Thursday, February 4, 2016

Australia's CSIRO dims the lights on climate and environment

Sou | 7:16 PM Go to the first of 44 comments. Add a comment
If the article at the Sydney Morning Herald is true, then the CSIRO and Australian government have decided to dim the lights on climate science. Instead of researching climate science and climate change, the CSIRO management has decided to research how we can adapt to it.

It should not be a case of either/or. We need both.

Now applied research and development is the stock in trade of the CSIRO. That R&D organisation was established primarily for the "D" in R&D. It exists for the economic benefit of Australia. As with a lot of universities these days, it is expected to earn money through patents, licences, contracts and partnerships with industry and business. I've no problem with that. CSIRO has some very worthy successes. The problem I see is that in order for development there has to be research. Research precedes development in the R&D chain. If we don't properly understand what is happening and what is going to happen, then we won't properly understand what it is that we need to adapt to. So the question becomes - how are we going to adapt if we don't understand well enough what the future holds?

CSIRO works closely with the Bureau of Meteorology on climate science as well as with other research organisations here and abroad. Some of these programs are described on this CSIRO web page (archived version).

I don't know to what extent this latest move to block research is gamesmanship between the Turnbull government, Christopher Pyne and CSIRO management. Nor do I know what will be the outcome. What I do think is that we should be investing more heavily in climate-related research, not getting out of it.

Below are a couple of the more egregious paragraphs from the email from Dr Larry Marshall, CSIRO's new CEO from Silicon Valley. The SMH article has a link to that email.
CSIRO pioneered climate research, the same way we saved the cotton and wool industries for our nation. 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?
Larry Marshall comes across as an ignorant ning nong when it comes to climate. Climate models are not merely to "prove" climate change. They help us understand it. In particular, as the computers that run models become more powerful, we have greater insight into what we can expect from climate change at the local level around Australia. This knowledge is going to become more critical, not less, as time goes by. I certainly hope that he's not suggesting that CSIRO is dismantling its climate models.

Then there's this, talking about Oceans and Atmosphere, and Land & Water units of the CSIRO. I've archived some CSIRO web pages, because if the razor gang has its way, they might not exist much longer (see here and here and here):
There will be reductions in headcount in Data61, Oceans & Atmosphere, Land & Water and Manufacturing... 
Which followed, some paras after this:
The Great Barrier Reef is at risk, and clearly we need to enhance our nation’s capability to restore marine ecosystems. We will grow our capability in autonomous marine platforms to make a step change in our management of the oceans, climate adaptation, climate interventions (geo-engineering), emergency response to extreme events, understanding of cumulative impacts of Blue Economy developments, our world leading water management capability, genomics and remote sensing methods for fisheries.
How are we going to enhance our nation's capability to manage marine ecosystems if we gut the Oceans and Atmosphere units? Surely we should be working to avoid having to implement geo-engineering, not giving up on mitigation at this stage.

From the WUWT comments

Eric Worrall at WUWT picked up this story (archived here). Needless to say the deniers at WUWT are delighted. They would like to stop all climate-related research, while they sit back and gloat in disastrous floods, dreadful droughts, terrible wildfire and the demise of Australia's agricultural sector. In fact they'd like to stop any research that was geared toward understanding the environment in which we live. Deniers are scientific illiterati who extol and thrive on ignorance.

charles nelson
February 3, 2016 at 7:25 pm
About ‘bloody’ time!

February 3, 2016 at 8:00 pm
This make sence. Since the science is settled, what’s to study?

markl demonstrates the usual conspiracy ideation:
February 3, 2016 at 7:31 pm
Can’t say this is bad news. Maybe it will be cause for some to become whistle blowers in retribution. 
Leonard Lane is another WUWT conspiracy theorist:
February 3, 2016 at 11:16 pm
Great thought markl. We sure could use a few dozen or more whistleblowers showing how and why the adjustments and homogenizations were done–good case for some legal action against some of the national climate data manglers and conspirators. 

