Dr Larry Marshall, former venture capitalist and now head of the CSIRO, has a brief and a vision to turn the organisation into an innovation catalyst. Climate science simply no longer fits, according to him.
He told the ABC:
- The issue for us in all of our business units is we have to be aware of changes in global markets.
So if you look at the climate market, I think after Paris the argument for climate change is pretty much decided, I think that question has been answered.
So that begs the next question, what do we do about climate change? How do we adapt to it? How do we mitigate it?
And it’s inevitable that people who are gifted at you know measuring and modelling climate may not be the same people who are gifted at figuring out what to do about it, or how to mitigate it.
Problem is, as Roger Jones, Professorial Research Fellow at Victoria University, who used to work at CSIRO, says, the purpose of the measuring and modelling is
- to understand how the climate system works and then to use that knowledge to manage risk, make decisions and improve productivity.
Climate change will continue to throw up surprises which we will need to understand. Jones gives examples of how CSIRO has already created value in this regard.
- CSIRO has long been a global leader in projecting climate at the regional scale and presenting the information in a form that suits decision makers, and thus Australia has been very well served in this vital input into national adaptation and mitigation planning.
CSIRO recently provided a comprehensive set of projections of Australia’s future climate based on the latest climate modelling and related science, tailored for a broad range of uses.
If we eliminate the science this cannot continue. Understanding is a necessary precondition for appropriate adaptation. We run the risk of trying to adapt to climate change like headless chooks.
It appears that up to 350 jobs will be changed, cutting a deep swathe into CSIRO’s climate effort. At RenewEconomy Sophie Vorrath reports:
- Fairfax Media reports that, as part of deep job cuts to be announced later today, as many as 110 positions in CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere division will go, with a similar number affected in the Land and Water division.
It is believed that this will leave just 30 staff in the organisation’s Oceans and Atmosphere unit, and that they will not be working on climate issues.
“Climate will be all gone, basically,” one senior scientist told Fairfax before the announcement. “We understand both the Prime Minister [Malcolm Turnbull] and the [Science] Minister [Christopher Pyne] have signed off on the cuts.”
So it is not just a change from climate science to adaptation. From the ABC interview:
- LARRY MARSHALL: We launched a new strategy middle of last year for CSIRO to be Australia’s innovation catalyst.
So naturally, having launched that strategy, we started looking at what were the big projects, the moon shots, if you like, for each business unit that we have from agriculture all the way through to digital technology.
And once we decided where we’re going to really focus to deliver the best impact for the nation, we then had to ask the question, what people and resources do we need.
JAKE STURMER: The answer to that is a paring back of the ocean, atmosphere, land, water and manufacturing units.
The CSIRO is an independent body, but the question is raised as to whether the Turnbull government is at all serious about climate change. As Giles Parkinson said:
- The Turnbull government has begun 2016 in the same way that the Abbott government started 2014 and 2015; with legislation on the table that calls for the dismantling of the government’s key agencies – the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Climate Change Authority.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency is being run by a bureaucrat, with board appointments lapsing. Emissions are climbing once again, projected now to peak after 2030. There is no funding for Direct Action emission-reduction auctions once the present allocations are used up.
On the CSIRO cuts, Andy Pitman says
- the cuts would diminish Australia’s understanding of its climate. “It will lead to Australia adapting to things that won’t happen, and not adapting to things that will happen, with a much higher probability,”
Among the experts, responses from Kevin Walsh and Nerilie Abram mention our special responsibility in Southern Hemisphere research.
As Jones says funds invested in climate research to date “…have been returned many times over in higher production, avoided costs and healthier people and environments.”
Why would we diminish the world’s effort shoot ourselves in the foot other than through rank stupidity?
51 thoughts on “Stunning stupidity at the CSIRO”
Sounds very much like what used to be called “picking winners”.
Larry Marshal did say on the ABC that we need to look at the total Australian climate change “research ecology” and that more climate change research would be done in the universities with CSIRO putting more effort into what we should do about climate change.
