The announced staff cuts and restructure announced by CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall have been labelled as science vandalism and an abandonment of Australia's scientific commitments under the Paris Agreement signed by Australia less than 2 months ago.
Australian climate science is essential for collecting data and provide good modelling and projections for Australia's variable but warming climate for agricultural, economic and health impacts. It is also vital for studying the southern hemisphere impacts of a changing Antarctica and Southern Ocean on the global climate. Our climate research from the southern hemisphere is highly important to global research programs and climate models.
The Abbott/Turnbull Government cut $112 million from CSIRO's budget in 2014. Turnbull promised $90 million in December 2015 to support innovation and increased commercialisation of research. A further $28 million was allocated to marketing the Government innovation policy.
Updated details: Climate scientists stage a very civil protest in Melbourne
CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall, who was appointed by the Abbott Government to head the organisation in January 2015, has chosen to restructure the organisation getting rid of 350 research staff in two large climate research divisions: the Atmosphere and Ocean Division, and the Land and Water Division.
Larry Marshall likened the restructure to a silicon valley startup company changing direction (pivot).
"Our headcount is projected to be unchanged at the end of a two year period, but it is anticipated there could be up to 175 less CSIRO people per year during this two year transition. There will be reductions in headcount in Data61, Oceans & Atmosphere, Land & Water and Manufacturing, but other business units will also be impacted in that changes in capabilities are required and there will also be some transfer of personnel."
Up to 1400 jobs at CSIRO have been lost over the last two years, according to the CSIRO Staff Association.
According to CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall, climate change has been proven after the Paris UN Climate Change Conference is over, justification for not needing extensive climate research and data gathering anymore. We can use our scientists more on mitigation and adaptation innovation....
"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?" said Marshall.
There speaks a venture capitalist who doesn't know anything about complex science data gathering and the deep role of scientific research and data collection and the long term benefits it brings, including to innovation. Data gathering is important for analysis and modelling of climate to give us knowledge of likely weather impacts before they happen.
Marian MacDonald is a Victorian mixed/dairy farmer who uses CSIRO data for making decisions on her farm. CSIRO tools provide vital decision making information for agricultural production. Read her blog on the CSIRO and farming in a changing climate. These cuts have deep implications for Australian agriculture and disaster preparedness.
The CSIRO Atmosphere and Ocean Division jointly manages with the Bureau of Meteorology the Cape Grim atmospheric pollution baseline station in Tasmania's north west. It is one of three stations globally, and the only one in the southern hemisphere. It has been collecting data and contributing an analysis to researchers around the globe on the atmospheric pollution and chemical content.
The Cape Grim data collection and analysis is a vital resource for monitoring the human impact on the atmosphere. The Cape Grim atmospheric pollution data was made publicly available in 2011. The large reduction of staff in the Atmosphere and Ocean Division places the ongoing work of the Cape Grim station at risk.
John Church, a CSIRO expert in sea level rise with a global reputation for his work, said that these staff cuts breaks Australia's commitment to strengthening climate research under the Paris Agreement.
"There is need for climate science – there are clauses in the Paris agreement that say that. There is a clear need for ongoing sustained and enhanced observations. The science community is actually struggling to address these issues already and so further cuts mean it will be very difficult." said Church as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald.
The Preamble of the Paris Agreement stresses the necessity for the 'best available scientific knowledge' and in Article 7 the agreement highlights that Parties should strengthen their cooperation on enhancing action on adaptation:
Article 7 Paragraph 7(c) of the Paris Agreement states: "Strengthening scientific knowledge on climate, including research, systematic observation of the climate system and early warning systems, in a manner that informs climate services and supports decision-making;"
"That's at variance with what the chief executive has been saying, that climate science is done. That's clearly not the case – it's inaccurate, misleading information." said John Church.
Church also talked about if climate change research is effectively abandaned by CSIRO, then it would be an opportunity to reinvigorate and refocus research in an entirely new body, "There's been talk for decades of a climate change research institute - maybe now is the time for an institute in which the principal body would be the Bureau of Meteorology, with support from universities."
