Climate scientists and policymakers need to trust each other (but not too much)



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Trust is everything.
oneinchpunch/Shutterstock.com

Rebecca Colvin, Australian National University; Christopher Cvitanovic, University of Tasmania; Justine Lacey, CSIRO, and Mark Howden, Australian National University

At a time when the effects of climate change are accelerating and published science overwhelmingly supports the view that humans are responsible for the rate of change, powerful groups remain in denial across politics, the media, and industry. Now more than ever, we need scientists and policymakers to work together to create and implement effective policy which is informed by the most recent and reliable evidence.

We know that trust between scientists and policymakers is important in developing policy that is informed by scientific evidence. But how do you build this trust, and how do you make sure that it genuinely leads to positive outcomes for society?


Read more: Nature v technology: climate ‘belief’ is politics, not science


In response to these questions, our recent Perspective in Nature Climate Change explores the dynamics of trust at the interface of climate science and policy.

We suggest that while trust is an important component of the science-policy dynamic, there can be such a thing as “too much” trust between scientists and policymakers.

Understanding this dynamic is crucial if we are to deliver positive outcomes for science, policy, and the society that depends on their cooperation.

What happens when there is ‘too much’ trust?

Trust between climate scientists (researchers in a range of disciplines, institutions, and organisational settings) and policymakers (civil servants in government departments or agencies who shape climate policy) is useful because it enhances the flow of information between them. In a trusting relationship, we can expect to see a scientist explaining a new finding directly to a policymaker, or a policymaker describing future information needs to a scientist.

Together, this arrangement ideally gives us science-led policy, and policy-relevant science.

But as scholars of trust have warned, there is a point beyond which these positive benefits of trust can turn sour.

Think about a hypothetical situation in which a scientist and policy-maker come to trust each other deeply. What happens if one of them starts to become loose with the facts, or fails to adhere to professional standards? Is their trusting counterpart more, or less, likely to identify the poor behaviour and respond appropriately?

Over time, a trusting relationship may evolve into a self-perpetuating belief of trustworthiness based on the history of the relationship. This is where scientists and policymakers may find themselves in a situation of “too much” trust.

We know that science advances by consensus, and that this consensus is shaped by rigorous research and review, and intense debate and scrutiny. But what if (as in the hypothetical example described above) a policy-maker’s trust in an individual scientist means they bypass the consensus and instead depend on that one scientist for new information? What happens if that scientist is – intentionally or unintentionally – wrong?

More trust is not always best. ‘Too much’ trust can cause perverse outcomes at the science-policy interface.
Adapted from Stevens et al. (2015)

When you have “too much” trust, the benefits of trust can instead manifest as perverse outcomes, such as “blind faith” commitments between parties. In a situation like this, a policymaker may trust an individual scientist so much that they do not look for signs of misconduct, such as the misrepresentation of findings.

Favouritism and “capture” may mean that some policymakers provide information about future research support only to selected scientists, denying these opportunities to others. At the same time, scientists may promote only their own stream of research instead of outlining the range of perspectives in the field to the policymakers, narrowing the scope of what science enters the policy area.

“Cognitive lock-in” might result, where a policymaker sticks to a failing policy because they feel committed to the scientist who first recommended the course of action. For example, state-of-the-art climate forecasting tools are available in the Pacific but are reportedly underused. This is partly because the legacy of trusting relationships between scientists and policymakers in the region has led them to continue relying on less sophisticated tools.

“Too much” trust can also lead to overly burdensome obligations between scientists and policymakers. A scientist may come to hold unrealistically high expectations of the level of information a policymaker can share, or a policymaker may desire the production of research by an unfeasible deadline.

What’s the right way to trust?

With this awareness of the potentially negative outcomes of “too much” trust, should we abandon trust at the climate science-policy interface all together?

No. But we can – and should – develop, monitor, and manage trust with acknowledgement of how “too much” trust may lead to perverse outcomes for both scientists and policy-makers.

We should aim for a state of “optimal trust”, which enjoys the benefits of a trusting relationship while avoiding the pitfalls of taking too trusting an approach.

We propose five key strategies for managing trust at the climate science-policy interface.

  • Be explicit about expectations for trust in a climate science-policy relationship. Climate scientists and policy-makers should clarify protocols and expectations about behaviour through open discussion as early as possible within the relationship.

  • Transparency and accountability, especially when things go wrong, are critical to achieving and maintaining a state of optimal trust. When things do go wrong, trust repair can right the relationship.

