Nothing Poetic About Sacking Climate Scientists!

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On Saturday, along with friend and fellow writer, Glenice Whitting, I joined others at the State Library of Victoria to rally against the savage Federal Government cuts to the CSIRO.

Prime Minister , Malcolm Turnbull and his ministers are stripping CSIRO of the funding it needs to continue critical climate research. This latest attack on climate science and environmental research compounds the untold damage already done to public science and our understanding and ability to cope with climate change.

On 4 February, Larry Marshall, the CEO of CSIRO announced a sweeping cultural change and restructure of Australia’s premier research organisation.

The jobs of many scientists will go, ostensibly because a “renewal” of staff was needed to pursue goals of being ‘more innovative, more impactful and aligning more closely with industry.’ This translates as hundreds of jobs lost locally in Kingston, years of important research abandoned or mothballed and homes like mine put at risk because of global warming.

Marshall, a former venture capitalist, said that a “worst case scenario” would see around 350 staff affected. ‘That’s the sort of number of people who will have to adapt, not move on,’ he said. ‘It will be up to them and their abilities if they stay and go.’

In May 2014, 1000 CSIRO staff lost their jobs!

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The CSIRO has built a well-deserved international reputation for world-class science that has contributed much to global understanding of climate change. In a dramatic gesture at the rally, and rolled out like a red carpet, a list of over 3000 scientists from around the world who signed letters of protest about these cuts and offered support for CSIRO scientists. International condemnation of the cuts includes criticism from the New York Times, Former Vice President Al Gore and international diplomat Mary Robinson.

These cuts have achieved unprecedented front page news for Australia across the world and it’s not good news! Not all publicity is good.

Several speakers spoke at the rally, organised by the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), CSIRO Staff Association and Australian Youth Climate Coalition. They were introduced by CPSU Assistant National Secretary Michael Tull who called on the Turnbull Government to act immediately and use May’s federal budget to secure the future of CSIRO:

 Australians are deeply concerned at cuts to science and research. If Mr Turnbull won’t fix CSIRO funding in the budget, he should expect the public to seek a solution to the problem on polling day.

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  • Iconic Australian actor and activist Samuel Johnson spoke passionately and received the loudest cheers from the crowd.

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‘Molly star Samuel Johnson quit acting to raise money for cancer research. His announcement also attacked fundraising cuts to CSIRO, denial of climate science, alternative medicine, and conspiracy theorists who are “stupidly assuming that our scientists would dare allow big pharma to hide their discoveries.

At the rally he joked about being ‘that guy who rode a unicycle’ but his commitment to science research for the public good is unquestionable. After his sister was diagnosed with breast cancer he rode a pink unicycle around Australia to raise money for breast cancer research. It was her third diagnosis since a bone tumour in her leg at age 11 and a tumour in her womb at age 22.

Samuel raised $1.4 million in his first year, that fell to only $800,000 in the second year and $200,000 in 2015, but he promised to raise $10 million for the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. He won’t stop “until we get to that $10M and show those faceless f***ers at the top end of town just how serious we are about research here at ground level.

As someone who has had breast cancer and the recipient of scientific research I too have a personal stake in maintaining the great science for the public good research programs at the CSIRO.

Federal Labor MP Mark Dreyfus QC spoke very well and reiterated many of the points raised at the excellent forum he hosted in Aspendale recently. With the dramatic rise in global temperatures – including the hottest year (2015) on record – we need the knowledge and expertise of Australian climate scientists now more than ever.

Australian Greens Senator, Janet Rice spoke about being shocked when discovering the enormity of the effects of climate change over 20 years ago when graduating from Melbourne University. Determined to make a difference with better policies she joined The Greens and has been fighting for the environment ever since.

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We heard from CSIRO workers from laboratories across Victoria, including those from Aspendale and Geelong where the cuts will hurt the most. They spoke eloquently and sincerely about their love of science, their achievements, their hopes, their belief in science projects for the public good. Their fears for the future if science research is only motivated by money and commercial interests.

Climate science – particularly research based at the Aspendale Laboratory – is under threat.

Dr Marshall has also indicated he plans to cut jobs from Land and Water, Minerals and Energy and Digital Productivity which may impact on Victorian jobs.

Planned cuts to CSIRO Manufacturing may result in significant job losses from Melbourne’s Clayton Laboratories.

Amelia Telford (SEED) and Kirsty Albion from the Australian Youth Climate Coalition were the final speakers and it was heartening to hear their commitment to solving the problems of climate change with renewable energy, fighting pollution and raising awareness among young people. Amelia explained how her people, the first people have maintained and cherished the land for thousands of years.

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News this week about bleaching of the coral on the Great Barrier Reef being the worst in history is further evidence we need to be expanding the CSIRO and its amazing research programs.

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As I left the rally I watched a chess game outside the State Library

CSIRO RALLY CHESS GAME

Do the participants understand that politicians and government appointees are playing with the country’s future and even making moves hampering other countries in their climate change research? I hope they paid attention to the rally speakers!

Are people so complacent they don’t understand how horrifying the results of these cuts and sackings will be?

Thank goodness we have dedicated organisations fighting for the Environment and hundreds of supporters prepared to take a stand and work for a better future.

Environment Victoria have set up an Enviro Hub in Frankston to ensure voters in Dunkley and surrounding seats like Isaacs, Flinders and Holt are aware of the importance of using their vote for the Environment. The enthusiasm and commitment of the people at the launch gave me some hope that many people are taking this crisis seriously.

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In deference to NaPoWriMo 2016, I wrote a Verbatim or Found Poem on the CSIRO Cuts carried out by our conservative government over the last two years.

Business As usual in Australia
Mairi Neil

Stunned scientists
moved into new roles
unrelated to their specialty
Australia, the nation
driest on Earth
shifts in rainfall
but global research community
disabled

young climate scientists
without direction
the situation depressing
climate capability gone
climate modelling cut

This is not about just Australia
readings of CO2
from Mauna Loa, Hawaii, and Barrow, Alaska
confirmation of humanity’s dominion
over the climate.

It is mind-boggling
Grim
Australia is ground zero for climate change
1,000 positions eliminated,
science easily commercialised

CSIRO’s management
focus on commercially viable projects
climate change now settled science
basic research no longer needed

Paris last year certain
humans are altering the planet
but Australia’s government
isn’t serious about climate change
business comes first!

(Words found in ‘Australia Cuts 110 Climate Scientist Jobs’, article in Scientific American By Gayathri Vaidyanathan, ClimateWire on February 8, 2016)

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