My experience with mining research suggests that this may work. In the case of mining CSIRO was not the only player. University based institutions like UQ’s JKMRC have been important sources of mining related research for a long long time. However, the JKMRC works because it has developed a good relationship with the mining industry (including ongoing financial support.) It also works because the mining industry has some understanding of what it wants from research and has organizations like AMIRA and ACARP acting as long term facilitators. (I have worked for AMIRA and been on the ACARP coal processing committee.)
In terms of climate science/action research I don’t know enough to comment on the changes to Australian climate research. However, it all has the look of a rush job that needs to be properly thought through. The move of climate science to the universities needs to be done in an orderly fashion that doesn’t lead to a big loss of expertize, provides the funds the universities will need to take over the role and makes sure all the universities have full access to the stuff that CSIRO has developed. To make matters worse we have a government that is not famous for understanding what science (or CSIRO) should be doing for the country.
I am not opposed to the idea of a venture capitalist running CSIRO for a while. CSIRO has never been brilliant at making a profit from what it does. The risk is that CSIRO will stop providing the science support that industries such as agriculture depend on.
This shouldn’t be a surprise, it was clear from the May 2014 Budget.
There are still lots of CO2 effect scientists in the environment department, the BOM and others.
If it’s settled and the remedy is obvious yet not settled then focus on that I say (again).
Brian: You quote Roger as saying:
In part, I would agree. A country of droughts and flooding rains can get a lot of value out of ongoing pure research aimed at improving weather predictions. The crucial thing is it is done well somewhere, not necessarily CSIRO or universities.
However, it is important to understand that climate scientists are most unlikely to be what is needed to help reduce the rate of climate change or to help the world minimize the damage resulting from this climate change.
For example, think about solar PV. We may need the pure science that gives us a better understanding of how the panels work and what new types of material may improve things in the future. But we also need things like engineering innovation aimed at reducing costs, combing solar with other functions such as roofing etc.
We also need managerial innovation that identifies opportunities and things that need research. (We could do this if we had panels that could…..) For example, we could do smart things like find free area for panels to be placed within cities. (Think providing weather protection on bikeways by using solar panels as the roof and…..)
Or think water management and agriculture. The current policies are all about providing a steady water supply for agriculture. However, in an uncertain future it may be smarter to collect water when it floods, use that water until it runs out and then shut down until the rain comes again.
I can rabbit on for ages along these lines.
To take up the ‘science is settled’ issue, Marshall misuses that by citing the Paris agreement. It was never an issue for these scientists to prove that humans and CO2 cause climate change. It was about regional impacts, as well as understanding the role of large systems like the Great Southern Ocean, important to the world but close to where we live. In this regard the science is far from settled. Graeme Pearman today, who was chief of atmospheric research at the CSIRO, pointed out that we don’t yet understand what climate change is doing to rainfall in the Murray Darling Basin. So how are we going to adapt?
John, I’m far from convinced that Marshall was looking at the total Australian climate change “research ecology”. Most expert commentary indicates he acted out of ignorance. In any case all research is now tarred with the same ‘innovation’ brush. Research grants to universities, even in the social sciences and humanities, are supposed to favour proposals that can make a buck. Start-ups are the holy grail.
As with any organisational change of this sort, the really good people will probably leave, in this case overseas, where their talents will be appreciated and they can construct a life not entirely dependent on writing new grant submissions.
Quiggin says the new entrepreneurial CEO is flogging the dead horse of coal to diesel.
That’s not evidence of deep thought or any real understanding, I’m afraid.
John, I have no conceptual difficulty with them working on practical issues, and I’m sure they do.
I think the CSIRO were doing work on materials research, solar and such. I’m really not sure. But the basic science has to be done somewhere and Marshall seems to have acted unilaterally.
I think that’s how Cubbie Station operates. It’s giant dam is only 5m deep and the evaporation is about 2m per annum. Also I think it’s how rice growing in the Riverina happens.
Brian (and others) the process of moving house has brought some email changes and I have just received this post. In the meantime I made a comment on Saturday Salon that rightly belongs here. Perhaps you could shift it across?
