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‘Jaw-dropping’ CSIRO job cuts to ‘gut’ climate science unit

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In further evidence that little has changed in federal climate policy since Tony “the science is crap” Abbott was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister of Australia, reports have emerged that hundreds of jobs are to be cut at the nation’s top research facility, the CSIRO.

Fairfax Media reports that, as part of deep job cuts to be announced later today, as many as 110 positions in CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere division will go, with a similar number affected in the Land and Water division.CSIRO-climate-adaption-infographic2

It is believed that this will leave just 30 staff in the organisation’s Oceans and Atmosphere unit, and that they will not be working on climate issues.

“Climate will be all gone, basically,” one senior scientist told Fairfax before the announcement. “We understand both the Prime Minister [Malcolm Turnbull] and the [Science] Minister [Christopher Pyne] have signed off on the cuts.”

The industry response to the job cuts has been one of anger and disappointment, as the realisation dawns that the Coalition’s politics have not changed.

As RenewEconomy editor Giles Parkinson put it on Tuesday, “the Turnbull government has begun 2016 in the same way that the Abbott government started 2014 and 2015; with legislation on the table that calls for the dismantling of the government’s key (climate and renewables) agencies.”

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University, put it this way: “CSIRO climate scientists are world class and are researching the most decisive factor that will influence the future of the world. To slash their numbers at a time when the urgency of understanding and responding to climate change has never been greater suggests that the Government does not want to hear the facts. At least Mr Abbott was upfront about his denial of climate science. This new phase is more insidious.”

Andy Pitman, the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of NSW, described the scale of the cuts as “jaw-droppingly shocking”.

The president of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (AMOS), Associate Professor Todd Lane said it was “terrible news” for climate science in Australia.

“(This) threatens our ability to predict future climate and the inherent risks,” Lane said in a statement. “Research at CSIRO is at the core of our climate modelling and monitoring efforts, and is essential for better future climate projections.”

“It’s a catastrophic reduction in our capacity to assess present and future climate change,” Professor Pitman said. “It will leave us vulnerable to future climate change and unable to take advantage of any positives that result.”

While Will Steffen, an Emeritus Professor at ANU and a Climate Councillor at the Climate Council of Australia said it was “deeply disturbing” news.

“We absolutely need to know more about the basic operation of the climate system – how it is changing and how best can we respond to the climate change challenge,” he said in a statement on Thursday. “The health, environmental and economic risks of climate change are just too large to sweep them under the carpet.

“CSIRO is Australia’s premier research organisation in terms of fundamental climate science, and has built a well-deserved international reputation for world-class science that has contributed much to global understanding of climate change.

“It takes decades of hard work by dedicated scientists to build up such a reputation. It can be destroyed overnight by senseless actions by those in power. Very regrettably, this seems to be happening.”

Greens Deputy Leader and climate spokesperson, Senator Larissa Waters said the mass sacking of climate scientists was “the enemy of innovation.”

“The Prime Minister’s speech in Paris about tackling global warming with innovation was all empty rhetoric – he is keeping Abbott’s climate policies and letting the Coalition climate dinosaurs rule,” Waters said in a statement.

“While so many communities across the country are suffering devastating droughts and the horrific aftermath of intense bushfires, the government is firing the climate scientists who can help us prevent and adapt to the extreme weather of global warming. …Australia may lose these exceptional minds to countries with governments that are listening to the science and acting on global warming,” she said.

Greens science spokesman Adam Bandt said the cuts showed Turnbull was “an innovation imposter”.

“In Paris, the Prime Minister said research and innovation are key to dealing with global warming, yet here at home the Liberal government’s cuts to the CSIRO mean that hundreds of climate scientists could be getting the axe,” Bandt said.

“The Coalition’s denialist dinosaurs continue to run the Turnbull government, just as they did under Tony Abbott,” he said.

On Twitter, the reaction has been the same.

The AFR, meanwhile, is reporting that the job “restructure” is part of sweeping cultural change driven by CSIRO’s new CEO, former venture capitalist Larry Marshall.