  • Implement systems for monitoring trust, such as discussion groups within scientific and policy organisations and processes of peer review. Such approaches can help to identify the effects of “too much” trust – such as capture, cognitive lock-in, or unrealistically high expectations.

  • Manage staff churn in policy and scientific organisations. When scientists or policy-makers change role or institution, handing over the trusting relationships can help positive legacies and practices to carry on.

  • Use intermediaries such as knowledge brokers to facilitate the flow of information between science and policy. Such specialists can promote fairness and honesty at the science-policy interface, increasing the probability of maintaining ‘optimal trust’.


Read more: Is this the moment that climate politics and public opinion finally match up?


Embracing strategies such as these would be a positive step toward managing trust between scientists and policymakers, both in climate policy and beyond.

The ConversationIn this time of contested science and highly politicised policy agendas, all of us in science and policy have a responsibility to ensure we act ethically and appropriately to achieve positive outcomes for society.

Rebecca Colvin, Knowledge Exchange Specialist, Australian National University; Christopher Cvitanovic, Research Fellow, University of Tasmania; Justine Lacey, Senior Social Scientist, CSIRO, and Mark Howden, Director, Climate Change Institute, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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It’s 30 years since scientists first warned of climate threats to Australia



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The Barossa Valley in 1987 – the year that Australians (winemakers included) received their first formal warning of climate change.
Phillip Capper/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

Keen students of climate politics might recognise November 30 as the anniversary of the opening of the historic Paris climate summit two years ago. But you might not know that today also marks 30 years since Australian scientists first officially sounded the alarm over climate change, at a conference hailed as the dawn of the ongoing effort to forecast and monitor the future climate of our continent.

November 30, 1987, marked the start of the inaugural GREENHOUSE conference hosted by Monash University and attended by 260 delegates. The five-day meeting was convened as part of a new federal government plan in response to the burgeoning global awareness of the impending danger of global warming.

The conference’s convenor, the then CSIRO senior research scientist Graeme Pearman, had approached some 100 researchers in the months leading up to the conference. He gave them a scenario of likely climate change for Australia for the next 30 to 50 years, developed with his CSIRO colleague Barrie Pittock, and asked them to forecast the implications for agriculture, farming and other sectors.

As a result, the conference gave rise to a book called Greenhouse: Planning for Climate Change, which outlined rainfall changes, sea-level rise and other physical changes that are now, three decades on, all too familiar. As the contents page reveals, it also tackled impacts on society – everything from insurance to water planning, mosquito-borne diseases, and even ski fields.


Read more: After Bonn, 5 things to watch for in the coming year of global climate policy


Internationally, awareness of global warming had already been building for a couple of decades, and intensifying for a couple of years. While the ozone hole was hogging global headlines, a United Nations scientific meeting in Villach, Austria, in 1985 had issued a statement warning of the dangers posed by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Pearman wasn’t at that meeting, but he was familiar with the problem. As he wrote after the 1987 conference, the strength of the Villach statement was “hardly a surprise, as recent evidence had suggested more strongly than ever that climatic change is now probable on timescales of decades”.

Meanwhile, the Commission for the Future, founded by the then federal science minister Barry Jones, was seeking a cause célèbre. The Australian Academy of Science organised a dinner of scientists to suggest possible scientific candidates.

The commission’s chair, Phillip Adams, recalls that problems such as nuclear war, genetic modification, artificial intelligence, were all proposed. Finally, though:

…the last bloke to talk was right at the far end of the table. Very quiet gentleman… He said, ‘You’re all wrong – it’s the dial in my laboratory, and the laboratories of my colleagues around the world.’ He said, ‘Every day, we see the needle going up, because of what we call the greenhouse effect.‘

Summit success

The GREENHOUSE 87 conference was hailed as a great success, creating new scientific networks and momentum. It was what we academics like to call a “field-configuring event”.

British magazine New Scientist covered the conference, while the Australian media reported on Jones’s opening speech, the problems of sea-level rise, and warnings of floods, fire, cyclones and disease

The GREENHOUSE conferences have continued ever since. After a sporadic first couple of decades, the meetings have been held biennally around the country since 2005; the latest was in Hobart in 2015, as there wasn’t a 2017 edition.

What happened next?

The Greenhouse Project helped to spark and channel huge public interest in and concern about climate change in the late 1980s. But politicians fumbled their response, producing a weak National Greenhouse Response Strategy in 1992.

The Commission for the Future was privatised, the federal government declined to fund a follow-up to the Greenhouse Project, and a new campaign group called Greenhouse Action Australia could not sustain itself.