[Geoff, the comment is now here. – Brian]
I think that his is entirely a move to relieve big business of the R&D workload at the public/environment’s expense. More lazy ill conceived government.
Comment from Geoff Henderson , moved here at his request:
I had expected a more realistic approach from Turnbull on climate. I was not surprised to see Pyne’s dark hand but had hoped for more from the Turnbull government.
I suppose Pyne has created a chance for Turnbull to stand up and in a demonstration of leadership smack down the proposed changes. I think he, and the country would gain much from doing that.
Geoff, that’s the best I can do, I can’t move the comment under your authorship, of at least don’t know how. I’ll delete the comment on the other thread.
The post suggests that Turnbull and Pyne both signed off on the cuts.
Turnbull is proving weaker than expected, but he’s such a smooth liar it will take a while for people to realise that he’s spruiking policies he personally doesn’t believe in.
BilB, I think you are right.
Monitoring the ocean, the atmospher etc, basically what CSIRO was doing in climate science, is core business for the nation and appropriately located in our premier scientific body, as it was.
Andy Pitman’s article at The Conversation is a ‘must read’.
WA asked scientists why it was rianing less there. Scientists advised that the pattern was here to stay. WA built a desalination plant which is used.
NSW (and Queensland) responded to a drought, tokk a guess and built a desalination plant, which is currently mothballed.
Perths rainfall hasn’t changed much.
The desals were a Flannery inspired monumental waste.
Dams, as John explains
are the answer ( think of them as a water battery ) but alas, the greens have blocked every one for 30 years.
Rainfall ( on land ) is trending up anyway so the environment can handle a bit less run off.
Jumpy, if you look at Warwick Hughes’ blogroll it’s plain that he’s a climate denier.
If you are going to link to Andrew Bolt, Marc Morano et al he has to be considered unreliable and misleading.
Have a look at what Ross Garnaut found about streamflow to Perth’s dams, or go straight to the graph here.
Jumpy, if you were living in Brisbane, around 2005 I think it was, when the dams were at about 16%, losing 1% a month and to be declared empty at 5%, you didn’t need Flannery to panic a bit.
As a Perth resident I can confidently state you have absolutely no idea.
Channeling Wolfang Pauli again, you’re not even wrong.
Stream flows are a cherry picked stat, they ignore many draw downs.
If the graph Hughes showed is wrong, how so ?
This ” he’s not on my team so everything he says is incorrect ” is not finding the truth.
The fact that it’s official BoM data and Garnaut neglected to included it in your link says more to me about Garnaut than Hughs.
I’ll take ” not even wrong “, ta.
And it’s Wolfgang.
Jumpy, stream flows aren’t cherry-picked, they are stream flows that go into dams to provide water to drink.
Perth rainfall may in fact be cherry-picked, because it’s only Perth.
Warwick Hughes says it’s more about “decades of forest regrowth and a lack of catchment management due to prevailing Green dogmas has suppressed streamflows “. He may have a point, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t trust the judgement of someone whose choice of other blogs is so manifestly in the climate denial camp.
If you look at BOM’s time-series for SW Australia, there is an evident downtrend in rainfall since about 1970, which is what the climate scientists have been saying.
What’s more, if you go back to Garnaut, he says that:
If you look at Hughes’ map of Perth rainfall you can see something like a 10% decline from mid-century. Can you see why I don’t trust him?
Perth is in that “severe deficiency” patch lower left.
Yes, I’m aware it’s weather, not climate, but I’m still grateful we had the desal plants working.
And if you look at the last 16 years, Perth has had the lowest rainfall on record. (Yes, it’s still just weather, it’s going to change any day now I’m sure.)
Let us give thanks for desalination plants and the far sighted advice of Tim Flannery.
From the BOM:
But what would they know?
Good links, zoot.
I lived in Adelaide for four and a half years from 1965.
I recall highs followed by lows sweeping continuously across from the west centred just south of the continent. Now the systems are much larger, the lows are mostly further south, and we are governed by these large highs that follow each other.