William isn't satisfied with stopping climate research at CSIRO, he wants to shut down Australia's weather office too:
February 3, 2016 at 10:52 pm
Now they can start on the BOM?
Can’t wait.


  1. As usual you have described the situation with a clarity I can never attain.

    I worked for CSIRO in its golden years from 1974 to 2005.

    We had a news crew in our lab and after all the filming for the latest 'breakthrough'. The female director asked me to walk into the lab and sit down and say what my motivations were for working for CSIRO.

    After a five minute unscripted little rave she said 'cut'.

    She asked me if I was a trained actor. I was not.

    She then said an uninterrupted logical flow of ideas and passions for more than five minutes must be scripted.

    I told her this is why I do this!

    It was shown to the Chief at a head of program meeting and he demanded it be erased. He did not like me. The rest of the program leaders were too pathetic to raise their eyebrows.

    I have seen mere accountants following our support staff to prove how much work they did. These cretins were on $300k trying to eliminate $50k jobs.

    I was asked by a young fellow with a mobile phone in 2000 whether I was jealous of his generation and 'their' technology. My answer was 'my son we invented it!'


    1. Yeah, Marshall is a complete idiot but a lot of the blame from the Oceans and Atmopsheres side has to go to to the head Ken Lee. How Marshall can make some of the ignorant statements he has given that Lee is advising him is astonishing. Lee has completely stitched up the climate guys.

      It sounds like you had interactions with the "communications head" aka The Tobacco Ladÿ, Bert. I forget her name but it was definitely one of the low points for CSIRO.

      R the Anon.'

    2. I caught this on PM yesterday evening:


      Marshall is completely the wrong person to be heading a scientific organisation: it is not a tech start-up, and should in no way be remotely treated as such.

      This is simply a part of an overall ploy by the conservatives to put ideology to the fore, whether it is religious, business, gender, or racial. In this case it has to do with how science challenges their world views.

      Marshall was obliviously ironic with his "young blood" approach, as if it will be the wind under the sails of a new Apollo age. The effect will be quite the opposite: Australia will lose its best scientific minds and technical skills, its insitutional knowledge, and it will languish for generations behind most of the industrialised world when it comes to science, engineering, and technology. Oh, a few well-placed businesses will benefit from having their political mates grease the wheels for their pet enterprises, but there will be little cutting edge enterprise to put Australia front and centre in the field where is has formerly had natural advantages.

      As an example, our country could once have been a world leader in the renewable energy sector, the frontier of the 21st century. Now we're somewhere toward the back half of the pack, and with this gutting we'll be reduce practicvally to the level of buying candles from New Guinea...

      The worst thing about this is that this is the legacy of the "Liberal" National coalition, and especially of the Howard/Abbott 1950s mentality, and the average Joe Public will never grok this. At this rate we'll regress back to being a penal colony for Britain again in another hundred years...

      And nary a whimper.

    3. Finally some attention in the media. Nathan Bindoff gives Larry Marshall a serve in the quiet and sober way that characterises Nathan's gentlemanly manner:


      Nathan notes the gap that Marshall's gutting will leave in Australian climate research, and why it will be a gap from a structural perspective. He even notes that Marshall's interest is entrepeneurial commercialisation, which is at odds with the necessary and completely separate need for fundamental science - as is CSIRO's traditional mandate.

      There's been a lot of unbelieving chatter in the corridors, offices and laboratories of climatologists. I fervently hope that the Australian public quickly comes to realise how profoundly serious and ideologically hamfisted a travesty is this cynical move of Marshall's (and by extension of the rabidly conservative LNP).

    4. I plan to write more on this soon, Bernard, but won't be able to for a couple of days. What's need is a strong, coordinated pushback. From what I've learnt about Larry Marshall he has neither the background, experience or outlook to lead the CSIRO. He's a quick buck venture capitalist from Silicon Valley who has backed failed ventures. Not the sort of person who should be leading or Australia's flagship R&D institution. He's planning to demolish decades of climate and ocean science in one fell swoop, just when we need to be gearing it up, not tearing it down.