Meanwhile, the scientists kept doing what scientists do: observing, measuring, communicating, refining. Pittock produced many more books and articles. Pearman spoke to Paul Keating’s cabinet in 1994 while it briefly pondered the introduction of a carbon tax. He retired in 2004, having been reprimanded and asked to resign, ironically enough for speaking out about climate change.

As I’ve written previously on The Conversation, Australian policymakers have been well served by scientists, but have sadly taken little real notice. And lest all the blame be put onto the Coalition, let’s remember that one chief scientific adviser, Penny Sackett, quit mid-term in 2011, when Labor was in government. She has never said exactly why, but barely met Kevin Rudd and never met his successor Julia Gillard.

Our problem is not the scientists. It’s not the science. It’s the politics. And it’s not (just) the politicians, it’s the ability (or inability) of citizens’ groups to put the policymakers under sustained and irresistible pressure, to create the new institutions we need for the “looming global-scale failures” we face.

A South Australian coda

While researching this article, I stumbled across the following fact. Fourteen years and a day before the Greenhouse 87 conference had begun, Don Jessop, a Liberal senator for South Australia, made this statement in parliament:

It is quite apparent to world scientists that the silent pollutant, carbon dioxide, is increasing in the atmosphere and will cause us great concern in the future. Other pollutants from conventional fuels are proliferating other gases in the atmosphere, not the least of these being the sulphurous gases which will be causing emphysema and other such health problems if we persist with this type of energy source. Of course, I am putting a case for solar energy. Australia is a country that can well look forward to a very prosperous future if it concentrates on solar energy right now.

The ConversationThat was 44 years ago. No one can say we haven’t been warned.

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

More than 1,200 scientists urge rethink on Australia’s marine park plans


Jessica Meeuwig, University of Western Australia

The following is a statement from the Ocean Science Council of Australia, an internationally recognised independent group of university-based Australian marine researchers, and signed by 1,286 researchers from 45 countries and jurisdictions, in response to the federal government’s draft marine parks plans.


We, the undersigned scientists, are deeply concerned about the future of the Australian Marine Parks Network and the apparent abandoning of science-based policy by the Australian government.

On July 21, 2017, the Australian government released draft management plans that recommend how the Marine Parks Network should be managed. These plans are deeply flawed from a science perspective.

Of particular concern to scientists is the government’s proposal to significantly reduce high-level or “no-take” protection (Marine National Park Zone IUCN II), replacing it with partial protection (Habitat Protection Zone IUCN IV), the benefits of which are at best modest but more generally have been shown to be inadequate.


Read more: Australia’s new marine parks plan is a case of the emperor’s new clothes.


The 2012 expansion of Australia’s Marine Parks Network was a major step forward in the conservation of marine biodiversity, providing protection to habitats and ecological processes critical to marine life. However, there were flaws in the location of the parks and their planned protection levels, with barely 3% of the continental shelf, the area subject to greatest human use, afforded high-level protection status, and most of that of residual importance to biodiversity.

The government’s 2013 Review of the Australian Marine Parks Network had the potential to address these flaws and strengthen protection. However, the draft management plans have proposed severe reductions in high-level protection of almost 400,000 square kilometres – that is, 46% of the high-level protection in the marine parks established in 2012.

Commercial fishing would be allowed in 80% of the waters within the marine parks, including activities assessed by the government’s own risk assessments as incompatible with conservation. Recreational fishing would occur in 97% of Commonwealth waters up to 100km from the coast, ignoring the evidence documenting the negative impacts of recreational fishing on biodiversity outcomes.

Under the draft plans:

  • The Coral Sea Marine Park, which links the iconic Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to the waters of New Caledonia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (also under consideration for protection), has had its Marine National Park Zones (IUCN II) reduced in area by approximately 53% (see map below)

  • Six of the largest marine parks have had the area of their Marine National Park Zones IUCN II reduced by between 42% and 73%

  • Two marine parks have been entirely stripped of any high-level protection, leaving 16 of the 44 marine parks created in 2012 without any form of Marine National Park IUCN II protection.

Proposed Coral Sea Marine Park zoning, as recommended by independent review (left) and in the new draft plan (right), showing the proposed expansion of partial protection (yellow) vs full protection (green).
From http://www.environment.gov.au/marinereservesreview/reports and https://parksaustralia.gov.au/marine/management/draft-plans/

The replacement of high-level protection with partial protection is not supported by science. The government’s own economic analyses also indicate that such a reduction in protection offers little more than marginal economic benefits to a very small number of commercial fishery licence-holders.

