Seeking to Adapt, Australia Jettisons Climate Research

Last week, the head of Australia’s national scientific agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation or CSIRO, dropped a bombshell on the global scientific community. In a letter to his staff and later interviews, CSIRO Chief Executive Dr. Larry Marshall stated that because it is now clear that the climate is definitely changing—thanks in part to the successful efforts of CSIRO researchers—climate research is no longer needed. The burning question now, he argued, is how society can best adapt to a new reality. But the change in focus will come at a price. “[W]ith finite resources, we must pick and choose what to prioritize,” he wrote.

Thus, he announced, he would make room for growth by lopping off the very division he was praising, culling 110 of the 140 climate-related scientific research positions in CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere section. As many observers have noted, these cuts will effectively eliminate Australia’s climate observation and prediction capabilities, since these long-term efforts, directed toward societal benefit rather than profit, are dependent upon sustained federal support.

The response from the global scientific community to this abrupt abandonment of climate research has been one of shock, outrage, and bewilderment. More than two thousand ocean and climate researchers (myself included)—representing a substantial fraction of the global expertise in these areas—have signed an open letter, entitled “Australia’s climate research is far from done”, emphasizing the critical importance of this work for Australia, as well as for the rest of the world, to be able to accurately predict and adapt to climate change.

A common thread in these responses is the crucial question: How do you expect to be able to adapt, if you don’t know what to adapt to? It is —> Read More