      (If you want to see how he views himself, just look at his corporate mugshots. If you want to see how scientists view him, read what is being written in Bernards link, and at The Conversation and elsewhere.)

    5. I look forward to your post Sou.

      The link to one of the Conversation pieces can be found in a bunch I posted at Tamino’s:


      On the issue of Marshall’s competence, and as others above and elsewhere have already noted, he is a crackpot whose agenda when he was given the job as CEO included having the CSIRO investigate water divining as a potential avenue of commercial “innovation”. I remember at the time that he landed the gig noting that he would be bad for CSIRO and for Australian science, but even my pessimistic predictions turned out to be optimistic…

      The repeal of the carbon price, the abolition of the Climate Commission, the attempts to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the attempt to keep climate change off the G20 discussion table, the repeated attacks on the CSIRO, the attempts to challenge computer modelling of climate, similar attempts to discredit the Bureau of Meteorology, the tepid carbon emissions target - heck, there is so much more that the LNP did or tried to do even in just their first year of office - when it’s taken in its entirety, it’s plain to see that this rabidly and conservatively ideological government wants nothing more than to remove from the Australian landscape any and all existence of climatological and environmental sciences, and the policy issues that derive there from.

      Australians, and indeed the rest of the world, should not be taking this quietly.

  2. Sou,

    I don't know to what extent this latest move to block research is gamesmanship between the Turnbull government, Christopher Pyne and CSIRO management. Nor do I know what will be the outcome. What I do think is that we should be investing more heavily in climate-related research, not getting out of it.

    From halfway across the planet this smells like gamesmanship to me.

    How are we going to enhance our nation's capability to manage marine ecosystems if we gut the Oceans and Atmosphere units? Surely we should be working to avoid having to implement geo-engineering, not giving up on mitigation at this stage.

    We know what is required to stop AGW, no further climate research will help us better understand that. Mitigation is easy, just stop burning fossil fuels. Replacing fossil fuels is the hard part. We need to do more climate research because thus far we've failed to implement the replacements in more than token fashion. That light at the end of the tunnel ... isn't the end of the tunnel.

    My opinion: Dr Marshall is being paid to make it look like CSIRO is being pragmatic and proactive about adaptation while actually doing less about much of anything. "Our climate models are among the best in the world and our measurements honed those models to prove global climate change", is nothing more than a transparent sugar-coating over one double-whammy of a bitter pill.

  3. Dr Marshall is just like a Chief we used to have in our division.

    This new chief called Richard Head had the nerve to say to our assembled staff that he wants to see a medical problem solved in eighteen months. From problem to white powder in a jar was easy!

    He was a total idiot!


    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. When I started work in a big UK company my first supervisor told me: "just remember the scum always floats to the top".

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. So let me understand; they are going to stop researching how the climate works while starting on geo-engineering?

    I'm trying to imagine implementing a significant geo-engineering program to reverse climate change while knowing no more than we do as I type. I'm succeeding in imagining only complete disaster, following which the numpties will point the fingers at the laid-off scientists who might have helped understand what we were doing and cry "hubris!"

    1. The same for adaptation. You need to understand local changes in weather variability and extremes for that. We are sure global warming is real, but that does not mean we are already good at the feats necessary for adaption. If you need to adapt to any possible change because you have no clue what will happen, adaptation will be very, very expensive. A lot more expensive than a bunch of CSIRO researchers.

    2. I've tried to get people to understand the problem with adaptation so many times...it's an uphill battle.

      As Victor says, we need to know what we should adapt to. That's a question you need to solve first, and if there is one area where climate science still has a major problem, it is regional forecasts!

      Adaptation will thus be a reaction to things that have already happened...and that reaction may well be wrong for what the future brings.

    3. I have been wanting to write about the above argument for a long time. It is absurd how easy some people think adaptation will be or at least pretend to be. It is impossible to know whether people believe the nonsense they sprout.

      Malcolm Turnbull, how should Australia adapt to climate change without science?

