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Australia Research

I just submitted this short write-up to the Fulbright folks updating them on my research here in Australia, so I thought I’d post it here for anyone who’s interested.

Host Institution: CSIRO’s Climate Adaptation Flagship; and the University of Melbourne

Suggested Title: Can science help us adapt to climate change?

My project asks a simple question: How does adaptation research help Australia adapt to climate change? This is a science policy question. In other words, it relates to how money and other resources are allocated to scientific institutions in order to achieve particular goals. As part of its overall response to climate change Australia has allocated almost $100 million for adaptation research. The question is, what should scientists do with this taxpayer money in order to help Australia adapt to climate change? What questions should they ask? How should they go about answering them, and how can they deliver the results so that they are most useful? I am examining two different institutional responses to these challenging questions: the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF), and CSIRO’s Climate Adaptation Flagship (CAF). I do this mostly through interviews with researchers, managers, and policy makers, but also by observing meetings, and reading incredibly long and boring government reports!

Where did you study in Australia and what is unique about the institution / person / facility you worked with? I am based in Melbourne, but adaptation research happens all over Australia. Luckily for me, this means plenty of traveling! The kinds of questions I am asking about adaptation research are not unique; they are common to any scientific endeavor. But examining these two different organizations—CAF and NCCARF—as they attack the same set of problems side by side provides a very interesting opportunity for thinking about different ways of organizing research.

What are the benefits of your study for Australia, the Australian public? Decisions about what scientific questions to ask matter a lot. In the end I hope to provide helpful feedback into the science policy decision making processes in CSIRO and the Australian Department of Climate Change. This could be beneficial, not just because of the content of my study, but because of the self reflection it seeks to stimulate. I think science policies can be more effective in general if those who implement them are thinking about the broader outcomes of research—how it impacts society. Sometimes this gets lost when people focus on less meaningful measures of success such as journal publications and grant money.

What are the benefits of your study for the US and the global community? The US faces similar challenges with respect to its own science policy and, in particular, its own climate science policy. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has just established a Climate Services program, partly in response to criticisms that climate science has been largely irrelevant to decision makers for many years. This work in Australia can help to inform these efforts.

What did you achieve whilst in Australia? I’m still working on it! I’ve been here for three months, and my research is still in its early stages. However, I can say that I’ve already learned some valuable lessons just from simple comparisons between science policy in the US and in Australia, and from my initial interviews within NCCARF and CAF. I’ve also started a blog called Adapt Already (https://adaptalready.wordpress.com), where I hope to stimulate discussion about climate change, adaptation, and science policy in Australia.

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