Closing of the Australian scientific mind: CSIRO cuts and the war on science


We risk our future with the CSIRO cuts

That climate change research at the CSIRO has become the targets of cuts should not come as a surprise to long-time observers of the climate change debate.

The cuts equate to 100 jobs among a total of 350 positions to go. The cuts will have the effect of gutting Australia’s capacity to monitor changes to the climate in the Southern hemisphere:

“Another senior scientist, aware of the planned announcement, said staff would be shocked by the news that basic climate science, including much of the monitoring of changes in the southern hemisphere, would be slashed…”

I could spend this post fulminating about the short-sighted nature of the cuts, and the damage being done to Australian science. But I think we need to pay attention to the long term pattern such cuts illustrate.

Graham Readfearn over at The Guardian has done an excellent article on some of the background of the cuts, and the worrying language of the new head of CSIRO:

“This week’s announcement by CSIRO executive director Larry Marshall has angered many in the country’s climate science community, who have been queuing up to criticise the moves.

But beyond the implications of the announcement, there has also been much bemusement about Marshall’s statements and his apparent simplistic understanding of aspects of climate science…

…In one of his first interviews, Marshall appeared to be intrigued by water dowsing – the ancient idea that farmers could use sticks together with a mysterious unidentified perception to find water under the soil.”

Well worth a read.

My own observation is that these cuts fit into a longer term pattern or trend: namely the ‘war on science” conducted by ultra-conservatives and the right.

The Culture War: science and the minds of the right-wing ideologues

There are numerous scientific theories (and in this I mean proven scientific “facts”) directly challenge touchstone conservative beliefs.

From climate change, to evolution and to the notion of an Earth billions of years old (not 6000 years old as some believe) science often runs afoul of cherished ideological beliefs and world views.

The science of climate change challenges the notion of perpetual growth, market-fundamentalism and that we can exploit natural resources without consequence.

Defunding “controversial” research areas: fears of climate scientists realised

The fears among Australia’s climate research community that they would be subject to savage cuts when the LNP came into power were palpable in the lead up to the last election.

Sadly these fears have come to be realised.

It is worth remembering that one of the first acts of the LNP government was to cut the Climate Commission. These latest cuts merely extend the same pogrom against climate change research.

One of the most basic tactics of conservative governments when they get into power is to de-fund research areas that run counter to their ideologies, donors and supporters.

We’ve seen this again and again across the world. Under Stephan Harper’s  conservative government in Canada their were substantial and systematic cuts to climate research (via DeSmogBlog):

“The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Research is forced to shut its doors after repeated requests for renewed funding fall on deaf ears. The foundation had offered about $120 million in university grants for climate and weather-related research over about 10 years. The total is above the $110 million multi-year grant it received from the government.

The foundation would later rebrand itself as the Canadian Climate Forum, relying on private donors to fund its work.

A labour union representing federal scientists, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, would also estimate that the Canadian government was in the middle of a three-year purge, cutting nearly $3 billion in spending and up to 5,000 jobs from its science-based departments, including many scientific research positions and programs in charge of monitoring air, water, and wildlife…”

In America, the Republicans have been waging a decades long war on NASA and it’s climate change research capacity.

Despite Prime Minister Turnball’s public acceptance of the science, his government is following the same path laid out at the start of the LNP’s term. The LNP’s broad, anti-science agenda has not changed.

We may have changed Prime Ministers to one who speaks of “innovation” and “agility”, but in reality its the same old culture war: facts versus values and world view.

Australia was a leader in an important field of scientific research. Following these cuts, no more.

We have effectively hampered the ability to adapt to the changing climate in these cuts.

In doing so we sow the seeds of future climate catastrophes.

Rising temperatures, rising inequality and conditions for revolution: the dawn of the Anthropocene


“The modern day external shocks are clear: energy depletion, climate change, ageing populations and migration. They are altering the dynamics of capitalism and making it unworkable in the long term…” Paul Mason, The End of Capitalism has Begun (The Guardian, 17 July 2015)

As the planet burns, wealth has been rushing up, not down

Three pieces of recent news should give all of us pause, as they tell us something about the nature of capitalism and the state of the world in it’s present form.

Firstly Oxfam’s recent report on the growing wealth divide in which it was revealed that 62 individuals own as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people.

