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Federal

Feb 5, 2016

CSIRO abandoning climate science nothing short of tragic

The proposed shift in focus of climate scientists at the CSIRO is nothing short of tragic, writes CEO of The Climate Institute, John Connor.

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To learn that an entrepreneurial approach is now being applied to the CSIRO, and that its emphasis — its workforce, its scientists — will be moved (or replaced) from climate and environmental data gathering and analysis to concentrate on mitigation and adaptation drawing from “big data” is nothing short of tragic.

The study of anthropogenic climate change — climate change caused by humanity polluting the atmosphere with carbon and other greenhouse gases — is the study of a process of “change”. It does not conveniently stop at any point in time so we can come up with solutions that we can commercialise for profit.

Our scientific understanding of climate change is improving all the time, thanks to committed scientists all around the world. But if we are to come up with the best ways to try to manage this change in our natural and urban environments, we need to make sure we are doing so in response to the very latest understanding of what is happening — how this climate change is manifesting and how it will behave and impact on our global ecosystems as we move into the future. Because, let’s face it, lives are ultimately at risk if we get this wrong. Lives and — when it comes to those who directly and indirectly dependent on our all-too volatile natural resources base — livelihoods.

The CSIRO is a world leader in the study of climate change and its findings have been critical in global understanding and the development of possible responses to it.

The CSIRO’s research is vital to Australia because we are one of the nations on the planet with the highest exposure to the effects of climate change. We are already a desertified country and our population is heavily concentrated along the coasts, which are at risk of inundation due to sea level rise and storm surges, as well as the effects of intensifying climate behaviour.

In the email to CSIRO staff, notifying them of the organisation’s looming structural changes, chief executive Dr Larry Marshall stated:

“We have spent probably a decade trying to answer the question, is the climate changing … After Paris that question has been answered. The next question now is what do we do about it. The people that were so brilliant at measuring and modelling [climate change], they might not be the right people to figure out how to adapt to it.”

He goes on to describe the importance of moving into the digital age.

Up to 350 positions may be at stake.

The problem is that the question has not been “answered”. Far from it. If we are to come up with solutions, particularly solutions for the conditions specific to our country, we must continue to develop our understanding of what is happening, how it is happening and to scientifically project what will happen in the future under emerging scenarios. If this is part of a strategy to devote more research to the mitigation of climate change, it does not make sense to discontinue tracking the change, and understanding and projecting its effects.

And as far as Paris goes, Australia has hardly shown itself to be at the front of the pack when it comes to putting words into action. We have a long way to go before we can be considered to be pulling our weight internationally. With our lack of action to date, we are far more likely to be technology takers than technology makers, simply because we will be starting from so far behind — not to mention that are our hulking, aging and inefficient coal-fired power stations are innovation blockers …

If the reports are true, it is utterly reckless to cut hundreds of positions tracking climate change impacts and developing climate solutions. On face value, it would appear to be another blow against sensible, strategic, informed action on climate change in this country. I have spoken to farmers, analysts, policymakers and scientists, all of whom are gobsmacked by this decision — all of whom, on an almost daily basis, draw from the on-ground data and analysis of CSIRO.

It is impossible to manage climate change and come up with options for mitigation and adaptation if you can’t measure it.

We are one of the nations in the world with the highest exposure to the effects of climate change. We are at a critical time where we should be devoting maximum capacity to understanding it – precisely so we can be agile and informed in our ability to respond to it — and to take this response to the world.  CSIRO’s decision, and the federal government funding cuts that have directly or indirectly contributed, need to be urgently revisited.

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17 comments

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17 thoughts on “CSIRO abandoning climate science nothing short of tragic

  1. Chris Cathel

    The task of a CEO is to keep the owners, sponsors and funders happy.

    In this case, eventually the government will change and it is necessary to keep CSIRO intact until then.

  2. Ken Lambert

    The climate is always changing…..that needs no research.

    Whether or not it is warming by release of CO2 is the main contention. It is – slightly, but not as much as predicted by models.

