Jobs cut at CSIRO – who said what?

You may have picked up on some news about climate science job cuts at CSIRO. Perhaps you got confused by all the commentary, or did not have time to follow it all. To help you, here a summary of some of the things that have been said. We tried to avoid any editorial or indeed religious bias in selecting quotes – decide for yourself.

CSIRO CEO’s email to staff

Few decisions are irreversible, but in Australia we worry a lot about failure and spend too much time analysing rather than doing. […]

CSIRO pioneered climate research […]. But we cannot rest on our laurels as that is the path to mediocrity. Our climate models are among the best in the world and our measurements honed those models to prove global climate change. 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? […]

Some of our businesses have saturated the domestic market, but as a result of our excellent science they have been recognised globally and we are working on opportunities for land and water reform and development in several large countries that need our help.

[…] it is inevitable that there will be job losses.  Overall, this strategic alignment will not lead to an overall reduction in our workforce.  […]  There will be reductions in headcount in Data61, Oceans & Atmosphere, Land & Water and Manufacturing […].” – CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall in an email to staff, 4 February 2016.

The reactions

This is a disastrous move that will decimate ocean and climate sciences in Australia. There seems to be no appreciation of how much this science underpins our nation’s interests – from agriculture, fisheries and water management through to infrastructure, planning and finance. What a backward step in this supposed decade of innovation” – Professor Matthew England, climate researcher at UNSW, 4 February 2016.

I feel like the early climate scientists in the ’70s fighting against the oil lobby. I guess I had the realisation that the climate lobby is perhaps more powerful than the energy lobby was back in the ’70s – and the politics of climate I think there’s a lot of emotion in this debate. In fact it almost sounds more like religion than science to me.”  – Larry Marshall, CSIRO CEO, 4 February 2016

We’ll continue to spend about $83m a year on climate change mitigation adaptation research.”  – Senator Arthur Sinodinos, Federal Government Cabinet Secretary, in Senate Hearings, 4 February 2016.

The good news is most of the universities in this country and around the world have become really good in [climate change research]. We’ve disseminated, for example, our unique climate models and shared them with those universities and with the Bureau of Meteorology.” – Larry Marshall, CSIRO CEO, 4 February 2016

From today we join the minnows on the little table on the veranda, waiting to be told what we will have to do by the grown-up countries that still have access to high-quality climate science.” – Neville Nicholls, Professor Emeritus, School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University, 4 February 2016

Marshall speaks of contributing to the proposed agricultural development of the Northern Territory, but we don’t know for how much longer this region will still support agriculture or even human habitation as the Earth keeps warming, nor how much drying (if any) Australia’s existing agricultural regions will experience. The groups that would help provide answers are the ones he says we don’t need any more.” – Steve Sherwood, ARC Laureate Fellow and Director, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales,  4 February 2016

[The move is] arrogant and ill-informed. Tell me how our climate-modelling skill-base, as truly excellent and world-competitive as it is, is still unable to tell us whether the Murray Darling Basin, the ‘food bowl of Australia’, is going to get wetter or drier as the planet warms? Only someone who confuses climate and weather would fail to appreciate that the past investment in climate science is a platform for the real and future needs, not something that is ready for economic exploitation alone.”  – Graeme Pearman, former head climate science at CSIRO, 4 February 2016.

CSIRO has long been a global leader in projecting climate at the regional scale and presenting the information in a form that suits decision makers, and thus Australia has been very well served in this vital input into national adaptation and mitigation planning. There is little doubt that the funds invested in climate research to date, not to mention land and water research, have been returned many times over in higher production, avoided costs and healthier people and environments.” – Professor Roger Jones, Victoria University, 4 February 2016

Holy shit! That is unbelievable. Is a conservative denier government in power? This seems to be a clear-cut case of shooting the messenger with the bad news. However, the messenger is needed to figure out what to do about the problem.” – James Hansen, former NASA scientist, 5 February 2016