In Brisbane we used to catch the top end of the regular systems, and get rain followed by ‘westerlies’ regularly during the winter. Now we get mostly dry winters, with rain depending on what’s going on in the upper atmosphere.
It’s all changed, but much more irregular.
Perth, for the last 200 years, has generaly been a low rainfall place.The rain average ( over the entire catchment, not Perth metro as I showed) may have declined by 10% in the last 100 years but the population has doubled ( 1mill to 2 mill ) in the last 40, not to mention industry.
I don’t know the ideal population/rainfall/storage ratio but it seems Perth exceeded it before the desal was built.
This idea of a ” normal, ever repeating weather pattern producing average rain” is a myth.
South Australia , another dry arse place, is trending up. As is the Continent.
It has always been irregular. The may be a Goldilocks spot for each place at a given time but none get it regularly.
Great links, Jumpy!
Yet that’s what you and Warwick Hughes seemed to be spruiking about Perth.
Continual change, there is, but climate is about longer term trends, so have a gander at the trends for for South West (WA) (click on “Graph” above the map).
The inconvenient truth is that the trend fits with what you would expect with global warming. The tropical systems heat and expand, the hot air rising comes down as dry air further south, pushing the ‘roaring forties’ further south, hence an average drying where they first hit the continent.
But people like Hughes, and you, it seems, would look for and cling to any other explanation on offer.
I am looking at trends Brian.
I just don’t freak out at the less wet ones and totally ignore more wet ones.
It is undisputed that the Australian landmass, and all Earths landmasses combined are getting wetter. This is not consistent with what the media has led everyone to believe would be the result of a warming world, quite the opposite.
( I’ll dismiss the * people like you and Hitler * tactic if you don’t mind )
Why cite the media?
The physics is pretty simple, so that even a non-scientist like me can understand it.
As the atmosphere warms it can hold more water. That’s the basic reason why it tends to rain more in the tropics than in higher latitudes.
When it falls down there is more up there to fall.
The result is more rain on the average, but more droughts and more floods.
There are other things going on, like the distortion of the jet stream and the slowing of the giant ocean currents in the North Atlantic, also associated with climate change.
Because the media cite their preferred ” experts ”
Look, I’m just trying to look at it from all angles and I’m basically an optimist.
Without devoting my life ( or 10 lifetimes ) to scientific study, I have to mainly rely on ” commentary “. All commentators leave shit out, the more diverse a range of commentary, the less is left out.
I could dismiss Garnaut on environmental issues due to his gold mining devastation in PNG, but he give important pieces of the puzzle.
Bob Carter did too.
I happen to be in agreement with Hughes on BOM predictive ability ( or lack of ) yet disagree on some other issues.
I agree with you on some and not others.
I’ve been called everything from a neo- capitalist through agrarian socialist to marxist for the people I listen to.
I don’t care a bit.
Jumpy, this whole thing started with your comment here.
That was supposed to counter Andy Pitman’s statement that WA consulted scientists and got it right, whereas Sydney didn’t and got it wrong.
I think you’ve been shown to be wrong about Perth, and more properly, the SW WA water supply catchment.
I’m not convinced that Flannery had anything to do with either. In SE Qld there was a comprehensive report, and subsequent proposals for the Traveston Dam on the Mary River and up to six desalination plants. Peter Garrett knocked the Traveston Dam on the head.
Meanwhile, in panic, we built a desal plant, which was so rushed it never really worked, built a water grid, which does, built a recycling plant which no politician will turn on, subsidised home water tanks, and built the highest water lift in the world to save Toowoomba, because they voted against recycling.
As far as I can tell, Tim Flannery was nowhere to be seen.
There seems to be a drying trend in SEQ, not so far attributed to climate change, so we may yet need the extra desal plants.
Your Flannery comment was, I think, an unwarranted generalisation and if I may say so a cheap shot.
Jumpy, I have just entered my eighth decade on this planet and I have lived all of my life in Perth.
I can assure you that Perth’s climate has changed since my childhood in the fifties.
