The Government must abandon its gas policy

Apr 11, 2024
Burning gas burner of a home stove in the middle of which is the flag of the country of Australia. Image: iStock

For every thousand tonnes of fossil fuels mined, one person dies. As climate science provides increasing evidence of accelerating warming, we must recognise that gas is our main threat and stop producing it.

Gas is 84 times more potent then carbon dioxide. In the next two critical decades there is justifiable concern that climate change could become irreversible. Cessation of gas mining will be the quickest way to reduce emissions. Science also tells us that gas is highly polluting and damages human health and all other life by polluting air, water and land.

Yet the powerful oil and gas industries sell their product as clean and vital in the transition to renewable energy. The gas Barons have learned from the tobacco industry which hid deaths from smoking for decades. Gas pollution also kills some of us and the science is disregarded by the industry and their associates in both major political parties.

This article discusses the ill health and deaths caused by gas in three situations, our own homes, in our gas fields and hubs and in the entire world through climate change.

First let’s consider a serious health problem which could be solved now by stopping the use of gas in homes. Gas stoves release air pollutants which cause asthma in children (and some adults) and aggravates those with existing asthma. There are many hospitalisations and some deaths from breathing the pollutants in the small amounts of leaked gas.

Projections released by Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen show C02 emissions are again rising after several years of decline and stagnation, suggesting the country is heading in the wrong direction to meet its internationally binding promise to cut atmospheric pollution by 43 per cent in 2030.

Yet in his support for the gas industry, Minister Bowen rejected a recommendation to follow Victoria and the ACT by imposing a nationwide ban on gas connections to new homes and so reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Surely it is a vital public service to reduce domestic gas consumption.

If the Minister found that friends and their children have gas in their house is he so captured by the gas industry that he would not advise changing to electricity? Or is his department so siloed from the research that he doesn’t understand the health science?

Let us take this government support for an expanding gas industry in Australia to a further level: its harm to human health from air, water and land pollution in gas fields. It is a fact that cannot be denied, so once more – best the government not mention it.

Inhabitants living within a few km of gas fields breathe pollutants from gas leaking from fracking, clearing ponds, transport of gas via plants and vehicles, venting and flaring leaks from gas hubs. It is an evil like passive smoking being imposed on inhabitants. It qualifies for the Government’s don’t mention the war policy.

Published research on US gas fields has consistently documented poorer birth outcomes from pregnancies spent near gas developments, including higher frequencies of low birth weight, pre-term delivery, spontaneous abortions, birth defects and acute lymphoblastic anaemia (cancer of the blood) in early childhood.

A recent US study estimated that air pollutants from oil and gas operations in eight States caused 410,000 asthma attacks, including 2,200 new cases, 530 emergency department visits, 1,500 additional respiratory hospitalisations, 270 additional heart attacks, and 7,500 premature deaths. The calculated financial cost of these losses was US$77 billion in 2016 alone.

A recent study from the University of Pittsburgh of links between natural gas development and childhood cancers, asthma, and birth outcomes was sought. Children living within a mile of a natural gas fracking well were up to seven times more likely to suffer from lymphoma, a rare cancer, than those who had no such wells within five miles of their homes.

Exposures to fracking will cause the same health problems in Australia. For the government this is another ‘best not to mention the subject’. No information is provided for example on a major Australian report on the health harms from gas released 6 months ago. This is a gross failure to inform the public and Aboriginal groups particularly in fracking States.

This leads us to the government’s third malfeasance.

WHO indicates that 3.6 billion people already live in areas highly susceptible to climate change. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from under-nutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress alone. This is likely to be a gross underestimate because climate change is rarely mentioned on death certification.

In his article “An Australian Holocaust: greenhouse gas emissions and mass deaths” Julian Cribb explains the “thousand tonne rule”, which argues that for every thousand tonnes of fossil fuels mined, one person dies. This epidemiological work is the most significant advance since the late Tony McMichael, cofounder of Doctors for the Environment Australia developed a method to estimate mortality for certain climate risk factors in the early 2000s.

Applying the same rule to Australian coal and gas production, most of which is burnt overseas, around 540,000 human beings are presently dying worldwide every year, in order to maintain the Australian living standards.

This situation detailed by Cribb will be abhorrent to caring Australians and must surely be known to some members of parliament. Like other wealthy Western countries busy creating more wealth by their export of fossil fuels, they fail to increase foreign aid and there is doubt about our commitment to honour the methane pledge.

What are the solutions to expose the gas love-in?

Society must do much more to educate the public. The Public Health Association of Australia could provide information in submissions, statements and articles using the thousand ton rule on both national and state wide basis. It has the standing to explain to communities the devastating impact in gas mining areas. The thousand ton rule must be used in all gas and coal applications.

It is almost as if the government is already taking action to hide such knowledge if they devolve information needed for an Environmental and Health Impact Assessments to the States under the new Nature Positive Act. The Samuel review noted the States lack ability and expertise to make these assessments and over the years have quietly buried health harms without a post mortem.

Consequently, it is vital that decisions on water, used prodigiously in fracking, and gas pollution remain with the Commonwealth in the new Nature Positive Act even though the Department of the Environment seems increasingly under the influence of fossil fuel interests. This will provide more public scrutiny.

As the facts become known, the gas industry will become feral in the Australian environment along with the cane toad, fire-ant, and the West Australian polyphagous shot-hole borer which kills trees. Actually that might be a good descriptive name for fracking.

Share and Enjoy !

Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter
Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter


Thank you for subscribing!