Dr John Church, who […] expects to lose his job, said the cuts would make it difficult for Australia to uphold its part of the Paris deal, which agreed there should be greater investment in climate research, including improved observations and early warning systems. ”That’s at variance with what the chief executive has been saying, that climate science is done. That’s clearly not the case – it’s inaccurate, misleading information.” He said there was a need to “reinvigorate and refocus” climate research. If CSIRO was to abandon it, this may have to be through a new body. “There’s been talk for decades of a climate change research institute  – maybe now is the time for an institute in which the principal body would be the Bureau of Meteorology, with support from universities.” – John Church, CSIRO climate researcher, cited in The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 February 2016

Tony Haymet […] likened Larry Marshall’s management of the CSIRO to “schoolboys playing at being managers. If you are a complete failure, what you do is take one of your best divisions, shut it down, and invest in your pet project. That’s the coward’s way out … The job is to raise more resources. It’s like shutting down the Australian cricket team, saying we need a lacrosse team, and spending three decades investing in that. If this was a whole of government approach, and they said we want to take this capability from the CSIRO and park it at the Bureau of Meteorology or a university, that’s fine but I’ve been told they didn’t consult with stakeholders at all.” – Professor Tony Haymet, former Policy Director at CSIRO and director of the SCRIPPS Institution of Oceanography in the US, quoted by The Guardian, 5 February 2016.

The CSIRO restructure has us walking into the unknown blindfolded, relying on other research institutions to pull up the slack. Yet we have to ask – how much climate research capacity does Australia need? […] Over the past decade we’ve seen strong growth in Australian Research Council funding of climate [research]. Is this enough to take up the slack? We just don’t know. […] CSIRO plays a key national role in coordination that universities may not be able to replace. It’s also important to recognise that it can take many years to build up scientific capacity […] Yet we must always ask if it is necessarily the case that such answers are best provided by direct government intervention as seen in CSIRO.” – Will Grant, ANU, 5 February 2016

” [These cuts have] the potential to devastate climate science in Australia. Not only does CSIRO play a key role in climate monitoring, it underpins all of the climate modelling activity in Australia. If that is cut significantly, it will set us back at least a decade and will undermine our ability to predict future climate risk.” – Todd Lane, president of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, 6 February 2016

We don’t stop researching medicine if we find it cures a disease. We continually research even that particular medicine, to improve its benefits and reduce side effects. The same goes for climate change.” – Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, climate researcher at UNSW, 8 February 2016

[about the argument that it’s okay to do less climate change monitoring because there will be a greater emphasis on adaptation] “It’s a bit of a false argument, because adaptation requires those same systems, that same technology, those same people, so it doesn’t really make sense, that argument. We already know there’s a substantial amount of climate change that we have to adapt to, and knowing what that is in Sydney, in Melbourne, in Perth, in Tasmania, all through Australia – only Australian scientists will care about that, this will not be done by someone sitting you know in New York or in London, or another part of the world. They have their own adaptation science to do.” – Dr Susan Wijffels, CSIRO ocean researcher, 8 February 2016.

The job cuts in the climate science division of CSIRO have been rationalised by the new CEO, former venture capitalist Mr Marshall, as being the product of a rationalised and streamlined approach to corporate management in line with startup companies such as Netflix. The CSIRO, however, is a crucial agency for social and environmental progression. It is the Federal government government agency for scientific research in Australia. It seeks to develop the scientific knowledge required to manage Australia’s wildlife, plant and land resources for ecological sustainability. It is not a technology startup.” Professor Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School

Australia has a large climate science research community. It’s not just the CSIRO. So my view is we have to look across the capacity amongst many organisations, including the university and research sectors, to assess our climate science research capacity. For us to fulfil our obligations internationally as the premier climate research country in the Southern Hemisphere we need to ensure our capacity is preserved. But there is very substantial capacity outside the CSIRO as well as within the CSIRO.” – Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist, 10 February 2016.

