by Judith Curry
Climate science is being gutted in Australia.
The Sydney Morning Herald has an article Climate science to be gutted as CSIRO swings jobs axe. Excerpts:
Fears that some of Australia’s most important climate research institutions will be gutted under a Turnbull government have been realised with deep job cuts for scientists.
Fairfax Media has learnt that as many as 110 positions in the Oceans and Atmosphere division will go, with a similarly sharp reduction in the Land and Water division. Total job cuts would be about 350 staff over two years, the CSIRO confirmed in an email to staff.
The cuts were flagged in November, just a week before the Paris climate summit began, with key divisions told to prepare lists of job cuts or to find new ways to raise revenue.
In the email sent out to staff on Thursday morning, CSIRO’s chief executive Larry Marshall indicated that, since climate change had been established, further work in the area would be a reduced priority.
“Our climate models are among the best in the world and our measurements honed those models to prove global climate change,” he said. “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?”
Dr Marshall indicated some people might be able to find new skills for priority areas.
The cuts were not the Turnbull government’s doing, but were “an operational decision of the CSIRO”, a spokesman for Science Minister Christopher Pyne said. “After an extensive review, the management of the CSIRO have stated the need to reorganise the organisation to better fulfil its mission as outlined in its strategic plan.”
While the government may be trying to distance itself from the CSIRO move against its climate division, one of the Coalition’s most outspoken climate-change deniers, Dennis Jensen took to Twitter to support the move.
From the opposition party: “Under the Liberals Australia’s pollution levels are going up, and Malcolm Turnbull’s answer is to sack the experts who are working to cut pollution and find the innovations in renewable energy that will help create the jobs of the future in Australia,” he said.
A senior scientist also questioned the government’s claim that the CSIRO was acting independently, noting the government had picked the CEO who then chose the board. “Our biggest customer is the government – they have to approve all this,” the scientist said.
It is understood just 30 staff will be left in the Oceans and Atmosphere unit and they will not be working on climate issues related to basic data gathering.
Remaining climate staff will focus on mitigation – cutting greenhouse gas emissions – and adaptation to warming impacts rather than gathering basic science.
It is understood IMOS – the Integrated Marine Observing System – will be maintained with “some remnants” of climate work remaining in Hobart, one scientist said. The scientist said the cuts to climate research were part of a pattern of environmental science cutbacks across many fields in Australia.
Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of NSW, said the scale of the cuts was “jaw-droppingly shocking”. “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.” The impact will extend not just to the science being conducted in and around Australia but also to the ability of the country to retain and attract scientists, he said.
The cuts had “the potential to devastate climate science in Australia”, Todd Lane, president of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, said. “Not only does CSIRO play a key role in climate monitoring, it underpins all of the climate modelling activity in Australia,” Associate Professor Lane said. “If that is cut significantly, it will set us back at least a decade and will undermine our ability to predict future climate risk.”
Somehow, this isn’t all that surprising.
Back in 2001, when Al Gore was running for President, I spoke with with many scientists that were concerned by how climate science would fare under a Gore administration. Because of Gore’s ‘science is settled’ activism on this topic, the concern was that funding for basic climate research would be redirected to impacts assessment and mitigation research. In fact, there has been a rough rule of thumb over the last few decades regarding U.S. climate science funding – funding for is better under Republican administrations (who want more research, rather than to implement politically undesirable solutions). An exception to this is the NASA budget, whereby Republicans send more funding to extraterrestrial subject areas and Democrats send more funding to Earth monitoring.
With regards to Australia and CSIRO. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, CSIRO was the word leader on atmospheric boundary layer research. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, CSIRO was a leader in atmospheric physics research, producing such scientists as Graeme Stephens and Peter Webster (who both left Australia for the U.S. in the 1980’s). Since the 1990’s, CSIRO has done important climate monitoring, and has also done climate modeling research, participating fully in the various CMIP and IPCC exercises. One has to wonder whether the health of climate science in Australia would be better if they hadn’t bothered with global climate modeling and playing the IPCC games, but rather focused on local climate issues and the climate dynamics of the Southern Hemisphere.
Now that the UN’s community of nations has accepted a specific result from consensus IPCC climate science to drive international energy and carbon policy, what is the point of continued heavy government funding of climate research, particularly global climate modeling? I have argued previously [e.g. link] that we have reached the point of diminishing returns from the current path of climate modeling. That said, we still don’t understand how the climate system works on decadal to centennial time scales, and have very little predictive capability on these time scales, particularly on regional scales.
To make progress, we need to resolve many scientific issues, here is the list from my APS Workshop presentation:
- Solar impacts on climate (including indirect effects)
- Multi-decadal natural internal variability
- Mechanisms of vertical heat transfer in the ocean
- Fast thermodynamic feedbacks (water vapor, clouds, lapse rate)
See also my previous post The heart of the climate dynamics debate. It is critical that we maintain and enhance our observing systems, particularly satellites. And we need much better data archaeology to clarify what was going on in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and also some more serious paleoclimatic reconstructions (that avoid Mannian tree ring ‘science’.)
Looking forward to a new U.S. President next year, whether the Democrats or the Republicans are in power, I don’t expect a continuation of the status quo on climate science funding. The Democrats are moving away from science towards policy – who needs to spend all that funding on basic climate science research? Global climate modeling might be ‘saved’ if they think these climate models can support local impact assessments (in spite of widespread acknowledgement that they cannot). If the Republicans are elected, Ted Cruz has stated he will stop all funding support for the IPCC and UNFCCC initiatives. That said, he seems to like data and basic scientific research.
In any event, I don’t think the current status quo regarding scientific research will continue. We will undoubtedly see many climate scientists redirecting their research, or leaving research positions for the private sector. Ironically, circa 1990, the DOE Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program [link] was seeded by retreading nuclear scientists and engineers from the DOE labs to radiation and climate science.
JC message to climate scientists advocating for more funding at the same time they are claiming ‘settled science’ [e.g. Marcia McNutt]: you have been hoisted on your own petard. You are slaying climate science in the interests of promoting a false and meaningless consensus.