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Blunt Instrument: CSIRO cuts bring Australia global fame for choosing stupid

From the earliest days of the penal colony the journals of the First Fleet officers remarked upon the weird, often violent climatic changes that made survival in the antipodes such a fraught, contingent affair.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

There were no records to tell them of the long run of unusually mild years that left the harbour explored by Captain Cook such a verdant green landscape.

The colonists did not know of el Nino or the Southern Oscillation Index. They could see for themselves, however, the fearful thunderstorms that boiled up over the southern horizon and fell upon the little settlement, uprooting trees, smashing down flimsy huts and killing unprotected livestock with cannonades of lightning.

Lieutenant William Dawes, an engineer and surveyor of the Royal Marines, was soon put to work recording the colony's weather at the little observatory he had built to observe the passage of a comet.

The comet was never observed but from Dawes we have some of the earliest records of Australia's climate, or at least the micro climate of Sydney Cove, recorded by direct scientific observation.

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Even though the colonists' understanding of the hypercomplex interplay of all the variables feeding into their weather and climate was unsophisticated, they understood the importance of recording them.

Would that we were so wise.

The cuts announced to the CSIRO divisions concerned with studying our oceans and monitoring the climate of Antarctica are not simply damaging.

They will destroy the nation's ability to critically analyse the deep changes wrenching those environments and climate systems into something new and ultimately threatening.

It would be hyperbole to say the cuts will reduce our climate science to the crude and primitive levels of Lieutenant Dawes tenure at Observatory Hill.

But it would not be a stretch to imagine Dawes himself appalled and struck dumb by the shortsightedness, the arrogance and even the wilful stupidity of people who have been gifted so much by the scientists who came before them, only to cast that bounty to the wind with a shrug and a collective, "Meh. Whatevs."

They'll be roaring with laughter around the board table at Big Oil.

The reported statement by the CSIRO boss, Larry Marshall, that the science of climate change was settled and that "cuts to Australia's decades-long monitoring of the changing climate were appropriate" was astounding.

They'll be roaring with laughter around the board table at Big Oil as they light themselves another fistful of stogies and wonder whether whether they can afford their own cutbacks to all of the pseudoscientific climate change denier foundations and institutes they've been funding for years.

So grotesquely irresponsible is this vandalism that it is being widely reported in the overseas media, not just in scientific circles in but in the business press such as Forbes, which ran a story on the cuts yesterday entitled, "Australia Cutting Basic Climate Science Research Is 'Head in the Sand' 101".

Still, the cuts will save hundreds of millions of dollars and with the budget under such strain we can't do everything, of course.

Those school chaplains ain't gonna pay for themselves, you know.

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