Climate Change

Comment: Experts respond to CSIRO climate research job cuts

A demonstrator holds a sign reading Change the system, not the climate among thousands demanding climate justice and environment protection in Paris on December 12, 2015. Source: AAP

Australian scientists have slammed the plans to cut 350 jobs from the CSIRO, including dozens of jobs from its climate research units.

Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, UNSW Australia; Clive Hamilton, and Ian Lowe, Griffith University

CSIRO is set to cut dozens of jobs from its climate research units, as part of a wider series of job losses to be formally announced today.

In a message to staff, chief executive Larry Marshall said that the question of human-induced climate change has largely been answered, and outlined a list of new priorities for the agency, including health, technology, and “big data” research fields such as radioastronomy.

“Our climate models are among the best in the world and our measurements honed those models to prove global climate change. That question has been answered, and the new question is what do we do about it, and how can we find solutions for the climate we will be living with?” he said.

A reported 110 jobs could be lost in climate research, among a total of 350 job losses from CSIRO’s staff of 4832 full-time positions.

Below, three experts react to the news.

Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, DECRA Research Fellow, Climate Change Research Centre, The University of New South Wales

The latest round of job cuts from CSIRO is nothing short of appalling. The climate research work conducted by CSIRO has been pioneering and of global standard. While we know that the climate is changing because of human activity, we have not simply “answered” that question after the Paris agreement - many more questions remain.

Like other scientific fields – such as biology, chemistry and medicine – continual research is required to continually improve our methods, understanding and knowledge. Research in any field does not and cannot stop after an apparent question has been answered.

In terms of climate science, much more research needs to be done on furthering our understanding of these changes, monitoring the climate as it does change, and making our climate and weather models more efficient and improving their capabilities. Much of this work was undertaken by CSIRO, and so now a big hole will be left.

If we want to properly safeguard our country from climate change, we require ongoing fundamental climate research – we cannot create innovative and effective solutions towards climate change without it.

Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society, Griffith University

It is always disappointing when science is cut back, especially when we need to be more innovative to overcome the economic problem of falling commodity prices. It is particularly bad when the cuts are in such areas as Oceans & Atmosphere, Land & Water and Manufacturing, as these are critical to our chances of a sustainable future.

More worrying than the cuts is the language used by the new chief executive. There won’t be scientists sacked, there will be “reductions in headcount”. And these aren’t research areas, they are “business units”, headed not by top scientists but “business leaders”. The cuts are “something that we must do to renew our business”, according to the CEO. The language reveals that the government is trying to sabotage our public science body and turn it into a consulting business.

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics, Charles Sturt University

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.

Comments compiled with the help of the Australian Science Media Centre.

The ConversationSarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Clive Hamilton is a member of the Climate Change Authority.

Ian Lowe is a past president of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

 

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