Earth seeks new management

By Adi

Last Saturday, Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott emphatically declared “Australia is under new management”. Since then, he has been briefed by a multitude of senior bureaucrats in Canberra. Apart from getting acquainted with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, our new PM has met the heads of Treasury and Finance, and the chiefs of the Defence Force and Department of Foreign Affairs. But what about the head of Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education? It seems like the PM-designate hasn’t yet sought* a briefing from this super-department… and that disturbs me. So is there anything we can do about it?

Now that the election distraction is over, Australian policy makers seem to have resumed their business as usual stance on climate change policy. I suspect that there was some unannounced, yet bipartisan, policy that upon election, the policy makers will dig their heads into other matters – for example, who their representative leader or ambassador ought to be – and hope that the climate change issue will vanish into thin air. It is possible our politicians will revisit the issue when the new senate is in place in July next year, but there is a good chance that by that time at least one of the major parties will be looking for another leader.

Needless to say, I have been de-inspired by the behaviour of our policy makers. In fact, I am giving up on this generation of politicians. The planet deserves a new management team… and it needs it now. Don’t worry, my plan is not to take over the world or run for office. The plan is to have better informed citizens because that is where our next generation of elected representatives and bureaucrats will come from.

I live at a university residence at ANU and have the ability to add content to display screens which are seen by 500 undergraduate students every morning, every evening and every night. You see, these screens are strategically placed in the lift lobby on each floor and it’s a perfect way to engage students into the discussion about climate change related issues.

As a reader of this blog,  you probably don’t need to be convinced about the impact of climate change or the dangers posed by in-action on this matter by society. However, communication of climate change science to non-scientists in the community has been mediocre at best and many in our society lack a basic understanding of the causes and impact of climate change. I recently came across a couple of infographics about climate change and I hope to put them up on the display screens at my residence.

See the How many Gigatons of CO2 infographic below or check out other examples, When Sea Levels Attack and Global Warming: Skeptics vs. Scientists.

How many gigatons of CO2?

How many gigatons of CO2?

I am on the look out for more visually appealing and scientifically accurate content for the display screens. If you are aware of any plots in the literature which are relatively easy to comprehend or know of other examples of good infographics backed up with data from reputable scientists or organisations, please do get in touch with me. If we manage to get a collection of plots and infographics, we might print and frame the collection as a house-warming present for our new PM :-)

Despite being a PhD student at the Research School of Earth Sciences, I am not an expert on climate change science and unable to evaluate the effectiveness of the different ways to tackle this pressing issue. So just imagine how little a law, economics, or arts student will know about climate change – and like it or not, these are folks who will form Earth’s future management. The time for us to help them better understand the issues they will likely be dealing with, is now.

 

* I could be wrong but at least Google (i.e. the media) does not know about a meeting since the election between the new PM or his close staff and the department’s secretary or senior staff dealing with science, innovation or climate change. I am happy to be corrected ;-) [return to the top]

9 responses to “Earth seeks new management

  1. I posted recently about a website based in Canberra at solarnick.info, which shows live feeds from around Canberra on the amount of solar power being produced, relative to the day’s weather. I think it’s a really interesting to be able to see that solar power is actually doing something in Canberra. I’d recommend linking to that website!

    • Thanks Claire. Yes, http://solarnick.info/ACT_Solar_Map is an interesting idea and I should be able to include the webpage within the rotating slideshow. However, it seems to be offline at present because the last data was from 4th September so I am going to find out when I might come back online.

      BTW: Nick’s last post (http://is.gd/alfpz8) mentions the ANU Green Sense display (http://is.gd/anugrnsns) that used to be displayed at Lena Karmel Lodge. These are in fact the same screens we will be using… Although an interesting idea, the ANU Green Sense displays were unsuccessful at engaging the students because they showed the same thing 24/7 and residents just got bored with it and ignored it. It also seems that these screens did not change an individual’s behaviour because the data displayed was per floor. In this low resolution, we could see what ~100 residents on the floor were using their energy on but could not identify what action if any an individual could do to reduce consumption. As Nick pointed out, it’s little use building an energy efficient property with technologies that occupants do not understand and therefore cannot utilise as end users. I hope that by increasing awareness of climate change within our cohort, we will be able to gradually start the discussion about the technologies in the Lena Karmel Lodge building that an individual resident could use to be more environmentally friendly.

  2. Great post, Adi. It is difficult to convey the results of earth science studies to the general public, mainly because scientists are aware of the uncertainties in models and projections, but most people do not understand the concepts. For instance, if I made the claim that I do not believe climate models used in projections are sensitive enough to be able to accurately model the short term effects of an impulse event like the sudden increase in atmospheric CO2, there will be a large segment of the population who will interpret this as meaning that we do not know what the effects will be. People will continue to trust their anecdotal accounts of past weather, because that is something tangible for them.