The report in the Sydny Morning Herald also details former NASA scientist James Hansen stunned reaction when he heard the news about the staff cuts.
"Holy shit! That is unbelievable," he said. "Is a conservative denier government in power? This seems to be a clear-cut case of shooting the messenger with the bad news. However, the messenger is needed to figure out what to do about the problem."
Professor Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, drew attention to Marshall's poor comparison of the CSIRO as a science research organisation and technology startups he has experience with.
"The job cuts in the climate science division of CSIRO have been rationalised by the new CEO, former venture capitalist Mr Marshall, as being the product of a rationalised and streamlined approach to corporate management in line with startup companies such as Netflix." she said. "
"The CSIRO, however, is a crucial agency for social and environmental progression. It is the Federal government government agency for scientific research in Australia. It seeks to develop the scientific knowledge required to manage Australia's wildlife, plant and land resources for ecological sustainability. It is not a technology startup." highlighted Professor Hepburn.
The Conversation has some excellent coverage of the issue. You can read how experts reacted to CSIRO poised to slash climate research jobs. Professor Roger Jones also explains how CSIRO cuts to climate science are against the public good. Andy Pitman, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of NSW explains how Larry Marshall's failed logic over climate science could waste billions in taxes.
Andy Pittman is blunt: "CSIRO’s plan to dramatically reduce its oceans and atmospheric research capabilities will stClimate science CSIRO job cuts labelled as science vandalismop Australia from translating the global climate threat into the specific threats facing our nation, our states, our cities and our people. The decision also leaves the whole of the Southern Hemisphere with no sustainable and world-class climate modelling capability."
That amounts to negligence and sabotage to the global research effort, and our own interests, as mandated by the Paris Agreement.
Meanwhile, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) have started a stand with our climate scientists petition opposed to the restructuring and staff cuts.
Most of the jobs to go from the Atmosphere and Ocean divsion are located at Battery Point in Hobart. Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said this was devastating for Tasmania and Hobart.
"The Antarctic and climate sector is clearly one of Tasmania’s leading economic opportunities and these sackings are a demoralising blow to its future. The scientists in this division are world class and recently led the discovery of the instability in the East Antarctic ice sheet, a discovery of global importance." he said.
"These sackings will have ramifications for every organisation involved in this area including University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, the Integrated Marine Observing System and the Australian Antarctic Division itself. This will send shockwaves through the entire science community and massively lower the morale of all those involved." said Whish-Wilson. He called on the Turnbull Government to reverse the decision and on the Hodgman Tasmanian Government to defend these scientific jobs as a key part of the state's future.
Australian Greens Deputy leader Senator Larissa Waters also hit out at the Government. "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." said Waters.
"With the rest of the world embracing clean energy, Australia may lose these exceptional minds to countries with governments that are listening to the science and acting on global warming," warned Senator Waters.
Greens Leader Senator Di Natale urged the PM to address the situation urgently, "Our climate science is absolutely critical."
Queensland's Minister for Science Leeanne Enoch also expressed dismay in a statement and urged answers from the Federal Science Minister Christopher Pyne, "Given the withdrawal of the CSIRO from climate science, what does this signal about the Federal Government’s commitment to securing the future of the Reef?"
According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, Prime Minister Turnbull and his staff "didn't see it coming". Then the Science Minister Christopher Pyne must be blind and incompetent if he was unaware of such a sensitive restructure.
Scientists are expected to make a public statement on Monday at the national conference of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanic Society (AMOS) and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science in Melbourne.
Climate scientists stage a protest
Over 100 climate scientists attending the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (AMOS) climate science conference in Melbourne, including international visitors, staged a lunch time protest expressing disapproval of the restructure and cuts to CSIRO staff and climate research programs announced by CSIRO CEO Dr Larry Marshall.
They wore blue armbands as a symbol of solidarity. No placards. No chants. It was definitely one of the more unusual protests I have attended and reported on.