  5. So the powers that be have gone from its not happening, through its not worth bothering preventing, to we must adapt?

    Where's the bit where the people who prevented us stopping CC happening get punished for their part in a crime of unimaginable proportions?

    Perhaps there is a good side to this. If they study what adaption is required they can figure out how much its going to cost. Then the lawyers can send out the bills to the people who put us on this path.

  6. So then, the climate question has been answered and the Australian government now has all the information it needs?

    In that case, I look forward to today's announcement that Adani's proposed Carmichael coal mine megaproject will not be granted a license to proceed, that Australian thermal coal producers will begin an orderly winding down of their activities, and that Australia intends to make solar power the keystone of its energy supply in coming years.

    Or have I somehow misunderstood?

    1. I knew that coal mines and projects were on shaky ground world-wide, but I hadn't expected quite this degree of serendipity...

      Adani freezes investment in Carmichael mine until world coal price recovers

      Briefings spark speculation company might abandon plans for mine altogether amid move into solar projects worth US$16bn

    2. This whole thing is payback because they haven't saved the thermal coal industry like Greg Hunt promised, with viable CCS technology. Is the govt's twisted logic "With adaptation strategies, you don't need to mitigation"?.

    3. It certainly sounds like it, based on this bit from the Larry Marshall email:

      "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?"

      If that's correct, it will be morbidly fascinating to learn how they propose to adapt to sea-level rise and to ocean acidification (among other changes.)

    4. ???????
      Re. Carmichael link by Magma.
      But the argument was it was
      needed for poverty reduction.
      And surely the lower the price the better.

      Im guessing that argument was wrong

  7. You are going to sell the coal.

  8. We probably have enough high level projections to take action. We should plan for sea level rise within a fairly wide uncertainty interval. Australia should prepare for more forest fires. The reef will be under stress from acidificaiton. Etc. Preparing for the worst case will be more expensive when uncertainty is high, but at some point you need to take action.

  9. Predictably enough Curry has now joined in the gloating.

    (No link. People know where to find that car crash if they want to gawk.)

  10. Arthur Sinodinos' comment was precious:

    "Any suggestion that this was a result of changes to the CSIRO budget is incorrect, and it's not the role of the Prime Minister or the Minister for Science to sign off on staffing changes of an independent agency."

    No, of course it's not the government's doing... after all, they didn't replace Megan Clark with one of their own particular brand of ideologues, complete with particular directives, did they?

    1. What would Sinodinos know? He had no idea what was going on at Australian Water Holdings after all...

  11. OT: Sheldon Walker left a comment here recently in which he compared the linear trend in warming to the change in global temperature in the past year.

    He has now turned that into a post at WUWT claiming that El Niño was 20 times larger than global warming in 2015. His math is a little more sophisticated than in his comment here, but his conclusion is still pointless. He even links to articles on carbonbrief.org which explain why he is missing the point, but he apparently doesn't understand them.

    I'm not sure whether the WUWT article merits a full post here, but I wanted to call attention to its connection to the comments here.

  12. I would like to know what Larry Marshalls track record was in his so called stellar career in venture capitalism in Silicon Valley.
    Why is he bothering to come back to Australia to head CSIRO and systematically destroy it to fall inline with denier dogma.

    Does anyone know? Bert

    1. I wondered exactly the same thing, but as a private equity company Southern Cross Ventures had no requirement to publicly report its financial results or even its organization structure.

  13. There is something seriously wrong here


    If as the writer says, that that the Aus govmt is hanging on every word of Judith Curry, not much one can do about it.

    I have always known that Curry's Climate Etc blog site is completely infested with Aussie AGW-denier commenters.

    Curry usually posts later in the evening, so that when American readers wake up, all they see are comments form the usual suspects from Australia.

    Why is that and how did it start? Was it intentional on Curry's part to attract Aussies? Is it because Curry's husband Peter Webster is Australian and there is that connection?

    1. Unfortunately that article is paywalled. Could you copy the relevant passage(s) here?

    2. Disregard the previous. I found a work-around, paywalls sometimes being inconsistent.

      However I disagree with your interpretation of the article. Columnist John Ross chose to lead off the article with Curry's reaction (which I earlier termed as 'gloating' here) and an Australian research I'm not familiar with. Here are relevant excerpts from the article (under fair use provision).

