care for the enduring welfare of this nation, by those in our highest Offices, that is edging ever further into crimes against humanity.

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