The link below is to an article that reports on the discovery of a fluorescent frog in Argentina.
The Climate Institute, which was among the first Australian NGOs to focus solely on climate change, is to shut down at the end of June after 12 years.
It was born into an era when politicians and voters were finally waking up to the importance of climate policy. But now, its self-described “centrist, pragmatic advocacy” has run out of financial backing.
It’s easy to forget, given the political theatrics we’ve witnessed over the past decade, just how little attention was being paid to climate policy before the explosion of concern in late 2006. Life was bleak for environmental groups under the four Howard governments from 1996 to 2007, with the partial and controversial exception of WWF.
Climate change was simply not an issue that had traction with the federal government, and the business community had fought itself to a standstill on the topic of whether Australia should ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which John Howard resisted to the end.
Bob Carr, the then premier of New South Wales, had been trying to get carbon trading onto state and federal agendas with limited success.
By 2004 attitudes were shifting, not least because of the ongoing Millennium Drought. In a 2015 interview Clive Hamilton, a climate policy academic and inaugural board chair of the Climate Institute, noted:
In the early 2000s when the environment groups started to get serious about climate change, they adopted their standard tactics, which had run out of steam. The problem for environmentalism in Australia, as well as internationally, is that they had this glorious period of the 1980s and ‘90s, and then they became institutionalised; their tactics became stale. It wasn’t their fault – it’s just the world changed.
Hamilton explained that in 2005, Mark Wootton, director of the Poola Foundation, approached him saying that he had A$5 million and wanted to spend it on something that would “cut through” the stagnant climate change debate. Hamilton thought about it and proposed the Climate Institute, which he put together over the ensuing months. After chairing the board for its first year Hamilton returned to his duties at the Australia Institute.
Launching a tour of rural Australia the following year, Wootton told journalists:
People have to see there is a solution, that there is a way out… It’s about people moving on and not feeling that sense of despair, which I’ve genuinely felt, and that’s why we set this up.
The institute opened its doors in October 2005 and was soon in the headlines. Howard attacked Carr, declaring himself “amazed a former Labor premier should advocate that we should sign up to something that would export the jobs of Australian workers”.
A month later, the Climate Institute returned fire with an attack on the Howard government’s Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, widely interpreted as a way for polluting nations to dodge Kyoto.
This pattern of well-timed reports and timely rebuttals has continued over the past 12 years. During this time the Climate Institute has challenged successive governments to do more, to create stronger policy and a more predictable investment environment – something that is sorely lacking to this day.
The institute’s critics will claim it never escaped the neoliberal paradigm – the idea that the market can and will deliver as long as the right policy levers are pulled at the right time. In fairness, though, it never pledged to transcend free-market economics anyway, although it also tried along the way to expand the argument to include moral (and religious) values.
In the reporting on the institute’s demise, its main claims to fame are listed as helping to expand the renewable energy target in 2008, saving the Climate Change Authority from Tony Abbott’s axe in 2014, and building bipartisan support for Australia to ratify the Paris climate agreement in 2016.
But there was much else that the Climate Institute worked on, which is in danger of being forgotten.
It toured rural Australia to listen to farmers’ concerns.
It tried to signal to politicians that voters cared. For example, before the “first climate change election” in November 2007, it commissioned a poll of 877 voters in nine key marginal electorates. It found that 73% of voters thought climate change would have either a strong or a very strong influence on their vote at the election, an increase from 62% in August.
It also played a part in stitching together what political scientists call “advocacy coalitions”. One notable example was its help in producing the Common belief: Australia’s faith communities on climate change report, released in December 2006 with input from 16 Australian communities including Aboriginal Australians, Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, Evangelicals, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and other denominations.
Why it died and what next?
The institute’s outgoing chief executive, John Connor, told Reneweconomy that the decision ultimately comes down to funding:
We haven’t been able to plug the [funding] gap. Centrist, pragmatic advocacy is not sexy for many people who want to fund the fighters or pour funds into new technology.
As such, the Climate Institute is another victim of the policy paralysis that has exasperated and bewildered commentators.