A few short speeches were made for the media present by some very distinguished scientists including Dr Penny Whetton former principal research scientist for CSIRO, Professor David Karoly from Melbourne University, Professor Roger Jones from Victoria University, acclaimed CSIRO global expert in sea level rise Dr John Church, Dr Peter Stott leader of the Climate Monitoring and Attribution team at the UK Met Office, Sarah Perkins Kirkpatrick a senior research associate at University of NSW.
Here is the full statement released today at lunchtime by scientists attending the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society 2016 Conference.It was released today at lunchtime by scientists attending the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society 2016 Conference.
"We strongly believe that the proposed cuts to CSIRO (announced 4/2/16) will seriously undermine Australia’s capacity to respond to the challenges posed by climate change.
"Some 100 positions are to be cut in CSIRO’s Ocean and Atmosphere Flagship as part of 350 lost positions across the organisation. This will cripple CSIRO’s climate research.
"Australia is a continent surrounded by rapidly changing weather patterns, connected to a rapidly changing global climate. We have already learnt a great deal about our region’s climate, but urgently need to improve our understanding in important areas.
"Such knowledge is necessary if we are to accurately assess the choices, including costs and benefit, of mitigation actions. It is essential if we are to innovate and adapt effectively, and minimise the impacts of future extreme events. If large, extreme events occur, we need to rapidly assess these to diagnose further potential risks. Without such research, Australians will be flying blind into an increasingly volatile future.
"Generating this vital knowledge depends on research including long-term atmospheric and ocean monitoring, climate modelling, and development of climate projections and risk information for impact assessment.
"This program is being pursued in Australia by CSIRO, in conjunction with the Bureau of Meteorology and university partners. CSIRO is the primary research agency for many critical elements.
"Some examples of CSIRO research activities now at grave risk include:
- Monitoring changes in the Southern Ocean and how this effects global and regional climate.
Monitoring the changing chemical composition of the atmosphere, including long-term trends based on ice core data, and air quality measurements at Cape Grim. This is vital for assessing global sources and sinks of CO2, ozone depletion, and verifying the effectiveness of mitigation.
- The ongoing development of a world class climate model. The ACCESS model is an essential tool for analysing how climate processes work and for predicting how our climate will respond to increasing greenhouse gases.
- Understanding what drives climate variability in Australia, and improving our ability to predict climatic anomalies.
- Understanding and predicting global and Australian region sea level rise and extreme sea level events and providing this information to decision makers.
- Assessing and synthesising the latest international and national research to provide detailed regional projections of climate change, which are expertly tailored for ease of use in a large range of applications. Such products are essential for innovate adaptation planning, as well as for resource management, community safety, and public education.
"The cuts to CSIRO will leave Australia unable to meet certain international research commitments, including commitments stemming from the Paris climate conference. This research is an imperative resource for our Pacific and Asian neighbours.
"We call on the Federal government to support and strengthen these vital research areas, which are essential in the continual building of Australia’s climate research, adaptation and mitigation capability.
Here are my twitter posts regarding the protest from the conference. Dr Susan Wijffels gave the RH Clarke lecture to start the conference and at the end of her very interesting talk on 'Detecting anthropogenic climate forcing in the ocean' called for her colleagues to attend the lunch time protest gathering.
In was revealed in Senate estimates hearing in Canberra that the Bureau of Meteorology were given about 24 hours notice of the cuts to staff engaged on climate research programs. The Bureau of Metorology and CSIRO run several programs in partnership with scientists often collaborating on programs. " I was contacted 24 hours ahead of it that an announcement was coming" said Dr Robert Vertessy, Director of of Bureau of Meteorology.
Meanwhile, CSIRO head Larry Marshall released a new statement correcting some of the media misinterpretations, but didn't address many of the issues raised by the scientists and slipped back into tech startup mindset calling the Atmosphere and Oceans Division a 'business'.
International criticism also from the World Meteorological Organisation associated World Climate Research program:
Photo By CSIRO, CC BY 3.0, The CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research facility at Battery Point, Hobart