Retrograde step

This retrograde step by Australia’s government is a matter of both national and international significance. Australia has been a world leader in marine conservation for decades, beginning with the establishment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in the 1970s and its expanded protection in 2004.

At a time when oceans are under increasing pressure from overexploitation, climate change, industrialisation, and plastics and other forms of pollution, building resilience through highly protected Marine National Park IUCN II Zones is well supported by decades of science. This research documents how high-level protection conserves biodiversity, enhances fisheries and assists ecosystem recovery, serving as essential reference areas against which areas that are subject to human activity can be compared to assess impact.

The establishment of a strong backbone of high-level protection within Marine National Park Zones throughout Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone would be a scientifically based contribution to the protection of intact marine ecosystems globally. Such protection is consistent with the move by many countries, including Chile, France, Kiribati, New Zealand, Russia, the UK and US to establish very large no-take marine reserves. In stark contrast, the implementation of the government’s draft management plans would see Australia become the first nation to retreat on ocean protection.

Australia’s oceans are a global asset, spanning tropical, temperate and Antarctic waters. They support six of the seven known species of marine turtles and more than half of the world’s whale and dolphin species. Australia’s oceans are home to more than 20% of the world’s fish species and are a hotspot of marine endemism. By properly protecting them, Australia will be supporting the maintenance of our global ocean heritage.

The finalisation of the Marine Parks Network remains a remarkable opportunity for the Australian government to strengthen the levels of Marine National Park Zone IUCN II protection and to do so on the back of strong evidence. In contrast, implementation of the government’s retrograde draft management plans undermines ocean resilience and would allow damaging activities to proceed in the absence of proof of impact, ignoring the fact that a lack of evidence does not mean a lack of impact. These draft plans deny the science-based evidence.

We encourage the Australian government to increase the number and area of Marine National Park IUCN II Zones, building on the large body of science that supports such decision-making. This means achieving a target of at least 30% of each marine habitat in these zones, which is supported by Australian and international marine scientists and affirmed by the 2014 World Parks Congress in Sydney and the IUCN Members Assembly at the 2016 World Conservation Congress in Hawaii.


The ConversationYou can read a fully referenced version of the science statement here, and see the list of signatories here.

Jessica Meeuwig, Professor & Director, Marine Futures Lab, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Drones help scientists check the health of Antarctic mosses, revealing climate change clues



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Mosses are sensitive to even minor changes in their living conditions.
Sharon Robinson, Author provided

Zbyněk Malenovský, University of Tasmania and Arko Lucieer, University of Tasmania

Drones are helping scientists check the health of Antarctic mosses, revealing clues on the pace of climate change.

The scientists say their method could be used for similar research in other harsh environments like desert or alpine regions.

Mosses are sensitive to even minor changes in their living conditions, and scientists traditionally tramped through difficult terrain to collect data on them.

Using the specially-designed drones is faster, kinder to the environment and delivers detailed images that satellite imagery cannot match.

Drones also allow to map much larger areas than previously possible, showing how the moss health responds to meltwater in real time.

The ConversationThese methods could be used for similar research in other harsh environments like desert or alpine regions.

Zbyněk Malenovský, Researcher in Remote Sensing of Vegetation, University of Tasmania and Arko Lucieer, Associate Professor in Remote Sensing, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia needs dozens more scientists to monitor climate properly, report says



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Predicting rainfall in the Murray-Darling Basin is a crucial job, the new report’s authors say.
Tim/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Michael Hopkin, The Conversation

Australia is falling short in its ability to monitor the climate, potentially leaving farmers and other groups unable to access crucial information about rainfall, droughts and floods, the Australian Academy of Science has warned.

A review of Australia’s climate science capability, released today, recommends that Australia needs to recruit an extra 77 full-time climate science staff over the next four years, on top of the current 420, to meet the demand for detailed weather and climate information.

Without these resources, Australia risks being unable to provide accurate information to those who need it, said UNSW oceanographer Trevor McDougall, who led the review.

That could include being unable to predict accurately the changes to rainfall patterns in farming regions such as the Murray-Darling Basin – with potentially serious consequences for farmers, Professor McDougall said.

Although the review says Australia is strong in some areas, such as studying extreme weather events, it identified several key shortcomings, particularly in climate modelling.

Australia is not keeping pace with efforts in the United States and Europe, which are developing fine-scale climate models covering their own regions.

“Other countries are not looking in detail at our country – we need to run those models ourselves,” Professor McDougall said.

“These requirements are brought into sharper focus when you consider that our country is potentially more exposed to the impacts of climate change than most developed nations.”

