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Climate change policy: stick to the evidence

Australia is in for some hot weather.
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One of the problems with discussion of climate change is the terminology.

The terms “believer” and “sceptic” are wrong because of their religious overtones.

It’s better to argue that belief in climate change is the majority science – by a very large margin – and that view is based on evidence, not belief.

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I write this because I was dismayed by a story floated this week, which suggested that Malcolm Turnbull would be prepared to accept the Coalition’s current “Direct Action” policy, in order to win party room support to become Liberal leader and Prime Minister.

One of Australia’s best political journalists, Lenore Taylor, who is also probably the best mainstream commentator on climate change policy, has a very interesting story in the Guardian Australia exploring this issue and how it will affect Turnbull’s chances.

My gripe is more basic.

What’s the point of becoming PM if you jettison something you believe in?

Malcolm Turnbull
Will Malcolm Turnbull accept the Coalition’s ‘Direct Action’ policy, to win party room support and become PM? Photo: AAP

Failing to act on climate change was a body blow to Kevin Rudd’s leadership.

The majority of the Australian public still support greater action, even though it is unpopular within parts of the Coalition and certain industries.

At a broader level, the track record of the Abbott government on science – their funding cuts to the CSIRO, plus the initial failure to have a Science Minister – were woefully shortsighted.

Whoever leads the Liberal party, and the Labor party for that matter, should recognise the importance of science to Australia’s national life.

And that includes making evidence-based policy decisions using the majority science.

It may be that our politicians are focused mostly on the bottom line, but they should at least recognise that support for science is crucial to our economy and standard of living.

Scientific talent: out of proportion to population

Many people complain that it’s a pity Australia doesn’t venerate its scientists the way we do sportspeople.

But many Australians recognise that we produced scientific talent out of proportion to our population.

This week, an award-winning young evolutionary biologist has turned down the most prestigious research fellowship for young scientists in the country, in frustration at funding cuts.

Dr Danielle Edwards was going to apply for a job with the CSIRO but that position was canned by their job cuts.

She is now working in the US and wants to return to Australia but also wants a job.

The CSIRO chairman, businessman and philanthropist, Simon McKeon, said late last year the organisation has had to “cut into the bone” over the last few years.

The CSIRO has been ‘cut into the bone’ due to Federal funding being pulled during the last two years. Photo: AAP

“What we often said publicly is that we would try and contain the cuts as much as possible to those resources that help our scientists,” Mr McKeon said.

“But undeniably over this last year or so, we’ve also had to farewell scientists who are globally relevant – people who we would prefer not to have said goodbye to.”

Anne Hyland wrote an important feature in the Financial Review where four of Australia’s Nobel prize winners in science explained why Australians need to understand the vital importance of science to the country’s future prosperity.

The story quoted the Nobel laureates – Elizabeth Blackburn, Brian Schmidt, Peter Doherty and Barry Marshall – at length and made for fascinating reading.

A summary is available here.

So, while the decision to knight the Duke of Edinburgh crystallised doubts about Tony Abbott’s priorities and political judgment, let’s not forget what will underpin Australia’s national advancement and standard of in the 21st century.

And that’s science and technology.

To all sides of politics, let’s show some brains and support science and make policy decisions based on evidence.

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