That’s not the most shocking thing about their report though: since 2010 the wealth of the 1% has been growing at an exponential rate while the wealth of the bottom third of humanity has decreased by trillions of dollars.

As we take a moment to ponder the implications of this massive transfer of wealth from, let’s consider a piece of “science” news.

The World Meteorological Organisation has just announced that 2015 was the hottest year on record:

The global average surface temperature in 2015 broke all previous records by a strikingly wide margin, at 0.76±0.1° Celsius above the 1961-1990 average. For the first time on record, temperatures in 2015 were about 1°C above the pre-industrial era, according to a consolidated analysis from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

The future, should we fail to act decisively now looks grim:

“We have reached for the first time the threshold of 1°C above pre-industrial temperatures. It is a sobering moment in the history of our planet, ” said Mr Taalas. ” If the commitments made during the climate change negotiations in Paris and furthermore a higher emission reduction ambition level is reached, we still have chance to stay within the maximum 2°C limit,” said Mr Taalas.

As the planet burns, wealth has been rushing up, not down.

The third piece of news? We’ve also ushered in a new geological age:

Humans have produced enough concrete to thinly pave the entire surface of the Earth, while carbon dioxide emissions are rising 100 times quicker than at any time during the past 800,000 years.

Such dramatic transformations of the planet are showing up in the world’s sediments and warrant the declaration of a new geological epoch – aptly known as Anthropocene to reflect humanity’s role – according to a new paper published in the journal Science.

The research, compiled by two dozen scientists and academics, identified planet-wide impacts ranging from nuclear fallout from weapons testing to mining that displaces 57 billion tonnes of material a year – or almost three times the amount of sediment carried by the world’s rivers.

What is one to make of these reports?

Welcome to the Anthropocene: where economics, environmental collapse and politics collide

Typically these pieces of information are presented separately, often buried among the middle pages of the remaining print newspapers in their op-ed sections.

Taken together they paint a picture of the world today: that of rising temperatures, rising inequality and burgeoning conditions for social upheaval.

Journalist Eugene Linden in his work “The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather and the Destruction of Civilizations” notes this repeating pattern throughout history. From the collapse of the Greenland Viking colonies, the climatic chaos of the Little Ice Ages or the fall of the Mayan kingdoms due to extreme drought, shifts in climate and weather often preempt and drive significant disruptions to human societies.

The concern is that we may not be adequately prepared for it:

“We have not been tested by climate change. Moreover, humans have a tendency to fit new information into familiar patterns. This may explain why so few people have noted that the climate began changing during the past two decades, and even fewer more have become alarmed…”

What is true of the climate, is also true and the growing disparity in wealth and the ecological destruction around us.

The best of times, the worst of times: conditions for social disruption? 

This wealth transfer, and the stealthy takeover of the planet by corporations, has been in progress for decades. It is a process that individually we have not noticed, nor seen how it was effected. And yet we are now living with the results of the free-market extremism of neo-libralism.

Greece’s former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, recently summed up this state of affairs in a recent TED talk:

“Democracy. In the West, we make a colossal mistake taking it for granted. We see democracy not as the most fragile of flowers that it really is, but we see it as part of our society’s furniture. We tend to think of it as an intransigent given. We mistakenly believe that capitalism begets inevitably democracy. It doesn’t.

Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and his great imitators in Beijing have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that it is perfectly possible to have a flourishing capitalism, spectacular growth, while politics remain democracy free. Indeed, democracy is receding in our neck of the woods, here in Europe.

Earlier this year, while I was representing Greece — the newly elected Greek government — in the Eurogroup as its Finance Minister, I was told in no uncertain terms that our nation’s democratic process — our elections — could not be allowed to interfere with economic policies that were being implemented in Greece. At that moment, I felt that there could be no greater vindication of Lee Kuan Yew, or the Chinese Communist Party, indeed of some recalcitrant friends of mine who kept telling me that democracy would be banned if it ever threatened to change anything…”

We live in an era of rapid technological, economic and social change. Some of these changes are empowering the individual and society, while others constrain them.

As the Anthropocene dawns we witness conditions that proceeded the great revolutions of the past.

In this I am reminded of the French Revolution, and Dicken’s famous opening lines: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”





We didn’t just change the climate, we broke the planet: Earth’s axis shifts due to climate change


I’d like you to pause for a moment – just a moment – and consider the following.