Julie Arblaster, an atmospheric scientist at Monash University and co-author of the review, said Australian climatologists do not have enough access to the supercomputing facilities needed to run advanced climate models. “We need to look at multiple models from all around the world, but at the moment there isn’t the funding available,” she said.

Former CSIRO climatologist Graeme Pearman said the lack of regional climate predictions could have real consequences for Australian communities.

“We are not in a position at this stage to be able to confidently anticipate the water resource issues within the [Murray-Darling] basin. This is an enormous economic issue for Australia; it’s the food basin of the country,” he said.

Coastal communities also need reliable, localised information to predict flooding risk, Dr Pearman said.

“It’s not something that you can use a global model to anticipate – you have to have detailed, high-resolution information about particular areas of the coastline,” he said.

Australia currently has 420 full-time equivalent positions in climate change science and monitoring, spread across CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Institute of Marine Science, Geoscience Australia, and universities.

Last year saw the launch of the CSIRO Climate Science Centre in Hobart, with a staff of 40. But the government has scaled back publicly funded climate research elsewhere, including cutting 75 jobs from CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere division as part of a wide-ranging program of layoffs.

Federal environment minister Josh Frydenberg said the government “continues to make a significant financial investment” in climate research, citing the new CSIRO centre in Hobart, as well as a range of other initiatives.

Frydenberg said the government has invested A$37 million in long-term climate science monitoring capability, A$23.9 million in a climate change hub in the National Environmental Science Program, and committed A$255 million to climate research as part of the Australian Antarctic Strategy.

The review sets out a range of options for implementing the suggested staffing increases, including giving overall responsibility to CSIRO or the Bureau of Meteorology, or creating an entirely new agency.

Professor McDougall said that the proposed four-year phase-in period would allow many of the roles to be filled by Australian researchers, rather than recruiting from overseas.

The Conversation“My guess is that we would be able to recruit more than half from inside Australia – we have quite a good crop of people who are early in their career. There are also Australians working overseas, waiting for their opportunity to come back.”

Michael Hopkin, Environment + Energy Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Scientists are accidentally helping poachers drive rare species to extinction



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The beautiful Chinese cave gecko, or Goniurosaurus luii, is highly prized by poachers.
Carola Jucknies

Benjamin Scheele, Australian National University and David Lindenmayer, Australian National University

If you open Google and start typing “Chinese cave gecko”, the text will auto-populate to “Chinese cave gecko for sale” – just US$150, with delivery. This extremely rare species is just one of an increasingly large number of animals being pushed to extinction in the wild by animal trafficking.

What’s shocking is that the illegal trade in Chinese cave geckoes began so soon after they were first scientifically described in the early 2000s.

It’s not an isolated case; poachers are trawling scientific papers for information on the location and habits of new, rare species.

As we argue in an essay published today in Science, scientists may have to rethink how much information we publicly publish. Ironically, the principles of open access and transparency have led to the creation of detailed online databases that pose a very real threat to endangered species.

We have personally experienced this, in our research on the endangered pink-tailed worm-lizard, a startling creature that resembles a snake. Biologists working in New South Wales are required to provide location data on all species they discover during scientific surveys to an online wildlife atlas.

But after we published our data, the landowners with whom we worked began to find trespassers on their properties. The interlopers had scoured online wildlife atlases. As well as putting animals at risk, this undermines vital long-term relationships between researchers and landowners.

The endangered pink-tailed worm-lizard (Aprasia parapulchella).
Author provided

The illegal trade in wildlife has exploded online. Several recently described species have been devastated by poaching almost immediately after appearing in the scientific literature. Particularly at risk are animals with small geographic ranges and specialised habitats, which can be most easily pinpointed.

Poaching isn’t the only problem that is exacerbated by unrestricted access to information on rare and endangered species. Overzealous wildlife enthusiasts are increasingly scanning scientific papers, government and NGO reports, and wildlife atlases to track down unusual species to photograph or handle.

This can seriously disturb the animals, destroy specialised microhabitats, and spread disease. A striking example is the recent outbreak in Europe of a amphibian chytrid fungus, which essentially “eats” the skin of salamanders.

This pathogen was introduced from Asia through wildlife trade, and has already driven some fire salamander populations to extinction.

Fire salamanders have been devastated by diseases introduced through the wildlife trade.
Erwin Gruber

Rethinking unrestricted access

In an era when poachers can arm themselves with the latest scientific data, we must urgently rethink whether it is appropriate to put detailed location and habitat information into the public domain.

