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Issue #1789      August 9, 2017

Editorial

CSIRO cuts threaten our future

In February last year after the CSIRO suffered $115 million in funding cuts, its CEO, Larry Marshall, announced that 350 staff positions would be terminated. They included 220 in the oceans and atmosphere division and the land and water division. Both divisions deal with climate change.

The axed positions included 100 out of 140 that deal specifically with climate change, including that of Dr John Church, by reputation the world’s leading expert on sea level rise. Last year his scientific team demonstrated that emissions relating to human activity have dominated sea level rises since 1970.

CSIRO climate change research data is used around the world. However, Marshall claims that the phenomenon of climate change has been proven, that CSIRO should move “away from the laboratory bench” and that climate change emphasis should be placed on adaptation and mitigation (i.e. just making the best of things).

But proving that climate change is actually taking place was only the first step. We must now determine its speed, its main impact, actions to slow it down and reverse it, and protection from its immediate impact. To do so, climate change must be monitored and analysed. But that’s just where the axe will fall in CSIRO.

After a public furore over the cuts, the government hastily contributed a paltry extra $37 million over ten years. Marshall announced that only 35 positions dealing with climate change would be lost, and 15 new positions created – but with their salaries drawn from existing funding.

Although 350 positions will still be abolished overall, Marshall claims the numbers will return to the current level in two years, and that some climate change staff will simply transfer to other areas of CSIRO work.

One opposition Senator has called for Marshall to be sacked, but the government bears the main responsibility. Last May it announced proudly that a new $20 million ocean and climate change research centre would be built in Hobart. But the CSIRO will only get $8.25 million over five years for participating. Two universities will contribute $1.75 million and the Chinese government the remaining $10 million.

The government claims it is now investing $37 million in long-term climate change monitoring. However, the CSIRO has lost more than 20 percent of its staff positions since 2013. Research CSIRO has carried out to date, which provides most of the world’s climate change data concerning the southern hemisphere, cannot continue because of last year’s cuts, plus recent additional four-year funding cuts of $13.6 million. Nor can the research be carried out by the Bureau of Meteorology, as the government has claimed, because of limitations in the Bureau’s funding and scope of operations.

The government claims it is reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but they have actually risen six percent since 2013, including a 1.6 percent rise in this year’s first quarter, the biggest quarterly increase in nine years.

The Australian Academy of Science says Australia requires at least 40 new climate scientists and modellers, and 77 new research positions, and that the CSIRO staff cuts should end immediately.

However, in order to retain power the government will compromise its policies in order to placate the climate change deniers within its ranks, while still maintaining the PR fiction that it is really concerned about the issue.

Australian coastal cities now face partial inundation by rising sea levels within 50 years. The government has tacitly acknowledged this by constructing a new runway at Brisbane airport much higher than the current level.

This year Canada and Portugal experienced immense bushfires, and Europe has suffered heat-related deaths and record heat waves as far north as Poland. Within 50 years daytime summer temperatures in some tropical countries will be too hot to permit residents to walk outside without risking heat stroke or death. Many Pacific Islands will be submerged.

Leading scientific organisations, including CSIRO, state that climate change results primarily from the emission of greenhouse gases, particularly from the combustion of fossil fuels.

But the government is determined to protect the fossil fuel industries and appears quite willing to hamstring the CSIRO’s operations because of its key role in highlighting the dangers of climate change.

We must replace the grossly irresponsible coalition government with one that is genuinely committed to the struggle against the terrible threat of climate change. And we must do so with the utmost speed.

Next article – Themis Speis – Beloyiannis branch honours his life

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