Tuesday January 9, 2007 7:00am WST
For Immediate Release
"Australia's CSIRO Scientists need and should look for reputable international scientific colleagues in their community, to help them both expose and counter the intimidation, bullying, and destruction of their reports and the silencing that's become so commonplace for how John Howard deals with the public sector," WA Rights group Project SafeCom this morning, in response to suggestions by the Canberra Times (transcript below) that all copies of their recent damning Geosequestration Report were confiscated and shredded to prevent it from becoming public.
"We know how secretively and manipulatively the Howard government deals with the independence of the public service if this shocking government administration wants to manipulate public opinion to suit their policies," spokesman Jack H Smit said, "and we've seen this with the Department of Immigration, with the Navy at the time of Tampa, we've seen it with Australia's intelligence organisations when a few whistleblowers stepped out and spoke out, and now we're seeing it with Australia's most reputable climate scientists."
"The points raised by the Canberra Times report constitute yet another round of John Howard's interference with CSIRO's findings and opinion: last year ABC Four Corners showed that CSIRO is being gagged from speaking out on the implications of climate change on "environmental refugees" and on the implications for and obligations on Australia."
"There are damning questions to be answered by the Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell following the Canberra Times revelations. Already we know that the Environment Minister is a Wolf in Sheep's clothing, who really peddles in line with the Howard government, the interests of the mining industry in preference to the protection of the planet - whether that's the preservation of the coal industry or the push for uranium mining, as we saw this week in his attempts to bully the WA Carpenter government over its no uranium mining policy in Western Australia."
Project SafeCom is preparing to host CSIRO's Solar Thermal Energy Project in Western Australia during the coming months, in collaboration with The Greens and other organisations in WA, so CSIRO can showcase its modelling of all of Australia's energy needs as projected at the year 2050: last year May CSIRO modelled a facility in an Australian desert area of 50 x 50km2, which would generate all of Australia's energy needs as we will have them in the year 2050.
"CSIRO is a scientific community, and it is paramount that they keep speaking out independently, fearlessly and that they keep acting as scientists, whether John Howard and Ian Campbell like what they hear or not. Only that will generate an independent and full debate, and if that means that we never, ever should go on the path of Geosequestration in Australia, then so it be. The fact that John Howard and Ian Campbell want to stack the climate debate and hide what our scientists are warning for and against, makes Howard and Campbell into environmental vandals, and in the light of the Stern Report and Al Gore's findings, they are happy to do so while the planet literally burns at it's very latest hour."
For more information:
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]
Climate of fear silencing scientists when they must be heard
Thursday, 4 January 2007
LAST MONTH former United States president and climate change activist Al Gore told 5000 scientists attending an American Geophysical Union conference to speak out on climate change. "Get involved because so much is at stake," he said.
Gore was well-aware of the political implications of his challenge. Getting involved in the global warming debate means taking a stand against government censorship and running the risk of a funding backlash or full-frontal assault on your reputation.
Here in Australia we've seen intimidation, exclusion from influence, political ridicule and censorship of scientists. We've also seen a dumbing down of the political debate on climate change as a result, with rhetoric rather than science the weapon of choice adopted by government and opposition.
The National Farmers' Federation recently claimed the Prime Minister's Emissions Trading Taskforce was "stacked" with mining, manufacturing and energy generation interests, "opting to embrace those sectors that represent the problems, and excluding many of those who offer solutions".
This selective approach was in evidence recently when federal environment minister Senator Ian Campbell addressed the National Press Club. He quoted a study published in Scientific American that he claimed cited seven options or "wedges" needed over the next 50 years to stabilise global greenhouse emissions, including carbon capture and nuclear energy.
Australian Greens climate change spokeswoman Senator Christine Milne quickly pointed out that Campbell had misrepresented Professor Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacalas' work. They had described 15 options in their study and Milne argued that by ignoring eight of these options Campbell "misled his audience about the choices we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, implying that carbon capture and storage and nuclear technology are essential rather than optional."
He also failed to mention that for nuclear power to constitute one wedge in the model, "The world's nuclear power output would need to treble over the next 50 years compared with the worldwide annual growth in the nuclear power industry of about 5 per cent."
In May last year, The Canberra Times obtained a copy of a confidential report by the Cooperative Research Centre for Coal in Sustainable Development. It stated that solar thermal technology was capable of producing Australia's entire electricity demand and was the only renewable energy capable of making deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Written by five CSIRO Energy Technology scientists, the report said solar thermal technology was "poised to play a significant role in baseload generation for Australia" and would be cost-competitive with coal within seven years.
But sources claim that until details were published by The Canberra Times, the draft report was passed around "like a political hot potato", with no date set for its release. Despite federal government claims that the CRC "just hadn't got around to releasing it", the view taken by senior climate change scientists was that the report had been deliberately suppressed.
There are also rumours circulating that a second CSIRO report on the feasibility of geosequestration (carbon capture and underground storage) was so damning that all copies have been confiscated and possibly destroyed.
Sound far-fetched? Perhaps not when you consider many scientists working on developing renewable energy options are quite literally terrified of the implications of speaking to journalists or giving a background briefing to elucidate some of the complexities of their work.
The Canberra Times has spoken to scientists who are worried that their phone calls may be traced or emails scrutinised for comments critical of government policy. In one instance, a scientist who merely provided the correct details for a photo caption was subsequently carpeted for "unauthorised contact with the media", One senior scientist refused to be interviewed for a feature on Australia's renewable energy options, apologetically explaining that "it's just not worth the possible risk to my program's future funding."
Murdoch University's Professor on Energy Studies, Dr Phillip Jennings, has described a "climate of fear" operating among solar energy researchers. Sources at the Australian National University say two of the nation's leading solar researchers, Professor Andrew Blakers and Profess Klaus Weber the inventors of the solar sliver cell which is predicted to revolutionise the rate of global uptake of solar energy have been warned against speaking out publicly.
It's a pity, because Blakers and Weber are the kind of climate change visionaries we need to hear from, given the recent predictions by the Stern Report that we have only a decade to get greenhouse emissions under control.
This week Federal Science Minister Julie Bishop claimed Australia had to "find new ways" to encourage more students to study science at universities. For that to happen the current political climate must change. Bright students simply won't fancy a career where George Orwell's Big Brother is watching.
Rosslyn Beeby is Science and Environment Reporter.