It is indeed hard to justify the funding of calm, measured policy advice when the mere mention of the most economically tame of notions – an emissions intensity scheme – causes panic and retreat in the federal government.
Climatologist and Climate Council member Will Steffen, interviewed on the ABC, suggested that over the past two or three years many organisations have begun to take climate change on board, and so the institute’s unique role was lessened.
But one piece of the furniture that urgently needs saving is the institute’s Climate of the Nation, the longest trend survey of the attitudes of Australians to climate change and its solutions. Hopefully another organisation (I’m looking at you, Australian Conservation Foundation) will pick this up.
The staff of the Climate Institute will hopefully find new roles within the now smaller ecosystem of environmental policy advice. With the impacts that the institute and others were warning about in 2005 arriving with depressing predictability, Australia desperately needs three things.
It needs community energy programs. It needs effective opposition to plans for yet more fossil fuel extraction. And most relevantly here, it needs a cacophony of well-informed and relentless voices advocating for the most useful policies to get the carbon out of our economy.
There’s a fourth thing, actually: luck. From here on we are going to need an enormous (and undeserved) amount of luck if the lost years of ignoring sensible climate policy advice are not to come back and haunt us.
Our backyards are home to many scuttling, slithering and scampering creatures, which are often the subject of fascination. But they can also play a key role in tracking the changes in the world around us – for science.
Science is a vital tool to monitor the world, but scientists can’t do it all alone. Ordinary citizens can help by getting involved in a citizen science project.
People are spending weekends with their friends and families learning more about their backyards and gathering data that would otherwise be inaccessible to scientists.
They’re helping to manage invasive species, tree death, diseases and animal health. And it’s a way to take responsibility for the environment, urban areas, farmland and the creatures that visit our gardens.
Here are just a few ways you can get involved too.
Birds in backyards
Bird feeders and water dispensers are a great way to monitor human interactions with wildlife. If you have them, you can see the effect they have on your garden. You may even get a visit from a threatened species.
This project, created by researchers at Deakin and Griffith universities, aims to find out how people influence bird numbers and species diversity, and to measure the impact of food and water provisions. The organisers are looking for volunteers.
Additionally, BirdLife Australia’s Birds in Backyards is a project that collects reports of backyard bird sightings for analysis through the data-collection site Birdata. The site also contains resources on bird-friendly gardening, a bird finder tool (for identifying that pesky bird), forums and events.
You may have heard the story of the bell miner (Manorina melanophrys), its feeding habits, aggressive behaviour and its association with a plant sickness known as eucalypt dieback.
The Bell Miner Colony Project, which I run, looks at the bell miners’ habitat choice and movements, and investigates whether they really cause dieback. The project, developed two years ago, looks to answer questions about bell miner distribution across the east coast of Australia, and helps with managing forests and gardens.
Most people either love or hate bell miners. I personally love them, so I want to find out what they are really doing on a species scale.
One colony lives in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens and another in the Melbourne Zoo, so they are easy to see and visit. They make a distinctive “tink” call throughout the day, which can be used to monitor density. If you have seen any, please report them.
If your area seems to be riddled with pests, Feral Scan is a website for surveying and identifying them. The data is compiled and plotted on a map to create a scanner for previous sightings.
Another website for reporting biodiversity sightings is the Atlas of Living Australia. Any species seen in your backyard or during your travels can be added to the searchable database of sightings from across the nation.
WomSAT maps and record wombats and wombat burrow locations. So if you’ve seen wombats running around, let them know.
There is also a call for volunteers in the ACT to help treat wombats with mange infections. Mange is a skin disease caused by mites, which leaves wombats itching until they scab. Volunteers help by applying treatments outside wombat burrows and monitoring the burrows with cameras.
For those of you who are not into animals, there is a project for detecting new and emerging weeds in Queensland.
Queensland Herbarium teaches weed identification and mapping skills so that you can send your weed specimens and accompanying data to them.
This helps scientists determine where weeds are, how they spread and the best process for large-scale management.