The thing that’s gone missing now is advocates for a certain amount of research every nation does to look after its long-term environmental sustainability, for example, and that’s government-funded research. It can be quite innovative in some ways but it’s not mainstream – trying to be like Google type stuff – so it’s become unfashionable and unfortunately there’s not enough counterbalancing voices at the moment so you get a more balanced outcome from the executive decision. The executive decision has been the nation doesn’t want that sort of research anymore. It only wants research that will lead to commercial outcomes.” – Michael Borgas, CSIRO Staff Association president, 10 February 2016

For many years, CSIRO’s contributions to climate observations and modelling have been globally recognised and respected, and the decision to cut this effort from CSIRO should be revisited at the highest levels of the Australian Government. Further development of climate modelling and observations by CSIRO and colleague scientific organisations is essential to planning for climate mitigation and adaptation to global warming.Al Gore, former US vice-president, 15 February 2016

In reaction to the cuts, scientists are making claims about their ability to predict the future, and are failing to consider the politics of climate science. […] The climate science community is playing a political game, whether they know it or not. If they want to participate on the same terms as political decision-makers, they need to speak their language.” – Peter Tangney, Flinders University, 15 February 2016

My bet is [Dr Marshall] will haemorrhage his best and brightest and be left with the mediocre which would be a legacy that will stay with him indefinitely. What has happened in CSIRO has shaken the research community and re-establishing the credibility of the organisation will not happen by cutting less – it really requires a fundamental change in direction and additional investment. National investment in this area was already embarrassing and needs to be revisited as a means to assess long-term risk and vulnerability of Australia to climate change” – Professor Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, UNSW, 22 February 2016

The decisions that are required to adapt to climate change are only going to grow more complex and urgent. I am very concerned that the massive climate cuts announced would very likely gut this research area. I think it would take 20 years to re-establish the capacity that CSIRO is planning to cut.” – Dr Penny Whetton, former senior principal research scientist at CSIRO, 22 February 2016

Why would CSIRO retreat from one of its own (and Australia’s) most effective scientific endeavours? Why stop now, after working tirelessly for more than a decade to create a unified national platform that provides essential advice to local, state and federal governments, as well as industry, commerce and the environmental sector? I don’t know. It makes no sense. CSIRO’s decision to pull away from climate change science is against the national interest. It should not proceed.” – Greg Ayers, former chier of CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research and former CEO of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, 23 February 2016.

We going into this opportunistic, short-term innovation stream, but this is not how science works. It’s not how we did wi-fi. It’s taking the foundation out of the CSIRO. An organisation like this has to do the long term science. This is going to have a big impact.” Dr Eva Van Gorsel, CSIRO scientist, 24 February 2016

Things like urban liveability, sustainability, biodiversity, environmental, social and economic sciences are slated to disappear. Has there been a review in Australia that tells us there are no longer significant changes in these areas? I don’t think so. Can we really stop modelling climate change because we’ve accepted it exists?” – Sarah Ryan, CSIRO fellow and deputy chancellor, University of Canberra, 24 February 2016.

The drive to increase the share of CSIRO funding from external sources is turning Australia’s premier scientific research institution into “a glorified consultancy”, Labor’s shadow industry minister Kim Carr said. Senator Carr said the current round of job cuts, which will fall particularly hard on the CSIRO’s climate change programs, revealed a distortion of the organisation’s mandated role. Of the roughly $500 million raised each year from external sources, only about $70 million came from the private sector. Since the bulk of the remainder came from federal agencies, the CSIRO is vulnerable to sharp cuts to funding – as has occurred during the Abbott-Turnbull years, Senator Carr said. – Senator Kim Carr, cited in The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 February 2016

People don’t disagree the organisation has to evolve and be able to adapt to the data revolution … but we would say you shouldn’t cut critical research into what is essentially public good research” – Sam Popovski, CSIRO Staff Association secretary, 27 February 2016

Cutting climate science now, as the demand escalates for both adaptation and mitigation strategies, is like flying into a violent storm and ripping out the radar, navigation and communication instruments. It just doesn’t make sense” – Professor Will Steffen, ANU, 27 February 2016.


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