The Science Is Settled, So Australia Will Fire 100 Climate Scientists

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

Liberal politicians like to say the science behind global warming is “settled,” so what’s the point of having any climate scientists?

Australian officials have decided to axe 350 jobs from its government-backed science bureaucracy last week, as they switch from climate research into ways to mitigate and adapt to global warming. The announcement set off a media firestorm, and the scientists who could lose their jobs are livid.

“Firstly the overall number of people in CSIRO is projected to be unchanged at the end of a two year period, however up to 350 people may lose their positions as we change the focus of our work program,” Larry Marshall, chief executive of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), said in a Monday statement in response to media criticism.

“No one is saying climate change is not important, but surely mitigation, health, education, sustainable industries, and prosperity of the nation are no less important,” Marshall said.

For years, scientists have argued the science behind global warming is largely “settled” — human activities are driving up the Earth’s temperature. In light of this, Australian officials have decided to take their research in a new direction, away from the causes of global warming to technologies to adapt to it.

“Our climate models are among the best in the world and our measurements honed those models to prove global climate change,” Marshall wrote in an email to his staff Thursday. “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?”

Marshall announced some 110 layoffs in CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere division, the group responsible for climate research. Marshall clarified Monday that the unit’s staff would only be reduced by 65 employees.

In total, 350 CSIRO employees would be laid off over two years. Job cuts will also come from divisions dealing with big data and manufacturing. Critics still expect at least 100 jobs to be cut from climate research.

“Climate will be all gone, basically,” one senior scientist told The Sydney Morning Herald before the announcement was made public last week.

Once the layoffs were announced, scientists whose jobs were on the chopping block fired back and argued there was much more to know about global warming science.

It’s the sad irony of the debate surrounding global warming. Politicians, activist and some scientists have long argued there was nothing more to debate in climate science — a talking point often used to disparage skeptics.

Though now, that line is coming to bite the very people it was meant to aggrandize — climate scientists.

“Proving global climate change? I don’t know what [Marshall] means by that,” Dr. Penny Whetton, a CSIRO climate scientist, told The Guardian. “That’s settled. What needs to be further pursued are the details of regional climate change.”

“I, and many of my colleagues, find this deeply insulting to us as scientists and our efforts over many years,” John Church, a CSIRO climate scientist, told The Sydney Morning Herald. “Rather than major cuts to climate change science in Australia, what is needed is both a reinvigoration and a refocusing of that research on Australia’s future needs.”

The layoffs come after Australia’s conservative government agreed to the United Nation’s pending deal on carbon dioxide emissions. In Paris last year, delegates agreed that countries should submit their own voluntary emissions cuts and sign onto an overall framework to hold each other accountable for those cuts.

The U.S., for example, pledged to cut CO2 emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025. Australia also pledged to cut CO2 emissions 26 to 28 percent, but by 2030, not by 2025. Aussie leaders were also contemplating CSIRO staff cuts as U.N. delegates met in Paris to hash out a global warming deal.

Now, Aussies have to refocus their research efforts to cutting emissions and finding ways to adapt to global warming.

“We must focus our work on areas of the most benefit and sometimes this means making some tough choices, making changes and most importantly looking 20 years ahead to what Australia will need,” Marshall wrote.

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