Federal funds' shift from climate change advocacies provoke questions on Australia's science and research priorities

By @vitthernandez on
CSIRO
A woman browses through a new diet book as another reaches for her copy of the best selling the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet book by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in a central Sydney bookstore September 9, 2005. Reuters/Will Burgess

World renowned physicists, climate scientists and international researchers denounced Australia’s science policies and funding cuts during the World Science Festival (WSF) in Brisbane, according to the SBS

After a series of federal budget cuts in 2014, Australia’s federally financed science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), faces new financial hurdles when the government announced a shift from climate research to focus more on commercial enterprise. The plan, revealed in a Senate inquiry, came with the possibility of 350 researchers losing their job in a span of two years, including positions from Oceans and Atmosphere Unit and about 100 jobs involved in both land and water research.

WSF founder Brian Greene reiterates in the SBS interview, that this move heightens international doubts regarding Australia’s global climate change advocacies as well as concerns on its commitment to science and research. Greene slammed the agency’s decreased funding, saying that the government is unable to recognise the power of scientific research to change the future.

Greene further explains the significance of fundamental research and its practical application in the years to come, by pointing to quantum physics as an example.

“When people were describing quantum mechanics in the 1920s, it didn’t have any commercial applications. We were talking about molecules, atoms, sub-atomic particles, so far from everyday life,” explained Green in an SBS interview.

Today, tech products come from highly scientific researched processes. From life-saving medical equipment like MRI machines to lifestyle products such as cell phones, personal computers, signal boosters and network extenders, such as the device from 5BARz International , are products of intensive scientific research.

Science and research taking a backseat

To protest the gravity of the agency’s redirection, a mass petition was signed by scientists from different international organisations, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the NASA-sponsored Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment, along with 3,000 scientists all over the world.

According to the New York Times , the protesters’ also emphasise on the major impact of Australia’s significant participation in Argo—the vital global ocean-monitoring programme — in predicting weather in the region. The pertinent ocean information coming from the nation is instrumental in predicting severe weather conditions such as drought, floods and cyclones, among others. The absence of such capabilities lessens the chance of preparation from calamities.

The federal cuts also further questioned the government’s commitment to its Science and Research Priorities . Part of the government’s advocacies, which it clearly highlighted , indicated its increased investment in areas of immediate and critical importance to Australia. In May 2015, the Australian government announced its nine cross-disciplinary priorities which included food, soil and water, transport, cybersecurity, energy, resources, advanced manufacturing, environmental change and health.

In the Science and Research Priorities and Practical Challenges, the government ensured that sufficient funding will be allocated to research that will address the country’s problems and needs. Now, considering the recent announcement by the Australian government to cut funding of CSIRO, it may be overlooking the previous nine cross-disciplinary priorities it once promised to uphold.

The funding cut is also taking heat within and outside the country, as it hugely affects Australia’s campaign against climate change. During the conclusion of the COP21 or the Paris climate change talks, Australia joined participating countries in signing a binding agreement to continually reduce greenhouse emissions. This is hoped to create a large impact nationally and globally, given that Australia is among the world’s highest per capita emitters whose target was rated insufficient by the Climate Tracker .

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