CSIROMarshallRS

CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall

In an interview, the paper reports, Marshall said a “renewal” of staff was needed to pursue goals of being more innovative, more impactful and aligning more closely with industry.

And he said that a “worst case scenario” would see around 350 staff be affected.

“That’s the sort of number of people who will have to adapt, not move on,” he said. “It will be up to them and their abilities if they stay and go.

“Staff numbers will stay the same or go up slightly but in order to respond to the new strategy we realise that we need some people with different skills to the ones we already have,” he said.

Further, Marshall said that cuts to the agency’s climate science unit were not necessarily a bad thing.

“We have spent probably a decade trying to answer the question is the climate changing,” he told Fairfax Media.

“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.”

But Penny Sackett – an adjunct professor at the ANU’s Climate Change Institute, and a former Australian Chief Scientist – said she was “stunned” by this reasoning.

“Paris did not determine whether or not climate change is happening, scientists who generate and study big data did. The big question now, which underlies all climate adaptation work, is “How is the climate changing?” That answer will once again be determined by those scientists who gather climate data and model it.

“How can it be that our largest national research organisation chooses not to engage, indeed not to lead, the effort in finding the answer to that question?” she said.

Associate Professor Lane agreed: “Climate science is not solved – out to the year 2030 most of the uncertainty in climate projections is due to uncertainty about the ways to represent some physical processes in climate models.

“We know that the risks associated with extreme weather and climate events increases disproportionately as the globe warms. Cutting funding in this area now doesn’t make any sense.”


  

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  • Barri Mundee

    I hope that the scales will now have well and truly dropped from the eyes of those members of the public who thought that the installation of the late but unlamented Abbott has substantially improved the overall government support for climate science and renewables.

  • Jo

    The climate is worse off with Turnbull than with Abbott. Abbott at least declared himself an enemy of action on climate change.
    But the proof is in the pudding and the coalition is still the COALition!

  • Alastair Leith

    I’ve been following climate science for years before I thought it would become a mainstream issue, i’ve been an activists on climate for several years so one tends to roll with the constant disappointments and punches from the denialist industry.

    but this?!

    I don’t think i’ve ever seen a headline that’s made me more cross and exasperated, and I haven’t even got past the second para yet!

    this is the same Malcolm (Turncoat) Turnbull who launched the BZE Stationary Energy Plan in 2010 to a packed Sydeny Town Hall and talked bout how serious a threat CC was. talk about taking a bazooka and firing it at the messenger. That Mr Pyne would be involved in something as treacherous to Australians well being is of no surprise.

  • Ray Miller

    One would think that after the record 2015 average temperature and the consequences of all the weather effects this summer we need to understand the climate in a lot more depth. We need as much warning and prediction as possible it is worst than short sighted, we can never get back the loss in expertise and reputation. On the other hand losing 350 top 1800 centenary Australian economists would be a significant productivity boost and innovation to the Australian economy.

    • Alastair Leith

      exactly. when prevention is impossible, earliest possible warning of disasters and extreme conditions informs the best possible adaptation and survival strategies.

      So now we have a cowboy running CSIRO and a Chief Scientist who also fits the entrepreneurial mould who tells the public land use sector and all other non-industrial emissions are just 6% of the national greenhouse audit. (BZE pegs at LU at 54% using 20 yr GWP and soon will be approaching 50% using 100 yr GWP for comparison).

      • david_fta

        The “cowboy” running CSIRO is ex-DSTO physicist Larry Miller. I wonder how he got on with ex-DSTO physicist, now Liberal MP and noted climate “sceptic” Dennis Jensen?

        To get the gig as CSIRO chief, I’d say “fairly well”.

        • Alastair Leith

          Not sure Jensen has much say-so in Cabinet decisions though.

          I understand that historically CSIRO has been closer to industry than other government and public university research bodies but when arguably the strongest grouping of climate scientists and equipment with long track record of achievement that takes years if not decades to developed gets told to get-with-the-program it’s a national disgrace. Turnbull, get into that bin. Pyne, you were already in it fella.