We argue that before publishing, scientists must ask themselves: will this information aid or harm conservation efforts? Is this species particularly vulnerable to disruption? Is it slow-growing and long-lived? Is it likely to be poached?

Fortunately, this calculus will only be relevant in a few cases. Researchers might feel an intellectual passion for the least lovable subjects, but when it comes to poaching, it is generally only charismatic and attractive animals that have broad commercial appeal.

But in high-risk cases, where economically valuable species lack adequate protection, scientists need to consider censoring themselves to avoid unintentionally contributing to species declines.

Restricting information on rare and endangered species has trade-offs, and might inhibit some conservation efforts. Yet, much useful information can still be openly published without including specific details that could help the nefarious (or misguided) to find a vulnerable species.

There are signs people are beginning to recognise this problem and adapt to it. For example, new species descriptions are now being published without location data or habitat descriptions.

Biologists can take a lesson from other fields such as palaeontology, where important fossil sites are often kept secret to avoid illegal collection. Similar practices are also common in archaeology.

Restricting the open publication of scientifically and socially important information brings its own challenges, and we don’t have all the answers. For example, the dilemma of organising secure databases to collate data on a global scale remains unresolved.

For the most part, the move towards making research freely available is positive; encouraging collaboration and driving new discoveries. But legal or academic requirements to publish location data may be dangerously out of step with real-life risks.

The ConversationBiologists have a centuries-old tradition of publishing information on rare and endangered species. For much of this history it was an innocuous practice, but as the world changes, scientists must rethink old norms.

Benjamin Scheele, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Ecology, Australian National University and David Lindenmayer, Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

An open letter to the Prime Minister on the climate crisis, from 154 scientists


Andrew Glikson, Australian National University

Dear The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP, Prime Minister of Australia,

The following is an open letter signed by 154 Australian atmospheric, marine, environmental, biological and medical scientists, including several leading climatologists, for your and your government’s attention.

There is no Planet B

In July 2016, global temperatures soared to the hottest in the 136 years of the instrumental record, 0.1℃ warmer than previous warm Julys in 2015, 2011 and 2009. It followed a succession of rising temperatures, moving from 0.42℃ above average in 2000, to 0.87℃ above average by 2015.

Developments in the atmosphere-ocean system reported by major climate research organisations (including NASA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US National Snow & Ice Data Center, the UK Met Office Hadley Centre, the Tyndall Centre, the Potsdam Institute; the science academics of dozens of nations; and in Australia the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology) include:

We are concerned that global warming, amplified by feedbacks from polar ice melt, methane release from permafrost, and extensive fires, may become irreversible, including the possible collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a crucial component of the global climate system that transfers heat from the tropics to the North Atlantic.

According to James Hansen, NASA’s former chief climate scientist, “burning all fossil fuels would create a different planet than the one that humanity knows“. Joachim Schellnhuber, Germany’s chief climate scientist, has summed up the situation by saying: “We’re simply talking about the very life support system of this planet.”

We note your broad agreement with this point, in light of your 2010 statement that:

…we are as humans conducting a massive science experiment with this planet. It’s the only planet we have got… We know that the consequences of unchecked global warming would be catastrophic… We as a human species have a deep and abiding obligation to this planet and to the generations that will come after us.

While the Paris Agreement remains unbinding and global warming has received minimal attention in the recent elections, governments worldwide are presiding over a large-scale demise of the planetary ecosystems, which threatens to leave large parts of Earth uninhabitable.

We call on the Australian government to tackle the root causes of an unfolding climate tragedy and do what is required to protect future generations and nature, including meaningful reductions of Australia’s peak carbon emissions and coal exports, while there is still time.

There is no Planet B.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Christine Adams-Hosking, Conservation planner, University of Queensland