The magnitude of humanity’s impact goes beyond just changing the climate.

Climate change has resulted in shifting the Earth’s axis (via Dr. Karl’s Great Moment’s in Science)

Even though we are only a little way into the 21st century, the signs of global warming are obvious and many. There are droughts in East Africa, stranded polar bears in the Arctic, bleached coral reefs in the tropics, and retreating glaciers on land.

But the latest sign was a real surprise to me. By burning huge quantities of fossil fuels, we humans have actually tipped the Earth off its axis — by a tiny amount.

When I say “tiny”, let me emphasise how tiny. It’s centimetres per year, not hundreds or thousands of kilometres each year….

….rapid melting of ice on land has driven Earth’s North Pole to the east. This solid ice used to be on land, but is now liquid water spread everywhere across the planet.

The burning of fossil fuels by us these past few centuries has been sufficient to shift the Earth’s axis.

We didn’t just change the climate, we broke the planet.

Welcome to the Anthropocene.


Are We Rich? The Links Between Ecological Privilege, Affluenza and Climate Change Denial (Part 1)

Are we rich? Ecological privilege in the park

The second season of AMC’s Mad Men contains a now iconic scene: the Draper family enjoying an idyllic picnic.

It’s a perfectly realised and knowing tableaux of heteronormativity, a fictional portrayal  of a seemingly perfect 1950s nuclear family (1).

At one point one of the children ask “Are we rich?” In response they’re told it’s not polite to talk about money.

As the picnic ends Don, the family patriarch, finishes his beer and pitches the empty can off screen into the park.

Betty, the mother, packs up as the rest of the family troops back to the car. In a manner equally cavalier to Don, she grabs the corners of the rug the family had been sprawling upon and flicks rubbish across the park.

Like the rest of the family she turns her back and leaves, unconcerned about the spoiled landscape they leave behind.

Of course it’s a fictional scene. However it perfectly encapsulates the intersection of wealth, privilege, willed indifference and the impact of the modern consumer lifestyle on the environment.

The Draper’s feel entitled to use the landscape in a way that asserts the primacy of their needs.

In many respects, it is a fitting example of ecological privilege.

What we do we mean by ecological privilege?

“So why the hell shouldn’t the rich destroy the planet? After all, it’s theirs. They own it. We live on it… The Landlords do what they want with their property. To get their gold, they dump arsenic in our drinking water; to get their oil, they melt our polar ice caps…” – How the Rich are Destroying the Earth (2)

What exactly do I mean by ecological privilege?

Over the course of this three-part article I’ll attempt to:

  • define what ecological privilege is;
  • discuss how it’s origins and how expresses itself in Australian society
  • look at how it shapes our response to climate change and other environmental emergencies.


Eve of Disruption: Politics, Society & Culture on a warming planet


Where to start?

It’s always the question any writer has to face.

What do I want to say? Who will listen?

Firstly, a little about myself…

I’m Mike, a Melbourne based writer, sometime activist and full time Geek.

I used to run a moderately successful blog called Watching the Deniers (WtD) for a while, but I’m back after a long and very necessary break. I wanted to start anew and say something very different.

I was exhausted by the fight against the deniers. I did my time, and I needed some much needed R&R.

The debate between scientists, environmentalists and the deniers is not a debate over facts: it’s a culture war and bloody one at that. Sometimes there are causalities. I think I was one of them.

Luckily for you there is a thread running through everything you’ll find on Eve of Disruption: how the issue of climate change and the risk of environmental collapse changes everything.

Can we prevent it? How can we adapt to a changing planet? What are our ethical obligations when it comes to environmental issues? Have we done enough? And if not, why not?

Some of what I’ll have to say won’t make me popular. And not just with the climate change deniers with whom I used to have fun criticising on WtD.

No. What I have to say will challenge you. In a way it’s meant too. Not in an aggressive way. But I think we need to challenge our assumptions about many things.

We need to think more.

If humanity is to survive the next couple of centuries we’ll need to reset some of our fundamental values and rebuild our advanced technological civilisation from the ground up.

The challenge is not just keeping global average temperatures below 1.5c as the recent Paris agreement asks humanity to do.

We’re going to have to completely change our energy systems while our political and economic systems will need to adapt to new realities. We will need to overturn much conventional wisdom and start afresh.

Eve of Disruption is a place where I hope to explore those questions with you.