CSIRO climate PR disaster continues with Fair Work challenge

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After weeks of domestic and international condemnation of the CSIRO’s sudden and illogical cuts to climate science, the controversy continues to percolate, with staff preparing to launch a Fair Work challenge and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull being urged to step in and fill a worsening “policy vacuum” when it comes to climate change. Already a slap in the face for the Bureau of Meteorology and Australia’s farming and fisheries sectors, the cut of what could be 350 jobs is becoming as much a PR disaster as tragedy for international science given it is happening in the lead up to a number of major conferences. The decision is another in a line of recent self-defeating blunders, including the CSIRO claiming credit for contributing to last week’s gravitational waves discovery after axing the unit that did the work; and the renting out its marine research ship to oil and gas giants BP and Chevron to help them search for more climate change-driving oil and gas in the Great Australian Bight. CSIRO boss Larry Marshall’s isolating comments that climate science resembles a “religion” and that mitigation is more important than “measuring and modelling” have also done nothing but fan the flames.

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Key Points

  • Global warming is in overdrive and more research, not less, is needed to ensure we are not flying blind into a future of more extreme weather in a more unpredictable global climate. Almost 3000 scientists from almost 60 countries have signed an open letter to CSIRO management and the Australian Government expressing alarm at the cuts to climate science, as it puts key contributions to the international climate science puzzle at risk. It also undermines Australia’s ability to respond to climate change when it is among the most vulnerable countries on earth, and attempting to develop an economy with an expanding Asian rural export industry already worth $45.2 billion in 2015.
  • Unless the Prime Minister steps in to protect Australian climate science, the CSIRO cuts will show that while the Government has had a change of leader, the Liberal party’s Abbott-era anti-science attitude remains. The Abbott government rapidly built up an international reputation for fighting the future on climate change and renewable development. If the CSIRO cuts go ahead Australia will again be in the international limelight for choosing stupid and undermining global efforts to address the climate crisis, only this time it will be on Malcolm Turnbull’s watch.
  • If CSIRO boss Larry Marshall seriously believes mitigating climate change is more important than “measuring and modelling” it, then he should not rent out the organisation’s marine research ship BP and Chevron so they can find more dirty fossil fuel to burn. The Paris Agreement was a recognition by world governments that the fossil fuel age is over, but as BP and Chevron have no Plan B, they are seeking to tap new oil and gas reserves in the Great Australian Bight, and the CSIRO is apparently happy to help them despite knowing full well the potential impact on the global climate.

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Key Quotes

  • “It’s essential that a country like Australia, which stretches from the monsoonal tropics to the Antarctic – and is surrounded by three oceans – has the capacity to build, develop and run complex climate models.These can’t be just ‘bought off the shelf.” – Former chief of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, Dr Tony Press
  • “Having up to date data on climate change is really important to our members as it affects fishing stocks and ultimately where they will fish.” – Commonwealth Fisheries Association executive officer Renee Vajtauer
  • “As climate change bites hard, the risk increases for farmers. Anything that can improve the risk management benefits food supply and has a direct bottom line impact.” – Director of the Australian Resilience Center, Paul Ryan
  • “The use of this boat to aid commercial hydrocarbon interests is certainly a most powerful signal in terms of the government’s approach to climate research.” – Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson
  • “The problem with this entrepreneurial-like approach to funding research is that picking winners in science is almost impossible. Indeed, the CSIRO’s biggest commercial success, Wi-Fi, was an incidental innovation developed during radioastronomy research. Such is the history of science: great discoveries are often born from unrelated, pure research.” Canberra Times editorial
  • “Without committing to the continued development of next generation climate monitoring and climate modelling, billions of public investment dollars for long term infrastructure will be based on guesswork rather than on strategic and informed science-driven policy. The societal benefits of climate science far outweigh the likely high costs of reacting to future climate change instead of strategically planning for it. If the CSIRO cuts proceed, and the existing capacity is not relocated, then Australia will not develop at its full capacity to assess the accelerating risks associated with climate change.” An open letter to the Australian Government and CSIRO

 

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