Associate Professor Stephen Adelstein, Medical scientist, University of Sydney

Professor Ross Alford, Tropical ecologist, James Cook University

Dr Wallace Ambrose, Archaeological anthropologist, ANU

Dr Martin Anda, Environmental engineer, Murdoch University

Dr Marion Anderston, Geochemist, Monash University

Professor Michael Archer, Paleontologist, UNSW Australia

Dr Leanne Armand, Marine Researcher, Macquarie University

Professor Patricia Armati, Medical scientist, University of Sydney

Professor Owen Atkin, Plant respiration researcher, ANU

Professor Elaine Baker, Marine scientist, University of Sydney

Associate Professor Cathy Banwell, Medical scientist, ANU

Dr Andrew Barnes, Aquatic animal health researcher, University of Queensland

Dr Fiona Beck, Renewable energy researcher, ANU

Dr Tom Beer, Climatic and environmental change researcher, CSIRO

Professor Andrew Blakers, Photovoltaics/energy storage researcher, ANU

Professor Phillip Board, Medical scientist, ANU

Professor Justin Borevitz, Plant geneticist, ANU

Dr Caryl Bosman, Environmental planning researcher, Griffith University

Professor David Bowman, Forestry researcher, University of Tasmania

Dr Timothy Broadribb, Plant Scientist, University of Tasmania

Dr Helen Brown, Environmental health researcher, Curtin University

Dr Tim Brown, Medicine and environment researcher, ANU

Professor Ralf Buckley, Conservation/ecotourism researcher, Griffith University

Dr Florian Busch, Plant scientist, ANU

Dr Jason Byrne, Urban design researcher, Curtin University

Professor Maria Byrne, Marine and developmental biologist, University of Sydney

Dr Martina Calais, Renewable energy researcher, Murdoch University

Associate Professor Craig Carter, Engineering and IT researcher, Murdoch University

Dr Phill Cassey, Ecologist, Adelaide University

Professor Carla Catterall, Ecologist, Griffith University

Dr Juleen Cavanaugh, Biomedical scientist, ANU

Professor Fred Chow, Plant biologist, ANU

Associate Professor David Cohen, Geochemist, UNSW Australia

Professor Steven Cooper, Evolutionary biologist, SA Museum

Professor Rod Connolly, Marine scientist, Griffith University

Professor Jann Conroy, Plant scientist, Western Sydney University

Dr Lucy Coupland, Medical scientist, ANU

Dr Joseph Coventry, Solar energy researcher, ANU

Dr Chris Creagh, Physicist, Murdoch University

Professor Patricia Dale, Environment/planning researcher, Griffith University

Dr Armanda Davies, Planning geographer, Curtin University

Dr Ian Davies, Forestry fire management researcher, ANU

Dr Kirsten Davies, Ethno-ecology and environmental law researcher, Macquarie University

Dr Robert Davis, Vertebrate biologist, Edith Cowan University

Professor Keith Dear, Global health researcher, ANU

Dr Fjalar de Haan, Sustainability researcher, University of Melbourne

Professor Hans Peter Dietz, Medical scientist, Penrith Hospital

Professor Bob Douglas, Medical scientist, ANU

Associate Professor Mark Douglas, Medical scientist, University of Sydney

Dr Jen Drysdale, Climate and energy researcher, University of Melbourne

Professor Angela Dulhunty, Medical scientist, ANU

Professor Robyn Eckersley, Climate change governance researcher, University of Melbourne

Dr Elin Charles Edwards, Environmental geographer, University of Queensland

Professor David Eldridge, Evolutionary biologist, UNSW Australia

Professor David Elsworth, Environmental ecologist, Western Sydney University

Associate Professor Jason Evans, Climate change researcher, UNSW Australia

Dr Isabelle Ferru, Medical scientist, ANU

Professor Tim Flannery, Climate Council

Professor Barry Fox, Ecologist, UNSW Australia

Dr Evan Franklin, Solar energy researcher, ANU

Dr Diego Garcia-Bellido, Paleontologist, University of Adelaide

Dr Stephen Garnett, Conservation and sustainability researcher, Charles Darwin University

Dr John Gillen, Soil scientist, ANU

Dr Andrew Glikson, Paleoclimatologist, ANU

Dr Susan Gould, Climate change researcher, Griffith UNiversity

Professor Colin Groves, Anthropologist, ANU

Dr Huade Guan, Hydro-meteorologist, Flinders University

Professor Neil Gunningham, Global governance researcher, ANU

Dr Asish Hagar, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia

Dr Nina Hall, Sustainable water researcher, University of Queensland

Dr Willow Hallgren, Atmospheric scientist, Griffith University

Dr Elizabeth Hanna, Environmental health researcher, ANU

Associate Professor David Harley, Epidemiologist, ANU

Professor Robert S. Hill, Paleobotanist, University of Adelaide

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Marine climatologist and Great Barrier Reef researcher, University of Queensland

Professor Geoff Hope, Archaeologist and natural history researcher, ANU

Associate Professor Michael Howes, Environmental scientist, Griffith University

Professor Lesley Hughes, Climate change and species researcher, Macquarie University