    Paris solved nothing. Australia with 1.5% of the planets emissions can do nothing which will have more than a miniscule effect.

    So the proposition is Oz become the moral conscience of the world and lead it to the promised land of no CO2 emissions. That will take some time….but solar and batteries are on the path to being a major player, and the market will do that without much help.

  3. AR

    Sorry Sparky@12, that was meant for MJM@11.
    I’m off to bed. Nighty night all.

  4. AR

    Sparky – that was Doonesbury but Steve Bell in the Grauniad reprised it for bLIAR.

  5. sparky

    This downgrading/abandonment is acknowledgement that we have reached “the f**k it point”. It’s been a hell of a ride but at least the gays can’t get married.

  6. MJM

    I love it AR – no content, no active verbs.

    Reminds me of a cartoon I saw years ago of Senator Teddy Kennedy being interviewed – a reporter asked: ” a verb Senator, can we have a verb?” It’s classic polliespeak.

  7. Norman Hanscombe

    If the organisation was to return to the standards found in both it and its predecessor they’d be tackling valuable issues such as whether the dreams currently pushed by the P.C. Tooth Fairy Brigade elements can be shown to meaningfully ameliorate the problem and whether Australia’s noble efforts are worth the economic costs to Australian Citizens.

  8. Jaybuoy

    this is the PM who thinks reinstalling copper wire into the broadband network is agile and innovative..

  9. AR

    The CEO on RN yesterday sounded like a flak for venture capitalist vulture fund.
    Dr Marshall’s PhD was in solid state laser but he seems most proud of his “success” as a venture capitalist. How strange.
    The waffle about excellence & strategy made me think of talcum on auto.
    No content, no active verbs.

  10. graybul

    oops don’t know what happened there?

    , , , weather satellite. It simply beggars belief.

  11. graybul

    @Sputnick60 Even though my post(3) highlighted concerns of political intervention, am gobsmacked with your post exposure/denial of terrestrial

  12. Sputnick60

    have a read of this.
    https://glittering.blue/about
    ….in particular to comments on the politics of those climate change skeptics and how they wield power. An American weather satellite sits on the shelf for years just because some powerful fools fear what might be discovered. Oh those self interested nutters!

  13. Roger Clifton

    Yes, he hits a nerve alright. But notice his punchline:

    “our hulking, aging and inefficient coal-fired power stations are innovation blockers …”

    This author is preying on our fears for the greenhouse to sell us on junk from the renewables industry. However the greenhouse issue is too serious to indulge these er, “innovators”. Those hulking, ageing, carbon-emitting old power stations must be replaced by new, zero-carbon nuclear power generators, once we decide what we should be afraid of. Big, off-the-shelf nukes too, not token windmills to dot our skylines.

  14. paddy

    Every time this mob of vandals (disguised as a so called Govt)trashes yet another institution, I despair.
    Replacing senior executives with tame lapdogs appears to be the method of choice.
    NBN, ABC, CSIRO, the list just keeps on getting longer.
    Undoing the damage is going to take decades.
    Even worse, when it comes to climate change, that’s time we just don’t have.
    Deeply depressing stuff.

  15. graybul

    It is so demoralizing to witness how much effort is put into degrading the public capacity to understand, participate in and prepare for the inevitable impacts of climate change.

    Aside from climate change, the priorities of politics and politicians remain the greatest threat to humanity. Constant carrot and stick interventions upon our front-line (CSIRO) defence has the widest of implications.

  16. JMNO

    Anti-intellectualism rules. How can the best students be attracted to study the STEM subjects, as Turnbull wants, when there are constant cuts to the unis and research institutions which would employ some of them and when there are very limited other job prospects for them. We are never going to be the clever country if we do not encourage research.

    Not to mention that it will be difficult to respond to climate change if we are not sure what is going on. No informed decision-making!

  17. form1planet

    I cannot believe that the chief executive of the CSIRO would say we know the climate is changing so we no longer need to measure it. Isn’t the question of “how much” still quite important?

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