Telling me my lived experience is imaginary does not make you an optimist, it means you are in denial.
And you’re still having trouble with averages. The increased wetness is not evenly distributed – just ask a Perth dweller.
The way I see it ” Perths rainfall hasn’t changed much. ” is correct given that a 10% reduction is still a 90% retention over that time and the main pressure on water supply is population growth. I thought a dam would be better is all. My comment was not a counter to anyone, rather an agreement with JD and info to everyone.
The ” brewhaha ” happened due to me linking to official data that I happened to lift from blog with a distasteful blogroll ( only you knew that at the time ).
Really, this is getting us nowhere.
Here is a testimony that suggests sacking the CSIRO scientists was a stupidity.
From another angle.
The science is not settled, we know FA about the climate yet and the models are crap ( except the Russian one ) when compared to observations.
( I, for one, am enjoying the chat on a lovely rainy day [ learning a lot ])
You are right, this is getting us nowhere. I’ve already explained that a 10% drop in rainfall can lead to a 35% reduction in runoff.
Now you link to one of the 3%, one of the very few qualified scientists who nevertheless has been shown to consistently mislead.
Show me why Dana Nuccitelli, also a scientist, is wrong.
Do you really think you can extract the gold from the dross when you are looking at Christy?
Way back when, sometime in the seventies (maybe even the sixties), Time magazine ran an article on desertification.
It contained a map of all the areas in the world that would tend towards deserts if their rainfall dropped by 10%.
The reason I remember this is because the southwest corner of WA was one of those areas.
Before today i’d never heard of Christy nor Nuccitelli but I’ll look into what she said , I’m sure there’s a counter smear of her but I’m not going to search for it. My interest is the ball not the players.
I’m not trying to win an argument here.
I’m gunna drop it for a bit, I sense some tetchy, I don’t want that.
I hope to see that article if you find it. In the 70s some thought we’d be frozen by now due to CO2. As Antartica is technically a desert, perhaps it related to that.
Jumpy, no it wasn’t, it was specifically to do with rainfall and what would happen if, for any reason, the rainfall dropped by 10%. The article was about desertification, not greenhouse gases.
And if you ever find those articles saying we’d be frozen by now due to CO2 I hope to see them.
Jumpy, I don’t mean to sound tetchy, but you do regularly pay out on Tim Flannery. Here’s a bit of stuff to help you.
Dana Nuccitelli is a he. Dana blogs at The Guardian climate blog Climate Consensus – the 97%. I recall he was a coauthor of the study that looked at 24,000 scientific papers and found that 97% of them supported human causation of climate change.
Scientifically he’s probably small fry.
In the Christy paper you linked to I saw almost immediately a statement that was so wrong it was either gross incompetence or dishonesty, I don’t know which.
I decided to Google Gavin Schmidt along with Christy and climate models, since Schmidt of NASA GISS is one of the world’s top climate modellers. Turns out they had a stoush some years ago on CNN, you can find it on YouTube if you want to.
There’s a report of the stoush here from 2009. It links to a post by Joe Romm Should you believe anything John Christy and Roy Spencer say?
DeSmog Blog keeps a listing of Christy’s doings. The latest testimony will no doubt be added.
To the people who debunk the debunkers, I suspect they don’t bother with Christy now, because everything he comes up with that needs debunking has been debunked. He’s basically being used as a tool by the Republican Congressional climate deniers in their wars with the other side.
I think that you can be reasonably assured that if Christy is criticising mainstream climate science, he’s wrong or misleading. That’s what he does, and I can’t understand his mentality.
Brian: When you build a coal washery it takes a lot of people over a short period of time. When it is finished the construction people leave and a much smaller group run the washery.
My understanding is that CSIRO has produced an impressive climate simulator, a task that would need a lot of people (350?). Now it has been developed the simulation has been shared with a wide range of people and 50 retained to do the normal CSIRO climate science work. I have no idea if this is enough but suspect that fewer than 350 would be needed, particularly if some climate work has moved to universities.
