Model Mad, Down Under

John Church in Hobart in September 2010. He is known internationally for helping to bring statistical and analytical rigor to longstanding questions about sea level rise. Credit Peter Boyer

We continue to keep our eyes open for stories that offer inspiration even in the face of apparent adversity.

A Parable From Down Under for U.S. Climate Scientists

HOBART, TASMANIA — John A. Church, a climate scientist, did not look or sound like a man who had recently been shoved out of a job.

Speaking softly and downing coffee at an outdoor cafe in this old port city, he sounded more like a fellow fresh off a jousting match. “I think we had a win — a bigger win than I ever anticipated,” Dr. Church said in an interview last month.

Australian climate science went through an upheaval last year, one that engaged the press and the public in defending the importance of basic research. In the end, Dr. Church did indeed lose his job, but scores of his colleagues who had been marked for layoffs did not. Some of them view him as having sacrificed his career to save theirs.

What happened in Australia shows the power of an informed citizenry keeping watch on its government. And it may turn out to be a precursor to an attack on fundamental climate research in the United States.

Australian climate science is important not just for Australia, a country of 24 million people, but for the world. Australia is the most scientifically accomplished nation in the Southern Hemisphere, which has expanses of ocean and relatively little land.

In effect, this small country is keeping an eye on half the planet for the rest of us….

…As Dr. Church and I were finishing our coffees, I noted that President Trump had offered a budget outline for the United States that, if enacted, would almost certainly require huge cuts in the basic scientific enterprise of monitoring and analyzing the climate.

Congress will have the last word after Mr. Trump presents a more detailed outline, so there is no way to know how that fight will end. But over two weekends in April, tens of thousands of Americans marched in the streets to defend science and to demand action on climate change.

That means the citizenry in the United States, just as in Australia, is alert and watching. You can bet a lot of American scientists are thinking these days about how they will respond if the government starts gutting climate research.

“I guess somebody in the United States,” Dr. Church said, “has to step out into the public and do what I did.”

Read the entire article here.

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