Science

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

The 6 Pictures From 2013 I Wouldn’t Have Lived Without, And You Shouldn’t Too

Sorry. Buzzfeed-style titles are just so inspirational.

Yes, it’s been a while – my longest break since I started this blog way back in the noughties. But there’s a new year to embrace and explore, so let’s take a whirlwind tour of 2013 through my lens and we can all move on, eh? Stop 1: January.

An image of a zombie on an escalator

Stirring the memory-beast that is ZombieLab is dangerous. It devoured 12,000 souls, and grew so large it almost became a victim of its own success. It spawned a BBC appearance for me (with a new job title), dragged the public into peer-reviewed research, and turned January into a dark, demented blur of a month. Let’s move on swiftly. February.

An image of the JASMA demo team doing Tai Chi in Leicester Square

This year, I’ve been learning Wing Chun kung fu at the Jeffrey Alexander School of Martial Arts. On a freezing, rainy Chinese New Year afternoon, the team took to the stage in Leicester Square. Martial arts are a total departure from the freestyle sports I’ve spent most of my life pursuing, with a strong structure, long history and strict training environment. I’m loving the challenge.

Not much else sticks in my mind from February. It was a short, cold month, and I was having the mother of all work-hangovers. I was prepared to plunge into powder, so let’s move on to March.

An image of off-piste skiiers in a tree run in Meribel

I’ve had more dreams about Meribel than anywhere else I’ve visited (link goes to video of the trip). I couldn’t contain my sense of awe as we rode up the gondola on the first day, emerging from the tree-line to a breathtaking panorama of the snow-covered Meribel valley in the French Alps. Six days of good conditions, great company and a sport that has saturated my mind with a desire for more…

Before I get trapped in endless daydreams, we’ll scurry on to April.

Scientists from the Antarctic at the Science Museum

My job at the Science Museum is more than just zombie-herding. In April, I invited scientists studying space weather in to the Museum to show off their work. They brought the Antarctic camping kit they’d lived in for their field trials. Cool.

The year’s been a really positive one at the Museum. I’ve created live events of all shapes and sizes, developed gallery updates, produced films about state of the art 3D printing, and so much more. It’s a ridiculously diverse role and I’m lucky to work with a brilliant bunch. Long May it continue.

An image of David on a Rock

Ah, yes. That happened. While I didn’t win a dream job in Queensland, I did get to run around London for two days with a crocodile and kangaroo, and met an array of people I’d never otherwise have crossed paths with. But it was an exhausting and intimidating two weeks, not least because I was also helping assemble a new display about brain mapping at work.

Later in the month I took off for a deep breath of fresh Italian air, finding some invaluable head-space with a trip to the Puglia region. A day exploring Monte Sant’Angelo was just magic. One word to describe the contrast between bouncing through Trafalgar Square in a Park Ranger costume and sitting alone in the sun-drenched backstreets of an Italian mountain village: stark.

Let’s wrap this instalment with June.

A climber at Portland, Dorset, sport climbing at Blacknor

Portland. The limestone one, not the hipster one. It was the first place in England that genuinely shocked me with its natural beauty. The second day of June was crisp, stunning and blue, and I experienced my first outdoor lead climbing on white cliffs overlooking the glassy Atlantic. Lead climbing still holds mental demons for me, and I plan to wrestle with them more in the coming year. Next time, it’ll be me doing battle with the flake line in the picture.

The summer of 2013 was, frankly, ridiculous. If I’ve tallied it correctly, I stayed in London for a grand total of 3 full weekend days between May and October; everything else was spent exploring England and Europe. So keep your antennae tuned for part 2 of my 2013 wrap. Expect stories of German caves, Brimham boulders, Eclectic games, Santorini sunsets, punting, castles, French forests and flooded Devon streets…

Pro Tip: If you click on the images in this post, you’ll get to see a secret bonus image from each month. Some are related to what I’ve talked about; others are just, well, things. Go on then. You know you want to.

