The Center for Independent Studies bills itself as the “leading independent public policy ‘think tank’ within Australasia”.
It may be unfair to generalize from a sample size of one blog post, but this classic from Andrew Baker is evidence of thinking that shouldn’t pass muster in a year 9 school debate, let alone an organization billing itself as Australia’s leading think tank.
Baker is up in arms that the ACT government has banned wood fires in some suburbs, and the Greens party spokesperson on the environment urged the government to do more. He can’t understand why governments should impose “bans on normal and otherwise benign activities”.
I’ll save Andrew the trouble of a moment’s Googling. Burning wood in a built-up area is not in any way a benign activity. Burning wood in a stove emits particulates. Smoke, in other words. Lots of the stuff. As the article notes, wood stoves, despite the fact they are used by only a minority of homes, are the biggest single source of particulates in Canberra. It’s true in the Sydney Basin as well, as discussed in this NSW parliamentary report from 2006.
Unlike some public health measures libertarians like to rant about, you can’t choose to avoid particulates. It’s not like eating fatty food, or smoking cigarettes. You’ve got essentially no choice whether you cop your neighbour’s wood stove or not.
And what are the consequences of breathing in particulates? For infants, even in low concentrations, lethal. As I quoted a year ago from a California study looking at the relationship between particulate levels and infant mortality:
In our preferred specification, a one-unit decrease in PM10 (around 13% of a standard deviation) saves roughly 18 lives per 100,000 births. This represents a decrease in the mortality rate of around 6%. This is consistent with the findings of prior research on ambient particulate matter,and suggests that even at todays lower levels are substantial health gains to be made by reducing both ambient pollution and traffic congestion.
Yes, that’s right. To put it very simply, wood fires in built-up areas kill babies. And people with asthma, and cause heart disease, cancer, and any number of other deaths, causing a human and economic toll far in excess of the worth of the heat emitted.
But Baker has chosen to ignore well-documented science and make cracks about carbon-taxed gas stoves because it sounds cute and appeals to his audience’s prejudices about Greens.
That might be enough for Andrew Bolt or Alan Jones. You’d hope that a self-proclaimed “think-tank” would have higher standards. Sadly, it appears not.