    Regardless of whether or not the incoming government believes in the science behind climate change, I imagine cuts will be happening. They are playing to their political base that is sceptical of the motivations behind scientists. To gain insight on what the Coalition might do, I think it is instructive to see what happened in my native Canada after the Conservatives gained power. Before becoming prime minister, Stephen Harper once called the Kyoto Protocol a “socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations”, and said that the science of climate change was “tentative and contradictory” (http://www.thestar.com/news/2007/01/30/harper_letter_called_kyoto_socialist_scheme.html). Since 2007, the government has prevented civil servants involved in environmental and climate sciences from speaking from the media, shut down environmental monitoring stations in the north (some which have been in continuous operation for decades), attempted to shut down the world renowned Experimental Lakes facility, and essentially pulled out of their Montreal Protocol obligations. These are just a few examples.

    When the Coalition put out a statement last week saying they will look into cutting ARC funding of “increasingly ridiculous research grants”, I interpret this as being synonymous with “research we do not agree with, such as climate and environmental research”. Alas, the only way for them to change their minds would be to change the minds of their voting base, which is indeed a large problem, as you pointed out. There is no simple solution to winning the public relations battle.

    • Pleased to know you liked it Evan. Yes, we can only discuss and debate the issues properly if all parties can communicate their views based on their expertise to each other properly. Policy makers must also consider others aspect of the issue such as the economics and societal impact, which are very difficult to quantify in the context of the politics of the day (they are humans after all!). However, it would serve their interests and those of the community if they could be better informed about the latest expert opinions of climate change or indeed any matter be it defence, health, economy etc.

      You raise a good point about uncertainties and how we as scientists deal with it compared to the reaction non-scientists have to the concept of uncertainty. You will be pleased to know that people like Brian Schmidt (at ANU) and Steven Chu (in the US) are using their Nobel Laureate status to guide the school curriculums to help educate kids at school about uncertainties.

      As for what our new government does or does not do in its first term, only time will tell. However, the impression I have from the debate is at both major parties are committed to a 5% reduction in CO2 emissions. However, looking at the infographic in the blog post, I am not sure how far that will go avert the “tipping point” and “nightmare” scenarios. Perhaps some one at the ANU Climate Change or the ANY Energy Change institutes can provide that perspective.

  3. I sought to find out what the asterisk referred to, but in vain.

    • Hi Mark, Thanks for pointing out that the asterisk did not lead anywhere. I was trying to have it link to a pop-up note which didn’t work out but I have updated the post now with a note at the end of the post. Apologies.

  4. I am hoping that the IPCC AR5 report (working group 1) coming out at the end of this month will help to get public and political momentum going again on the climate change problem, despite the head-in-the-sand stance of the abbott government.

    If you are looking for some good images the climate commission has done a good job at producing clear, easy to follow ones. http://climatecommission.gov.au/resources/images/

    I especially like this one: http://climatecommission.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/Overspend-the-carbon-budget.jpg

    • Many thanks Nerilie for the link to the Climate Commission website. It’s a wonderful resource and I hope to use some of their images. The NASA Climate website also has a collection of good graphics http://climate.nasa.gov/climate_resource_center

      Eagerly look forward to the IPCC’s update. I hope you and or our other bloggers will be able to present its highlights on this blog.

  5. The world on-mass*, behaves like the spoiled billionaire brat, with the sense of entitlement to-boot.
    What do you mean I can’t have it? Turn on the tap, and I expect hot water, dammit. Trot down to the shop, and the latest electrowhiz useless gadget. Mine.
    Global warming means I can’t binge on whatever I feel like, however I like. Excuse Me? Who are these leftist tree hugging hair-shirts trying to fool? Fuelled by an economic system that assumes infinite growth, perpetual motion, and pumped by the Me, Me marketing industry. All lubricated by the distortions such as those from the Murdoch empire (viz, latest assaults on the IPCC).
    Deep Breath.
    Part of the problem is abstraction is difficult. There’s a chain of cause and effect that’s hard to grasp, where the evidence is based on trust. Trust that science and scientists are right. The worst ever coral bleaching event occurred a while back, in the Indian Ocean. That sounds bad, but that morning the sun was shining, I got out of my comfy bed, ate a hearty breakfast. Coral what?
    For all our smarts, and being the best educated people in history, we are hopelessly ignorant. Where did my breakfast come from? No idea. How does that phone work? No idea. Where will it go when I chuck it in the bin? Dunno, not my problem.
    By contrast, ask a primitive goat herder where their stuff came from. Over there. I made that. She made that.
    They know, but we don’t. This is another form of abstraction. Stuff is so complicated, and gets to us via such a circuitous route, it seems miraculous. Go to the shop, open the box, and there is thing, indistinguishable from magic (Arthur C Clark).
    It’s not surprising people are sceptical. They are not in control, and are fed by a system that is incomprehensible. Hell, I think I’m well informed, but I don’t understand it.
    Now here we are with a rusty new government that rates the importance of science somewhere below sport. They remind me of a caller to the radio is said with quivering voice**, ‘I wish the scientists would stop telling us all the bad news’. If we don’t know, it’s not happening.

    * the wealthy world, excluding OnCirculation readers and assorted others
    ** I made that up, might not have been quivering

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