      Climate scientists and agencies around the world will follow CSIRO’s lead in redirecting their research from modelling, according to outspoken US climat­ologist Judith Curry.

      Professor Curry said climate modelling had reached the point of “diminishing returns”, triggering an inevitable redirection of funding from science towards policy.

      “Now that the UN’s community of nations has accepted consensus climate science to drive international energy and carbon policy, what is the point of heavy government funding of climate research, particularly global ­climate modelling?’’ she said.

      Professor Curry’s comments, posted in her blog Climate Etc, were triggered by the CSIRO’s decision to redirect some of its climate measuring activities towards ­adaptation and mitigation.
      “One has to wonder whether the health of climate science in Australia would be better if (CSIRO) hadn’t bothered with global climate modelling and playing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change games, but rather focused on local ­climate issues and the climate ­dynamics of the southern hemisphere,” she said.

      Peter Tangney, a lecturer in science policy and communication at Adelaide’s Flinders University, said climate science had proven “largely unhelpful” in informing policy makers because the models were too broadscale.

      “An awful lot of adaptation science can be done without climate change models. At this point in the game, those models are less helpful than other scientific ­research,’’ he said.

    3. Sorry for the late posting, Magma. Google blogger played up again.

  14. Australia will burn and the people aren't allowed to know why.

  15. Holy World Beyond Parody! Greg Hunt awarded 'Best Minister in the World' (seriously) at the World Government Summit (seriously) for his efforts in reducing carbon emissions! Seriously. You really, really, really could not *ever* hope to make it up.

    Dear World Government Summit; congratulations on inaugurating your credibility at precisely *zero*.

    Next thing you know, they'll be making Philip Ruddock a Human Rights Commissioner! Wait; hang on...

  16. Another comment on the Marshall plan to excoriate Australian climate science in order to pursue his conservative business strategy at the cost of fundamental research:


    Make no mistake people, this is a deliberate plan to scuttle climate (change) research in Australia. It's nothing more than a last-ditch attempt to preserve the fossil fuel industry in this country.

    In another 5-10 years, when the pressure of global warming is even more apparent and the world is scrambling with greater urgency to do something about it, there will surely be a move to reinstitute the CSIRO's capacity to provide the understanding that its current climatological research generates. There will be years of lost data though, and years of holes in the advice informing the Australian and international response to the biggest unfolding disaster that humans have ever visited on themselves, and it will boil down to the (ir)responsibility of Larry Marshall and his LNP overseers acting on the behalf of coal interests in Australia.

    Put this into perspective. The fossil fuel industry is subsidised in Australia to the tune of 4 $billion annually. In 2011 the Australian coal export(that is, exclusive of domestic sales) industry generated a $47 billion profit.

    Last year the CSIRO's total budget (that is, across all areas of activity), was $1.29 billion This was shared amongst nine flagship units within the organisation, of which two are 'Oceans and Atmosphere' and 'Land and Water'. These two, slated for gutting by Marshall, would between them garner just several hundred million dollars annually, which is around a tenth of the annual fossil fuel subsidy and on the order of one one hundredth (or less…) the annual profit of the Australian fossil fuel industry.

    This is peanuts in the greater scheme of things, but given the implication of the climate research of CSIRO, the consequences for the fossil fuel businesses of Australia are much greater in dollar terms - in this light one can see why the government believes that we can't afford this critical research.

    1. It's hitting the news all over the world. I even saw it in a Shanghai paper.

      I still am wanting to do a follow up article, but it won't be for a little while yet.

    2. Sou.

      I wonder if the new head was just testing the waters, if he doesn't get a response he likes he might back-peddle?

      I have noticed over the years that some heads act more like politicians than administrators.

    3. One can only hope, Harry. I doubt it though, because Marshall seems to have such a number of bees in his bonnet that technically it's probably a hive.

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.


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