My experience is that scientists are very good at arguing for “more research” in their area of interest. This makes me a bit cautious about simply accepting statements by leading scientists about the need to maintain spending in a particular area.
I am not sure what current CSIRO policy is but in my patch CSIRO’s preference was to develop testing equipment and procedures and then pass them on to people like testing labs instead of providing a testing service themselves. This is in line with what appears to be happening with their climate simulator.
John, when all is said and done I guess people like us don’t have enough disinterested information to make a final judgement.
What???? Jumpy??? “your eye on the ball?” You haven’t got the foggiest idea what the ball is.
Your idea of climate science, from memory, is an occasional look at a thermometer nailed to your back fence. Weather is created by the passage of pressure systems across the Earth’s surface. Climate Change is about the path those systems take, their size, intensity, and the amount of moisture atmosphere. Global warming is the effect that is driving those changes. Your little temperature cherry picking fest is a total nonsense spurred on, I believe, by the Monckton minion Ms Coddling whose last ditch defence against climate science is to find any part of the atmosphere that supports her denialist propaganda. She is not at the edge of space yet but she is working her way up there, “no global warming here!!”
As you continue to hawk the Denialati ramblings you will enjoy watching them perform live on this “Data or Dogma” hearing webcast organised by Ted Cruz.
Most people will find much of this an affront to their intelligence, but you might enjoy it.
John, I’m not sure that the analogy with coal washing holds. I suspect they have to keep working on the models.
A senior UK scientist at the UK national weather service has now criticised the cuts. I’d be happier if there was just one credible scientist who was cool with the changes.
Thanks for the info.
I still think Flannery should stick to mammals and palaeontology.
You are dead wrong. Completely and comprehensively incorrect. Your memory is faulty.
My rain gauge is nailed to the back fence.
My thermometer is nailed to my lounge room wall, next to my barometer.
So there !
Thermometer right beside the air conditioner? is it Jumpy? No wonder you are not seeing Global Warming on your block.
Oh dear, (no-one tell Jumpy) the Kwinana desalination plant is powered by a windfarm. Details here.
Brian: I have worked with simulation development and application as well as design, commissioning and operation of coal washeries. I would agree that once simulations are developed and commissioned there is an ongoing need for support and refining. But the effort is much less than what is required for development.
On the other hand, the Bureau of Meteorology was only given one days notice of the proposed changes. Given that the two organizations do a lot of work together this hints that the changes just might not have been thought out properly. BoM chief executive Rob Vertessy told Senate estimates that:
This is an excellent history of water in South Western Australia.
It’s long, but it’s only a year old, unlike the Hughes site which appears to have been resting since 2010.
Along the way it demonstrates that the situation is much more complicated than Jumpy’s summing up:
Roger Jones has posted a statement prepared by climate scientists including international experts attending the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society 2016 Conference.
Concerns include monitoring changes in the Southern Ocean, monitoring the changing chemical composition of the atmosphere, including long-term trends based on ice core data, and air quality measurements at Cape Grim, and ongoing development of a world class climate model ACCESS.
There are links at the bottom of the page. The first to The Guardian said more than 600 international experts have condemned the ‘illogical’ plans to restructure CSIRO, which one described as Australia’s ‘national treasure’. Also:
Oh dear, CSIRO boss Larry Marshall sorry for saying politics of climate ‘more like religion than science’ but says he hasn’t been persuaded to change his mind.
A retired CSIRO biological scientist friend of mine was also complaining that terrestrial biological science was also being cut back. He commented that oceanic research got some protection because a lot of this was covered by the Australian Institute of Marine Science which has some independent financial support. My friend commented that terrestrial science needed an institute to provide similar protection.
Australia’s future requires a good understanding of what is going on in and on our land and surrounding seas. Not the sort of science we should want a venture capitalist making decisions about.
Venture capitalists should be about identifying opportunities that may arise from the science.
John, someone pointed out today that universities work on shorter term grants these days, so are unsuited to the monitoring role that should be an institutional responsibility somewhere. Institutions like the Australian Institute of Marine Science and CSIRO. Your biological scientist friend makes a good point.
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