Dr Paul Humphries, Environmental scientist, Charles Sturt University

Professor Phillip Jenning, Energy researcher, Murdoch University

Professor Darryl Jones, Behavioural ecologist, Griffith University

Dr Hugh Jones, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia

Dr Jochen Kaempf, Physical oceanographer, Flinders University

Professor Jeffrey Keelan, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia

Professor Peter Kershaw, Biogeographer and botanist, Monash University

Dr Carsten Kulheim, Plant physiologist, ANU

Professor Rakkesh Kumar, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia

Dr Lori Lach, Rainforest conservationist, James Cook University

Professor Barry Lacopetta, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia

Professor Trevor Lamb, Medical scientist, ANU

Professor Tony Larkum, Plant biologist, University of Technology Sydney

Dr Annie Lau, Geography and environmental management researcher, University of Quensland

Professor Bill Laurance, Tropical environment and sustainability researcher, James Cook University

Associate Professor Fred Leusch, Soil, water and energy researcher, Griffith University

Professor Andrew Lowe, Plant conservationist, University of Adelaide

Dr Fabio Luciano, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia

Professor Justin Marshall, Marine biologist, University of Queensland

Dr Melanie Massaro, Ecologist and ornithologist, Charles Sturt University

Associate Professor John F. McCarthy, Resource environment researcher, ANU

Dr Allison McInnes, Plant biologist, UTS

AssociateProfessor Andrew McKenzie, Landscape planning researcher, University of Canberra

Dr Kathryn McMahon, Environmental researcher, Edith Cowan University

Professor Andrew Millington, Land change scientist, Flinders University

Professor Angela Moles, Evolutionary ecologist, UNSW Australia

Professor Renee Morris, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia

Professor Barbara Norman, Urban planning researcher, University of Canberra

Professor Nikos Ntoumanis, Behavioural medicine researcher, Curtin University

Dr Bradley Opdyke, Climate historian, ANU

Professor Richard G. Pearson, Marine and tropical biologist, James Cook University

Dr Barrie Pittock, Climate scientist, CSIRO

Dr Jason Potas, Medical scientist, ANU

Professor Susan Prescott, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia

Dr Lynda Prior, Climate researcher, University of Tasmania

Dr Thomas Prowse, Biologist, University of Adelaide

Professor Marie Ranson, Molecular biologist, University of Wollongong

Professor Steve Redman, Medical scientist, ANU

Associate Professor Tracy Rogers, Evolutionary ecologist, UNSW Australia

Professor Chris Ryan, Eco-innovation researcher, University of Melbourne

Dr Oz Sahnin, Climate change researcher, Griffith University

Associate Professor Peter Sainsbury, Climate and health researcher, University of Sydney

Professor David Sinclair, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia

Dr Tom Sobey, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia

Professor Will Steffen, Climate change researcher, ANU

Professor Peter Steinberg, Marine scientist, UNSW Australia

Associate Professor Christian Stricker, Medical scientist, ANU

Professor Ian Suthers, Marine biologist, UNSW Australia

Associate Professor Sue Taylor, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia

Dr Sebastian Thomas, Sustainability researcher, University of Melbourne

Dr Andrew Thomson, Solar researcher, ANU

Associate Professor Thomas Thorsten, Marine biologist, UNSW Australia

Associate Professor Ian Tibbetts, Marine Scientist, University of Queensland

Professor David Tissue, Plant ecophysiologist, Western Sydney University

Professor Matthias Tomczak, Oceanographer, Flinders University

Mr Shane Toohey, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia

Dr Gail Trapp, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia

Professor Patrick Troy, Human ecologist, ANU

Professor Tom Trull, Antarctic, oceans and atmosphere researcher, CSIRO

Professor David Tscharke, Medical scientist, ANU

Professor Chris Turney, Antarctic climatologist, UNSW Australia

Dr Tania Urmee, Renewable energy technologist, Murdoch University

Professor René Vaillancourt, Plant geneticist, University of Tasmania

Professor John Veevers, Earth scientist, Macquarie University

Professor Charlie Veron, Marine scientist, Australian Institute of Marine Science

Professor Phil Waite, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia

Dr Elaine Walker, Physics and energy researcher, Murdoch University

Dr Hayden Washington, Environmental researcher, UNSW Australia

Professor David Watson, Water and society ecologist, Charles Sturt University

Dr Scarla J. Weeks, Biophysical oceanographer, University of Queensland

Professor Adrian Werner, Hydrologist, Flinders University

Mr Peter Weiske, Medical and environmental scientist, ANU

Dr Jonathan Whale, Energy researcher, Murdoch University

Associate Professor George Wilson, Wildlife management researcher, ANU

Dr Phillip Zylstra, Forests and fire researcher, University of Wollongong

The Conversation

Andrew Glikson, Earth and paleo-climate scientist, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.