Stumbling Backwards into the Future

I’m angry.

Scratch that. I’m furious.

An axe is about to crunch into the lives and careers of people whose work I value more than almost any in the world.

Australia is my home. Our society clings to the edges of a vast continent, one of sharp contrasts and harsh beauty. The wide land affords us riches, through agriculture and mining. Our very borders are defined and shaped by three mighty oceans. Water, and its scarcity, regulates life in Australia, human, plant and animal. And our atmosphere – that thin varnish that separates us from the cold vacuum of space – carries the mighty storms that sweep across the south and the drama of El Nino with its drought and fire.

Sunset Mountain

We have an almost miraculous network of publicly-accessible tools for finding and forecasting what we need to know about our weather, climate and oceans. Even with all the work that’s brought us to this point, those models and forecasts can still be spectacularly wrong. This is hard science.

That’s why I’m speechless to read that the CSIRO is cutting 300 jobs in those very scientific divisions – Oceans and Atmosphere, and Land and Water – leaving a barely-functional skeleton of staff.

The official explanation points to a shift from basic climate science toward climate adaptation and alternative research areas – cybersecurity and robotics (with our internet? Ha). The CSIRO has seen its budget slashed under the Abbott, and now Turnbull, governments, and I pity those having to make hard decisions about what gets the chop.

This smacks of a small-minded and short-sighted vision of the world, and disrespect for Australia’s trajectory into the future. Earth is the only home we have. Humanity wields more technology, more power, more population, than ever before, and we know that systems we rely on planet-wide are teetering toward collapse. We must do better, know more, and damage less. The notion that we have ‘done enough’ to understand our climate – Australia, of all countries, after Paris, of all times – is a humourless joke.

At an individual level, lives and livelihoods are at stake. A grim picture faces Aussie farmers, already a community under incredible strain. For a generation of aspiring scientists, hearts and minds ready to reach out to the world around them, news like this dashes their hopes, and they dejectedly apply to institutions on the other side of the planet. I cannot imagine the morale of the hard-working CSIRO experts whose jobs have been pulled from under them; the collective knowledge they’ve earned, the projects that will be abandoned, unfinished. My heart goes out to them.

Most of us walk backwards into the future – our past visible, unable to see what’s coming next. Our basic scientists are a tiny few who point their headlights outward and forward into the huge expanse of the unknown, not for profit, but to understand what is there and, perhaps, help us choose our path. These cuts dim those lights and blind our society as we hurtle into a long, dark future.

A Storm Is Coming

A gathering storm. Would you turn your back?

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Categories: environmentalism, Politics, Problems, Science, Thoughts | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Stumbling Backwards into the Future

  1. Christine Moffatt

    I was shattered when I heard the news. Now I’m angry. I will put heart and soul into working against these deplorable idiots ruining or country instead of running it. We have to vote out the LNP.bi

  2. ‘Teetering towards collapse’ absolutely correct and that means every country for itself and untimately every individual as well.
    We still gaze stupified at Mars and build huge hadron colliders and talk learnedly about the big bang.
    Scientific reasearch has gone mad in every direction and there is no priority anymore. The modern mantra is: if its scientific it must be good so do it.
    In my opinion two major problems must take absolute priority.
    Antibiotic resistance and climate.

    • Those are incredibly important. But I disagree that an exclusive focus is the way forward: basic science has a long history of surprising us, and climate and antibiotics have huge political and social elements, which won’t be solved by better scientific understanding (it will help, of course). Musk looking to Mars has led to him pushing for big investment in solar, storage and electric car tech – not a bad way for a rich man to spend his money.

      • We are on the cusp of an antibiotic apocalpse. Not my speculaton but the warning words of Professor Sally Davies. The failure of antibiotics would put medicine back to the dark ages; even simple operations could not be performed.
        Surely that is good enough for absolute prority. The drug companies need money they cannot develope new antibiotics without finance. What we need to do is put the brakes on progress and start applying what we have across the board. Millions do not have basic hygene or clean water a recipe for Ebola to strike again.
        The Club of Rome have been saying for years we must have limits to growth and they are right.
        Martin Rees thinks we have a 50:50 chance of surviving this century.
        He comments on politics : ‘ In politics the urgent always trumps the important.’
        Vast quantities of antibiotics are being fed to animals we eat, not to keep them healthy but to make them fat.

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