Categories: climbing, Fun Things On Land, photos, Science, Thoughts, Travel | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Ranger Dave’s Queensland Quiz

Phew.

This is going to be a very short post, because 12 hours of running all over London’s busiest landmarks (often literally!) with a crocodile and kangaroo in tow has tired me out. I’ll give an update soon with lots more photos and stories of the great people I met.

So here’s a picture or two to give you a clue about what my weekend’s been like so far:

Ranger Dave Phone Box

I have no idea how many people took my Queensland Quiz, but it was a lot! I’ve been in London for two and a half years without doing the Phone Box shot… how could I miss the perfect opportunity at Trafalgar Square? And these kids were just a couple of many who took the Queensland Quiz, with the London Eye and Big Ben in the background.

And if you want to be my Ultimate Referee, but haven’t gotten your endorsement in yet – get cracking!

Categories: communication, photos, Science, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

You Are My Ultimate Referee

What’s going on?

I’ve made the top 25 – from a field of 45000 – for the Queensland Park Ranger role in Tourism Australia’s Bests Job in the World. The opportunity could change my life. But to make the cut for the final 3, I need to secure the support of ‘ultimate referees’ for the position.

A Park Ranger’s job is to watch over and protect the environment – which means I’ll be doing a job that’s important to everyone. That’s why I think the ultimate referee isn’t just one person. It’s the multitude of people around the world who appreciate the most inspiring areas of the planet we live on.

An image of a dragonfly on gravel

That means you!

Why should you be my referee?

My whole life so far has been preparing me for this job; academically, professionally and in thousands of hours spent experiencing Australia’s unique wilderness.

This job isn’t just about promoting the Great Barrier Reef – though that’s important. It’s also about the sweeping outback, which is too often out of sight and mind of environmentalists. It’s about animals like the Armoured Mist Frog, thought extinct but recently rediscovered in the remote Far North, and intricate ecosystems of all kinds. It’s about a landscape with tens of thousands of years of enchanting heritage. And it’s about helping people to feel a sense of wonder and connection with nature. I will strive to share stories of Queensland that you haven’t heard before.

So what am I asking you to do?

Early Referees

Some of my first referees – signs in any language welcome!

I need people who believe I can be a great Park Ranger to endorse me, and the video below explains how you can help me by doing this. I need voices of all ages, walks of life, and continents – because everyone has a stake in the natural world. To become one of my ultimate referees, just do these four things:

1. Get your pen and paper out and make a sign, or print one.

2. Take a happy snap with the sign – it could just be you, or with a local landmark, pet, park or doing something you love.

3. Send the picture(s) to me at dave4ranger AT gmail DOT com by the end of Sunday 5th May.

4. Use the sharing options below to spread the word about this post far and wide! In many ways this is the most important part – I’m putting my chances for getting this job in your hands.

Everyone who endorses me will be a part of my ‘ultimate referee’ package that will give me a shot at reaching the final. Think of it like a kickstarter, except it’s free for you to become a backer, and if it succeeds I’ll give you 6 months of great photos, videos and stories :-)

To see my initial application video and find out why I’m perfect for this job, click here.

Categories: communication, environmentalism, Science, Travel, Videos | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

I need fresh air. Please help.

Despite my inattention, this year my blog is more popular than ever. It’s because of this.

I need a new question. I need to answer a question. The question needs to be universal, it needs to be something that elicits emotions (preferably not disgust) and it needs to be one that hasn’t been answered hundreds of times on the internet already.

For that, I need your help.

What do you want to know, but have never been (a) motivated enough to find out or (b) brave enough to ask? I will pick the best response using completely arbitrary criteria, and do whatever’s necessary to uncover the state of the art. Shoot!

A lady with a cereal box on her head

Go on, just ask.

Categories: communication, Fun Things On Land, Problems, Puzzles, Science | Tags: | 7 Comments

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