    • david_fta

      CSIRO chief Larry Miller is a venture capitalist, ex-DSTO physicist. I wonder how he got on with ex-DSTO physicist, now Liberal MP and noted climate “sceptic” Dennis Jensen?

      To get the gig as CSIRO chief, I’d say “fairly well”.

  • Colin Vincent

    Yeah.. They’re all as mad as a bag of shoelaces. What can anyone do about it? They’ll wake up too late, of course.

    • Alastair Leith

      get out in the street. talk to anyone you know who votes LNC or talks them up as the more responsible economic managers of this country and explain how they’re participating in slow motion genocide.

  • Tim Forcey

    How did Howard and Abbott manage to leave over 220 climate scientists working at CSIRO?

  • Annette Schneider

    To all those unemployed scientists, please consider joining us at the front line https://www.facebook.com/events/1654743354800473/ – it’s not as though we don’t know what causes climate change, so how about we put away the bandaids and stop the destruction?

    • david_fta

      CSIRO chief Larry Miller is a venture capitalist, ex-DSTO physicist. I wonder how he got on with colleague DSTO physicist, now Liberal MP and noted climate “sceptic” Dennis Jensen?

      To get the gig as CSIRO chief, I’d say “fairly well”.

      • Alastair Leith

        i wonder why Miller thinks we need to stop CC pure research start researching the mitigation problem? we know what to do and how to do it. and the excellent learnings curves for RE and potentially even more excellent learnings curves for storage (with so many advances in so many competing fields and technologies) will take care of the things we don’t know yet.

        but maybe they are stacking the decks for the ‘N’ word, just a thought. Revival of Ziggy next?

  • Barri Mundee

    This is an example of ideological agendas using other ideological agendas as cover. So the conservatives (and I have to say, the Labor Party in Opposition who are meant to be representing the workers) craft the deteriorating national fiscal outlook narrative and ram it home relentlessly until the majority of Australians believe it to be true.

    They have no reason to form that belief other than the lies that they are fed by the elites aided and abetted by ignorant or lying economists.

    So once that layer of myth is rammed down everyones’ throats, the climate change denialists enter the fray and claim, under the cover of the fiscal lies, that cut backs to our world-leading scientific research organisation have to be made – to improve the ‘efficiency’ of the organisation.

    • Alastair Leith

      CSIRO even survived Howard’s ” incentivation ” era better than this lot if it comes to pass.

  • Chris Fraser

    Absolutely, Penny Sackett. How can the climate scientists who risked public humiliation with this government – those who were forced to establish drivers of climate change in simple terms for imbeciles – now not be among those who are going to help solve the problem ? Stitch-up.

  • Mike Ives

    “If you think that you are living in a stupid country, you can be sure that you are being governed by the most stupid people!”

    ― Mehmet Murat ildan

  • Geoff

    so with this ridiculous cuts being made, I’m writing am email to chief exec larry marshall and telling him what I think about these cuts.
    he’s phone number is +61 2 6276 6621 and you can email him at Larry.Marshall@csiro.au
    I’m personally going to give him a mouth full and hope that there are no email filters to stop it!

  • lin

    You cannot trust what politicians say. Only their actions tell you what they really think. This and other actions taken by the LibNats since Malcolm took the helm scream climate change denialism. This is extremely disappointing, given Malcolm’s previous statements and seeming reasonableness.
    It is now obvious that this government will not change its fossil fuel subsidising, renewable energy sabotaging policies, and anyone who cares about the future of the planet must stop trying to work with them, and must working on replacing them. Incremental change is no longer an option. Urgent and significant action is needed.

  • Rob

    It seems the COALition can’t handle the scientific truth.

  • Dianne

    Disappointing to hear that Malcolm Turnbull has signed off on the cuts. He has the trust of middle Australia but is walking on thin ground if he continues to kowtow to the right. As for Larry Miller, his performance on the 7.30 was abysmal.

  • Goldie444

    I heard in another news story that Tony Abbott is to get 2 extra staff to help him, as an entitlement as a former PM. I wonder if 2 of these CSIRO public servants from the 110, could be transferred to Tony’s staff.